Making a house a home – phase one

As someone who likes to plan pretty much everything to quite extreme detail and is a loyal friend of the spreadsheet, I don’t know where I got off thinking I’d just adapt to my new home in about six hours. I worked up in my mind like I’d just stroll through the front door and unpack (which I am yet to finish) and immediately be settled.

Moving was a long and stressful process (get info on the stuff I wish I knew more of  as a first time buyer here) so I feel like I should have prepared myself more for the actual, physical and mental upheaval. I only moved last time just over a year ago and I remember standing with my head in my wardrobe getting tearful and feeling very strange as I packed up my stuff, so it’s not like I haven’t been hit with the moving emotions before. I think I had just spent so long trying to get my own place that I thought the only emotion I could feel towards it was love.

Of course the first initial week was more annoyance at not having a bed, stress at the amount there was to do and the amount of time I spent on hold and a strange feeling of immense responsibility, which is you know, a no-brainer when you buy a home. There wasn’t a great deal to do when we moved in (One day I will get round to taking photos of the weird and wonderful development in all its eco glory) as it was immaculately clean, has wooden floors and crisp white walls and so I thought ‘piece of cake’ and rocked up with my van of stuff and a bag of tangfastics.

By all means, we had a fairy easy time of moving, despite my joints and general body hating me immensely for joining in on the lifting (it turns out moving is far from an Ehlers Danlos-friendly activity) and it wasn’t until a week later that a deflated feeling of ‘what now?’ came sauntering along. Aren’t brains wonderful? They convince you that something is absolutely right and worth struggling for, then hit you with a nice dose of doubt and some sleepless nights.

I can safely say now as I sit on my sofa and look at a living room that doesn’t resemble the aftermath of a flatpack furniture club night that it has all been very much worth it and I’m so happy and so thankful and so on. The whole thing of making a house a home though is going to take some practice. Feeling ill with a massive resurgence of EDS symptoms hasn’t helped with settling in and the fatigue I get from that feels much worse when I constantly have stuff that needs doing, assembling or fixing. I did always know deep down that I’d be the sort of person who moves armed with 50 Pinterest boards and a box of newly purchased cushions, but it’s been much more about thinking and feeling than buying and styling.

Waking up on a Saturday and not hearing other people, being able to shower without locking up the bathroom, not worrying about someone using my cheese or stealing my last apple and being aware that stuff is where it is because it’s where I want it have been the things that have made it feel like home. They’ve also made it feel very strange, but I’m fully on board with my own bathroom and only having one person to point the finger at when food vanishes. Although I do still sometimes miss my Fulham house share and our post-work debriefs with wine at the weird medieval kitchen table, it must be said.

Home (with my parents and my dog and the kitchen door that doesn’t quite open properly) will always be home I think, just in a different way now. As much as moving in and scattering my belongings and all the stuff I’ve been so keen to buy for so long has been all of the fun, it’s definitely going to be little things (and feeling less like a zombie from pain and fatigue) that make this quirky little place feel like a home through and through.

Views for days in the Cotswolds

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A few weeks ago we were supposed to be jetting off to Italy to spend a long weekend eating carbs, looking at architecture, eating carbs, sauntering around with ice creams, eating carbs, drinking Aperol and eating carbs. We didn’t make it to Italy. We didn’t make it anywhere near Italy – however we did have some carbs, so not all was lost.

The theme of ‘very stressful’ that early 2017 took on continued and we couldn’t leave the country as we were so close to completing on our flat. So instead of pizza feasting, we loaded up our car and drove to the Cotswolds. I’ve always wanted to go to this little part of England with it’s ancient cottages and beautiful little streets but it never surfaced to the top of the travel list until we needed a two hour-ish drive, countryside, nice views and fresh air on tap with very little notice. Praise the Gods of Airbnb.


Out of all of the UK staycations and long weekends I’ve been on, this was the most serene. I was worried it would be a bit busy (and a couple of the bigger tourist destinations were) but it was peaceful to the point of feeling like you were on another planet. The sun shone for three days, there were lambs everywhere, flowers growing in every space available and we walked for miles without seeing more than a couple of people. I cannot recommend it highly enough if you want a quick, easy escape in the south of the country. It’s also a photography dream. Note though, you need a car!

