They say love where you live, and never has that been as important as in 2020 when we’ve all been forced to spend a lot more time at home than we probably ever thought we would. Fortunately I love my little corner of south east London – and today I’m celebrating ten years of home ownership.
In many ways it seems like only yesterday that I got hold of the keys to my little one bedroom flat. But then I realise how much my life has changed in those ten years, and it feels like I’ve lived here forever.
renting in London
I’ve been pretty lucky with my living situation since I moved to London, and into my brother’s spare room in Brixton, in 2003. I always loved the idea of having my own place, but with the cost of property in London I didn’t think it would ever happen.
After 7 months, my brother asked what my plans were as I’d only intended to stay with him temporarily. I took the hint and jumped onto SpareRoom to find alternative accommodation. After a year of living in a five bed house near Clapham South, I was made redundant and decided to move home to live with my dad in the Oxfordshire countryside – prime commuter belt territory – and work out what to do next. After 6 weeks of getting up at 6am to commute to London for a temp job in Pimlico, I called my brother and asked if I could move back in. Fortunately he said yes.
I spent most of the next 4 years awaiting a move to Manchester as the organisation I was working for was relocating. I liked the idea of living in a different, more affordable city, which at the time was changing dramatically. One day in late 2008 though, I decided that wasn’t the place for me to work anymore and in doing so the decision was made that I’d be staying in London. I wouldn’t be staying in Brixton though – my brother was moving his girlfriend (the girl from next door) in so I had to find alternative living premises.
I didn’t want to go back to student type living as I’d done the last time my brother kicked me out, but finding a flat in a good location with one or two normal people was hard to find. Then I got the bus to Camberwell to view a room in a flat with live in landlords. On the way there I was talking to my mum and when I told her where I was going she said “Oh, i went to school in Camberwell.” I knew my mum had lived in Peckham when she was young, but clearly our conversation had never gone further than that.
The flat was perfect (I had my own bathroom – what a luxury) and my landlords / flatmates were lovely. It seemed like it was fate that Camberwell was where I was meant to live.
I’d always kept my eyes on property prices to see what was available and what the prices were like, but it was in early 2010 (?) that I started seriously looking to buy. By this time, my landlords had moved out and rented the room out and whilst my and my new flatmate got on ok, I realised I wanted to live on my own.
I’ll never forget the first flat I was taken to see by an estate agent. Two roads away from where I was living, it was a repossession and absolutely tiny. Seeing it on dark evening, with no lights due to the electricity having been turned off, didn’t help sell it. The most depressing thing was that it was at the top of my budget. My heart sank. I realised that I was probably going to have to move way out into south east London or give up on getting my foot on the property ladder.
Over the coming months I saw so many flats around south east London. There was the one near Queens Road had so much stuff in it you couldn’t see the walls – and coming from a self-confessed hoarder that’s saying something. I remember a flat in Peckham that Foxtons took me too that had so many mattresses on the floor, I wondered how many people were living there. They also took me to this amazing flat that looked like it hadn’t been renovated since the 60s with a super kitsch pink bathroom and a retro yellow kitchen. I took my mum for a second viewing there, so the eager young salesman must’ve thought he’d got a sale, but he wasn’t prepared for my mum who spotted all the flaws in the flat that highlighted that it wasn’t the right one for me afterall.
I took my dad with me to see a flat in Peckham, one that I was seriously considering putting an offer in on. He’d been very quiet all afternoon with very little to say about the flat. Just before he headed home, I asked him what he thought and I’ll always remember his response – “I didn’t get the impression you loved it.” This really made me think. I wasn’t looking for my dream home – I couldn’t, and still can’t, afford that – I was just looking to get my foot on the first rung of the ladder. But it stayed with me.
finding the one
The day I was shown what would become my home, my dad’s words came to mind and I realised what he meant. The estate agent had called me when it first came in. They hadn’t got it online but thought it might be of interest. One bedroom on the top floor of a small 60s social housing build. I walked in and I fell in love.
