Going round the houses.

Apols for the radio silence, yet again, but I have good news. We’ve bought a house, hurrah! This is after what seems like a long and arduous journey, which was only something like seven months. Twenty-six viewings later, we’re here.

We’ve been in a fair number of unusual houses and met some strange characters on our way, which we politely categorised under quirky. Let’s not forget the woman in her 50s who lived on her own in a three bed house, who had a naked portrait of her younger self pinned up on the chimney breast facing her king sized bed. Not to mention the scatty woman who left dirty knickers sprawled all over the landing floor. Or the middle aged couple who had been divorced for ten years, but still lived in the same house spread over four floors. They had split the house in two, with two kitchens and two bathrooms. They only shared their love of dirt – with skirting boards a centimetre thick with dust, random spare tyres, banana peels and grime on the walls.

Some of the houses were extensively renovated (the two bed house with a steam room and three bathrooms springs to mind), and some were a little unloved (one house had a kitchen dripping with fifty years worth of grease). One house was ridiculously big, covering three floors, and it was very affordable. After steadily climbing up the spiral stairs, confused as to why we were beginning to tilt, it came apparent why it was so cheap.

Look what came with my keys..

There were a few positive ones where we placed an offer and had it accepted, but for one reason or another, we decided against them. The one that came close, our survey came back with Japanese Knotweed so we ran for the hills. I hadn’t heard of Japanese Knotweed before, and coincidentally, I stumbled upon this Mumsnet thread a week prior to receiving the survey back.

I’ve learnt a lot about houses, the housing market and glorified form-fillers mortgage advisors. I’m certainly no expert and I’m glad our search has finally come to a close. DS was beginning to question our ‘family days out’.

A Let Down.

I have rented five properties thus far, each with different landlords/letting agencies. I would like to think I am a pro at renting now, however there seems to be a lesson to be learnt each time. As we have now fully received our deposit back, I thought I would share my experience of Heritage House and enlighten/warn any future renters.

Our previous apartment in Canterbury was a charm when we first moved in December 2009. DS was only three weeks old then and we had mould issues at our previous flat (which Connells did nothing about) so we had to lose a month’s rent and move into a new property promptly. Because we were moving at an unusual time of year, we managed to haggle our rent down from £700 to £630 a month. This was such a good price for a two bedroom city centre apartment with Whitefriars shopping centre literally seconds away.

The first 10 months of our tenancy was perfect. The lady who initially dealt with our property from Regal Estates was friendly and eager to help. She had empathised with our need for privacy, with a lack of curtains and being on the ground floor, she took our situation and made it her own. She convinced the landlord to pay for our curtains, on the condition that we chose them and DH would install the curtain poles in each room.

 

She stopped working for Regal not long before the renewal of our tenancy. There was an interim period where we were passed to various administrators and our emails were lost in transition. This is around the time the cistern in the toilet broke and was leaking water. Concerned that our water bills would increase, we contacted Regal on several occasions to alert them of the issue, however this came to no avail. They eventually called a plumber months after we initially emailed them, who did not fix the situation. Many correspondences and visits from the plumber later, our cistern was finally fixed 6 months down the line.

This issue did not end there. Our fresh water and waste water bills arrived soon after, which both had doubled in cost from the same period as the previous year. We raised this issue with Regal, highlighting the section of the tenancy which states the landlord should be liable for any cost incurred by the tenant, due to a fault in which the landlord did not rectify within a reasonable time frame. This was dismissed as they counteracted our claim with their ‘professional’ advice from a plumber, who had spent only five minutes reviewing the toilet. They said we may have had more showers, increased our usage of the washing machine or had more dirty dishes to clean, owing to the fact we have a growing baby. I did not appreciate this attempt to use my baby to subside the issue.

During this meeting I had with the manager of Regal, the new lady who took over my property sat there quietly, almost cowering behind her boss. I spoke off-topic and asked whether it would be possible to have a rolling contract when it came to renew again, to which she responded,

“I am not sure, I would need to ask the landlord. I see you have previously paid 3 months rent up front, I’m not sure if that was because you came from a foreign country?”

