No period features. Overlooked garden. No allocated parking. Not in the desired area. On the small side. Tiny hallway. None of this screams ‘ this is the one’, or ‘let me give you all the money I have’. But here we are, 5 months in to living in our perfectly imperfect maisonette and we couldn’t be happier with it….well there’s a few things that could be improved like the oven aka the Space Rocket, but we still know it was absolutely the right choice for our first home.
If you’ve watched Kirsty and Phil for as many years as I have, you will be aware of something that consistently comes up during the house-hunts…’the feeling’. It sounds a bit too blasé, hippy-dippy, and illogical to use this intangible thing to be the root of, impact or even dictate one of the biggest decision of your life. But now I’ve been through the process I can confirm it really is a thing and it should be listened to… at least a bit. I’ve always felt like I’ve had a pretty strong gut instinct in regards to it being an indicator of right and wrong. I’m not saying I’ve always chosen to listen to it – sadly, I’m stubborn like that and sometimes my problemative gut’s opinion has been very inconvenient – but it’s definitely a part of me which influences and guides. Of course it was going to be no different in this process too.
When you embark on a house-hunt you have your personal checklist (and sometimes a separate shared checklist with your partner if that’s your situation) – the things it absolutely has to have to be in the running, and those things you believe are the deal-breakers. I’m here to tell you that your list may very well change, or at the very least the hierarchy and priority of the must-haves will. We both ended up being so surprised by our reactions to certain properties we viewed. Many that were our favourites from viewing online were the ones we mentally dismissed within a few seconds of stepping inside (and sometimes not even inside), and then the one we ended up buying was originally vito’ed by Si after I showed him the pictures on Zoopla.
Let’s talk about our initial must-haves before our first viewing at the start of this year.
Location as near as possible to where we had been living – It’s such a lovely place to live with all the waterside pubs, gardens, parks, restaurants and walking spots you could ever want, as well as being commuter belt – meaning a half hour train ride to Waterloo. We also wanted to be near to my parents and my 1 year old Niece Martha who has only recently moved back to the area with my brother and his wife.
Pets Allowed. We’ve been yearning for a dog for as long as we can remember so we wanted to know it would be feasible in the property we purchased.
2 bedrooms. We wanted to have a room that would allow us to have people over (Si’s mum primarily) that could also be used as an office/filming space and a room for overflow of possessions if we were lacking storage elsewhere in the property.
Allocated Parking (garage a bonus). Si hated the idea of having to spend time looking for a parking space every time we came home – particularly when we’ve done a big shop and need to get loads of heavy bags in the house.
A bath. I always worry this makes me sound like an absolute princess, but I don’t ever use the shower anymore due to POTS (a conditon which can cause dizziness and fainting) and a bath is an absolute essential for my aching and fatigued body. If there wasn’t a bath, there at least needed to be room to install one and money left from our budget to do that work.
Gas heating/cooker. We had been warned by many how much more expensive it is to heat a house with electric and we knew we’d need to save money where possible when it came to eventual living expenses.
Close to station . As I don’t drive it needed to be within a mile of the closest station (the station also needing direct routes to London) so I could walk there when I need to venture to the city for work. If it was close to amenities as well, then brilliant!!
A fairly reasonable list I hope you’ll agree.
In the space of 17 days I viewed about 37 properties. It might sound a lot but as you know if you’ve been following me for a while, this is a moment we have waited for, for a LONG LONG time. I just wanted to be thorough and check that I understood what the market had to offer us right now, with our budget which had been described as ‘challenging’ by quite a few estate agents. Up north we could have got a family 4 bed house with it, but that’s just a pointless and heartbreaking info, because sadly this area is one of the most expensive places to live in the UK, meaning a 2 bedroom flat with our checklist of musts would be a stretch. Brexit actually worked in our favour though. Due to the uncertainty about the country financial future many people feel hesitant to buy/move right now – this meant we had less competition when putting in offers and that the vendors were more inclined to accept a lower offer knowing that they may not get many other offers moving forward.
