Moving house is both the best of times and the worst of times. When we decided, well over a year ago now, that we were ready to move, I don’t think I fully understood the total upheaval and emotional torture that lay ahead. My mother, in the midst of the madness said that the three most stressful things you do in life are; getting married, having kids, and selling/buying houses. But, as will all those things, the end result is absolutely 100% worth the pain. Not that it’s ever easy to see that when you’re stuck on the sell/buy merry-go-round getting dizzier and dizzier with no sign of getting off!
After five years, our two bedroom London flat had suddenly gone from cosy to cramped. It was our first real home together; our first real experience of really braving the world, and doing it together. I learned to cook – like, really cook (meaning plates that weren’t one part chicken dippers to two parts potato smilies) – in the tiny, postage stamp kitchen while watching ships go up and down the Thames. I wrote two books in the second bedroom/study/guest-room/laundry-room with my notes blue-tacked to the wall (yikes, the amount of paint that came off with those bits of tack!). We experienced our first ever plumbing fiasco (and equally awful plumber…) in the bathroom when a leaky tub combined with my bathing habit cost the downstairs neighbour his ceiling (oops!). We both planned our wedding and cried over the sudden loss of two grandparents and a best friend on the sofa.
But, it was time to go; the truth is, we’d fallen out love with life within those walls. We were sick of having to share the downstairs neighbour’s terrible taste in music at eight ‘o clock on a Sunday morning (bastard), and the sweaty pong that lingered in the corridors around meal times (Mexican curried West Indian fried chicken casserole, anyone?). We were completely and utterly fed up of having to squeeze through fly-tipped sofas, washing machines and mattresses just to throw our rubbish into one of the communal wheelie bins. Worse; for one of our lazy neighbours this daily steeplechase was just too much, so they simply plonked their bins right there on the ground only for them to be torn up by hungry foxes overnight. We were running out of space inside the flat (so much so that we had to tell family and friends to for God’s sake stop buying us gifts at Christmas and birthdays…!) and outside, we just felt crowded out. We were done with it.
So. We put the flat on the market in February 2015, and within two weeks we’d secured an offer we were happy with from a couple with two small children (yay for being so close to a station – it’s all about location, location, location, y’know!). The whole process was surreal; from clearing away the clutter for rightmove-appropriate photographs, to having total strangers stroll through our front door and judge our home. I cried when the first person through the door – a property developer with a massive portfolio and an equally massive ego – cornered me in a room and attempted to force me to accept a deal right then and there. He was a massive dick, but then I was a sentimental, naive twat – so, fair’s fair.
So then, Lesson One: To get through the selling stage you need to detach yourself as much as possible. You’re selling something at the end of the day, you’ve got to be willing to let go of it. If you’re like me then every crack in the wall and dusty surface is going to rake up memories for you and make it even harder to let go. Just try and remember that a house is only exactly that; somewhere where you house your memories. When you leave, you pack them up with you, along with the toaster and the TV.
Selling is stressful enough, but buying? Buying was fucking agonising – to begin with, anyway. Sunny spent train journeys scrolling rightmove.com saving every suitable-looking property (slim-pickings for the most part), while I spent evenings after work ringing round estate agents to book in as many viewings as possible for the following Saturday.
Lesson Two and Three
We saw so many houses. It was a blur. Every Saturday morning when we got in the car we said the same thing, “I wonder if we’ll find the one today?” We had a list in our head of all the things we were looking for – big kitchen, plenty of room for people to stay, a place for my piano, a nice garden, not even the whisper of road noise – but it soon became clear that we’d have to compromise on something. We were too fussy. And that’s probably the toughest part; you have this all at once both crystal clear and fuzzy image in your mind of what the backdrop to the next act in your life is going to look like and it’s really hard to let that go when you find that certain parts of it are simply impossible due to budgets and pure luck as to what’s available at that oh so specific moment in time. We saw some houses that were perfect inside, but right next to a very noisy main road. Pfft. We some quiet homes with tiny gardens or no gardens at all. We saw a lot of houses that were just fine… but not quite right. We saw a couple of total howlers too. (Estate Agency Photography man, that shit is manipulative!)
So, Lesson Two: Be both stubborn and flexible on what you’re looking for. If you find a house that ticks off everything on your list and is within your price range then congratu-bloody-lations, you hit the jackpot! But for 99.9% of rest of us, at some point, something will have to give.
