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The Diary of a House Hunter: 1

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Ben House HuntingMission: move middle-aged, middle-income earner couple and disabled mum from two London Properties into one shared dwelling somewhere in the East Midlands – being rent and mortgage free through sale of small House in London.

In this Random series, I thought I would diarise mine and Frazzy’s journey through house seller to house buyers.

The Situation

In many ways. we exemplify the typical London social problem of 2016.

Both born and brought up in the capital. Her family early 60s immigrants from Barbados, mine Bermondsey boys from a long line of Smithfield Market porters.

Frazzy is a self-employed travel Agent specialising in business travel for bankers etc, even the odd celeb. Me, a housing professional. Sometime trainer, sometime consultant and general all-round project geezer.

The working middle-income types that Cameron and Osborne say they support because we ‘Do the right thing’. Where the ‘Doing the right thing’ has got us, is to a situation where housing costs in the capital are crippling us so much that we can’t afford to survive in the city of our birth and are having to relocate.

Frazzy’s mum, an NHS veteran whose lower spine has crumbled from lifting patients in and out of beds and baths, before the days of hoists (A typical retired nurse condition we’re told) is now in a wheelchair, while Frazzy and I rent a one bed flat of our own, at £1,300 per month…..its about to go up by £100 per month, thanks to the intervention of our letting agent, keen to drive us out so they can earn a new finders and sign-up fee.

Frazzy and her mum’s house is too small for the three of us so we have both rent and mortgage to pay, meaning our housing costs alone are £2,500 per month.

We want to sell up and have her mum with us but can’t afford anywhere for the three of us in London or even just outside the M25.  Trust me….we’ve looked.

Stage One

Stage one involves a lot of property porn in the form of spending hours going “Ooh” and “Aah” on Rightmove, stunned by what we can get if we move away from the city that is rapidly eating itself..

Trouble is we don’t yet know the names of towns and villages in our chosen area and what might look nice in the photographs could be in a road covered in dumped mattresses.

Like all house hunters we have a list.

The List

First is property type. The place has to be big enough for us to have our own independent space.

Frazzy’s mum is not going to want to listen to me playing Stanton Warriors, CDs, let alone practising my Guitar and I’m not going to want to watch endless hours of cricket, which seems to be the Bajan national religion, so far as her mum is concerned.

Then location. We are looking North so the radius of affordability coupled with size starts at Coventry and up.
City, suburb or country?

For us suburbs are definitely out. Never liked them. They always seem to be in some middle limbo land. You have to go either right into town or right out in our book. We have opted for country village. Somewhere to walk the dog and make chutney for the local fete.

Plus the properties, being more spread out, throw up more opportunities for Granny-flats and conversions.

The first exploratory visit

Having made a list of areas and checked them on the map we set off for Nottingham at Easter weekend for the more exciting stage 2, scouting out locations.

Its been a number of years since I had cause to enter an Estate agents as a customer.

Entering as an enforcement officer is a different matter but this was a novelty for once and I got to witness two distinct ends of the spectrum.

Agent number one in Nottingham centre, the stereotypical young guy, flash suit, brimming with appallingly misplaced self- confidence. The type of delusional fool you see on ‘The Apprentice’, keen only on selling us what he wanted to sell and completely oblivious to what we were actually looking for.

We’re not interested in school catchment areas or proximity for work as we’re childless and self-employed, largely home workers but he neither asked, nor paid any attention when we told him and just ploughed on with his pointless, standardised sales pitch for properties that weren’t the least bit relevant.

The only bright spot in this ‘Assault by arrogance’ being when we were asking what the different areas were like around Nottingham and whilst giving us a list of his personal ‘Thumbs-ups’ he turned to a colleague and said “Natalie. What is your opinion of Mapperley?…………………honest opinion”

Only an estate agent would feel the need to add the extra caveat after a pause.  This comedy sketch made me laugh out loud. He didn’t see the joke.

Estate agent number two, again in the city centre. Very polite, pretty, typically heavily made-up young lady who got fixated on the notion that we would need an annexe for Frazzy’s mum, something we hadn’t stipulated. She and a colleague stared at photos of properties on a wall for a good, silent two minutes, biting their bottom lips and hoping one would jump out at them that wasn’t there before.

We could have crept out and they wouldn’t have noticed.

Finally, to save her embarrassment we let her put us on their mailing list.

Estate agent number three in Hucknall, a middle aged lady, been in the biz since the year dot. Spent ages asking us what we were looking for and found several suitable properties straight away and offered a few suggestions we hadn’t considered. Spoke to us as one human being to another, with a bit of mutual respect.

Guess who we registered with and trust?

Messages from the trip

Message to self for next trip up, if someone in a suit walks towards you looking professional and sincere, walk out quickly before they get a chance to speak.

Message to estate agents. Stop employing people who make it clear from the first handshake that you are viewed merely as a means to their next bonus. Just like a Gazelle can smell a Lion on the wind, so a mature house-hunter can smell insincerity drifting across the Ikea desks.

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