What would happen is, we’d have a burst of house viewings, then get fed up, then take a break for a while (usually a year or year-and-a-half) then something would coax us out of house-hunting hibernation – a great new place we saw on Rightmove, news of it being a “buyers’ market”, or an upcoming rent increase, and we’d get back on it.
This cycle of apathy and enthusiam was aided by the fact Andrea and I didn’t *need* to buy a house or need to quit renting, or need to move out. It was just something we thought we should do, but we were perfectly comfortable as we were. And so, whenever there was a setback, Andrea would say something like “I don’t understand the English obsession with buying houses”, and combine that with a “fuck’s sake, can’t be arsed anymore” from me and we’d be on a break.
We were happy as we were, much as the origin story of us living together tended to bemuse people. You see, we used to be a couple – we had met via a mutual cheerleading friend at work and some of our dating stories are already on this blog (she has a pseudonym due to my dating story McCannonymity protection programme). After a whirlwind, and largely Eurovision-fuelled romance, we broke up. And then 6 months later she moved in. I’ve been told by people since that this is not how it usually works, but since when have I cared for the proper order of things (this is the guy who waited until smoking indoors was banned, then started smoking).
My existing housemate had found herself pregnant (not guilty!) and was moving out, and me and Andrea were still friends. She was living in a superbly-located but very small place, and I managed to sell her on the benefits of moving to Tooting. The best bit about this was not having to arrange viewings, since she had already seen the place many times. And that’s how it was for the next eight years. So us buying together was not as weird as it may seem, and us getting fed up with house-hunting and staying put was also fairly understandable.
It was going to take a lot to get us back on trains to go look in the likes of Bromleys or Stroods, and we were still depressed at losing out on the nice house. If only there was a way to house-hunt with MINIMAL effort. Because this decision involved barely leaving the house, I’m going to assume it was my idea to look in Tooting.
Tooting, getting in on the lower-ground floor
Tooting was originally ruled out, as since I’d been there the prices had absolutely sky-rocketed (something known in property circles as “the McCann Effect”). Most of the nice things we wanted from houses outside the capital (from my list for example, a roof) would be impossible to own in South West London, but what if we could find something that would do. Downsize a bit, sacrifice the big garden, just to get on that infamous ladder. It was certainly going to be a flat, but we were in a flat already, and much of our resistance to that idea originally had been that I was never able to get my head around the idea of own a place to live but not owning the land it’s built on. It was nonetheless going to take an extraordinary increase in our budget even to begin to afford something entry-level, and one of us was almost certainly going to have to sleep with the bank manager, but maybe we could make it work.
It was the end of 2017 and myself and Andrea had pinpointed a couple of flats in Tooting to investigate. It seemed like in order for a place to be remotely affordable for us (even so, I now think we would have struggled to get those mortgages) and enough space for two single people, there needed to be a basement involved. I was potentially happy to have this as a bedroom. My bedroom – whether located in Birmingham on the top-floor of a Victorian conversion, or in a bright spacious ground-floor room in Tooting with patio door to the garden – always intrinsically had a basementy/studenty feel to it. Underground just felt like the natural place for me to be, and when I was off work and staying up till 6am and sleeping till 2pm I wouldn’t get disturbed by any sunlight beaming in.
“Let’s play it cool this time,” Andrea WhatsApped me as she sent the details. We were to avoid a repeat of the Strood mistake.
The first place we went to was out of our price range, by a good bit. I think this one was suggested by the estate agent; she clearly had very limited insight into our financial situation and had assumed us to be monied socialites, assumptions likely shattered when I turned up in a PlayStation t-shirt. The flat was very nice inside, you could see they’d spent money on it – however at no point were we in a position to repay the existing owners for that investment.
A couple of small bedrooms, a nice little garden, and then downstairs to the basement. The basement had been all done up nicely, and was being used as a utility room, but this had mancave, never-see-Alan-for-weeks written all over it. I was sizing it for LEGO when in my head I heard Andrea whispering “play it cool this time” in one ear, and then the bank manager whispering “not in a million years” in the other.
But, nice as it was, the flat was still pretty pokey, with Andrea commenting – somewhat crucially – that our TV wouldn’t fit in the living room, and she knows I’d be sooner homeless than downsize my TV. And the basement had a low ceiling – I could fit there but I had a feeling even a change of shoes could have changed that. Anyway, we couldn’t afford it without committing some kind of fraud along the process, but it was nice to see a place that could, with a price reduction, be OK for us.
“Chloe” the estate agent still seemed to think she’d sell us on this flat, unaware that the only way that would happen is if she lent us an extra sixty grand of her own money.
Onto the second place, which was quite literally around the corner from our current flat, on the street where Anton’s Barbers is. We quickly sensed a scam. Ground floor maisonnette again with two small bedrooms and a cellar. A two bedroom place, this. Apparently. We went through the front door and the first door on the right we were introduced to as the master bedroom. Small, nice bay window. Then through the hall to the living room and kitchen.
A TV, a small sofa and then the kitchen. We looked at one another, both arriving at the same conclusion. This was not a living room and kitchen. This was a kitchen with a sofa and a tv in the hallway. That bedroom – the one right at the front of the house, just as you walk in, with the bay window. That was the CLEARLY the living room. They’d just stuck a bed in it and put the sofa in the hallway.
