The post that explores why I am so obsessed with being a homeowner. Short version: I hate shared living.
Since spring last year I have been looking to purchase a flat in London. I’m a first time buyer, buying alone, so no easy feat. Nonetheless, around June I thought I’d found the ideal place. Although just a one-bed (ideally I’d like a two-bed), its top floor location in theory left open the option of a loft conversion and it was a decent size in the meantime. I had an offer accepted in early July and have been in the miserable, arduous conveyancing process ever since.
The utter misery of the conveyancing process
Despite there being no chain, it’s been about 7 months now and we are still stuck on the same couple of legal issues I identified the first time I read the lease. The curse and blessing of being a lawyer is that I won’t let things rest until all the “I”s have been dotted and the “T”s crossed. No doubt the sellers hate me right now for being so insistent on things that a non-lawyer might not have even thought about, but to be perfectly frank, if everyone had done exactly what I said when I said it, we’d have completed by now. I’m not confident that the entire thing won’t fall through due to my mortgage offer expiring before we sort out the final problems, given that everyone involved moves at a pace that would frustrate a glacier.
I’m planning to do a more detailed post at some point about the legal pitfalls of buying a leasehold, but for this post I thought I’d discuss why my pursuit of homeownership has left me miserable and, well, fretful.
A national obsession
Like much of the nation, I am obsessed with owning my own place and have been for a few years now. However, for me this is not to do with societal pressure, that tells you that you are not a valid adult unless you own your own home (which seems to be the driver for many people). I don’t care about keeping up with the Joneses. I do not get swept up in the notion of doing a place up as “my own”. And if you were to ever catch me posting a smug selfie of me jangling the door keys outside my new home, please shoot me.
Shared living is the absolute pits
My reason for wanting my own place is purely down to being jaded to my core with shared living. I believe that the attitude to shared living (in the sense of living with housemates rather than family or a partner) for most people goes roughly thus:
Late teens/early 20s: living with friends is amazing. I love having some of my favourite people around me all the time.
Mid 20s: there are some annoyances to living with people but there are perks to having an easy way to socialise with people (and it’s obviously financially beneficial).
Late 20s: Ok, I really do want to be living by myself now but the financial cost of that is too great to justify.
Early 30s: Get. Me. The. Hell. Out. Of. Here.
So I’m there in that early 30s pit of despair, hoping I won’t have to see what shared living in my mid 30s looks like. It makes far more financial sense for me savings-wise to stay put in my reasonably priced house with very good landlords and housemates I actually like. “What’s your problem?” I hear you cry.
Well, fundamentally my housemates don’t do anything wrong (although it wouldn’t kill them to be a bit more on the ball with anticipating when we are running out of loo roll). They just exist in the same space as me, and that drives me crazy. And these feelings have intensified tenfold since I have been trying to purchase this flat, as escape seems so close yet keeps being taken further and further away from me. Despite my Fretful Finance moniker, I have generally never considered myself an unusually anxious person on the social front. But you know you have to get out of your current situation when the sound of someone having a shower makes you all panicky.
FI makes me hate not owning a home even more
Discovering the financial independence movement in autumn last year added another layer of fretfulness. Whereas I’d previously just been dedicated to tracking how much I saved, I was suddenly driven to start doing more complex spreadsheets tracking when I anticipated being able to retire.
Given the millstone that a mortgage puts round your neck, housing choice makes a huge difference to those figures. Until I know what property I’m buying and how much the mortgage will be, there are big question marks over all of my figures. Of course, I do appreciate that buying my first home doesn’t stop all uncertainty – if I choose to upsize or downsize, or if the interest rate rockets, it would all mean adjusting the figures. But I at least want a solid starting point to appease this OCD streak I have when it comes to my spreadsheets.
It’s making me even more of an embarrassingly unfit person
I feel like house sharing is affecting my physical health too. There’s some gym equipment in our lounge I could use but I spend all my time moping in my room like a surly teenager. I could go for a jog or something – it would get me out of the house I’ve come to hate, after all, but I just find myself spending all my time on Zoopla and Right Move. I mentioned briefly in my 2019 goals post that I do want to get fitter in 2019 and this is a must. Whatever happens with the house I can’t let myself get to the point where I have the physical fitness of a middle aged, obese chain smoker, which is where I fear I’m heading.
I could have moved out and rented by myself some time ago. I know there is a lot of debate in the FI community about renting vs buying. To me, certainly in a city like London, buying is a no-brainer if you can muster the deposit. You won’t be able to rent somewhere by yourself as cheaply as a mortgage on a comparable property. And all that rent money isn’t going towards increasing your net worth or getting you to a position in retirement where you have minimal recurring housing costs. And of course there’s the lack of security of tenure.
The questions churning through my brain
As the conveyancing process has dragged on (alongside the uncertainties of Brexit) it has thrown up a whole load of questions for me to angst over:
Is this really the right property for me?
Will a loft conversion be worth the hassle? With all the delay I can probably afford a two-bed now if I stretch the mortgage a little more; wouldn’t that be easier?
Have I picked the right area of London?
Should I hold off buying until things are clearer re Brexit? What if prices plummet?
Should I buy a flat given all the aggro with leasehold? Should I move further out so I can afford a freehold house?
Should I move out of London entirely? As I said in my 2019 goals post, I am pretty sick of the place and you only have to have a quick skim of properties in other cities to see how ripped off you are.
A positive note for the future?
For those that got to the end of this post, thanks for bearing with me! This post has been about three times longer than I planned. At the end of the day it’s really just a “watch this space” kind of post. As melodramatic as it sounds, I feel like my life has been on pause for the last year, maybe even longer, and I need the house issue to be sorted before I can restart. I’d like to be able to finish this post on a more positive note where I resolve to have a healthier attitude to home ownership should the current purchase fall through but I’m too far down the rabbit hole to have a shift in attitude now. The only thing that’s going to fix me is buying somewhere.