Buying A House, Part 6

This blog post is the sixth and final part in a series about buying our first house. In the fifth post, we finally exchanged contracts with the sellers after a long-running disagreement about who was going to repair the front door…

A series of days flew by in a cardboard-box-filled blur, and suddenly it was the last Friday in July – the day upon which our sale was completed. I’d run out of spare days of annual leave, so I was only able to justify taking the afternoon off to pick up a van, scoop up Ruth and Matt, get the keys to the new house, and meet JTA there.

Ruth and Matt at the Europcar office.
The first mission was to collect a van from Europcar, so that we’d be able to spend the entire weekend going up and down the A34.

The estate agents were conveniently just two doors down from a locksmith, so we got some keys cut to what we believed to be the new front door, while we were there. It’s also sandwiched between a funeral home and a florist, which makes it sort of a one-stop street when somebody dies and you want to put their house on the market.

Dan is handed keys and a bottle of sparkling wine by Mark, the estate agent.
The great thing about getting champagne as a housewarming gift, from your estate agent, is that – unlike non-sparkling wine – you don’t need to unpack the corkscrew to open it.

We soon discovered that the “fix” that had ultimately been applied to the broken front door was simply to swap it for a different exterior door, from the inner porch. A little cheeky, and a little frustrating after all the fighting we’d done, but not the end of the world: we still had a perfectly good front door and – as we planned to use the annex as part of the main house, anyway, we were happy to take the door down and leave an open doorway, anyway.

JTA opens the door of Greendale.
We gave JTA the honour of being the first to open the door to our new home. After some fiddling with what turned out to be the wrong key, the door turned out to be already unlocked.

A vacant house feels big and empty. Our new – large! – living room felt enormous. Meanwhile, packing up our old house – with its painted walls and wooden floors – was beginning to sound echoey as it became emptier.

Ruth lies in the empty living room of Greendale.
Lounging in the living room. (or is she living in the lounge?)

We spent a long time working out which of the many keys we had fit which of the locks, as there were quite so many: there’s the front door, the inner front door, the other inner front door, the back door, the outer conservatory door, the inner conservatory door, the gate lock, the shed lock, the window locks, and a good handful of keys besides that we still haven’t identified the purpose of. It’s was like the previous owners just bought a pile of additional keys, just as a prank.

Stacks of boxes in the living room of New Earth.
Our old house – New Earth – became emptier and yet more-chaotic as the stacks of boxes were gradually loaded into the van.

We’d rented a van over a long weekend in which to do the majority of the move, and we’d hired some burly men with a bigger van to move some of the heaviest furniture, and to collect a piano that we’d bought (yes, we have a piano now; booyah).

JTA in the back of the van, in which a small mock living room has been assembled.
“Pack the living room into the van,” I said. “Okay,” said JTA, putting the kettle on.

Very helpfully, Alec came and joined us, and helped run an enormous amount of boxes and furniture down and out of the three-stories of our old house, and in and up the three-stories of our new house. Why do we keep torturing ourselves with these tall buildings? At least our new staircases are a better shape for carrying matresses up.

Removals men carry our sideboard out from the back door of New Earth.
Now that I’ve discovered that I can hire muscular men on-demand, I’m not sure that I’ll ever do anything else.

The weather stayed good, with only ocassional showers (and thankfully, never when we were carrying soft furnishings between a van and a building) and one brief but wild thunderstorm (that we managed to avoid only with a quick re-arrangement of the van contents, slamming the doors, and sprinting for cover), and we worked hard, and we ended up a day ahead of schedule before we were finished.

Alec tests the piano at Greendale.
Alec helped out with lots of heavy lifting, but also with ‘testing’ the piano. Which, before it had been tuned, wasn’t the best of experiences for anybody involved.

In order to minimise the amount of the deposit that we might otherwise lose, from our old place, and because we rightly anticipated being too exhausted from the move to do all of the requisite cleaning ourselves, we’d hired some professionals. By this point, we weren’t even able to think in terms of money like normal people – by the time you’re spending five figures on tax and lawyers, you find it pretty easy to shrug off the cost of a team of cleaners!

Matt filling his face with ice cream.
I’m pretty sure that the local ice cream van driver was following us around, because on each day of the move, he’d arrive on the scene right after we’d finished unloading a van and could really do with an ice cream break.

This did mean that Ruth and I had to each work from home, from the old house, for one last day while we let the cleaners, gardener etc. in. We left in the old house an absolute minimum of furniture: a single desk, chair, laptop computer, cup (for water), router, and cables.

Dan works from home on the final day of the occupation of New Earth.
One desk, one chair, one laptop, one router… in a five bedroom house. It’s a lonely life.

As I left the house for the last time, as empty and quiet as it was the day we first moved in, I felt a sense of serenity; a calm that came from a number of simultaneous realisations… that this was probably the last house move I’d have to do in a long while… that I finally lived somewhere that I didn’t (theoretically, at least) have to ask for somebody’s permission before I put a picture hook up or painted a wall… and that at long last I was paying off my own mortgage, rather than somebody else’s. It was the beginning of a new era.

Alec among furniture and boxes.
The first box that we unpacked was the one containing Alec, of course.

Changing tack from the theme by which our houses have been named since 2010, our new home is called Greendale. And yes, there’s a website (albeit a little sparse, for now). There’s always a website.