If you go you must visit:

Cerney House Gardens – One of the most peaceful places I have ever been and a hidden gem. Our Airbnb owners directed us here, and we arrived to no noise but birds, gardens brimming with every kind of flower imaginable, blossom everywhere, shady woods to walk through and a kitchen full of brownies and tea.

Upper and Lower Slaughter – These two villages are about a 25 minute walk apart through winding country lanes and are easily the prettiest places I’ve been to in England. The houses are like something from a classic fairytale, there’s a river running through surrounded by flowers and full of ducks, there are blossom trees, brightly painted doors, little bridges and the tiniest of cafes and cake shops dotted about.

Bibury -This is where you’ll see the classic Cotswolds postcard row of cottages. in the middle photo at the top. It’s impossibly cute here, and though it was full of tourists when we went (22 degrees heat in April will do that to a place) it’s a sort of must visit.

Calmsden – You likely won’t see Calmsden coming up on any lists of must-see places in the Cotswolds, but we stayed near here and it’s stunning. It was deserted, surrounded by fields of flowers, crops and farm animals and had the prettiest little houses imaginable. You can also stroll through here to The Bathhurst Arms, a pastel pink pub sat by a little river and eat chips, which is pretty much Sunday perfection.

Bourton-on-the-Water – Also known as Little Venice in this part of the world. For all your cafe, tea rooms, ice cream, river front, Instagram and Sunday roast needs. This is a little village surrounded by rivers and bridges, and famous for having a model village that has a model village (I know). As gorgeous as it was here, the hot weather brought out pretty much every person in the region so it was very busy, but still worth a little visit just to enjoy the views.

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7 things I’ve avoided  thanks to not copying other people 

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As someone who spends a lot and I mean A LOT of time on social media for personal and professional reasons, I feel like I’ve finally developed a thick enough ‘internet skin’. It is not easy to stare at the lives of other people all day and not get jealous or fed up or compare yourself to what other people are doing and end up feeling low, miserable and a bit put out by your own lifestyle.

Social media makes people copy other people. For all of the wonderful things it does, for all the brilliant online communities that I admire and advocate, for all the laughs, the chat, the education and the business opportunities it creates, there’s undoubtedly something of a sinister air about the triple-filtered, very perfect life image it feeds us all day long. Yet we eat it up, and we go back and refresh, refresh, refresh. So we have to make an effort to not get dragged down, which has happened to me plenty of times.

I got so caught up in wanting to do a tick-box exercise against my life last year that I forgot to do things I actually wanted. Creating a barrier against that has stopped me from wanting and ultimately trying to copy other people who actually don’t live a life I want. I want my own life to be the life I want. By trying very hard to stop copying lives I see online I’ve…

1) Not purchased a house I didn’t want.

Quite a big one. Quite  massive one. Quite a hugely lucky escape. I still get anxious and feel weird when I think about the fact I nearly moved away and bought this home that I thought fit the bill of what other people were doing, rather than because I wanted to. Realising in enough time and some quite fateful survey issues stopped something I know I would have resented and regretted enormously from happening and I am so thankful. You don’t spend a year saving and scraping by to end up unhappy with the result.

2) Learnt to live with bad health days.

Not always appearing a highly functioning and cheerful person to the rest of the world every single day is fine. It’s completely fine, and for someone like me who suffers health issues and sometimes (luckily not that often anymore – long may it continue) needs to just take time to recover and face them and become introverted or quiet, it’s very important. Not having something glossy to show off on a daily basis is as normal as normal can be.

3) Pursued passions that don’t appeal to the masses.

I like helping people, I like learning about the environment, I like forensics documentaries, I like reading about how oppressed people around the world find a voice and run with it, I like painting plant pots and I like not ever plucking my eyebrows. Okay, the eyebrow thing is not exactly a passion, but you get my point.

4) Stopped trying to save failing relationships.

It doesn’t matter what people you don’t know think about your friend count, your networking abilities or your contacts.

5) Stopped caring that some people might not think my idea of social media is good enough.

