Buying a house.
It’s not official, and feels tenuous at best, but we’re deep in the process of owning a home. What? you ask. Now? In the middle of this Covid-19 pandemic? With an uncertain economy and lockdown measures and travel restrictions and quarantine? Yes, friends. Amid all of this, we’re taking the plunge. We’re climbing onto the property ladder, as they say in the UK. We’re about to inherit a lot of “good” debt.
This isn’t an impulse decision. My husband and I have been talking about when we want to buy a house for a long time now, practically our whole marriage. Shoot, I toyed with the idea in North Carolina when I was stationed there, but it was a state I never wanted to own a home in. And I was under constant threat of our squadron moving 60 miles away at any time because our hangar space was temporary. My tolerance for commuting longer than 30 minutes one-way is low at best, and owning a house between the two bases in case we moved seemed onerous. And what to do when I deployed (twice, in fact)? Rent it out? Eat the monthly mortgage cost? Sell after two years? It just didn’t seem worth the hassle.
My husband and I have been in military accommodation for five years. It’s not glamorous. The United Kingdom doesn’t spend the same money the United States does on its military, and the perks aren’t as good. No GI Bill, no free base housing, no BAH money. We’ve made it work, and we’ve done a damn good job fixing what we can, making the house feel like a home. He’s really good at DIY and I’m no slouch at painting, hanging pictures, and planting flowers. With our powers combined… But after five years of drafty winters wondering why I’m once again wearing a winter coat indoors, and the ass-pain that is dealing with civilian contractors hired by the MOD in getting any sort of house repair completed in a decent time (and condition), we’re done. Done with crappy repair jobs, done with putting in complaints, done with cheap furnishings. This decision lines up with my husband’s move to his next billet, a day I never thought would come soon enough. I can’t wait to say sayonara.
That’s not to mean I won’t miss aspects of this place. I’ve met great people and have some wonderful neighbors on the estate. Our backyard is big, and I appreciated the room for chickens, a large vegetable patch, and two flower beds. Hell, I’ll even admit I’ll miss our tiny kitchen. Not because of its size, oh no, but how those cramped quarters made us innovate, made us think of clever ways to store appliances, arrange herbs and knives and bananas, how to utilize the countertops that were actually workable. We had to adapt, and we did.
This new place is much bigger. The kitchen is cavernous. The bedrooms are huge. There are clawfoot tubs in three bathrooms. The backyard is long, with a spring-fed creek at the end. The house is a beautiful Grade II-listed building, meaning it is of special interest that warrants preserving, but the previous owners already went through the hassle of upgrading everything they could while retaining its character and charm. Originally, we were looking at buildings like that. Ones we could buy a bit cheaper and do up ourselves, saving a bit of cash with our DIY skills. But actually, with my husband starting his job this autumn and Beaner entering her toddler years, it looked increasingly like we shouldn’t buy a wreck. It was tempting, and we saw a few that had potential, but my fear that we’d never get everything done by the time we had to move again was starting to feel real.
Instead, we toured this place on a whim. It’s at the top of our budget, but we wanted to see what that money looked like in a house. The location is hard to beat: it’s closer to my in-laws, closer to London, and closer to Bath. It’s within commuting distance of two of the main bases my husband will likely work at for the rest of his career. It’s in a nice village and has walkable amenities, like a local grocery store, flower shop, pharmacy, and a pub. There’s a small library and village museum. There are numerous public footpaths, the closest of which is the other side of our stream. There are good schools and doctor’s surgeries around. The people seem nice. We’ll even have friends who live three doors down from us.
The downsides? (Yes, there are downsides.) There’s no parking space. The cellar floods a few inches every winter due to a rise in groundwater. The backyard is horribly overgrown. And we’ll have no money leftover for additional upgrades. But there’s a free public car park across the street and up the hill, two-minutes away. My husband says he can fix the cellar problem immediately (there’s already a pump installed down there). It’ll only take a weekend to tame the wilderness outside. Though none of my US dollars help with the mortgage cost because I’m American, it does mean I can wire cash to myself to pay for little odds and ends. We’ll have to keep tabs on our spending and probably stick to one car, but we can make it work.
This house was the first I saw that genuinely made me excited. It was the first I thought was actually worth the sticker price. So many places in the UK are inflated because the housing market is that intense. Someone will be able to afford that price. Buying a house is one of the best investments you can own in the UK. We saw so many houses that were in good condition, in desirable locations, within our price range, but which had no character. Just… boring. I know that sounds snooty. I know I should be lucky to have a roof over my head. But I guess when you have the option, buy the place that doesn’t remind you of McHousing? This place ticks so many of our boxes. I’ll be genuinely bummed if it falls through.
I’ve been vague on purpose. I’m keeping myself emotionally detached in case something bad happens. I’m excited, but cautious. We’re taking a huge risk, especially in this pandemic period, and betting that even if house prices fall in the near future, they’ll recover if we stay in long enough. We’re pretty sure we won’t be able to afford this place in 18-24 months. We think this is going to be a great investment for our family. We’re committed to making this our home. And when all this lockdown nonsense is over, we’re inviting you over.
Stand by for more information as we progress. Cross your fingers with us; you’re going to love it.