IT'S NO exaggeration to say we bought our house online. From a viewing distance of 3,000km, fuelled by the vision and wisdom that only an evening on the wine can bring, Andy & I clinked glasses over Zoopla and said, ‘that one.’
When you know, you know, right?
Not that we randomly called the agent there and then and threw in an offer, you understand. It was never going to be that straight-forward. We knew we’d have to fly to the UK to actually view the house and probably some comparisons.
I did also have some reservations about the road, despite the house’s high-ceilings-and-original-features potential.
We were moving back to the UK after a three-year stint in Malta where Andy had been working for the online gaming company Betfair. With no house-at-home to sell – we’d sold our Reading base two years in – but with an 11-year-old daughter to lever back into the UK state system in time for a secondary school place, we felt cash rich but time poor.
The house we’d fallen for was a semi-detached, crumbling Edwardian pile on a major artery road into Twickenham, attached to five more similarly run-down properties of former grandeur the rest of which had all been converted into flats.
While accountant Andy lay awake at night calculating the cost-per-square-metre investment potential, I was haunted by Phil & Kirstie’s first rule of house-buying - location, location, location.
I nearly didn’t view the property at all, as it happened. Unable to travel with me due to work, Andy entrusted me with our viewings trip to the UK, where we’d arranged to see 19 properties in two towns over two days.
I had to do all this with an 8-week old baby in tow– our daughter, Rose – and the limitations of this quickly became apparent as I tried to sandwich a gruelling viewings schedule into an ambiguous feeding and sleeping routine.
The house of dreams was my final viewing on the last day, and although it was just a street away from the property before it, it was booked for two hours later.
By then, I was on my knees. As I waited in the rental car outside, feeding a crotchety baby and eye-balling the rush-hour traffic, it was very tempting to call the agent and cancel.
Only a sense of obligation kept me from doing so - the owner was expecting me I reasoned - and I’d come this far, I might as well see the job through.
The moment I set foot through the door, I knew.
Despite a horrendous monstrosity of a 1970s porch, 1950’s wallpaper, broken chandelier, grimy green stair carpet and full-size fridge freezer at the end of the hallway, the entrance sang with its black & white tiled floor, huge corniced ceiling, stained glass front door and traditional deep skirting and detailed architrave.
My heart beating just that little bit faster, I turned right into the front lounge, a beast of a room where the original Edwardian fireplace had been replaced with a 1940’s tiled surround and electric fire and a huge bay window was hidden behind 70s metal venetian blinds.
The sheer size and scale of the room danced before me and I could hear a traditional fireplace behind those tiles crying out at me to be restored.
It was so much louder than the road outside.
“The property’s just been reduced by £100k this morning," said the agent, rustling through her papers.
I nearly dropped the child.
Not only was the house of dreams speaking to me, the price had gone from way over-budget to just under-budget right before my eyes, making it not just affordable but giving us a pot for renovations. (Not even close to enough, I will add, but that’s another post for another day).
I’d been in the house under two minutes and literally had to stop myself from saying ‘We’ll take it’ there and then.
The rest of the tour passed in a blur of excitement. The wiring along the top of skirting boards, the not-been-touched –since- 1952 kitchen, the gas & electricity meters dotted around the first and second floors – clearly some attempt had been made to convert the place into flats – and the still-Edwardian-but-not-in-a-good-way bathroom with original Thomas Crapper toilet seat (which reminds me, this is still in the loft).
The amount of work needed was undeniable but the house had a magic to it that’s impossible to describe, and can’t be bottled, yet those who’ve experienced it can taste it and feel it.
When you know, you know.
Evidently though it wasn’t everyone’s bag.
“The property ‘s been on the market for a while and the owner is very keen to sell," said the agent, oblivious that the deal had just been done.
“It does need some improvements," (agent- speak for it’s a total wreck) "but it’s only had two families own it since it was built in 1906 so it still has a lot of its original features and plenty of potential.”
“We’ll let you know," I mumbled, and fled to the pub next door (major bonus points) for a very large glass of wine.
How strong is your stomach, I asked Andy when he picked up on the first ring?
He got it immediately.
“How much should we offer?” he said.
Trying to manage both mine and the agent’s expectations I called to arrange a quick second viewing for the following morning, en-route to Heathrow & our flight back to Malta.
The house looked even better the second time around and I returned home full of enthusiasm to offer the full asking price.
"I really think that I need to see it too, before we make an offer," spoke the accountant, suddenly realising the potential lunacy of spending the most amount of money he’d ever spent in his life on something he’d never laid eyes on. “I’m in the UK next week so I’ll try to go then.”
We should make an offer now, I insisted, so they know we’re interested and they’ll tell us if anyone else comes along. We went in with a silly offer, expecting it would be turned down – it was – but we’d put a stake in the ground and opened the lines of communication with the lovely old lady selling.
Andy refused to go back in any higher, saying again that he’d like to see the place first. It’s not like anyone else is going to buy it, he pointed out, it’s been on the market for almost a year.
Patience may be a virtue but has never been my strong point. I was beside myself. Two days later, fate decided to stage an intervention.
The agent called with news of another, higher offer but from a couple with a house yet to sell. We, of course, were chain-free.
Come back to us with your best offer and the vendor will decide between you, he told us.
Oh my god did we agonise over that phone call. We had less than 24 hours to come up with our best and final offer, without knowing what the other offer on the table was.
I was all for going back immediately with the full asking price, but the accountant was keen to drive a bargain.
We went back with a punchy, still-well-below-the-asking-price figure.
That’s our final offer, I lied to the agent, fully intending to gazump the other couple if their offer was accepted over ours.
With their house still to sell, it wasn’t.
Ten weeks later we moved into a house that Andy had never seen and that I’d spent all of 20 minutes in and we raised our glasses again - to health, happiness, and to gut instinct.
Top Ten Tips
For buying an investment fixer-upper
Check Zoopla.co.uk for current market value - and future projected market value.
What have neighbouring properties sold for, both ‘done’ and ‘not done.’
Does it need rewiring? Does it have any Electrical Installation Certificates (EICs), a legal requirements for any electrical installations in the UK since 2005.
Ask to see the electrical fuse box – has it been replaced with a modern consumer unit?
Does the house have a mix of types of sockets & switches?
Is there surface mounted wiring and are sockets attached to skirting boards?
Does it need replumbing? What are the visible pipes made of and when were they last replaced? Older Victorian and Edwardian houses had iron pipes often lagged in asbestos, banned in the UK in 1999.
Run the taps – brown or rusty water is a sign of decay in the pipes
Does the property have a cold water tank? This suggests an older heating & hot water system which may offer limited supply and poor water pressure.
When was the mains supply pipe last replaced? Older mains supply pipes had smaller dimensions, limiting flow and pressure, so you might want to upgrade this as part of any renovations.