Funnily enough, speaking with clear diction in an English accent, I am not a foreigner. I did email this manager later on in complaint of her rude ignorance, incompetence and lack of customer service. Unsurprisingly, she did not respond.

After this occasion, we decided to seek the ‘professional advice’ they were so keen on. South East Water check our external pipes and the toilet, to conclude that they are all in order and it was most probably the broken cistern which caused our overpriced bills. Despite this, Regal have not compensated us for their incompetence, nor have we received an apology.

The next issue we came across was when the lock on our front door broke. DH attempted to dismantle the lock to fix it, ignoring the fact that he is not a locksmith. To no ones surprise, he could not put the lock back together and we had to call Regal to resolve the situation. The locksmith came the following day and spent only a few minutes putting the pieces back together and fixed what had originally gone wrong. We later received a bill from Regal for £35, half of the overall bill, because DH had dismantled the lock. Regardless of DH’s naivety in thinking he could fix the damn thing, the locksmith would have needed to dismantle it anyway. His work was definitely not worth the total cost of the bill. Lesson for the future: If something breaks, do not bother trying to resolve the issue yourself.

I find this whole experience with Regal shocking and cruel. It is despicable how more measures are not made to protect tenants; the tenancy appears to be solely made to safeguard landlords, who have no qualms in manipulating you for your money. I do hope that enough pressure is put on the government to rectify this, as it seems the demand for rental properties are soaring.

If the shoe fits.

There is a simple rule which should be known by all, that is, to take your shoes off at the door. The host should not need to make this request explicit, but presume that all share the same etiquette. However, this is not custom in British culture; guests tend to leave their shoes on upon entering someones house, and so the awkwardness of asking the guests to remove their shoes arises.

I understand the reasons behind keeping shoes on; people feel exposed without them, they have verrucas, athlete’s foot or some other fungal disease they would rather not exhibit for all. Nevertheless, there should be an overriding factor of politeness to not tread dirt and bacteria from the outside all over someones house, for the sake of concealing their own insecurities. For instances where the guest does have infectious warts and whatnot, they should bring socks or ask for slippers; walking grubby shoes around the house is equally as damaging as spreading the infection.

There are of course always exceptions to the rule; pet owners are more likely to be accepting of shoe-wearing guests or if the host has shoes on, then you can probably assume it is acceptable for you to keep yours on. Besides this, guests should take the initiative to remove their shoes as soon as they enter. The home should be treated with respect and separate from the outside. I am quite certain that the majority do not wear shoes inside their own home, and if they do, I wonder whether it is included in their daily routine when getting dressed? I for one keep my shoes by the door and only tend to put them on when leaving the house.

I stumbled upon a blog which lists lots of reasons why the host may not want guests to keep their shoes on, in case you were wondering why I am particularly infuriated by this issue. I have been raised to practice the rule that shoes should be removed in the first instance, even before saying hello. The formality of shoes makes me uncomfortable and the thought of spreading dirt around for my son to play with sends my OCD into overdrive.

The want.

When I think about the future, I am engulfed with choices, the various paths we could follow and how little time we have to fit it all in. Ultimately, I am torn between conformity and the freedom of renting.

Bricks and mortar are what we all aspire to have, along with the ideology to ‘settle down’. Having a family spurs on my desire to have stability and a secure home for us. I want the four bedroom house with a huge kitchen, an en-suite to my bedroom, a study, a garage for our two cars and a garden for the kids, placed nicely in a cul-de-sac in the outskirts of a Cathedral city. But whilst I yearn for my house, I am left wondering what would happen once I acquired it? Committing myself to one place, which would inevitably be our home for life, seems all too much for me.

I am one for change; I like moving to a new place and starting fresh. There is something about moving to a new town, a new home and starting a new job. I like a challenge and feel like there is something to prove; my ability to relocate and reestablish myself in any given place. I see my life as a checklist of things I have/have not done and by living in various places, seeing the world in the process, I feel like I am ticking another box.

I guess it all depends on whether material items and the reassurance they bring mean more to me than the adventures of relocating. I can see both options within reach, but I guess the question is; do I have the want to designate large sums of money to resign myself to a life-long mortgage or to embrace the freedom of renting and frivolous spending?