What to do on completion day!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

If you’re buying a house then completion day is the most exciting part of the entire process. This is the day when you officially become the owner of the house and get your keys! You can start painting, move your furniture in, and start planning exactly how you want it. But there's a few things you should be prepared to sort out first…

Get the locks changed
How many people did your vendors give their keys to? Both sets of parents so there were plenty of spares available? The decorator who painted the hallway 3 years ago? A lodger that stayed for three months, and their replacement? There could be a dozen copies of your front door, back door, shed padlock and garage keys scattered around, and you have no idea who has them.

Therefore when it comes to completion day you should make sure you have the phone number of a local locksmith who can come round and change the locks for you. I phoned someone who was able to come out for “emergencies”, but I had to wait 2 hours before he could get there. Since this was our first time buying I had no idea what time completion would be sorted by, otherwise I would have booked someone to come out for a specific time.

If you know you can get to the house quite quickly, and you know you’ll have completed by early afternoon, then you can phone around and book for the locks to be changed later that day. We paid around £150 for two locks to be changed, which from what I’d read elsewhere is pretty average in terms of cost, and was well worth it for peace of mind.

Read your meters
Before you start firing up the boiler and switching on all the lights, take meter readings. The main two are gas and electricity, but if your new home has a water meter (they’re becoming increasingly common) then you’ll need to check that as well. The quickest, easiest way to do this is to get your phone out and take a couple of snaps of the meters. That way you have a visible record of the numbers, and you can submit the readings a few days later without feeling like you need to rush.

Your property information form from the vendors should state who the current provider is. You can then phone them, submit the readings, and then you have the option to change supplier over the coming weeks. Our vendors were landlords who’d held the place at arm’s length, so our form didn’t indicate who the energy provider was. “Luckily” for us there was a pile of post waiting on the doorstep, including a collection of demands relating to an unpaid bill from the energy provider, so we instantly knew who to contact with our readings. If you don't know, and don't have an unpaid bill waiting for you, there are phone numbers online that you can call to find out who the supplier is.

Be prepared to clean
Even if your vendors are lovely people and you’ve developed a decent rapport with them, chances are you’ll still want to clean the place when you get in. This could be giving the bathroom a scrub, wiping round the kitchen before you set up the kettle, or running around with a hoover. In our case the house clearance people our vendors had hired had decided to dismantle a wardrobe in the master bedroom, and had left thousands of fragments of MDF scattered across the carpet.

You should also be prepared to clean simply because your vendors don't HAVE to clean before they hand the keys over. As long as they don't cause damage to the house (for example, smashing all the windows or knocking chunks of plaster out of all the walls) you can't legally demand that they leave the place spotless. They'll be in a rush to get to their new place, just as you're in a rush to get in. Make yourself a box of essential cleaning products (washing up liquid, Dettol, toilet cleaner, sponges, cloths and Marigolds) to keep in the car, along with your hoover if you have space. Then if the place isn't quite how you'd like it you have all the things you need on hand and easily accessible.

We hoovered up the MDF fragments. After we'd picked up 12 screws and 5 nails.

This is the most important part! Get a takeaway and pop open the bubbly, or put the kettle one. You’re in, the house is yours, and you can start doing all that decorating you’ve been planning for the past few months!

Why you should cut up your old carpet!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Just before the weekend we got the news we'd been waiting for - our bathroom renovation was complete! Our plumber has done an amazing job transforming the bathroom from "Peach with a hint of mould" to "Gorgeous clean tiles and amazing bath", and in less than three weeks!
More on that later (including the before and after photos). Once the plumber had shown us how to use the underfloor heating and handed over a pile of paperwork (and returned the key) we got down to the main work for the weekend - painting! We had to paint some sealing paint over fresh plaster, do some second coats on a few walls, and get some damp block around some windows where our vendors had simply painted over mould.

Once we got to a point in the decorating where we were dependent on stuff drying over night we were faced with a problem. It was still early afternoon and we wanted to get a bit more done. Our plumber had hired a skip for the bathroom clear out, and it was still sitting on our parking space. We've got it for a few more weeks, and I'd already thrown out some things left behind by the clearance team hired by the vendors. We've found the carpet that we want to get for the bedroom floor, so this seemed like an ideal opportunity to get rid of the old one.
At least we can now get new carpet put down!

