I feel before we progress any further, a short course in Roman Numerals is required in case people start to get lost in the number of parts this story has evolved into. I delegate this course to my old primary school teacher M. Waddell (the M stands for Mrs, you know how it works). She is an avid reader of this blog and it was almost certainly her who taught me; I don’t remember for sure, I was only about IX at the time.
I was decided on making an offer asap for the Gravesend house, the one with two front doors. One thing held me back, and this was the feeling that if I made an offer too quickly, the old couple might just bin off the rest of the painting and leave it as is. But I was on a clock; I needed offers going in and being accepted by the end of February. The very next day at work I approached my boss for some advice.
This was the same boss who had taken me suit shopping, not once, but twice. He was accustomed to my life admin.
Knowing when to walk away
I told him I found a house I liked, the 49th house-hunting update he’d received from me in the past few weeks. It was on sale for the princely sum of £280,000, only a small portion of which funds I had to my name. I’d be relying on certain assurances made by Kieran, the mortgage broker who was my new best friend, to ensure a leading international bank stumped up the remainder, in exchange for an almost lifelong drain on my income.
I’ll be honest I was sick of house-hunting, the uncertainty, the disappointment, the hassle, the complete lack of horsey female estate agents taking a shine to me and offering me money off my purchase to curry favour and then the opportunity to take them out for a curry afterwards. I was ambitious maybe to think I could solve my impending homelessness and my singleton status in one transaction.
I was planning to offer the asking price, alongside some kind of note which said “look guys, let’s be reasonable here, I can’t be arsed with any runaround and neither can you and/or the old couple painting your house. I’ll give you what you asked, gentleman’s handshake, Kieran will take care of the rest, on with our lives.” I was conscious however that I could be being rash, so keen to end the househunt that I make some kind of faux pas.
“Never, NEVER….” my boss began.
This could go a few ways, the most likely in my mind was for him to finish with “…bother me at work again with nonsense about your FUCKING house-hunting!”
But alas what he did say was never never “…offer the asking price!”
For word count purposes I’ve condensed this – he said “never” somewhere between eight and nine hundred times. OK well this was sort of what I wanted – a sounding board to prevent me from doing something silly out of sheer exhaustion with the process.
“What you need to do is,” he continued, oozing confidence like he’d done this many times before, “Call them up. Tell them you’ll give them 100 grand, and if they don’t accept by the end of the week, you’re walking away,” he simulated the walking with his fingers.
“Ha ha ha ha,” I laughed; there was no reciprocation. “Well, ha ha, it’s just that, it’s on for 280, I can’t offer 100. That’s ridiculous. I do actually want this house.”
“OK OK,” he reset, “Call them up, tell them you’ll offer 150 grand, no more, and if they don’t accept by the end of the day, you’re walking away,” he did the fingers again.
“It’s just that,” I squirmed; I mean, I didn’t have any experience of this so how did I know this wasn’t how it worked, “It just, seems a bit low. I mean I get that you might come in lower than the asking price, but I can’t imagine them accepting 50% of the asking price. I think they might just hang up and then I’m back to square one. I do want to have a good chance with this house. I’d pay the money. The bank said they’d give me it.”
His face suggested I was being reckless offering a penny more than his suggestion. “OK, if you’re really willing to pay over the odds on this place, here’s what you do. Call them up, tell them you’ll give them 200 grand, final offer, no negotiation, and if they don’t accept in the next ten seconds, you’re walking away,” the fingers again, “And they’ll never hear from you again.”
“I’m still not sure it’s enou….”
“TEN… NINE… EIGHT…” (I don’t know what’s worse the fact we actually did this countdown, or the fact he definitely spent more than a second between each number) “THREE… TWO… ONE…” Slowly, ever so slowly, he did the walking fingers.
“Alright,” I said, “I’ll think about it, thanks, I need to rush to a meeting.” I dashed to my meeting which was in the toilets, with myself, in front of the mirror. He was absolutely right, I shouldn’t offer the asking price, that would have been stupid – I’m glad I made someone talk me out of that. But I can’t offer them so far below; it’s in the right ballpark for the type of house in that area, it’s not 80 grand overpriced. Maybe we can compromise. I will offer below the asking price, but more than what my boss suggested. And here I was, conducting my first negotiation of the house-buying process; negotiating with my boss over how much I could offer.
