I have a not-so-secret obsession: looking at houses. It doesn’t matter how – online, on apps, on tv shows – I’m nosy and also, keen to get out of renting and finally own my own home. My husband’s the same. Every night, we collapse on the sofa after dinner ... Actually, who am I kidding, after eating dinner while sitting on the sofa, we switch on the only TV programme the pair of us can agree on (Grand Designs) and proceed to stare at our phones as we check out houses on the many, many property apps we have downloaded. We love a bit of “property porn”.
Our obsessive behaviour began innocently enough. My husband has long been a fan of whiling away the hours sifting through search results of what he could possibly afford without actually contacting a single estate agent or setting foot inside the front door of any houses. It wasn’t long after we got together that I was downloading the RightMove and Zoopla apps and doing the same.
As long-term renters, we have been trying (and generally failing) to buy our first house together for the last couple of years. Our journey to becoming homeowners together started out noncommittally – every now and then, we would view a house. When the agent asked us if we’d been looking for long, we would smugly respond, “Oh no, we’ve only just started really”. We weren’t in any rush, we weren’t desperate.
But then, as the number of viewings we went on ticked upwards and a couple of offers failed to entice a vendor into choosing us, the tone of our search changed. I got thoroughly fed up. All through last year we had the forecast of impending doom due to various significant Brexit dates hanging over us like the Sword of Damocles. We dithered over concerns that the property market was just about to change immeasurably. Of course, it didn’t quite change all that much.
We entered this year with a renewed sense of focus. Then of course, coronavirus landed on top of us all. Everything came to a screeching halt. But our desire to buy our house didn’t just vanish. Once you’ve saved up all that cash and then prepared yourself psychologically that you were going to give all that cash to someone else, it’s not that straightforward to simply switch off your ambition. So we kept looking – obsessing over the exact same houses that were the only ones left online over the course of lockdown.
But of course lockdown itself has had a huge impact on how we live our lives and how we want to live them in the future post-pandemic world: where we want to live, what kinds of houses we want to live in and how much we want to travel into an office. All of these considerations have led people to completely change their opinion on what they want in a dream home. More of us will undoubtedly work from home more now.
So elements that might have been dismissed previously as capricious excess in the hunt for a home on budget – such as a bigger garden, or indeed any outside space at all, a home office space – instead became ‘must-have’ features. In the post-Covid world, priorities have changed enormously.
We were no different – in the short term at least. My husband and I both grew up city dwellers – he here in London and me in Dublin. But the combination of the pandemic effect (working from home more and the joy of not having to face a jammed rush hour tube twice a day) and the plain fact that our savings could stretch almost immeasurably further outside the city meant that we seriously considered moving much further out.
Entering the same price margins into these house-hunting apps, but changing the search area to a county around London, we opened a Pandora’s Box of temptation. Off-street parking, more bedrooms than we could ever dream of in the city, gardens we’d need to enlist Monty Don to maintain, and, depending on just how far you might be willing to move out, the ultimate luxuries of one’s own tennis court or (imagine!) a swimming pool all looked to be possible. (Though with a long journey into London where we are both still very much based work-wise, those latter two options remained as quixotic as they would have been in searching for a house in the city.)
Overwhelmed with choice and no real clue on where we should base ourselves in the countryside, we went back to looking in our cityside search areas just a week or two after viewings were permitted again. Last week we went on a few viewings with face masks and hand sanitiser in tow for the first time in months. The first house we saw ticked all our boxes and we’ve finally been “chosen” – our offer has been accepted.
The house is far from ours; but the feeling of progress and forward momentum towards the next part of our lives since receiving the news has been a welcome sense of normality that has been sorely lacking in recent months.