So I feel like we’re stuck in limbo right now…
We had a plan for 2017, but life doesn’t always bend to our will or go the way we’d hoped…
This post really just serves as a way for me to process the past year and a half of our lives. Understandably most won’t want to read this long ramble so I’ll give you the brief run down of the house situation in case you want to skip the rest.
2014 – We bought a run down Victorian home in London
2015 – We began renovating it bit by bit as a family
2016 – We remortgaged and hired builders to do the big renovations (including gutting the ground floor, ripping out the existing kitchen and putting in a new one in a different spot, putting on a rear extension, gutting two bathrooms and adding a third bathroom)
2017 – Renovations and decoration were completed whilst we were in the thick of moving our family of five from London to Frankfurt, Germany. House was put up for sale
2018 – After several sales falling through our house finally sold!
After renting in the UK for 5 years, slowly improving our financial situation we decided to jump into the London property market. At the time we had no intention of leaving the U.K so mostly we just needed a place to call our own.
In the 4 years we’d lived in London (we spent our first 12 months in the UK in the West Midlands) the prices of homes had sky rocketed. We couldn’t afford to buy in the area of South-East London we had been renting in since 2010, so we needed to look elsewhere.
We ended up purchasing in East London, north of the river with kick ass internet speed compared with where we’d lived previously…but honestly, it was a bit of a down grade in our quality of life. The previous area we’d lived in had been near woodland and royal docks. Most importantly for us it had lovely walks and picnic spots.
We’d often walk home beside the Thames from Central London:
I loved seeing shows in the West End…
We had a Barbican membership and spent a lot of time at events there and saw a lot of weird and wonderful cinema…
On Saturdays we’d often walk to Borough Market and then have a leisurely walk home with our goodies in hand…
The walk into and home from Central London wasn’t a short one from our part of London, but it was an enjoyable walk and gave us a reason to walk…that was the important thing.
Alas we couldn’t afford to stay in that area and the walks in East London were along busy, traffic filled roads and whilst the tube was a short walk away, walking into Central London just wasn’t doable.
When we bought our house at the beginning of 2014, houses were selling fast! There weren’t enough homes for the amount of buyers eagerly trying to get onto the property ladder in London. On one occasion we called up about a property that had been listed for only 2 days. We were told to not even bother coming and viewing it as the seller had received so many offers, an extra bidder wasn’t needed or welcome.
When we viewed the house we did end up purchasing, we were given a 10 minute time slot for a walk through with the agent. The agent had back-to-back viewings all day and the house had only been listed a few days before, it was full on!
Things were very different for us when early 2017 rolled around and we were the ones selling our home to facilitate a move back home to Australia. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union has happened 6 months earlier in June 2016 (whilst our renovations on the house were kicking off). Come early 2017 and people were beginning to feel more and more unsettled by how Brexit was going to play out. Very few were keen on shaking things up and were playing it safe and holding onto the property they had in the hopes of riding the whole thing out. We were pretty sure things were going to get MUCH worse in the months and years ahead (and we were right, according to Zoopla our house today is worth significantly less than what we sold it for).
We knew things were going to get worse before they got better and felt a huge amount of pressure to get out of the property market sooner rather than later. We did have a good amount of viewings on our home during 2017 and quite a few offers we were happy to accept, but gone were the days of more buyers being on the market than properties to purchase…
Emotionally we had gone through a lot of upheaval moving to Germany. It was just a lot to take in really. I was back and forth to London frequently to: finish up the decoration, deal with the real estate agents, give the empty house yet another clean (this became so dissatisfying for some reason!) and just generally keep an eye on things.
The build itself had been pretty emotionally taxing and we had lived in the house whilst all the work was done. For the most part the challenges of living in a home whilst the ground floor was gutted was actually really fun for all of us. We had one bathroom usable at all times…but we did have to live for 3 months without a kitchen (and in London the kitchen is where your washing machine lives too!). We set up a makeshift kitchen/living room in one of the bedrooms on the first floor (the kids bunked in together to free up the space) and cooked all our meals in our two electric pressure cookers. I washed our dishes in a bowl placed in the bathtub and did all our loads of laundry in the bathtub along with two large buckets (I bought a cool plunger thingy – like this one). It was a really fun time! It also felt very much like we were living with a friendly and hard working group of Polish builders. They had a key to the front door and usually arrived early in the morning before we’d woken up to start work. They were still slogging away when I left to pick our youngest son up from school and here when all the kids arrived home.