I decided later that day. I contacted the agent to offer £265,000 of actual money, mentioning in passing I was also chain-free and able to complete asap, and they came back asking for proof of my deposit and agreement-in-principle with the bank.
Kieran had warned me about this. One of his many pieces of sage advice which stuck with me. He drilled into me that I should let him know when I made an offer (which I was about to do) and DON’T give any details of my mortgage discussions to any estate agents. I bought myself some time with Michael, the agent, and told him I would get back to him. I also snuck in a cheeky ask if the offer was at the right level.
“Until I have proof of the mortgage I will not put that offer forward!” he replied. Oh now THIS was definitely something for Kieran. I got in touch straight away, telling him about the offer and the insistence on proof of means, and that they weren’t going to pass the offer to the sellers without the information Kieran had specifically told me not to provide. You see, these estate agents ask for this so they can see what you can technically afford at the max. Then if they know the bank will give you more, they will try to get you to pay more. Fiendish. Sellers have an advantage in this process, because they have an actual negotiator, the agent, working on their behalf. During my research phase I’d found some buyers also hire people to act as their agent, to even the scales. But I didn’t need this. I had Kieran, and this was one of his suite of all-inclusive services.
Kieran was having none of it, “That’s actually illegal,” he said of the refusal to pass on the offer, “Give me his number I want to talk to him. I won’t antagonise him. Just straighten him out a fraction.”
Nothing says “I’m going to antagonise him” quite like saying “I won’t antagonise him.” Like, why even mention antagonism. Also “straighten him out” sounded like a classic euphemism for “I’m going to smash the prick’s face in.” Also “fraction” sounds a bit like “fracture” so maybe that’s a clue as well. Given that I’d only recently stopped giggling to myself over the polite-Italian-gangster/Goodfellows observation, it was in my mind that if I gave out Michael’s number, Kieran or his goons would pay him a visit – the sort of visit which leaves one unable to eat without a straw for many months. Remember when Michael had said that the garden of this house was like a horse had been through it; the head of the horse was going to end up … you get the picture.
All that said, I wanted the house and wanted to save money so if Kieran was going to fuck up a young estate agent, leaving him with physical and mental scarring, well fair enough. Anyway Kieran had suggested the law was on his side.
I gave out the agent’s number and about ten minutes later, Kieran called me. He had a calmness about him which suggested either a) he was a perfectly nice professional doing a perfectly nice job all above board and had a professional-to-professional conversation with a fellow professional, OR b) he had spent nine minutes tearing into poor Michael, which he had found quite cathartic and was now feeling calm. I wasn’t sure which.
Either way, Kieran had assuaged Michael’s mortgage blood-lust and put him right regarding the offer being passed on.
He came back later that day saying 265 was not enough, but they would take it off the market for 270. I’d become dependent on Kieran, I immediately told him and asked whether I should agree and pay 270 or “be cheeky” and meet halfway. He said it was up to me.
I guess I couldn’t outsource all my decisions. I would think about it.
For the next couple of days, I guess I was just busy because I sort of forgot about the whole thing. I forgot I was supposed to get back to the agent about the 270, I forgot I was thinking of meeting in the middle with a counter-offer. I had other things to do, don’t ask me what but presumably things I’d been neglecting with all this house-getting business.
In the end, it was Michael who phoned me, thinking I’d gone cold, and countered his own offer of 270,000 with 267,500.
Fuck me, me forgetting about something had just saved me money. This was not how it usually worked. But if they were chasing me, then presumably I had the upper hand here. Kieran would have been proud when I countered with a flat 267. Saving myself an extra £500 in addition to the £2,500 Michael saved me by negotiating himself down. If you’ve stuck with this McCannecdotes multi-parter since the very beginning, you’ll know what this was. FREE MONEY!
The offer was accepted.
This was already further than I’d gotten with any other places. My second ever offer, my first acceptance, but I knew that there was a looooooong way to go and many things that could go wrong. That said, it was to my advantage that the house was unoccupied and chain-free and that I was a first-time-buyer also without complications.
In one day, I’d been rewarded for being forgetful, and rewarded for being 40 and not having a house. I had, completely by chance, somehow devised a way to monetise my shortcomings.