The owner had moved out, but rather than leaving it empty they had staged it so you could see how the space could be used. The dining table was laid, there as an alarm clock by the bed and there was a little vase of flowers in the bathroom. The walls were all neutral and it met my two key criteria – some outdoor space (a small balcony) and a window in the bathroom. It was also closer to central London than I was already, so I wouldn’t have to move further out afterall.
I took my brother to see it with me a couple of days later after which I didn’t hesitate to put an offer in, a little under the asking price. Waiting for the call back I couldn’t focus on doing anything but I didn’t have to wait too long to get confirmation that it has been accepted. I was buying a flat!
I completely underestimated the work involved and the learning curve I was about to go on. Finding a solicitor to deal with the legal side of things. All the paperwork with the bank to get the mortgage in place. Suddenly the fact I’d have to pack up and move all my belongings (as I’ve already said, I’m a hoarder) didn’t seem so daunting in comparison.
I was told I’d be in within a couple of months. In reality it took over three and a half months from putting the offer in to getting the keys. It felt even longer. When I make a decision to do something, I want to just get on with it. Waiting for others to do what they needed to do was painful.
On 5 November 2010 I got the call from the estate agent – the sale was complete and I could go and pick up the keys! I remember standing in the empty living room that Friday afternoon in shock that I was now a homeowner.
Moving day meant a drive to my grandparents house in Northamptonshire to meet a man in a van. After loading up the numerous things my grandparents had given me, we stopped off at two more locations to collect my belongings, before loading everything up from my flat 10 minutes away. Despite the lift breaking down (with things in it) on the first trip up, within a couple of hours the van was empty and the flat was starting to look pretty crowded! Over the course of a week I slowly moved the rest of my belongings in.
the pros and cons of homeownership
Living alone took some getting used to, but I quickly realised the benefit after a crap day at work of being able to go home and shut the door on the world. If I didn’t have to talk to anyone, I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to put up with anyone else’s noise, mess, cooking smells or annoying boyfriends. Knowing that I’m going to end up with something at the end of paying a mortgage for 25 years rather than rent to pay someone else’s mortgage is a damn good feeling too.
On the flip side, living alone and being responsible for any issues meant there was no one else to help when it comes to dealing with breakdowns or other building issues, such as your washing machine flooding the flat below. Being a leaseholder has also brought unexpected financial stresses, such as when the freeholder decides work is necessary that you need to fund (I’ve just finished paying for the third major works that has been undertaken!). Getting them to deal with issues they are responsible for though is like pulling teeth – like when we got home (not long after the roof having been resurfaced) to find water pouring through the ceiling! Fortunately I didn’t have it as bad as one of my neighbours.
Despite all that, I wouldn’t change a thing. When I first moved in I thought I’d only be here a few years. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
love where you live
Had to be the top floor, right? – It’s the best.
Like Edward in Pretty Woman I suffer from vertigo but top floor living really is the best! We have a great view of the London new year fireworks – with those cancelled this year, we’ll have to find something else to do to ring in 2021! – and I love sitting on the balcony on a sunny evening with a drink in hand looking out over London and the rooftops below.
As the eternal singleton, I never envisaged I’d one day end up sharing this flat with anyone, but that all changed two and a half years ago. How we’ve managed to cram two people’s worth of stuff into a one bedroom flat I’ve no idea, but we’ve made it work. Last year we were considering looking for somewhere bigger but throughout lockdown I’ve realised how lucky we are to have this place in a location we love, everything we need easily accessible nearby and from where we can walk into central London in less than an hour.
Growing up in a house that was never quite finished and helping out with my fair share of DIY over the years, I’ve still got things I want to do to make our mark on the place so it feels even more like home, but it’s getting there – you can see some then and now shots below. I don’t think I’ll ever recover from having work done on the bathroom, but I’ve started thinking about ripping out the kitchen even if Covid means I can’t get it replaced as I was planning on finally doing this year.
As we start another four weeks of lockdown, we’re going to be spending a lot of time here. I’m hoping it’ll give us an opportunity to finally tick off some of the home to dos that have been on the list for a long time (like sort out our ever growing collection of books), but ultimately I’m just glad to have somewhere I’m happy to be 24/7 right now.