It’s been a long time since I moved house properly. I’ve lived in the same street for nearly 20 years — albeit in two different houses. The last move didn’t really count, as Waitrose, my favoured British supermarket, was only 18 steps further away.
I made up for it this time. I moved house a week before the UK election — peak uncertainty for London’s property market, and arguably peak stamp duty land tax too (a bill for the best part of a quarter of a million quid, on which I have already paid tax once). I just hope Boris spends it wisely.
We have broken all the unwritten rules, moving from a period house to a modern one and from Chelsea (the epicentre of the world) to Highgate (the epicentre of the Remain vote, and the spiritual home of hessian and open-toed sandals).
Now eight miles further north, our nearest supermarket is a Sainsbury’s Local and our nearest restaurant an Italian whose speciality is a “Nutella pizza”. And did I mention that we have not sold our previous house?
It’s not that I chose to hang on to the Chelsea des res. The market has been rotten and the old place is still on the market. We could have sold before buying, but that can be really stressful, as often you’ll end up stuck in a chain or buying a house that isn’t quite right. We had found a house we loved and didn’t want to lose it.
This has been made possible by a bridging loan. They’re so reasonably priced these days, if you consider a 6 per cent interest rate palatable. Sorry, how much? La, la, la, I’m ignoring you. Anyway, now the election’s over, I’m hoping that the market will pick up.
Inevitably, after such a long time living in one place, your life is turned upside down following a big move. There are the macro questions — is this a good investment and did we get the timing of our move right? And many more micro ones — where do I buy dog food and who sells the best smoked salmon?
Then there’s the mother. She’s not visited yet, but after a drive past, she inquired whether we’d ever be able to sell as it didn’t look terribly impressive. Frankly, it’s a stealth house. From the road it doesn’t look like much, but walking in through the front door the sense of space and light are extraordinary.
For all the snobbery about modern houses, they are impeccably designed and so much easier to live in than period properties — we have underfloor heating, Lutron lighting, the whole place is festooned with computer network cables and there’s even a mirror in the bathroom that’s a telly. We have solar panels on the roof and a charging point for an electric car in the front driveway. Swank.
Some people find the handover from the previous owners tremendously difficult. Typically, they’re either absent or don’t wish to help. Mike, who sold us the house as well as having developed it himself, has been amazing. I have never been able to master the art of a heated floor system — until now. He’s shown us how to operate the tech, responded cheerfully to emails sorting out niggling problems and even introduced us to a new team of helpers (a gardener, window cleaner, alarm people, you name it). It’s clear he enjoyed living here and that’s comforting to know as we move in.
Anyhow, I decided to make the move less stressful by not packing anything. But despite hoofing out £3,500 to have a full packing, transport and unpacking service, one simply cannot avoid all of the work. I mean, how on earth is a removals person going to know how to organise your drawers, arrange your ironed boxer shorts or ensure that your shirt collection is ordered correctly? (by colour, in case you were wondering).
My added challenge was differentiating between my fat wardrobe and the thin wardrobe. I had forgotten what a terrible, terrible chore unpacking boxes can be. Every time I open another one, I find another load of stuff that I don’t want to throw away but now don’t need, or have no obvious home for. If I do one box a day, I’ll be done by the new year. Meanwhile, I still can’t find the base telephone unit.
I’m not the only one having trouble adjusting. The dogs are totally disorientated by the glorious 100-foot garden. It’s just perfect for them to run around in, except Barnaby is 12 years old and doesn’t like change. Stanley is four months old and doesn’t care.
On the first day, I let them out into the garden thinking the fence looked smart enough. Then I spotted only half a Barnaby — he’d found a gap. Cue the barking. He was on to something. Was it a cat? A fox? Or a squirrel? Who cares! He was having the time of his life, and bounded off with the puppy in hot pursuit.
By the time I got out there, the barking was getting further and further away. The puppy obediently responded to my shouting, but not so the old Basset Fauve. In the distance, I heard a concerned voice saying “There’s a dog in the garden”. Then a door slammed and the barking stopped.
I called out in vain. Nothing. I had just moved into a new house and my dog had run away! I wasn’t about to scale the fence and the next road was actually quite far away, so I got in the car, drove to where I thought he might be and parked outside.
As I wondered what on earth to say to my new neighbours, Barnaby appeared, sitting on the top step of one of the gigantic houses. Tragedy averted.
So was it all worth it? Simple answer, yes. It has been a complicated exercise with pictures and televisions still to be mounted on to walls but I’m glad we shifted. Yet people around the UK have been shying away from moving because of the cost and uncertainty.
Rather than living in a house that makes you unhappy, just spend the money and choose a house to really live in. Despite the cost and aggro, now is a brilliant time to do it. Our new house is definitely our new home.
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