They say that buying a house is one of the most stressful things that you can do in life; above getting married, getting divorced or planning a new baby. But for the first while, finding a house is simply fun.
I join a whatsapp group for parents in our intended hometown, and find myself creating a tangent group to discuss properties. We make friends and we pool our knowledge, cheering each other through viewing successes and offering consolation when offers are declined.
We take trips to our intended hometown. I feel as though I know it; I start to take shortcuts, to smile at familiar vendors in favourite cafes, to know what I will order and where. People stop us in the street to say hello. When the boys come with me to property viewings, they rate houses according to what toys are in the bedrooms, how big the gardens are and whether the vendor has a cat. Sometimes I take my mum and my sister instead; nestled in the back of the car, it feels like the childhood I never had.
On an unseasonably warm day in February my daughter squeals as seafoam runs over her toes and I laugh, sunlight gold on my inner eyelids, and think about how happy we will be when we live here. We feel as though we have come home.
At our favourite coffee shop, we sit at a little orange table and chat with Sofia. She suggested this place to us and we would never be here now were it not for her response to my query on a facebook page. I pay for her coffee and joke that when we move here, we’ll celebrate her on every moving anniversary. Her boy is the same age as my ‘big four’, a dear child in rainbow clothing. When it is time to say goodbye, my boys ask him to come to the park with us. They know the parks now. And they are ready to put down their own roots, to make friends of their own.
We see so many houses that they all start to blur into one, but we are ultimately left with three serious contenders. My mother falls in love with the carpenter’s house, intricately designed and so close to the station that I could practically dress for the day on the train. It is stunning, a dream home, and though it doesn’t feel like ‘my’ dream home I am convinced to place an offer. When it is declined there is a pang of disappointment but also something that feels like relief. I fall in love with a sprawling six-bedroom house a mile from the station, with red floral carpets and a sink in every room. From the windows, you can see the sea. It has been on the market for almost a year and nobody wants it at the price at which it has been listed. The vendor refuses to accept offers and I cannot bring myself to pay forty thousand pounds more than the house next door sold for, three months ago. It hurts to let that one go.
Somebody tells me that the first house you fall in love with will set the standard for all other houses that you see. And there are no other homes on the market, within our price range, with a sea view. But our lease is expiring, my boys need to be enrolled into school, and Kirsty is packing up the house around me with nowhere for us to go. We are – not desperate, because that word should be reserved for other, more dire circumstances. But we are despondent. It begins to feel as though we will be cramped up in the London suburbs forever, in our sweet little home that feels suddenly like a cage.
We try to remember how fortunate we are to have a home at all. We remind ourselves, and each other, that home-ownership in this day and age is a luxury, that very few people are so lucky as to buy their ‘forever home’ at our age and that it is ok, it is enough, to buy something that will suit us for now. And we do feel lucky, and grateful. But we long for a home.
The third house comes to my attention via the Folkestone Properties whatsapp group. Initially I dismiss it as a lovely home, a beautiful home, but not for us. I download and sketch all over the floorplan to elaborately demonstrate how very not-for-us it is. And yes, I agree, that the location is good enough, the light is good enough, the garden – the second-biggest that we have seen – is good enough. But I do not want a good-enough home, my heart is still on forever. I joke about how it could be perfect for us but we would have to leave two children at our rental property, or give them to their grandma. It’s a family-with-three-children sort of home. It is still twice the size of the home in which we live currently.
Curiosity gets the better of me, and that creeping, nagging fear that we will never find a perfect home within our imperfect budget. And I have promised the boys a trip to the sea. So I book train tickets and a morning of viewing imperfect houses and I take my little boys with me on what may be – retrospectively – one of the most special days of my life.
Sunlight and sea breeze, small hands in mine. My sons are suddenly of an age where travelling with them is more fun than travelling without them. We split a packet of veggie Percy Pigs and I beam as they chat intelligently with vendors; we compare mental notes on each property (they form their assessments based on the size of the garden, whether the house has any toys and whether the vendor owns a cat). They split a pizza and then eat most of mine whilst I chat on the phone with my boss, and then we walk together down to the water’s edge. My mind is reeling. Because I have fallen in love with the house.
It is only four bedrooms and it doesn’t have a view of the sea. But the light is incredible and the garden feels enormous and there is something about the feel of the house that is right. It looks nothing like my childhood home, against which all houses have always been measured and found wanting. But it has a warmth about it, a comfort. I feel like I have come home.
It’s not perfect. But it speaks to me.
The estate agent and I speak on Monday. Five other families loved it too; they have all made offers. We are asked for our ‘best and final’ offer and, reeling, I provide a figure that is ten thousand pounds over the asking price. We don’t sleep. We don’t get the house. Kirsty and I confer, our whatsapp group provides their thoughts also. We increase our offer by the same again. There is another sleepless night but then –
Then the estate agent calls.
The house is ours.
When I was a little girl I fell in love with a house with wisteria growing inside the windows; I wished on the constellations of grasshoppers that adorned my bedroom ceiling, lulled into daydream by their tuneless song. My childhood home had a secret passage coming out behind a mirror, a study filled with books and my free-range pet chinchilla whom would perch on my desk to watch me play Pinball on my rickety secondhand PC. My childhood home exuded sanctuary and magic; happiness, to me, has a faint aftertaste of raspberries, summer-warm, plucked from the bushes in the garden. Beneath the wallpaper, beneath the paint, in hidden corners, in tiny cursive, my name is written all over those walls: Amberamberamberamberamber. And the new owners will never know.
We are giving our children stability. We are giving them a home.
The house is ours.