We viewed most properties that ticked the main points and that were within our budget and about 30,000 over (there are deals to be had in the vendors are eager to move quickly). We pretty much covered every style and age of property during the hunt which really helped us work out what we could get for our money and what sacrifices would need to be made to tick certain boxes.
We viewed numerous modern high rises, many with balconies, views, gyms and concierge services. Someone was sleeping in their bed on one we visited which caused much hilarity – the estate agent who let us in was mortified and resembled Elmo in skin colour. I’m glad we did because it was really helpful in telling us what what wasn’t a good fit for us. We both agreed that if we were in our early twenties, single, and focusing on our careers they’d be perfect. They have that easy bachelor pad appeal. But where we are now they just didn’t feel homely or cosy enough, it all just felt a bit clinical. We also decided we didn’t want to have to get a lift up to our home.
Many of these modern flats also had open-plan living. While we always thought this was great for entertaining and can look pretty cool too, we realised this wouldn’t really work for us. Si is quite a messy/noisy and smelly chef – I don’t mean he smells but he uses fairly fragrant ingredients – and we didn’t want this encroaching on our lounging area (which would have inevitably become a work hot-spot too).
Coincidently many of these flats also had pretty terrible outlooks. A few looked out on the bins or the back of some pretty unattractive office buildings and they just left us feeling a bit cold. After viewing a few of these we realised that while we liked that we wouldn’t have to do any work on the properties and that we could move straight in, they just didn’t feel right.
Originally I had thought a ground floor property would be ideal – less walking for me and easy access to private/communal gardens. But the more we saw the more we realised you often had to sacrifice privacy or light. You’d either need blinds pulled shut, curtains or deal with the fact you’d feel a bit exposed. I realised feeling relaxed was so important and I wanted the freedom to have a not clothes day in my home if I wanted. We soon realised a first floor flat or a maisonette would be ideal.
There was one ground floor flat I did fall hard for because it didn’t feel overlooked as it was just the kitchen that could be seen from the outside and there wasn’t a huge amount of footfall. You wouldn’t see many nosey faces passing and looking in as you did your washing up in your sloggy home wear. I showed it to my sister in law who is an architect and she instantly flagged up some issues that would turn out to be dealbreakers for this one. It was electric and also had a very low EPC rating (one that couldn’t be improved to any helpful extent), meaning it would cost us a lot to keep it warm in the winter. She pointed out the state of the rest of the building and communal area, it was in a certain state of ageing and disrepair meaning that it probably wouldn’t be long before some work would need to be done (which would be split between all the residents of the flat and potentially very costly) on top of the existing yearly service charges. She also pointed out that there were slightly unattractive areas around the block which would encourage ‘hanging around’ and lots of rubbish to gather which would impact it’s ability to be sold when it came to that point again. And guess what? It’s still on the market now! P.S A local block of flats close to us recently had a big exterior overhaul which costs residents thousands and thousands each – it’s not= joke.
The One that got away
I think it’s helpful to you if I talk about hindsight perspective on a house we put an offer on, looked to be getting, then devastatingly lost. It was a real shock as we thought we had it in the bag…but it really was meant to be, because the next day was when we viewed the one we eventually bought.
I think we were a bit too heavily influenced by the fact that it was a house. We had never thought it was possible and perhaps the excitement meant we were more inclined to turn a blind eye to some of it’s lackings. Again….this is actually still on the market which may indicate again that it was a blessing in disguise and that it had some definite flaws. We thought a house would be a good investment so we were being sensible and trying to think of the future. We also liked this it had it’s own private garden. The fact it had stairs up to the bedroom/bathroom made us feel like proper adults in a grown up home, and that was thrilling. But the reality is there was a big tree in the garden with huge roots which you could see were starting to be intrusive – this could have been a potentially expensive job that may have been essential in the very near future. The kitchen aka the industrial zone from the Crystal Maze would need a complete overhaul at some point too. The second bedroom was tiny and had the water tank in it that would need to be moved for that space to function for us at all. The list went on. I think it could be a great doer – upper for someone. But we now realise that we didn’t want something that would take months before we could fully enjoy it.