Matt and Susan on a bean bag as we rest at the end of the first day's moving.
Susan didn’t help much with the packing and moving, but I’m not sure I’ve put a photo of her and Matt online yet. So now I have.

There’ll be a housewarming party on 22nd September: if you’re a friend of one or more of us, you’ve probably received an invitation already. But if you haven’t – and it’s not impossible, because we weren’t sure of everybody’s best email addresses these days – and you expect you should have, let me know. It’s not that we don’t love you: we just don’t love you enough to remember to invite you to stuff, that’s all.

Buying a House, Part 5

This blog post is the fifth in a series about buying our first house. In the third post in the series, we’d contracted some lawyers and applied for a mortgage, and in the fourth post we asked for help with the upcoming move. If you feel like we weren’t telling you the whole story, that’s because we weren’t: some of the bits we can now reveal were things that we needed to keep close to our chest while we were negotiating over the sale…

Things were continuing apace with our new house purchase, and that was the way that we wanted it. We’d had an offer accepted, applied for a mortgage (of which we’d been provisionally accepted already; this was just a paperwork affair), and our solicitors had gotten started with the searches and drafting the contracts. So long as the surveyor’s visit didn’t turn up any problems, we were on a roll.

Our new house in Kidlington, just North of Oxford.
Our new house, up in Kidlington.
Courtesy Google Maps.

Unfortunately, a few things did seem to be conspiring against us. The first was that the two sellers – a married couple who were in the middle of what appeared to be a… messy… separation – didn’t seem to be very communicative either with one another nor with their solicitor: or else, their solicitor was incredibly slow at relaying information back to our solicitor.

One of the existing owners talks to the surveyor as he inspects the conservatory.
I made a point of visiting the property a few times, to see how things were progressing. On this occasion, I got to meet with our surveyor and one of the owners.

This posed a problem, because Ruth, JTA, Matt and I had already arranged with our letting agents that we’d be vacating our current house by the 5th of August. We’d left two clear weekends of possible “moving” time, but they were rushing up fast. Before the exchange of contracts, we couldn’t really let the sellers know how important it was that we complete the sale in a hurry, or else we’d be in a very weak negotiating position (and they’d be free to move the goalposts, knowing that we were running out of options). On the other hand, we really wanted to push to get the last couple of issues sorted out as soon as possible.

A front door with a hole, boarded up with plywood.
Yeah… that’s gonna be a problem, mate.

This ties in to the second thing that conspired against us: there were two particular issues with the house that we didn’t want to go ahead without resolving. The first was that the boiler hadn’t been serviced in a long time, so we insisted upon a gas safety inspection being carried out before we would exchange contracts. The second was that the front door was more “hole” than “door”, believed to have occurred during some kind of fracas between the owners (did I mention that their divorce was a little unpleasant?).

A list of items for sale, with prices: wardrobes, drawers, a cooker, washing machine, and fridge/freezer.
The sellers were keen to re-home a number of pieces of furniture along with the house.

The gas safety inspection got sorted out after a while, but we went back and forth over the front door for what felt like an age. Who should repair it? Who should pay? We were told that the sellers were having cashflow problems and weren’t sure that they could pay for the repair of the door prior to the sale, but we weren’t happy to agree to the sale without a commitment that the door would be repaired by the completion (our insurer, answerable to our mortgage lender, wasn’t keen on us moving in to a house will a hole in it): we were at an impasse. So when the sellers produced for us a list of furniture they’d like to offer to sell to us, we noted with some suspicion that the total value of the furniture was remarkably close to the value of the quote for the repair of the door: clearly, they planned to offer to give us the furniture for “free” in exchange for not repairing the door.

A pair of large wardrobes.
The sellers were particularly keen to sell us this enormous pair of wardrobes, but -m for the price they were asking – we weren’t biting.

Which might have been fine, except for the fact that we didn’t want about half (by value) of the things they were offering. Having been living in unfurnished accomodation for several years, we’ve already got a sufficiency of wardrobes. We were keen to take their appliances off their hands (including a gas cooker and a very large fridge/freezer), but we weren’t willing to buy something that we didn’t need just so that they could find it easier to repair something that they broke! We made a number of other offers, such as lending them the money to repair the door (which they’d be able to pay us back following the sale), but they weren’t keen.

A faux leather couch.
Given that at least one of the sellers was a smoker, we didn’t really want to buy any soft furnishings from them, such as this sofa. Besides, we thought, my dad’s house already contains a perfectly fabulous couch that nobody’s using!

We put into place our emergency plan, and made arrangements to go and start viewing rental properties, in case we ran out of time and needed somewhere to live. JTA and I played “good cop, bad cop” with them in a spectacular tag team, leveraging this situation as a threat to pull out of the purchase entirely… and just like that, they caved. Within a day or so, their solicitor had agreed to the terms of our contract, and the sellers agreed to sort out the front door prior to completion of the sale, and we made sure to get it in writing. Our solicitor had already requested the money from our mortgage lender, so we agreed upon a completion date later in the week.

Piles of boxes - mostly full of board games! - at our old house.
Gradually the kitchen, hallway, and living room became completely full of cardboard boxes.

We popped open a bottle of prosecco and celebrated the successful exchange, and redoubled our efforts to fill our house with boxes, prior to the move.