We were well and truly in the midst of househunting. We’d been places, we’d seen places, we’d even visited the bank to sound them out on how much money they would be willing to give us (on the condition we used it for a house purchase). We’d set up a joint e-mail address that received all our Rightmove and Zoopla alerts, and could be used for correspondence with estate agents. And we’d made LISTS. Lists of all the things we thought we needed from prospective properties.
Andrea’s list had things like:
- Close to parks
- Space for bike
- Vegetable garden
- Storage for DIY
- Modern kitchen
And my list had things like:
OK so our lists were at different stages of development. What’s important is we had them.
Next up was Strood, in Kent. A good bit further out than Bromley, but we’d calculated not much more than 10 minutes extra commute, and way way more for our (and the bank’s) money. We picked three places to go see, but by this time we were a well-oiled operation. Links were being shared at all times of the day and night on WhatsApp, sometimes even when we were in the same room. I’d be chatting to Andrea and she’d be on the phone and not really listening then my phone would beep and I’d ignore it because I value ACTUAL CONVERSATION and it’s rude, so I’d keep chatting at Andrea and she’d still be on her phone, and my phone would beep again. Finally, I’d think “what’s the point she’s not even listening”, I’d grab my phone and realise I had two messages from Andrea with links so I’d message her back with an emoji depending on whether I liked or disliked the place. It was a system.
One of these places had piqued our interest like no other. It was head and shoulders above any other house we’d seen in our price range, this was the kind of house-hunting even I could get excited about.
We were on our way after a slight hitch at the train station which involved me not believing how much the train cost; I was convinced there had been some mistake.
It was reminiscent of my first ever job interview after uni (as a tv subtitler, no less). The interview was in London, and this was my first trip. Despite being incredibly independent and self-sufficient, this involved me flying to London (my first flight), being picked up from the airport by my sister and brother-in-law, then driven back to Swindon to spend the night at theirs, then go by train to London for the interview in the morning. My sister Gillian escorted me to Swindon train station in the morning, not sure why since I was incredibly self-sufficient and independent, and stood with me as I got my ticket to make sure I got one to London, England. As I approached the front of the queue I ran over the script again in my head – “Hello and good morning, can I buy a train on London please. Hello, can I have a ticket for a both-ways at London. Hi, I’m not from around here can I have a go on London via the train please thank you. Howdy, can I have a ticket for London to Swindon please, and also one going the other way so I can get there before I return, ta.” I think I had it, this was nerve-racking. I pulled a few £1 notes from my pocket in readiness: “How much is it Gillian?” I counted out two notes, and readied a third in case things were super-expensive in England.
“About fifty quid.”
Suddenly the queue disappeared, the station disappeared and everything was black except for a single spotlight shining on me, and my sister. “What? Did you say fifty quid? Not …. fifty quence?”
“Quence isn’t a thing.”
“I’ve never even seen that much money. How can that be the money for a train.” In my head I added, “Am I taking the FUCKING ORIENT EXPRESS!”
“Yeap, that’s what it is. Don’t worry I’ll get it.”
“Th…anks…” I said, in my head adding, “Well this is all well and good and very kind, but I’m going for a job interview at this place and there was talk of me staying with you guys for a while, despite being very independent and self-sufficient, but based on this I’m going to have to get a night job in Swindon to pay for the train to my day job in London…”
I didn’t get the job, and I never moved to Swindon. By the way, if telling this story has reminded my sister that I still owe her that fifty quid, I’m going to need to crowdfund that from those readers who’ve enjoyed this anecdote. Should work out to a tenner each.
Anyway, there was a similar thing at St Pancras grabbing our Strood tickets. It was a direct, high-speed train and very much the transportational opposite of the journey I took to tell this story.
Strood – the dream house and two other houses
It went like this “Right come on let’s get these out of the way, hi, yes Alan and Andrea, ooh nice front door, yeap, yeap, shall we go upstairs, yeap, why’s there a gate on the stairs, bit weird, oh for a kid, OK, yeap, oh I see this must be her room, will all those Disney stickers come off the wall, they will? I don’t know about that mate there’s a fucking billion of them. Yeap OK, nice space, nice garage, no, no we don’t neither of us drives, still DVDs can go in there, yeap that looks OK right mate we need to go to another appointment, right bye we’ll be in touch. Andrea we won’t be in touch, come on let’s get this over with, quick next one. Hi mate, yeap this is Andrea and I’m Alan, is this the… yeap we’re following you; hell of a hill we had to climb up to get here is the hill staying? Andrea this place seems like an old person’s place and they like died yesterday, it’s ghoulish. Yeap mate we’re coming up, oooh yes bedroom there, is this where the old…? Yeap no never mind. Yeah does need a bit of work but you know we wanted a project (Andrea we didn’t want a project WHY ARE WE HERE) No no mate just talking to Andrea, this is Andrea here, yeap weird stuff in the kitchen, all good, love that, charm, well we better go we’re late for the place we actually want so… we’ll be in touch. Right come on Andrea, time to see a REAL HOUSE!”
About twenty minutes of walking we were approaching the house we reeeeaaaalllllyy liked. It was an exhausting walk, but here’s how much I liked this house. I had even talked to Andrea about me CYCLING to the station from the house to go to work. I mean I must have fucking loved this place.