Having seen 37 properties and covering all the many different styles this article could go on forever so let me summarise and talk about the things we realised during the process of looking at the different options…
Realisations and Dealbreakers
Feeling Safe – I would be in the flat on my own for the majority of my time as Si now works till 7/8 on weekdays. We found that some of the flats that had the best square footage were in areas that we didn’t feel very comfortable in. Some of them we checked out at night to see what they were like and we were right to be concerned.
Skylights – Unfortunately two of the most spacious properties we saw had skylights in the bedroom. We have always adored the look of them but as someone who struggles with sleep it just didn’t make sense to have glass above our heads – particularly when living in a famously rainy country. I don’t need to hear hailstones and raindrops on top of Si’s foghorn snoring thank you very much!
Size isn’t everything – When we started out we wanted to get the most space for our money. We wanted as big a lounge as possible and always made a very consicous point of looking at the floorpans on Zoopla/Rightmove etc. The one we settled on was actually one of the smallest we saw, but we felt that they’d used the space wisely and allocated it to the right things. Id rather have that roomy second bedroom rather than some of that vital space being used for a corridor for instance. It’s about quality space. A light, well thought out compact space is better than a dark huge space with no flow to it.
Search area Flexibility – Our first flat viewing was in our no.1 area – the town we’d been living in at my parents house and where I’ve lived my whole life aside from uni. It was a brutal reality check, but it was good to realise early one that we’d need to venture out and be open to different locations to get something we’d be happy with for our money. From then on we expanded our search and viewed in various nearby towns. We soon realised that as long as we still have good transport links, get a good feeling, and feel safe, that we’d be okay. We’ve moved to a much more affordable area, and it’s only 12 minutes away. We have no regrets and it’s been kinda fun to get to know a new spot.
Good to go -I started out being very open to using my imagination and doing some work to get a space to where we wanted. But the more we looked, the more we realised we just wanted to hurry up and start living in the space. Having felt we’d missed out on this independent and adult life for so long already we didn’t want to put adult life on hold any longer. This was never going to be the forever home, it might only be our home for a few years, so we realised we didn’t want to spend a year or 2 doing the place up and spending a fortune to do so. We realised a place that was good to go apart from some cosmetic details was the way to go for us. We’ll save ‘the project’ for the next one.
Curb Appeal isn’t everything – As I said before Si originally dismissed our home because it is a fairly plain/ugly looking 70’s red brick block. There’s nothing cute about the outside of the building apart from the nice privicy from the road courtesy of some lush foliage. But I convinced him to be open minded and come for a viewing, because I thought it had potential and by that point I had gotten to a place where I realised the exterior is way down my priority list. How often do you stand outside your house at look at…not often.
We didn’t need it to be sexy
We went to some very slick, very modern flats and while the ease of moving into such a fresh and ‘done’ space had a certain appeal we both kept feeling like these were the spaces we would have bought in our early twenties. We actually felt more at home in the slightly dated, quirky, or cosy places.
Business premises come with drawbacks
We viewed a few above shops or next door to businesses and while we were initially unfazed by the prospect they do tend to throw up certain issues – whether it be noise, people hanging around, traffic caused by deliveries. The main one was the spike in house insurance – if you’re above a business with increased possibility of fire it will have an impact.
Good on paper…
Early on you realise they use wide angle lenses for the online shots and that most places are way smaller in the flesh, but sometimes the text is also misleading. We went to one that advertised having allocated parking and a garage, but when we came to view the car was completely blocked in my numerous neighbours cars, and you couldn’t even access to garage. We had a similar issue with the property we bought in that we put in an offer partly based on the fact it had a loft, only to find out via the lease that legally loft wasn’t going to be owned by us and we wouldn’t have permission to use it… even thought it’s in our flat and no one could tell us who did own it.
