How was your weekend? Did you have a nice one?
Mine was good, but… tiring! Rather unexpectedly, it became a weekend entirely dedicated to house hunting – Lee and I changed our minds about where we’re going to buy a home no fewer than four times. And I cried. Twice! But let me stop right there and explain what happened.
Lee and I have been saving up for a house for about 18 months now. We live with my parents in order to do this (who very kindly charge us below-market rent), meaning that we stash away a good chunk of our incomes the day we’re paid. This has meant that we’re pretty much ready to start viewing houses now, excluding the need to save up for our fees.
Over these 18 months, we’ve been scouring locations in close proximity to our workplaces and families, thinking about where we might like to buy. We’ve fixed our sights on villages, on towns, on through-roads and more, and each and every time we’ve been ‘certain‘ we’ve made a final decision on where our first home will be.
But what rubbish! It’s been nothing of the sort! Just when we think we’ve firmed up our decision and have thought it all through, we come to one realisation or another that causes us to change our minds and we’re back to where we started again.
I suppose this is all very normal, and we’re really very lucky to have the luxury of so much time and no external pressures forcing us to make a rushed decision. But (and I know I’m being a bit of a princess here), it’s really tiring to keep changing your mind like that. We’re both plotters and planners and we like to know what direction we’re heading in, and making huge U-turns on decisions is feeling very unnerving. But, wasn’t it Darwin who said “it’s not the strongest that survive, but those most reactive to change?”. It went something like that, I think… So, we’re being reactive to change. 😉
Anyway, here’s what happened.
On saturday, after enjoying a three mile wander through a forest, we stopped in our ‘chosen town’ for a coffee and a wander. We love this town: it’s old and charming, with a great mix of independent shops and high street chains, cafes, restaurants, banks, libraries, schools… it has everything. And as a bonus, the property is nowhere near as expensive as another of our choices, too! And when I say nowhere near, I mean it’s literally 100k cheaper. No small sum, right?
So, we thought we’d take a walk to one of the streets were were looking to buy on, having favourited a few properties on Rightmove.
We walked down rows of beautiful Victorian terraces – precisely the ones I’d been dreaming of renovating – and timed the walk to the centre of town. Only 9 minutes – brilliant! However, the further we walked down this road, the more we began to notice its… shortcomings. The houses were tatty, poorly kept and peeling. There was a pub right in the centre of the street, and many houses were unoccupied. After seeing only a handful of well-looked after properties in an otherwise quite run down row, we left feeling quite deflated. We realised that the reason we could afford to buy on such a cheap street in a lovely town is for a reason: the street isn’t very nice!
The surrounding streets revealed the same issue, and after looking at area statistics and crime reports for the location we learned that there were more problems in the area than we felt comfortable taking on. I felt my eyes fill up in the cafe we stopped in, seeing all those stupid fantasies I had about unlocking the front door to an old, characterful property or walking hand in hand with a toddler to the local park slip away with theft reports, boarded up windows and rowdy pubs.
After umming and ahhing (were we being too spoilt? Do we just need to harden up a little?), my mum helped us see sense when she asked “would you choose to rent a house there right now?”. No, we absolutely wouldn’t – I’d choose to rent somewhere else, even if option two was more expensive. We’d be worried about re-selling, over-improving our property while the rest stayed a bit shoddy, or just being stuck with something that someone may not even want to rent from us, if our circumstances changed. It became pretty clear that we might need to row back from our ‘certain’ position about where we were going to buy a house and reconsider our options.
That night, we spent a few hours talking with my mum, discussing what our priorities are and what things we’re prepared to compromise on. Could we increase our budget to buy in a more desirable area? And if not, could we consider a different location entirely?
By the morning, we’d talked ourselves into buying in another town. “This one is beautiful, it has tons of amenities, it’s really desirable, and property values keep shooting up” we said excitedly over breakfast. We’d calculated mortgage repayments, knew the drive time to work, and heck, we even knew which branch of Lidl we’d be shopping in. We checked out some more houses on Rightmove, laced up our shoes and headed off hand in hand to check the houses out in person (as we’d learned, just the day before, that you can’t base your decision entirely off of what you see on Rightmove. Duh!).
“Ok, so it’s not beautiful, but we need to lower our expectations a bit if we’re not going to spend very much” I heard myself saying when we arrived at the houses. “The streets are tidy enough, mostly, and erm, there’s not exactly swathes of litter and…” I continued, trying to convince myself as much as Lee that it wasn’t all that bad. But let’s just say the state of affairs wasn’t any better than the one we’d seen the day before. Was I just being a bit of a princess? Have I been bubble-wrapped by living in an affluent town all my life, in a nice house, in a nice quiet street? It would seem so, but even the neighbourhoods I’d rented homes in while I lived on the fringes of Newcastle felt safer than this – Heaton and Byker had their problems, like anywhere, but they didn’t feel quite like this. I couldn’t imagine being able to persuade a young couple like us to buy one of these houses from us in the future, and I worried about how much it could really increase in value if the neighbourhood as a whole didn’t.
“How would you feel about me going away for work overnight and you being here on your own?” Lee asked me. “Not so good” I admitted.
“And how would you feel about your little brother walking through here alone at night to visit us?” I asked in return. Not so good either, it turned out.
These were the only houses in our budget, and the neighbourhoods felt just as unappealing as the ones we’d seen the day before. Except, disappointingly, this town as a whole made so much sense on paper, and it was the right place to invest. We stopped for a drink where my eyes filled up again ( I’m not sure why – not sadness, or frustration… so perhaps just a strong dose of reality?!) over a cup of tea. “We were crazy to think the neighbourhoods would be any nicer in an even pricier town if our budget was just as low” Lee pointed out. And he was right, wasn’t he?
Over the rest of the afternoon, we tried to shift it every which way we we could. Could we just buy a one bedroom place? How about a flat? How about a converted garage, even? What about moving to a village instead? Did we really need to be within walking distance of a shop? We could do without public transport, couldn’t we?
It wasn’t until we returned home to talk to my parents (again) that they helped us to see sense and talked through our budget with us . They talked to us about what we would afford and what was most important to us, which streets were always in demand and which had properties that lingered on the market for too long. We did some figures and dad even got on the phone to mortgage lenders to discuss repayment rates. And now, it looks as though we have a solid plan. But, if this weekend has taught me anything about house hunting, it’s this: nothing is ever certain! (And, that I may have become a little bit spoilt for nice neighbourhoods)…