The house wasn’t so much a house as a collection of extensions in every direction. The original place must have been tiny. There were walls and rooms and roofs EVERYWHERE. Those who remember roof being on my detailed wishlist – well this place had them all. We were determined to play it cool, and had roleplayed scenarios of us being coy and disinterested so as to trick the estate agents into thinking we were not very keen. This all went to pot. I was so busy shouting “OMG Andrea come and look at this!” I didn’t hear Andrea shouting “OMG Alan you need to see these!” We were rubbish at appearing aloof and transactional about this whole thing.
There were two sinks in the kitchen! Two sinks! That’s … like … ONE EACH. What a place. I was very much still in the frame of mind that houses were fixed and anything they had or didn’t have was a unique feature. I hadn’t quite got round to realising that things I liked could be bought separately and added to another house, another sink for example.
Andrea had found some more rooms we’d forgotten about and I was boring the estate agent with anecdotes about how for us two sinks really was a boon, since Andrea was always cooking and always doing her dishes and I was rarely cooking and never doing my dishes, which led to a constant situation where the sink was constantly full of my stuff while Andrea rinsed hers held aloft over the carnage.
The agent was telling us about the lounge and separate living room, and we were lapping it up despite having no idea what the difference was. A lounge AND a living room. There was also a dining room with a dining table for actual eating. We had a dining table in Tooting but it had long since been purloined for other uses. It was a LEGO rollercoaster table, a LEGO Hogwart’s Castle table and on occasion a letters-from-the-council table. No eating was ever done there.
I should point out this house had, upstairs, one large bedroom, a medium and a small, all together. Now this went against our key objective of a house with equal and distanced large bedrooms. In this case, with this house, we did not give a shit. I don’t think we even cared if it HAD bedrooms. And this was before we got outside.
Out we headed into the garden. Early on in the house-hunting experience you learn about the special cameras estate agents have. You know the ones; the ones that make every room look huge and spacious, only for you to arrive there and discover there isn’t enough space in the room for both you and the estate agent to stand at the same time. I always found it amazing how our old flat had these dinky radiators but every other house I saw online had these huge wide radiators that went from wall to wall. No these rooms were not upgraded to special ultra-wide heating systems. These rooms were the size of radiators, normal radiators, like ours.
We had assumed that the estate agent’s scam-cam had gone to town on the garden. It looked enormous in the pics.
It was even bigger in real life. “OMG THIS IS UNBELIEVABLY AMAZING!” we exclaimed, trying to maintain that air of indifference in front of the agent. I turned to Andrea, “You could build another house in this garden, and still have a garden.”
“You probably could,” Andrea said.
“No no, you actually could, look at next door!” Next door they were indeed half-way through construction of a whole ‘nother house in the garden, with space to spare for both houses and two normal gardens. “Just think, if we fell out, I could just build another house in the garden. Or if we had people staying who I didn’t like, we could build them a house in the garden so they’d be out of the way. Or… OR we could build a house in the garden for your hot friend who sometimes comes to our place to sunbathe in *that* bikini…”
At this point in our friendship Andrea had given up on scolding me for commenting on her hot friend, but she was happy to point out that building a separate house – while possible – was a time-consuming and costly endeavour, and could not be done just on a whim if we’d had a falling out (for example over the fact I had filled both my sink and her sink with dirty dishes).
Andrea wanted a shed, here we could have all the sheds, she just might need to get a taxi to the back of the garden. I even agreed to help her mow it – an unprecedented offer since in our current flat I had mown the lawn the total of no times, with an excuse usually being along the lines of “I’m good with computers.”
By the end of the tour we were exhausted from the enthusiasm. Luckily the estate agents (who rhymed with “Burple Pricks”) did all their offers and negotiations online; if we’d had to make an offer there and then it would probably been for about 8 million pounds, which was almost 8 million pounds more than the bank had agreed to.
We did make an offer, after much deliberation, at a few thousand over the asking price. We didn’t want to seem TOO keen, despite leaving two puddles of drool on the lounge and living room floors.
It all went very quiet, and the agents seemed to have left the country. I was showing the house to my boss on Rightmove, when I noticed it said “Under Offer”.
When we eventually tracked down “Joe” he told us someone had offered a little more but had 85% cash. I felt it might be worth screenshotting my actual response here just for clarity.
We’d begun to get the feeling the house was a little overpriced, based on the market and the area, and lovely as it was, it was at a bit of a premium which we might struggle to convince the bank of. Two sinks and another house in the garden were not well-worn lines to use on a bank manager. We would have had a rant about Londoners coming out to nice places like Strood pushing prices up if we basically weren’t doing exactly the same thing.
There was word later that the 85% cash lady had fallen through but “Joe” had decided not to even tell us, so we never had a chance to make any other offer.
We never got the place, which is good news if you love McCannecdotes as it means there’s another post or two to be had from the final stages of the househunt, but we were despondent and annoyed; we loved that house (I know that may come as a surprise as I’ve probably made it come across in the post that we were indifferent to the property but this was just a cunning ruse).
We took a break for a while, still looking and checking places out, and still building savings to take us out of deposit-scraping territory. When we returned to house-hunting, we decided to look a little closer to home, in Tooting, swapping £300k houses for £500k flats, sprawling gardens for meagre porches, master bedrooms for barely-habitable basements; but in the process potentially saving hundreds of pounds in removal fees by just moving round the corner…Continue with Part III