The agent recommended a solicitor – that they “always work with” and that working with other solicitors might “slow down the process due to chasing for updates.” It’s amazing how much ‘not getting a commission from the solicitor’ can really slow down a process. I did what I had become accustomed to doing, I checked with Kieran, he said “fine use them” and I got in touch.
In no time at all, I was seeing Kieran again; I was in his stately office in Mitcham to apply for the actual mortgage. Of course I was free to go with anyone I wanted for this part of the process, and there were plenty closer to home, but it won’t surprise you at all that there was zero chance of this happening. Yes, it was out of the way – remember Kieran was based in the location of a previous house-hunt, but at least he wasn’t in Strood or Bromley. And even if he was, I’d be on that train with my paperwork in a shot.
The paperwork and the “deal”
About the paperwork – holy shit. This was one heavy folder. I almost had to get it “sent separately” for the appointment. Forms from work, detailed information on my spending habits. A life insurance policy I genuinely did not know I had. Various other pieces of information I was sure I couldn’t even get, somehow ended up printed off and neatly in this gargantuan folder.
I’d also had to pull together various pieces of information about the house I was attempting to buy. I had to go back to Michael to ask when the property was built, to which he replied “turn of the century”. Which I, as a rational person, assumed meant 2000. I’d been in this house, either he was mistaken or I was being sold a shithole of a new build. I mean the condition of this house had rapidly deteriorated in less than 20 years. And with not a single straight doorframe, ceiling or floor in the house, this had been built to ramshackle standards; did New Labour do something to housing regulations in the early 2000s? It turns out, after some checking, that Michael meant 1900 which made a lot more sense.
This aside, of all these details and pieces of paperwork, there was just one that was causing me real worry. The spending habits.
Now my spending habits could never have been described as normal. A cursory glance would lead most people to assume I had a separate secret bank account for lunch money, socialising, holidays, coffees, petrol. All things I just didn’t spend money on. Instead you would have obscene LEGO purchases and a relatively recent glut of spending on my new hobby of netball. I remember reading how if you’re going to buy a house, SPEND NOTHING for six months before; if they see any spending, you’re done for. But it wasn’t so much my abnormal “normal” spending I was worried about. It was just that, this was sort of all happening at a bad time.
“Normally,” I explained to Kieran sheepishly as his eyes razored across the various bank and credit card statements, “I don’t really spend much money; I don’t go on holidays, I don’t go out, I don’t gamble, I don’t have a car, kids or ex-wives, or even current wives. That said, you might be noticing some things that you might regard as suspicious on my paperwork. You see, right now, because of – well, all this – I’m paying pretty much my entire salary in rent each month – double my usual rent basically – so rather than looking like I haven’t spent anything for 6 months, like you’re supposed to, I’m actually over-spending. Also, do you know about the Deposit Deal?”
“The Deposit Deal?” he quizzed, possibly with a toothpick sticking out the side of his mouth.
“Well, I should explain,” I said, “See I do this thing on my blog where I use these phrases I made up, and I use them as if they’re perfectly normal common concepts, and then I have to explain them to readers. Well, I sort of do this in real life too, which is why I’m going to have to explain the Deposit Deal to you now, and also in future – if I choose to write this up for my blog – to my readers… The Deposit Deal was struck many many years ago, between myself and my fiscal conscience. The deal went – or so the story goes – that Alan has to save like buggery for many years, itemising every purchase, reining in every impulse, foregoing basic human needs (like cars and ex-wives) to save for a house deposit. And there’s an amount involved, that would be a “good deposit” if Alan was buying on his own. The deal stated that if Alan exceeded this savings target by a certain date, he was allowed (in fact, obligated) to absolutely spunk every penny he had over that amount. This might explain some of the curious purchases you can see.”
It’s true. I was regretting it now as Kieran pored over my financials, but there was a deal with myself. If I had overshot my savings target, through years of scrimping, by the set date, I was allowed to spend the extra on anything. ANYTHING. Something I don’t need – allowed! Something I don’t want – allowed! Something that’s extremely poor value for money – allowed! If I wanted to spend hundreds of pounds on a lifesize polystyrene model of my favourite celebrity horse – it was allowed. No-one could judge, no regrets could be had. Anything goes.
