Adventures in London House Hunting

Home ownership affordability

Reading Time: 4 minutes

17 missed calls. 3 new messages. I have 23 emails in my junk folder from estate agents. They use lots of exclamation marks.

My phone rings again and I answer it, drawing looks from colleagues. My personal iphone has a pink sparkly cover. This is not the first ‘flat move’ related call I have answered in the office, as my supervisor reminds me. I scramble apologetically to the corridor.

The man on the phone is really excited to speak to me.

“Hi! Is that Gwen? Fantastic. Hi Gwen. It’s Steven calling from Jacksons Estate Agents. I hope you’re having a lovely day. Great. It’s so lovely to hear that. I wanted to ask if you’re still looking for a property?”

I had in fact sent an email to him earlier that day explaining we were still looking for a two-bedroom flat in Streatham with a private garden.

“Amazing. Well, we have just had a fantastic new property available. What’s that? Does it have a garden? Ah ok. Well, you know you might change your mind when you see this one. So the property is actually a new build… in Shoreham.”

I am slightly confused. I check my earlier email for any typos.

Victorian conversion in Streatham.

“…but I thought you might be flexible about location”.

Relative to Streatham, Shoreham might as well be the moon. I quickly check commute times on Google maps to my office in Holborn.

“…only 16 minutes from the station, and it’s a really up and coming area,”

“Sorry”, I interject rather forcefully. There is a stunned silence from the man on the phone. “I’m sorry, but Shoreham is just too far away. We commute to the centre of London you see.”.

“Right. SO, that’s a no, then?” The man sounds annoyed. “I think maybe you should just come and SEE it…”

“No, no thank you.”

We complete our niceties and he rings off. He promises to let me know when something comes in that suits our requirements, but also makes it clear that it’s a really “competitive” market at the moment for our price range.

There is very much an ‘in your dreams’ implication.

But, why, I shake my head in frustration, is this so difficult, when Zoopla seems absolutely chock-a-block with sunny flats with high ceilings in our price range?

Like some kind of bait for Yuppies, agents seem to use reasonably priced period conversions to reel you in.

Now they have your mobile number, the mounting number of voicemails on your phone becomes so intimidating you are never able to check your messages. Ever again.

Slowly they break you down, showing you ‘fixer-upper’ after fixer-upper, most of which only marginally match the list of ‘deal breakers’ you gave them, many of which are far and away outside your price range.

Oh, and its NOT a fixer upper if it needs a complete rebuild. Yes, it’s a house, but the back wall is missing. Its not a second bedroom if you cant actually fit a bed in there. Is there someone I can explain this to? Some kind of circular I can send round to Barnard Marcus and Foxtons?

My husband grew up in the area we are trying to buy in. His parents bought their property in the eighties, for, like, 90 pence.

They were pleased to have access to good independent schools in Wandsworth, and sat tight, waiting for the rapid gentrification the estate agent sold to them. These were the days you could get a 150% mortgage, meaning the bank was happy to lend you a bit extra to furnish your detached Victorian with suitable antiques and colefax and fowler wallpaper. Because, you know, why not?

The promised gentrification, however, did not happen till a couple of years ago, meaning the funny man and I were just a wee bit too late to the party to bag a 4 bedroom family home in an up and coming area for a song.

But somehow, miraculously, after what seems like about a thousand viewings, we find a flat we actually like. Its bright, full of features, and has French doors leading to a south facing private garden.

Our offer has been accepted. Congratulations! I start Pinning paint schemes and curtain fabrics.

But despair soon grips us. As a condition of our mortgage we now have to find a way to top our deposit up to 15%. After a few painful phone calls to our parents, who we PROMISE to pay back, it seems like its sorted. Phew.

So this is it, right? Hard part over. Champagne saucers are dusted off, and we, cautiously, begin to smile.

I get a call soon afterwards from solicitor. There is, of course, a problem with the survey. We aren’t able to exchange contracts on the flat until it is determined who is responsible for clearing the rain gullies.Est

The Surveyor is very concerned. Shocked, frankly at, the messiness of the rain gullies. I actually almost laugh at the absurdity of this. What if I just went over there now, and cleared the rain gullies? Problem solved? No, it’s an issue for the freeholder, we’re told, but they aren’t fulfilling their duties. This is very concerning. And there is damp. This is probably linked to the rain gullies issue.

What? What is this madness?

So three damp and timber surveys later, we are now parting with another 3k to install a damp proof course in the house. I stop pinning for a while.

Bitter? Ahem, a teeny bit. But mostly we’re just exhausted.

And this, I believe, is a pretty common feeling for 99% of Londoners. The property market is not a friend to you unless you’re, well, an oligarch. For Londoners who actually have to live, commute, and work in this city, getting on the first rung of that ladder is soul wrenchingly tough. Even if you can scrape together enough for a deposit, with the number of hoops you’re made to jump through it can feel like the city is conspiring to keep you from finding permanent shelter.

London is a pretty inhospitable place for most. For first time buyers, slowly being ground down by the unfeeling callousness of the starter home market, and more so for those who are flat sharing in draughty and damp rentals in zone 4. On a completely different level, its damn well inhospitable for those forced to live in government sanctioned, not fit for habitation, fire-traps across the country.

For a country with such a culture of home-ownership and house pride, this is beyond perverse.

We, of course, are the lucky ones.

We are lucky enough that we could scrimp and save, and that the bank would allow us to get into monumental debt, so we could get on that ladder. We’re lucky enough to have parents who have the money lying around to be able to help us. And we aren’t forgetting that for one minute. Even if we have to pay 3k for a damp proof course.


Illustration by Lauren Gentry

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  • I’m not buying in London – but so much of this rang true for me. From the estate agents that just. won’t. listen. /stalk you relentlessly with houses that tick none of your boxes, to the issues that arise in the process of making a house yours that makes you pause the incessant pinning. It was good to know we are not alone in the craziness. Hope everything goes through perfectly with your purchase Gwen! x

  • I recognise much of this! We have just had an offer accepted in Surrey. We didn’t even consider somewhere
    In London or on the tube line because of the terrifying prices and horror stories. The London bubble is so demoralising. Good luck with your new home though xx

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