I work on social media, I studied it at uni, I really like it and I make money from knowing a lot about it. Despite all of this, I can’t and probably won’t shake the concerns I and many others have about aspects of it, and for a while I stopped using it in the way I wanted for fear of judgement. If I want to talk about movements across the world that other people think are boring or don’t get excited by, I should feel free to. If I want to post a photo on Instagram of a nice looking salad I made, I will. If I want to tweet something mundane that cheered me up, I can. If I want to go on and on about a piece of clever marketing I loved I should just do it, even if it isn’t as cool as a holiday to Italy. Enjoying social media as just a place to be happy and indulge your passions isn’t a crime – it’s surely a massive part of why it exists?

6) Stopped looking for other people’s approval.

Not fully, because hello I’m human, but enough to go entire days without even opening Twitter or caring that my blog stats are low for a fourth day running.

7) Avoided a lot of fear about not having achieved enough for my age

When there a children coding websites, teens carving out businesses online and influencers releasing books left right and centre it’s hard to not feel like you’re not making the mark. Note to self (and to anyone else)  – there is no mark unless you impose one.

A guide to being a first time buyer

Back when I first started looking at places to buy, I spent ages on Google searching for advice and answers to the many questions I had. The longer the process went on, the more I struggled to find the information I needed and although I did find a lot of useful stuff online, I couldn’t find anything tailored to me – a fairly clueless first time buyer with a massive amount of anxiety about the whole thing.

We had a bit of a roller coaster time with our first attempt. After about six weeks of searching we found a place and went for it, got an offer accepted, got the ball rolling, paid for searches and did a lot of paperwork only for it to stall. After that, problem after problem started to crop up and we realised why it’s said that buying a home is one of the most stressful things you’ll ever do. As frustrating, upsetting and irritating as it all was, waving goodbye to four months commitment on a place to start over taught us some valuable lessons about the world of buying. it also turned out to be a good thing, as we’re much happier in a different area and feel much more settled.

I kept wishing I could find a place online that had more than a few snippets of information, so this is my effort at making that happen. I noted down all of the things that we struggled to understand and the things surprised us or made us want to shout “WHAT EVEN IS THIS???” to put together the below in the hope it might help a few others. This is all based on my experience so of course it doesn’t have everything you might need, but I hope it contains at least one useful explanation!

First things first – getting the mortgage sorted

We went through London and Country for our mortgage advice, which is a completely free service and I couldn’t recommend them enough. They took all of our financial information, talked through exactly what we wanted to do and spend and came back with mortgage offers from four different banks. Alongside this we did our own enquiries to compare, and once we had chosen a mortgage product, they guided us through the whole process.

If you don’t want to use a broker you can make appointments at banks to apply for a mortgage in principle (online calculators exist for basically all of them so I’d suggest finding the best couple of offers online and making appointments with those) but be prepared for a wait. Banks seems to have very long waiting lists for appointments in-branch so get organised in advance. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to make offers on places without a mortgage in principle/decision in principle, so this should be your first port of call.

You can get some information on the cost of buying a house from upfront fees to leaseholding costs from The Money Advice Service.

viewings, estate agents and questions

We used the classic combination of Right Move and Zoopla to search for places to view. It’s also worth signing up to mailing lists of estate agents in the areas you are looking at. It can be easier to get yourself on open day lists for popular places if they can contact you directly. We also had trouble getting booked in for viewings at first as we weren’t quick enough, so I’d strongly recommend doing your searching and phoning in the morning as the best places get snapped up FAST.

When we were at viewings I used to forget all of the diligent and sensible questions I should have been asking and just made awkward small talk instead –so take a list on paper and make sure you use it!

I wrote a post on questions to ask estate agents and things to consider that might not be obvious. There are little things you can do like running taps and flushing loos to check water pressure, as well as asking to look inside lofts or basements (which can hide all kinds of issues and secrets).

Also, this is an important one, if you’re buying a flat, make sure you check the number of years left on the lease. The EA should have this information and if they don’t ask them to try and get it. We learnt that when leases slip below 80 years, a property price starts to fall until it is renewed. Renewing a lease can be very costly (upwards of £6000) so consider this very carefully. You can get more information from the Lease Advice Service.