And indeed, anything went. Standing out in a sea of shopaholic purchases was a £500 Dyson fan. It had been warm, I wanted a fan. The Deposit Deal was in play. Ordinarily I would see a £500 fan as something for idiots and millionaires. I wanted one, but under normal circumstances would never have entertained this idea. It was bought in a heartbeat. The only time I berated myself over this frivolous purchase was when I berated myself for feeling regret or wasteful – under the detailed terms of the deposit deal, this was not permitted. At Black Friday I’d seen some deals going for SAD lamps; the seasonal affective disorder lights that simulate sunset, sunrise, and are meant to help you sleep and wake better. I always had trouble with waking, but there was no indication this was SAD related. Didn’t matter. I browsed the deals, you could get one for £30 or £50 in the Black Friday sales or you could get the high-end one which was £200 which wasn’t even discounted. So, Deposit Deal in full force and overshoot not yet fully spent, I sat there on Black Friday and bought a £200 lamp which I didn’t need and which wasn’t even on sale. There was LEGO involved too, a rollercoaster, ferris wheel and carousel I did NOT have space for, but didn’t give a second thought to buying. A shipment of Queensland Firebirds netball merch from Australia, whose postage alone would have made me vomit in normal times.
To my credit, I don’t think I actually spent the full amount of the overshoot – it had been more than I was expecting because I had become quite obsessively thrifty in my savings drive. But as I sat here shiftily with Kieran trying to explain to him that I’m actually not a reckless overspender it all seemed like a lot of crap to have bought so close to trying to get a mortgage.
All this panic was for nothing it seemed, as Kieran explained I had simply spent money I had – and I could be spending £500 a month on curries and the bank wouldn’t care, as long as I wasn’t putting it all on credit cards. (I realise I made a joke earlier in this post about curries, and now have said curries again. I am not hungry or subconsciously feeling like a curry. The first one was a joke I made up and by coincidence this is what Kieran actually said).
Aside from the unwarranted pants-shitting about carefree money-spunking, I had a pretty easy time in the rest of the mortgage meeting. Everything was sorted and signed and I was off, my only concern whether me and Kieran would keep in touch and hang out sometimes after all this was over.
Over the coming months the solicitor meanwhile was busy, essentially doing a very protracted version of what I’d had to pull together for the mortgage. Getting various pieces of information from the sellers, the land registry, the local council. Every so often I’d have a thing to sign and send back, every so often I’d have extra money to pay. Pretty much daily I’d get an e-mail from the solicitor (or his assistant who was clearly his wife/daughter/sister as they shared a surname – notable for the fact her first name was Xanthe, which I found fucking tremendous). Two days later I’d receive the same e-mail printed out as a letter in the post. It was disorientating but at least it was thorough.
I wouldn’t have thought I could handle the nine weeks of waiting, always wondering if something was going to fall through, the end of my Tooting tenancy nearing, more and more money invested in something which could collapse and I’d have to start again. I was anxious and nervy for the early stages, but was surprisingly chilled as time went on. There’s was nothing I could do, just carry on as normal. I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it, although the SAD lamp from Black Friday might have helped with that.
In April I sorted the last major thing I needed to do, and which I feel I left a bit late. The survey.
The survey and the harps
So this is supposed to be just a check that the house doesn’t have any hidden surprises and won’t fall down once I put my piano in. Or so I thought. What I received from the building surveyor was a comprehensive jargon-filled document with colour-coded sections. Some bits were in red – I use red in Microsoft Excel to mean “bad number, bad”, maybe this was something similar. Lots of orange, and a few greens. My gut instinct was that there was nothing that should make me reconsider my purchase, and that a lot of these reds and oranges were par for the course for a house this old. If you factor in the difference between my turn of the century (2000) and Michael’s (1900) this sort of stuff should be expected.
But what do I know about ANY OF THIS. I was nervy again, wondering if I should be worried about any of this jargon and red flags. I just wasn’t sure what to do, I even mentioned it to the solicitor and asked if he could take a look and advise if there was anything “in his experience” I should be concerned about. He sent me back an extremely arse-covering e-mail about how his sole role was in conveyancing and he could not express any opinion either way about the survey. Pschf, I was tempted to see if I could get anything more out of Xanthe, but abandoned the idea.