The basement wasn’t much better – it hadn’t actually been converted into a habitable room – it had just been dug out. So you could clamber down there on a rickety wooden stepladder, but it was all exposed wall, wires and creepy crawlies. It was less man-cave and more actual cave. We were just about able to afford this flat, but it would be years before we could legally acquire the funds needed to make something out of this cellar – a much-needed second bedroom for example.
Back upstairs the estate agent was telling us some bullshit about the place and we gestured for her to be quiet. Would have been valid anyway but there was a reason. I pointed Andrea to the ceiling and these thumping footsteps pounded from one end of the flat to the other, and back again. It couldn’t have been louder if he (or she) had been stomping on our heads. Even “Chloe” didn’t have anything to say to this, she just awkwardly shrugged, no doubt hatching a plan to tie-up the upstairs neighbour before she has any more viewings.
So we’d seen a nice place we couldn’t afford, and a shithole we could. This was, in hindsight, pretty much what we expected from trying to look in Tooting. It was time for another house-hunting hibernation and there was only one thing that could wake us next time…
A change of circumstances
Yes, something happened which rocked our lives like … like … well like a normal event that happens in most people’s lives but disproportionately affected us because our situation was weird. Like that.
During a dalliance with dating (we both dipped in and out of that scene pretty much the way we did house-hunting), Andrea had met someone nice. Very nice. I could say something like “way nicer than the usual reprobates she dated” but wily readers could put that back on me since we had dated each other at one point.
“Daniel”, who was actually called Daniel, was perfect for Andrea. They liked all the same weird things, like food, going places and spending time together. I knew fairly quickly they would end up an item and things would have to change. And I also knew deep down maybe this is what we both needed. As mentioned, we’d just never had anything really pushing us to change our comfortable situation.
There was a period where they were spending equal time at our place and equal time at his (a situation I found quite fair), and so half the time I’d have double flatmates and half the time I lived alone. I’d sleep through most of the former, and then go to town with all-nighters during the latter. The time came though to choose between one of those options as a permanent solution.
At first it was proposed that Daniel move in. I’ve lived with couples before, with mixed results, and it’s not necessarily the people or how much you get on with them (or not), it just creates a different dynamic and it wasn’t something I wanted to do again. It felt like this was the time to make a break. As Daniel was looking for a new place, I agreed he could move in temporarily (and unofficially in the eyes of contract-renewal-fee-grabbing estate agents) for a month, on the condition they look for their own flat. And so it was, they found a place fairly quickly and were moving out by February 2019. Truly the end of an era.
There was just one problem remaining. Where the fuck were me and Whacky going to live.
I’d contacted the landlord via his flat-inspecting minions, to say that we wouldn’t be renewing the tenancy which expired in June. I had taken the bold step of deciding to cover the rent till the end of the tenancy, and use the time to look for somewhere to buy. Just a note on the financial implications of this. On the 26th of each month I would be paid by my employer, and on the 28th all that money would go to the landlord. I would then have to scrape essential costs like a Tube ticket to work and cat food for Whacky, out of savings.
It might sound crazy, but even though I still can’t look at a bank statement without getting flashbacks, I was confident this was for the best. No having to get a random person in for 3 months, no having to leave early and move myself and all my shit (mostly all my shit) to a smaller, more affordable place for 3 months, then move me and the shit again in the summer. I’d done the sums. The benefit of me and Andrea having house-hunted over 4 or 5 years was each time we abandoned the idea, we still kept saving so there was more deposit money. The previous summer I had got to a “solo deposit” figure and been saving some extra money for moving costs and fees. IF I could scrape for a few months I could make it work; rent would eat up all my incoming money, but I didn’t need to worry about saving each month for that deposit. This was the moment I’d been saving for. Better to concentrate on finding somewhere, avoid any additional hassles, and also have the time be flexible on when I moved.
Also there was luck in that I didn’t need to give Andrea her share of the rent deposit back until I got it from the landlord in June – a benefit of us being long-time friends rather than transactional co-habiting joint-tenancy-holders.
So there I was, about to start house-hunting SOLO, looking for all kinds of new places, in all kinds of new places. Space for a bike and vegetable garden got crossed off the list, new things were added. “LEGO ROOM QUESTION MARK” was the kind of thing never even possible on the joint list. On the down side, I was now doing this on my own, and not just the Rightmove-browsing which I’d gotten pretty good at. I’d need to liaise DIRECTLY with estate agents, go to places on my own without someone to take note of the important things while I got infuriated about trifles, and when the time came, get that actual mortgage rather than just having a hypothetical chat over coffee with a bank manager. Then I’d need to move … yes, all my shit, to a whole new place, something I hadn’t done for 16 years (pre-LEGO, pre-PlayStation, pre-Whacky, pre-netball). And then I had to live there, with no-one to do all the German things for me.
It was daunting, I’d been sort of trying to buy a house for over four years and nothing had come of it. I now had three months to do it start to finish or I was homeless. Whacky would be fine, the little trollope would just endear herself to a more financially-secure neighbour. For me this was real. And so next time on McCannecdotes, you’ll get what you’ve really wanted since the start of this tale – stories about me flailing about on my own trying to do grown-up things I have no idea about.Continue with Part IV