Our House is a Very Very Very Fine House …….
Post title with apologies to Crosby Stills Nash & Young
Choosing your new home
When house buying it’s really important to actually go and physically look at houses. This may seem obvious but according to Kirsty & Phil, the UK’s house buying King and Queen, apparently an awful lot of us just shop on line.
There are lots of things you can’t tell from looking at the online listings although I would agree they are a good place to start your search. To begin with estate agents tend to take the photos using a wide angled lens which has the effect of making rooms look a lot more spacious than they actually are. It is also pretty impossible to tell how light or dark a room is from the pictures. Location is another issue, the headline picture probably won’t show the gas works next door, nor will you be able to assess the effect of being underneath the flight path of the local airport. So getting on your bike, or into your car is crucial.
As I was working part time I got to hike down to Salisbury most weeks to view the latest crop of houses on the market. Our main criteria had by this time distilled themselves as the following:- the house should be inside the ring road, have an open plan kitchen diner (or the possibility of creating one) and separate studio / study space for each of us. We also wanted a small garden. Because of the housing stock in the city centre it was probably going to be a period property, most likely Victorian or Edwardian, or possibly Georgian, though there were a few modern properties built as infill that we would also be prepared to look at.
I started off looking at a couple of the Edwardian houses in a pleasant area about 10 minutes walk from the market square. They were nice houses but they just didn’t do it for me and I realised that every time we move I try and fail to envisage myself living in an Edwardian property. We had owned three properties in our 40 + years of marriage. The first two were granite cottages in Cornwall, complete with original fireplaces and cloam (bread) ovens, and the one we were currently living in, part of a Victorian stable block ,our home for over 30 years. Each time we move I go and see Edwardian properties and try to imagine living in one, before coming to the conclusion they are just not me. This feeling was further reinforced on this occasion by the fact that the staircases were mostly nearly vertical with very narrow steps, perhaps not an entirely sensible choice as we get older.
So then I looked at a few other older houses but none of them really had the accommodation we wanted in a useful layout. In the background was this other house, I really liked the pictures of the interior but it also had huge negatives:
It was currently in two flats
It was Grade 2 listed (which means you have to apply for permission to make alterations)
We needed to apply for planning permission for change of use to convert it into a single dwelling
It had no garden to speak of, only a tiny courtyard
It was on a busy junction on the one way system
Opposite 2 pubs
It was 450 years old
Eventually I cracked and went and had a look. The rest, as they say, is history. The layout was perfect for our needs. Having our main living space on the first floor meant we were above the traffic. The upstairs rooms were light, there was wonderful studio space on the top floor, light and bright even in winter. Most of the rooms got sunshine at some point of the day. The downstairs flat would make a great den / guest accommodation.
The real sticking point was the garden or lack of, but at least our tiny courtyard was sunny. The deal was that if we went ahead we would make this little garden beautiful.
20 months in we absolutely love it. Yes I would still like a bigger garden and wish the road was quieter but I love being 5 or 10 minutes walk from shops, cinema, theatre, cathedral close, riverside etc. The layout really suits us and the small rooms give a cosy feel and are easy to heat.
What have I learned from all this? First off to be as clear as possible about what you want from your new home, the relative importance of the things on your list and what you are prepared to compromise on in order to get something you really love. Often things you think are non-negotiable turn out not to be, as other considerations take priority. I think the main non-negotiables in our case were proximity to the city centre, a good amount of natural light and individual workspace which we have found to be an absolute must.