This is where Harps came in…
I know what you’re thinking, by harps I mean another crazy musical purchase I made when I was spending my Deposit Deal savings. No no, Harps was a person.
Harps had been working with us for a short period of time, a contractor temping after a colleague departed. I knew some things about Harps that I shouldn’t. When she’d started I’d … um … googled her to add her on LinkedIn or something. The first thing that popped up was her wedding video. I am not making this up, this genuinely was the first thing that came up, I was not internet-stalking this esteemed colleague. Her wedding was in the huge Sikh temple in Gravesend. So we had this Gravesend connection, but the problem is I couldn’t bring this up, lest she ask me how I knew.
At some point, this was going to come up, and she might mention Gravesend, and when she did I had to pretend to be surprised. Like really convincingly. Because I was not supposed to know any of this, and would immediately be accused of internet-stalking (which I wasn’t. I WASN’T.)
I’d just had the survey through first thing, and had spent the whole morning …. working of course. Working. And also in the background, reading and worrying about this survey. But still working, just maybe only at 102% rather than the 110% I usually put in, just to be clear. Yes, people from work know about this blog, and my newly-retained employment lawyer Xanthe has asked me to be careful about implying I was doing any homelessness-avoiding tasks during work time.
About 11am I was in the kitchen for some coffee, and bumped into Harps. When she asked how I was, she got the same answer as anyone who’d spoken to me since February, which was house-hunting updates. I told her I had put an offer on a place. She asked where.
THIS WAS IT. Stay calm, I had to stay calm, act natural, then when the time comes act pleasantly surprised. But definitely surprised.
“Gravesend,” I said, a frog in my throat omitting the G.
“OMG really, I’m from Gravesend originally!”
Now… you’ve read how I’m supposed to act in response to this. How I’d trained myself to respond to this moment. To say I over-egged and over-hammed my response is an understatement. I just needed chips.
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!??” I said like a fucking pantomime character, “Ooohh, myyyy, Goooooood, whaaaa, I had no idea! Whooooaaaa, what a coincidence, right? Right? OMG such a coincidence,” I popped my head out the kitchen, “Guys guys I had no idea about this but guess what totally new piece of information Harps has just told me. You won’t believe the coincidence.”
Harps looked at me weirdly. She either thought I was acting and I had been internet-stalking her (which I hadn’t), or I was mentally ill. Fortunately, she’d heard about the LEGO, the netball, the Eurovision, all that – I think she was leaning towards mentally ill.
I tried to move on from the contentious issue of her origins, “Yeah so everything’s been progressing nicely, touch wood, so I might be moving to Gravesend.”
She asked about the place, and I described it; meanwhile various colleagues were in and out of the kitchen, making their teas and coffees as I droned on to Harps, shaking their head at me as they left as I was battering someone’s ears again about “fucking house-hunting”.
I concluded my exhaustive update to Harps, “So this morning, I just got through the final piece I need, the building survey, can’t make head nor tail of it, so I’m a bit stressed.”
“Oh,” Harps said, “Send it over to me. My husband’s a qualified building surveyor, I’ll get him to take a look and call you at lunchtime to talk it over.”
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!??” This was clever of me, making sure I said the same thing when genuinely shocked by a coincidence as I did when I was pretending to be shocked.
Indeed, Harps’ other half, and the other half of that lovely Sikh wedding video, was a surveyor. I sent her the survey and my number and at lunchtime, as promised, he called me and walked me through the entire thing, answering every question, explaining all the jargon, and putting my mind at rest. Harps and Mr Harps – fucking legends.
The last hitch overcome, we were on the home strait. The solicitor made his final preparations, more things were signed, and the completion date was set for early May. There was just one final problem. The money.
I’d sent my deposit money, and then the bank had sent the remainder, which made up the total of the house purchase. All sounds proper, right? Until I get a message saying that before sending the hundreds of thousands of mortgage pounds, the bank had deducted a £20 transfer fee! So the whole thing was now £20 short. Helmets!
I emergency transferred the extra money and everything was back on track. I never got complacent and was always wondering if something could still go wrong, but it didn’t and in early May it was done and I was heading to Gravesend to pick up my keys.
A house had been bought.