Back to our experience trying to sell our home. We had some bad luck with potential buyers. One sale that fell through was a purchaser counting on the sale of their own home to facilitate buying our house. Chains are really common in the UK (your mortgage moves from your current house to your new one) and in many cases your buyer’s buyer is also the part of a chain (the more people ‘in a chain’ the more likely something will go wrong…eek). If any of the purchasers in the chain pull out…your sale comes to a screeching halt. Our potential buyer’s buyer pulled out and whilst waiting for a new buyer for their house unbeknownst to us our buyers found a different house they preferred.
Our ‘cash buyer’ was by far the most stressful. After being assured he wanted a quick sale in cash we were thrown a curve ball we he ended up being the absolute worst of the worst to deal with!
In case you aren’t familiar with selling and buying property in the UK, Gazumping and Gazundering are legitimate concerns. Morally we wouldn’t be comfortable with doing either but we were Gazundered by our second potential buyer.
We naively didn’t even see it coming… He himself appears to have been a victim of a scammy building surveyor (he shared the report with us, it broke several rules and regulations…for example the building surveyor in his report gave details of contractors (no doubt his mates) he recommends for repairing the fake faults he’d found) but his unwillingness to get a second building survey or take into consideration the building survey (and damp survey) we then had done ourselves and provided him with to put his mind at ease. We spent weeks trying to explain away these fictional defects with our home, it was emotionally draining to say the least. More than anything being accused of lying about things that just didn’t exist was hard.
We were way too emotionally involved. We always paid extra money for higher quality items and higher quality workmanship where we could to ensure things were done right. We did all the things we would appreciate had we chosen to live there: walls were damp proofed higher than they needed to be, when putting in new bathrooms we replaced all the pipes with wider ones to make sure that the water pressure on all floors was excellent,
we put in a mammoth sized boiler to make sure all 3 levels were well heated and all 3 bathrooms had plenty of hot water, we and our boys stripped back and restored the original staircase ourselves,
we layed engineered wood flooring rather than laminate, we used porcelain tiles rather than ceramic,
we peered inside every wall and under every floor board to make sure everything was done in a way that would keep that home hopefully whole for another 117 years.
Being accused of lying and trying to hide defects seemed outrageous to us.
Despite the time taken to painstakingly explain the situation to this buyer he was unwilling to so much as go and view the property. Something we urged him to do to put to rest claims from his building inspector such as the windows being single glazed, not double glazed (very easy to see even standing outside the property).
When he had strung us along for 6 weeks (of our house being off the market mind you!) asking us to justify these ‘defects’ that didn’t exist, he finally asked for the huge discount that at this point we knew he was inevitably going to whammy us with. It was with a huge sigh of relief we were able to give him a firm ‘NO’ and be done with him once and for all.
Thankfully the house did successfully sell at the beginning of 2018 without any hiccups (they were in a chain but all sales went through smoothly). It was an emotional roller coaster selling the house we had poured so much time, money and energy (emotional and physical!) into.
I know logically that the events of 2017 are on the surface not particularly stressful or monumental. In fact, in many ways 2017 was the coming together and completion of life changes we had been planning for in 2015 and 2016.
In 2015 we as a family tore off all the wallpaper covering the bottom two floors of the house. We spent many weekends steaming, scraping, pulling off large pieces and cursing and chipping away the bits and pieces that had stubbornly been holding on for 50+ years. Our home had had numerous owners and tenants and the walls had many layers of paint and wallpaper stacked one on top of the other. There were spots on the walls where someone had knocked a hole in the wallpapered wall, filled the hole with plaster right on top of the wallpaper and then later a new layer of wallpaper had been smacked on top of that one to try and cheaply hide defects.
There were times when ‘exploring’ what was beneath the carpets and wallpaper was a lot of fun. There were many times when I just wanted to tear my hair out and throw a little tantrum over in the corner, but all in all it created some really great memories and I’m so glad we did it together. After tearing off all the wallpaper we hired plasterers to repair and smooth the walls. I painted many rooms and hubby laid engineered wood flooring one room after another on his weekends.
The main bulk of the work was done later in 2016 by our builders but we still feel like a big part of the renovation having spent years doing what we could bit by bit.
Our plan for 2017 was to move to Germany, sell the house and then move home to Australia in November. Since the house didn’t sell until February 2018 that didn’t work out for us.
The stress of selling the house meant that I’ve never really felt settled in Germany. Our minds were constantly back in London whilst the house was up for sale.
Hubby had to renew his contract with work for another year so we’re now in Germany until late 2018.
I desperately want to like it here…but it’s been hard. 2017 was filled with so much change and so much stress that all I associate Germany with is trauma.
I feel like I’m in limbo waiting for the next stage in our lives to begin. I want to get out of this ‘waiting room’ that is Germany and get back to Australia already.
At the same time I’m terrified of ‘moving back’. A decade is a long time to be gone from home. I’ve changed, home’s changed….where does that leave me?