Easy research to do online when choosing a home

There’s plenty of stuff you can look up online to help you decide if you want to live somewhere.  Since we were initially looking at moving to a completely new county, we used a few different websites to do research:

Crime stats by postcode – not much fun but worth knowing.

House price data from the Land Registry – you can look up what other places nearby have recently sold for.

Find our if a property is at risk of flooding – if you’re anywhere near water it’s worth paying the small amount for the proper report. You can also get flood maps through this link.

Street Check – you simply enter a postcode and get a load of information on the area from housing and culture to employment and the all important broadband speeds.

Ask the local authority – we did some digging around with one local authority to ask about road planning and flood defences and got a lot of information for free. We simply looked up with LA we needed and googled for contact details, gave them a call and followed instructions. We also asked the local council if any building work applications has ever been submitted for one property we liked that was very old.

Putting in offers

This post looks at the questions you can expect to be asked – particularly when putting in an offer. I thought it would be as simple as calling the EA and naming a price, but of course it isn’t.

If other people are bidding too, you might end up in a bidding war, so calculate how high you can afford to go and think about stamp duty and deposit too –and stay by the phone! In some cases if multiple bids are put forward, you’ll be asked to give your best and final offer. We also learnt the hard way that it’s best to get your offer in as early as you can. We lost a house we really liked because two bidders had offered the same amount and since we were second to get it in, we weren’t successful.

During the bidding process we were asked for copies of our mortgage in principle and proof of deposit from all three EAs that we went through, which we did not expect and initially weren’t prepared for.

As much as I resented doing this, it’s worth getting savings account statements prepared or proof of deposit from a third party if you’re being gifted it. A bank statement with a date stamp suffices. Our mortgage advisor told us that EAs have no right to see these things, but they’ll ask anyway to make sure they aren’t taking bids from people who aren’t truly in a position to buy. The Home owners alliance offer tips on haggling over a price and the sealed bids process.

If your deposit is coming from a third party and not your own savings, you might also need a letter from that person confirming the money is a gift. If its a loan, you’ll need to fill out a form saying so, as all of this gets considered by your lender. You should get advice on all of this from your broker or mortgage advisor at the bank.

Picking a solicitor

Once you get an offer accepted on a home, you’ll likely be asked to move quickly on appointing a solicitor. You don’t need to wait until you’ve had an offer accepted to start getting quotes. We did this simply by asking people we knew for recommendations and good old Googling.

Often, EAs will offer you a quote from their solicitors, or a firm they’re in partnership with. There’s nothing wrong with having a look but don’t feel you have to use them because you don’t. When it comes to choosing one, read reviews, compare quotes and think about location. If you feel you’d be happier having an office to pop into (you can save money on postage by taking forms directly into offices) then look for one based close to home, though it doesn’t matter if you never meet your rep face-to-face. We never met ours as he was based in Manchester but we were in regular contact and had no issues on the communication front (though you should get a feel for this in reviews).

Really Moving is an online service that can help you find solicitors in your area and offer reviews. Rated Solicitors does much the same.

What will you need to pay them for? Well in short, every single thing they do. Ask for a  purchase estimate before you appoint, which should offer a total on legal fees, searches, checks and stamp duty, calculated on the property price -this won’t be the final price but should give you a good idea of where you stand.

Exchange, completion and moving day

There isn’t much to say on this as (hopefully) it’s pretty straight forward. Once you’ve finished the paperwork and got all queries back you can look at dates for exchange and completion. You might face an extra charge if you complete within one week of exchange, so if you can space them out you could save money. You don’t have to do much on either of these days, but we were told to check in regularly with our solicitor for updates on completion day especially.

Stay calm

It is stressful, but it also doesn’t have to be. Our second attempt was smooth, relatively easy and straight forward. My best pieces of advice would be to stay in contact with your solicitor and the EA as much as possible. Ask for regular updates from your solicitor (you’re paying them after all) and stick to your guns. If something feels wrong, it probably is. It’s a big deal to buy your first home, so don’t rush your decisions and it really is true that if you don’t feel 100% happy with a property then tread carefully. Oh and good luck!