Why our Imperfect home was perfect to us
The stairwell up to the rooms is beautiful light thanks to a big window and it isn’t too narrow. Many of the maisonettes had an extremely cramped and dingy entrance and staircase which made it feel unwelcoming and also a nightmare for bringing shopping up and attempting to take off shoes etc.
The second bedroom wasn’t a box room. It was another double in fact. We only found a few that had a second bedroom that was similar in size to the master. We realised this was important considering it would be such a multipurpose space.
Our flat had a loft (even though it led to huge legal issues I had to iron out before signing the contract) which was a huge bonus as we are people with lots of stuff and we really wanted to make sure our home wouldn’t end up too cluttered.
There was also the option to rent a garage at the back of the flat – YAY, more storage for all my crap.
The kitchen was in pretty good nick (and separate from the lounge). While it wasn’t to my taste as such it was perfectly fine and something we wouldn’t have to fork out on.
It has gas – I know saying you have gas is usually a bad thing but when it comes to the house you want to buy it’s a good thing.
Pets Allowed – We were told when we viewed the flat that two King Charles Spaniels, a cat and a toddler lived there with their parents. There’s also a park literally a stones throw from the flat where lots of local dogs play together.
Fireplace – The only real feature in the flat and I hate to admit it did pull on my heart because I knew by then we wouldn’t be able to get a charming victorian property this time, but at least my lounge would have a nice focal point.
Double glazing – This can be very expensive, so it was great that it was already in place. It means its secure, keeps the heat in (more efficient) and great if you live by a noisy road.
The outlook – Si and I both absolutely loved the view out of the kitchen and instantly pictured ourself doing the dishes and gazing out – it’s the perfect view of green hills and trees mixed with suburban roofs for added interest.
The light – it streams in everywhere and creates the most beautiful shafts and dappling. Don’t underestimate how much light can impact your mood and quality of life in a home.
We have a proper front door – Having viewed a lot of flats within in large blocks on different floors we realised how lovely it is to have your own personal entrance. We found a lot of stairwells were quite grotty too, so it’s lovely to be able to side-step those.
No service charge – many flats/maisonettes have service/communnual charges and some are fairly high for people like us who are on a budget. When I heard ours didn’t have one my initial reaction was ‘Great!!’…but then I thought ‘ this sounds too good to be true’. I made sure to do lots of research into what happens if something needs to be done to the building/grounds. I asked to see records of any incidences over the last 15 years to gauge how regularly costs arise, and to see whether there are any conflicts between neighbours. Before we moved in the neighbours all agreed to pay for some chimney work that came up in our survey which assured me their system works well for this block of four.
Location, Location, Location – I am a charming 3 minute walk away from a CO-OP, newsagent, post office, chemist, hardware store, charity shop, indian restaurant, chinese takeaway and more, which has impacted my life and independence so much. I’m also just a 18- 23 minute walk to the station. And local primary school are about 200m away – which is not useful to us right now, but it’s very helpful when it comes to selling to be in a good catchment for numerous schools.
We have our own garden. We haven’t used it much as it’s a bit overlooked by the ground floor maisonette but it’s so nice to have it and hopefully next summer we can use it for some BBQ’s and sunbathing sessions.
We did sacrifice allocated parking but it didn’t feel like a sacrifice as we were assured there’s always parking outside the flat, or near enough outside. It rarely causes us any issues.
The ‘feeling’……nuff said.
So I really hope this post may be useful for those looking to buy/rent and in the process of finding ‘the one’ for them. Perhaps our decision process and discoveries along the way will help you to keep your wits about you and look out for certain pit fulls or potential dealbreakers during your own hunt.
Enjoy the process, after all it’s pretty special to be in a position to do this. Don’t rush. Use your head and a little dose of the heart and gut and you should be fine.