House Hunting

Richard and I went through House Hunters International craze for a few months when we had cable.  The idea of flying to another country and looking around at houses looked so fun and exciting.  Of course I later learned that it was mostly staged and rarely were the people actually making a decision, but I still thought the idea of it all was enchanting. 

Our house hunting experience was nothing like that.  

It began with months of periodic searches on a couple UK property sites.  I did research about areas in London and then I would search for places in those areas.  Our real estate agent later explained to me that these websites have their advantages and disadvantages, and can be misleading.  Landlords and other agents often use pictures of previous properties to get your interest and then pull the bait and switch.  But what happened for me was that in my mind I collected all my favorite ideas, areas, features and they became a jumbled and inaccurate view of what actually exists.  

KPMG pays for two days of “house hunting” with a local agent and we chose Thursday and Friday after we arrived.  Our agents name was Jo, and he and his business partner Justin worked hard to schedule viewings for us.  On Wednesday night they emailed us a “programme” of Thursday’s scheduled viewings. I looked through them and burst into tears.  It was nothing like I what I had dreamed up in my mind and I was terribly disappointed.  Richard tried to console me but I went to bed feeling like Jo and Justin had totally misunderstood what I wanted. 

It turns out that Jo had misunderstood me a little bit, he kept asking what my life back home was like, and he wanted to try to replicate that for us here.  Eventually (but not until Friday) I was able to convey to him that we were here for London experience, not a Kuna experience.   But I had also done myself a bit of a disservice by letting my expectations get wildly out of hand because I completely lacked the appropriate knowledge to keep them grounded.  

So we spent Thursday (with all four kids in tow) searching properties in Southeast London,  approximately within 40 minutes of Richard’s office.   Jo was fantastic with the kids, and Simon was his best buddy by the end of the day.   After the first three properties my mood had completely changed.  I felt like I would have been comfortable in any of them.  Of course none of them had everything I wanted- but I was reassured that we would find something we liked.  

We were looking for 

3-4 bedrooms
2 bathrooms
A comfortable commute time to Richard’s office and for me to get into central London
a “garden” (backyard)
Character/charm (Classic Victorian/English features)
Proximity to good schools
Proximity to transportation
Budget of course
A large or open living space/kitchen 
Quiet street

The city of London originally existed in what is now central London (Buckingham Palace, Westminster, etc.) but as it grew it absorbed small villages that still have their old churches and infrastructure.  These little villages are charming and we looked at houses that were really close to them.   We also looked at a house in the heart of Greenwich and a house that was very new and modern with a swimming pool and gym.  We saw quite a variety.  And when I say “house” I mean what we would call a townhouse in the states.  Rows of houses with neighbors either on one side or both sides, sharing adjacent walls.  

By the end of the day we had narrowed it down to three choices and on Thursday evening we looked at schools that were close by and tried to estimate Richard’s commute time.  

Friday we were lucky to have our friend Michelle watch the kids.  (I “met” her months ago through a mutual friend and she has been super helpful to us.)  Jo picked us up and we drove out to Wimbledon.  He insisted that we look in this area because at this point I think he was still convinced we were looking for a suburban, family friendly lifestyle.  And I won’t lie- Wimbledon was beautiful.  Huge trees and parks everywhere, lots of families.  Malls and restaurants and fantastic ambiance.  But it’s nearly an hour train ride into Richard’s office, and probably over 30 minutes into central London and so despite it’s open spaces and bigger “gardens” we just weren’t into it.   We did see a couple houses in an area called Wandsworth but they were a little high for our price range and still a 45 minute commute.  

Jo wanted us to make an offer on a place by end of day Friday so we were scrambling to make a decision.  We had talked and talked about it and prayed and pondered.  Nothing seemed like an obvious choice, and Richard deferred to me, so I just went with my gut.  I’ll write more about the house we decided on later, when it’s official and paperwork is signed, but it was really hard for me to choose.  

There was never going to be a perfect place, I had to weigh so many options and it felt impossible to decide which things were the most important.  And even afterward, when we tell people where we plan to live everyone has an opinion.   But when it comes right down to it, we are in a really exciting place, we are going to have some really neat experiences, and wherever we chose there would be things that drive me crazy.  

Hopefully things will get sorted out this week, but we won’t move until July 5th because that is when the current tenants will be out and the property will be cleaned.  I’m crossing my fingers that our house hunting days are over.   It was a fun experience to see many different parts of London, Jo was a knowledgeable and entertaining guide, and I did enjoy walking through many different types of houses.  But it wasn’t simple or easy or straightforward like it was on HHI.  Just sayin’. 

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