And, Lesson Three: It kind of goes without saying but see as many houses as you possibly can… and actually see them, see them. Photographs – when it comes to buying houses – NEVER show the whole picture, good or bad.
Anyway, after a few weeks of searching we put in an offer on a beautiful house with a place for my piano and a lovely garden that was crazy-cheap… but in the end we lost out to a buyer who pipped us with a slightly better offer. I cried and cried and cried. You see, I’d made the stupid mistake of dreaming about life inside that house and I’d allowed myself to really believe in the possibility that it could be ours. It was going to be ours! I even took to Pinterest to begin planning what I wanted to do with every crack and corner. So when it was all suddenly wrenched out of my hands like a toy from a toddler, ooh! I sulked like crazy. I wanted that one! Only that one! It was mine! How dare someone else take it away! But in the end, we just had to accept defeat, lick our wounds and get back in the game. What else can you do? There were plenty more
fish in the sea and all that… except that actually, there weren’t that many at all, the sea was more like a tank and we were trying to net that one particularly pretty tropical fish that everyone else wanted.
Lesson Four: DO NOT GET ATTACHED. I can’t stress this one enough because it’ll save a lot of stress and heartbreak. Don’t get attached when you see a house that you love. Don’t get attached when you put in an offer. Don’t even get attached when the offer is accepted. Only when you’ve exchanged, completed and the keys are in your hand are you allowed to get attached, purely because absolutely anything can happen between viewing a house and completing on it. Offers can be rejected, can be topped. Chains can collapse. You need to play it cool for as long as possible, or the whole process will emotionally cripple you if it falls through.
Back to the story. By the end of April we actually managed to net one! We found a lovely house in a quiet street with an apple tree in the back garden that was owned by a couple looking to downsize. Still wounded by the loss of the first house (and secretly hoping that it might fall through and we’d have a second chance) we put in an offer with our hopes firmly tied down. Right down. So when the offer was accepted we were surprised! This was it, we thought. Finally! Our long search had come to an end, thank God!
…But three months later, nothing was happening. The downsizing couple couldn’t find a place that they wanted to move to (they had an even fussier list of ‘must-haves’ than we did – pfft!). We were in an agonising limbo (otherwise known as the dreaded ‘chain’), and so were our own poor buyers who had oh so patiently held on since February. They were starting to get fed up, understandably. So what do you do? Wait it out indefinitely and risk losing your own buyers? Or pull out and start again?
Even if we hadn’t decided, one afternoon in August, to move to Cardiff we would probably have pulled out of that one anyway. The truth is, the longer the summer went on, the less we could imagine ourselves actually living in that house. It just didn’t seem real anymore. It wasn’t meant to be.
So here’s Lesson Five: Buying houses is as much to do with luck as it is the money in your pocket. You might have a solid deposit and are itching to move, but sorry, the universe isn’t quite in the same place. The housing market could be slow, the type of house in the area you’ve got your dear little heart set on might not be selling right now. Every offer you put in might be rejected, and like us you might put in an offer that actually gets accepted and then, your reward? Four months in a chain gang. Pfft!
The only way to deal with this perceived bad luck is to keep telling yourself that it’s all happening for a reason. Trust me. When you finally find the right house, get your offer accepted and go all the way through to completion, you’ll be glad things didn’t go well at first!
As for us? Unwilling to put our faithful buyers through the same kind of torture – and changing tactics – we decided to just go through with the flat sale anyway, even though we had nowhere to go to ourselves! We spent a week in November packing, taking apart furniture and our pictures down from the walls. We slowly dismantled our London life. We nervously sent everything we owned to Cardiff in the back of a green truck and into storage until we had a new place to put it all. When we packed up our car and drove to Cardiff in late November, we were technically homeless! We moved in to my Mum and Dad’s dining room just in time for Christmas.
Yesterday, we finally got the keys to our new house. It has a garden, it’s on an almost quiet street (turns out we couldn’t quite escape the distant murmur of road noise…). There’s only one spot where realistically my piano could go, so for now it’ll have to stay with my Mum and Dad and I’ll just have to visit as often as I can. There’s a big kitchen and plenty of room for people to come and stay. It’s as close to perfect as we could hope for and I can’t wait to live there.