Good grief, it's been so long since I've been here and time has just passed so very fast. My intention had been to do one last post before Christmas, but then we got cut off prematurely by our last broadband provider and the new one took well over two weeks to set us up and so, erm, blogging wasn't really an option as I was already caning through my mobile data allowance at lightning speed just to take care of the essentials. I hope you've all had a wonderful Christmas and very happy New Year, you all have fabulous plans and projects lined up, have eaten enough chocolates to at least last you until Easter and you're generally looking forward to 2016.
So, what happened in my little world then? Well, we've moved house the week before Christmas (hence our broadband troubles) and it's been a crazy time, not always easy, but obviously with a happy ending - well, so far anyway. It certainly hasn't been completely without hiccups, but then house purchases in the UK rarely are. From first spotting the house online until finally moving in took six months. Yes, that's how it can go. Starting at the beginning then.
We decided to start house hunting early summer and trawled property sites on a daily basis hoping to find something within our budget - easier said than done in London, at least for 'normal' people like us. We looked at quite a few, but all of them ended up being well over our budget as they needed so much work doing (imagine some lovely old lady who has lived there for 40 years without having much done in the sense of updating, renovating etc.) on top of the already high purchase price. Then we spotted this one. Looking at the images, we thought it was perfect: it already had a utility room built on next to the kitchen and a fairly large garden. We immediately called the agent to arrange a viewing. Unfortunately we were then informed that it was already under offer. Not good! So we continued our search but simply couldn't find anything we actually liked and that fitted our budget (plenty I liked, but only suitable had I won the lottery). Monsieur, however, had a great idea. We managed to work out where the house was (hello Google Street View!) and Monsieur went and put our business cards through the letterbox along with a note to get in touch in case the sale didn't work out. Against all expectations, the plan worked and the vendors got in touch as their sale had fallen through.
We set up a viewing date for after our holiday in France and were excited by the possibility of potentially having found our future home. A couple of weeks later then we went for the viewing. As it was already getting dark, the house was bathed in soft and muted light. Great for creating a lovely and welcoming atmosphere, not so great for spotting any faults though. We had the obligatory tour of the house and it all looked fairly good, you know, we didn't spot anything terribly wrong and knew there would be some work to do because the kitchen clearly hadn't been updated in a very long time, but figured that there's always going to be something that needs doing. After leaving and discussing everything at home, we told the vendors we would put in an offer.
We called the agent and offered the full asking price (competition is stiff in London when house hunting) and had to wait a whole weekend to find out whether the vendor had accepted it as other parties had also viewed it. Much nail biting and trying to come up with alternatives - just in case - was done over that weekend. Then the call: our offer had been accepted! Happiness and popping open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate! Then came all the paperwork, but since we had sorted the finances beforehand, we were ready to move fairly swiftly and the vendor had assured us they'd be happy to move out as soon as we were ready to move in. Great! Well, great until they told us that actually they wouldn't be able to do that after all and had to purchase their future property before being able to sell to us. Somebody clearly hadn't done their homework...
Things weren't going to plan. On the other hand, it gave us time to have the house checked over by a qualified builder since the survey had thrown up some issues. Turns out there were some fairly serious damp issues, all the guttering needs replacing, the gas boiler had been installed by god-knows-who (the condensation pipe was simply lying on the ground outside) and there was no installation certificate available, the chimney needs some serious repairs and a few other things. Significant amounts of money to be spent then. So we adjusted our offer very slightly (after all we knew there were always going to be some repairs) and started negotiating. This was unfortunately not taken well at all by the vendors, in fact they seemed absolutely outraged. Explaining exactly why we were taking those steps and how all these issues had clearly not been visible on our first viewing didn't seem to make much difference. Negotiations were heated and we finally came to an agreement. Not, however, without the vendors using the ultimate "you're terrible people, look what you've done" card - I won't go into any more details.
After everything, we then finally packed and moved the week before Christmas. It was cold, grey, damp and absolutely exhausting. The house that had previously looked fairly ok suddenly looked grubby and neglected. Within a couple of days we discovered just how thin a shiny veneer can be and what happens when you scratch it off. The kitchen was filthy and smelly. The extractor fan was dripping with years of old oil and I had a tough job cleaning the whole thing to get rid of the dirt and smells. The kitchen cabinet doors had been covered in cheap plastic foil whilst the insides of the cabinets were smelling of dampness and looked filthy and only two out of the four burners on the hob actually work properly. The utility room floor tiles had been painted (around the appliances!) and the paint was peeling off leaving black paint flakes wherever we walked. The bathroom tiling hadn't been finished off (none of the edges were sealed) and whilst the hallway looked white in the warm, artificial light, in daylight it turned out that the paint job had only been cut in but never finished and the walls were actually Magnolia (oh, the horror!), where they bothered with masking tape, it was hanging off walls and corners. The mortice lock on the front door had been covered with some sort of sticky tape which prevented it from locking, and the whole door could only be shut by seriously slamming it because the main lock hadn't bin sunk into the frame correctly, the stop valve on the washing machine water supply had been removed which meant that as soon as we turned on the mains water, the utility room was going to be flooded. To top it all off, there didn't seem to be any hot water whatsoever in the upstairs bathroom. We emailed the vendors asking them if they knew why, but apparently they didn't. Well, a small valve under the kitchen sink had been turned off stopping the hot water supply to the bathroom. So, either it has been done on purpose or these people hadn't showered in all the time they lived here - either thought isn't great... Overall it turns out that the vendors seem to suffer from what I would jokingly call "Hyacinth Bucket Syndrome": All glitz and shine but as soon as you look closer you discover it's all cheap and lacking any kind of quality - everything is for pretence and show. Don't get me wrong, I understand what it means to be on a budget and that most of us can't just go out and buy the most expensive (incidentally, that's not always the best) of everything, but there's a huge difference between saving money whilst carrying out the work in a way that shows you take some pride in what you're doing and just doing a slap-dash job that doesn't hold up to even a second's worth of scrutiny.
And yet, despite it all, we're happy. We know we can make this house into something that is actually nice and has substance. We don't care much about outward glitz, but value craftsmanship and good materials. There are of course many issues to be sorted out and repairs that need doing which will need a lot of money, but that's just something we will have to deal with. The kitchen requires a complete remodel since the floors are uneven, there's no heating at all and the walls are damp. The very first thing we did, however, was to have a wood burner installed. My thinking was that this kind of work that generates an awful lot of dirt and dust was better to be done before the furniture and books moved in. As it turned out, it was the right decision and not only was the room dust-free by Christmas but it was also warm and cosy. And I even got to make a foliage garland and hang it onto the not-quite-dried plaster!
Now we're of course looking at the next challenges, at many more improvements - big ones and small - and finding budget-friendly yet sustainable and lasting solutions to overhaul and improve this house. We've had wall-to-wall shelving put up on one of the living/dining room walls to house books and props. Over the last couple of weeks I've been painting walls where possible and window frames. I've ordered small ceramic ceiling roses and cotton covered cable for the lights (it's all in the small details!) to replace all the plastic. I can't wait to share more details with you over the next few moths. Unfortunately my food posts will have to take a backseat since the kitchen is barely useable as well as very cold... I hope you will join me on this journey, keep reading and I won't bore you.
PS: All the pictures here have been taken with my phone rather than my camera which I hadn't dared getting out since the move.