By the time we were financially able to upsize from our first house, it was starting to feel quite cramped in our two-up-two-down cottage style terraced house
Our eldest had recently started primary school and was happy, and we still wanted to be close to all our friends and family. We didn’t think about moving area, we were just excited about gaining more space in our next house.
And we did. Our second house, round the corner from our first, was a wide hallwayed Edwardian terrace, with great bones. It was everything our first house hadn’t felt. Spacious and light with it’s tall ceilings and windows. We renovated – a whole house refurb, rewire and plumbing. We knocked down walls and extended, creating an open plan living / dining / kitchen room that opened out onto the garden with bifold doors. We had two more children. We spent five years living very happily in this space that worked really well for our young family.
And then a few years after renovating, we started to think about whether we might want a bit more space. Although our living space never felt small, with four children we were now short a bedroom or two, even with two children sharing a room. And now that we had a dog, we were dreaming about bigger gardens, side access, perhaps a utility room entrance to avoid muddy paws constantly over our nice open plan room every time the dog wanted to come in from the garden during rainy times.
Our town’s housing stock was mainly terraces. Not many detached or semi-detached houses with driveways or gardens bigger than 10 – 15 metres.
We had the option to add a fourth bedroom, or two small fourth and fifth bedrooms, to the loft. But we could see that the housing market in our area did not necessarily mean that we would make our money back for quite a few years after doing the loft. We consulted with a few local estate agents, who held the same opinion. So, if we were going to go down the loft conversion route, we would need to be committed to staying in the local area for the secondary school years (which, by my calculations with four children ranging from 10 – 0 years old, would mean the next 18 years at a minimum).
Four children in a three bed house was not going to remain ideal for long, so five years after renovating our second house, we had reached a crunch point between do the loft and commit to staying in the area for another two decades, or move to somewhere with bigger housing stock options. There are lots of things we like about the area we have lived in for the last decade, but when we thought about the next 20 years, we wondered whether we might prefer to spend that time somewhere else. Thanks to career progression, we now had a little more budget to consider some more ‘desirable’ neighbouring areas, or to make a big move further away from friends and family, outside the M25, and get a fair bit more house for the same money.
Sam and I have had endless conversations over the past three or so years about where to relocate… IF we were to relocate. We visited many a new area, eventually settling on a couple of places that we thought were right for us. For a good while, we very seriously considered moving to Worthing, but in the end, we weren’t sure how we’d feel with Sam doing a long commute during the working week when we already didn’t see him all that much due to the amount of long and frequent overseas travel trips he was doing before Covid. In the end, we decided to take out all the “What if’s?” of doing a big move, and stay local to London outskirts, where we had a better idea of what would work for us in terms of lifestyle, family, and work commitments.
We began our house search in early 2020, thinking we had plenty of time to find the right house before secondary school applications in October 2021. Not knowing that a good chunk of house buying / selling time would be a write-off due to Covid.
We viewed our first serious contender house in March 2020. We discussed putting our house on the market for this house (that’s how we bought our old house, buying a project house in a slow market hadn’t been a problem and the sellers had been happy to wait for us to sell). We viewed it a second time just days before lockdown began, but we didn’t offer, instead thinking “Might be wise to just see what happens with this coronavirus stuff and the banks, first”. I am glad we didn’t buy that house, as it wasn’t quite right for us, now that we know the area and housing stock better. But viewing this house and talking seriously about putting an offer in was the moment that made Sam and me realise we definitely wanted to make the move to this new area.
Lockdown began, and the first of several challenges came our way. Firstly, we couldn’t get our house on the market because everything stopped in those first few months of lockdown. Then, when the housing market started up again, I was in the last weeks of pregnancy and we didn’t want to invite Covid germs into our home, as partners weren’t being allowed into labour wards if you or they had tested positive for Covid.
Secondly, our lending affordability tanked. Sam’s job is at least 50% commission-based. In the past we’ve found lenders who take into account a good chunk of his commission pay, but once Covid hit, many lenders would not take any commission into account. We decided to take a break from house selling / buying, have a baby, and then see where the mortgage lenders were at. We got all the estate agent photos done just before Bay was due, so we’d be ready to market straight away as soon as I felt sufficiently recovered from birth, and as soon as we got some more positive news from the lenders.
Bay arrived towards the end of July, and in August, our mortgage broker had found us a deal. It wasn’t the same price bracket we had been looking at before March 2020, but it was still enough to make a move happen.
So now began a really tiring period of viewings from prospective buyers. It took eight weeks to get any offers on our house, which isn’t long in the grand scheme of things, but I think we’d been expecting offers to come in quite quickly, as our area is relatively popular for first and second time buyers, because our last house went under offer after two days of viewings, and because all anyone was talking about was how fast the property market was moving thanks to the stamp duty relief the government had just implemented.
Our house was on at a reasonable asking price, certainly not the highest estate agent valuation we had received, and in line with our neighbours who were also selling. But I think a lot of buyers were also affected by Covid lending changes, and the fastest moving properties taking advantage of the stamp duty relief were the ones a rung or two up the ‘property ladder’ like we were trying to buy, and not the one we were trying to sell. I think the stamp duty holiday mainly just complicated things for first time buyers and buyers with a small amount of equity.
We had viewings every weekend and most evenings from September through November, coinciding with a second lockdown, so there was nowhere to go. It was often dark and cold and we’d walk round the block many times with all the kids, a newborn and a dog – due to Covid rules, we couldn’t be in the house at the same time as people viewing it. I underestimated how stressful it would be to keep the house clean and acceptable for viewings amidst all the extra juggling that comes with having a newborn – it was a lot.
Finally, we got an offer. It was low, so we rejected, but accepted the revised offer. Which was still lower than our asking, but a reasonable price with a small chain, and a price that meant we would break even after the work we had done to the house and after all the house moving costs.
Now we had an offer accepted, we could finally view properties to buy. I had been getting impatient to get to this stage as it felt the secondary school application deadline was looming closer every month, and depending how big a chain we ended up in, we might not make it in time.
We’d seen a fair few houses and had a good idea of the area and roads we liked the most when we saw the house we wanted to offer on. Long story short: We viewed the house twice but were told it had sold already by the time we put in our first offer. It had the most incredible garden, a plot size that is unheard of for the area so it was a complete one-off. I am still lamenting this house, but it wasn’t to be.
A month later in November 2020, we found the next house we wanted to offer on. This house was one of the biggest you could get within our price bracket in the area we were looking. We knew it would be the most space we could get for our family, so it was a no brainer. We put an offer in, but a few days later our mortgage broker had bad news for us.
Lending criteria had changed once again, thanks to Covid. Lenders were now only taking into account the previous three months payslips. Sam earns most of his money in the first quarter of the year, so we were previously going off a mortgage based on his annualised earnings. His last three months were the worst part of the year in terms of commission, so our affordability was down a further £100k. As I was self employed and had claimed the first SEISS grant, lenders would not take my earnings into account. All in all, our total lending eligibility had decreased by £250k since we first started house hunting in early 2020.
Frustratingly, our mortgage broker was telling us that with Sam’s April / May 2021 earnings (which were already set and guaranteed, as his commission is paid four months in arrears), we would be able to get a mortgage on any house we liked in our preferred area. But waiting until June when school applications were the following October seemed a pretty risky move that we weren’t willing to gamble on. We can always move again in future. But switching schools is not always easy, and not something we ideally wanted to put our eldest through. Getting into any house in a new area in time for school applications was the goal for now. In hindsight I am glad we didn’t wait, is we are in May now and the market is distinctly quiet with not much coming to market.
We had been trying to move to a more expensive area than where we currently lived. Now, we were thinking our best bet if we really wanted to move area, was probably to go way out of London and away from family to somewhere with cheaper house prices than our current area. This was a real curveball and had us doing a few reccys to new-to-us areas and attempting to imagine a whole new last-minute scenario.
We still hadn’t really found any other areas we were set on moving to, though, so whilst we were mulling over new areas, we continued in our existing search area. With our new budget, we were looking at buying a three / four bed with little extension potential and then moving AGAIN to upsize when or if lending criteria changed. Or, ideally, finding a house within budget with extension potential that could eventually become a comfortable house for a family of 6, meaning we wouldn’t necessarily have to move again unless we really wanted to. The local agents were very familiar with us and our house criteria by this point, and in December one of those agents brought us a house that he had just signed the contract to market. We viewed the house and offered before the estate agent photos had even been taken – eager!
Judging from similar houses we’d seen in nearby roads (and backed up by our lender’s mortgage valuation), this house was on at £25 – 50k below market value. And our offer of 35k below the asking price was accepted. It needs at least £60k spent on internal refurb, new windows, new heating system and wiring, a whole new roof and complete re-render to bring it up to a good functional standard, so the price we paid is reflective of that. We really hadn’t intended to embark on another full house renovation, but it ended up being the most viable option. It was the cheapest of all the houses we had seen, including the small three beds, and this one was a small four bed – a crucial bonus for me as it means two children will share instead of three sharing one room for who knows how long.
Other big draws for us were the garden size – not a patch on the dream garden that shall no longer be mentioned, but over 100ft and one of the larger garden sizes for the area. And the extension potential – at the moment it is 3 small bedrooms and a master, but there is the scope to do a two storey rear extension, making a new master bedroom at the rear, and the smallest current bedroom into a small double room. We can also go into the loft to create another bedroom, taking the house to a 5 bedroom home that will suit us for the next 20 plus years.
A rough idea of the sort of layout I think we can achieve with this house if we extend it:
I’ve never experienced so many ups and downs in the buying / selling process as we’ve had this past year. If it wasn’t for our secondary school deadline, there’s no way we would have been entertaining a house move this year, the housing market over the past year has been wild. We really should have moved in 2019 when we first seriously contemplated it, but hindsight is a great and annoying thing.
There were a number of hitches during the conveyancing process that had us thinking the move was not happening, but after 5 months we completed on our sale and purchase.
The new house is exactly the same square footage as the house we have just moved from. The rooms are all a bit smaller all round, but we gain a utility room, a downstairs shower room, and a fourth bedroom. It also has the potential to extend, whereas the house we are sold was maxed out extension-wise, with the exception of the loft conversion. We’ve just set the wheels in motion to apply for planning permission, although we want to take our time and live in the house for a while before we commit to a huge build and renovation – let’s just hope the roof and the heating system can cope whilst we wait!
We’ve been in our new house for one month now. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easy it has been to live in despite it’s very tired appearance. Having a proper garden is amazing. And our new area is a lot more green than our old area and we are loving exploring all the open space and farmland nearby.
I am very thankful that we managed to make a move happen in a year where all the odds seemed against it.
Stay tuned for more house content when / if we decide we are renovating!