Do you know how heavy a rolled up carpet is? We don't have a huge bedroom, the amount of floor space suggested that it would be quite easy to throw out. We managed to get it rolled up with a degree of huffing and puffing, because carpet just wanted to unroll, but we fought it in to submission.

The carpet had the last laugh. We're both used to heavy lifting from our jobs (or my previous job), but this was a new level! In the end we had to go for a combination of simultaneously lifting, pulling, pushing and shuffling just to get it out the door in to the corridor. Getting it down the stairs involved the Other Half carefully balancing on the steps while I tried to put the carpet down without knocking him flying. Finally we rolled it off the stairs on to the floor, thankfully we don't have bannisters, and then we realised - there was no way we would be able to lift it in to the skip.

In the end the Other Half got out his trusty stanley knife and hacked the carpet and underlay to pieces while I took the freshly cut pieces out to the skip, until we had finally reduced the carpet to a small roll that we could carry between us. 

I never realised how heavy even a small carpet can be! When it comes to doing the other rooms we now know that we need to do what everyone else does - cut it up in situ, and don't try to assassinate your partner on the stairs using rolled up carpet!

Review: Aromi in Cambridge

Thursday, 9 February 2017

If you're in Cambridge and want pizza without having to go to a big chain (there's a Jamie's Italian, a Zizzi, a Carluccio's and a Bella Italia scattered around the city centre) then you really need to check out Aromi! They're an independent Italian cafe, split across two sites in the city centre but only 2 doors away from each other. The larger one, with a bigger serving counter, a larger seating area and takeaway ice cream at the front, is on Peas Hill next to Cambridge Art's Theatre. The smaller one, which I went in to, is on the corner of Peas Hill and Bene't Street, two doors away!

The main thing to remember about the smaller branch of Aromi's is that it's tiny! The doorway gets
Delicious margarita pizza!
very crowded very quickly, and I've never actually seen a free seat in there at lunch time, even though there's a slightly larger basement seating area as well as the more obvious ground floor one. But this doesn't matter as Aromi pizzas come as a takeaway, so you don't have to hang around waiting for table space!

I keep mentioning pizza but actually Aromi, which specialises in Sicilian food, does sandwiches, arancini (fried rice balls) and desserts including ricotta cheesecakes. They have a selection of toppings for the pizzas and fillings for the sandwiches, and also do hot drinks including proper Italian hot chocolate (the really thick kind). Everything is made fresh, if you walk past in the morning you can see them working on everything as the kitchen is wide open, with the windows facing the street.

Should you managed to find a table then your food will be brought to you. If you're buying to take away then you'll be given a raffle ticket with a number on it. Once your order is processed they'll call your number, you collect your food, and then try to squeeze back out the door!

The thing I love about Aromi is just how good the pizzas are. The dough is fresh, the tomato sauce tastes like it's from an actual tomato, and there's great lumps of mozzarella scattered across the margarita. Everything is set out under the glass-covered counter, and once you pick what you want they cook it in their wood-fired oven right then and there. Rather than a circle the pizzas are cooked as a rectangle, and the toppings go all the way to the edge. At an average price tag of £4 you may think it's a little expensive for a slice of take away pizza, but they really fill you up so you won't be able to eat a second slice (although you'll really want one!)

If I have one small complaint about Aromi, it's that the paper bags they use really don't keep your slice warm for long :( If I'm taking mine back to the office, which I occasionally do at lunch, then I always have to reheat it in the microwave.

But a microwave can't stop these being so tasty. I think I'm going to have to go back again...

Finding Number 3

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

When you're a first time buyer, looking for a home can be terrifying. Where do you want to move to? Why stare an estate agent's window when everything is on Rightmove? How does house viewing work? It all looks a bit complicated when you're not used to it.

Location, location, it's all the location
We originally looked close to our families, in Hertfordshire and south Essex, where trains are frequent and the service semi-decent. Sadly both areas suffer from the South East Effect, house prices have shot up and are out of range of most people, including us!

So we had to go further down the train lines. I didn't want to live in an enormous town, so that ruled out Chelmsford, and although we looked around Witham I found I just didn't like it. Braintree was a good compromise, and we even viewed a house there, but the train station is only on a branch line, so in the end we reluctantly crossed it off the list. We loved Kelvedon and Feering, but houses were again out of our price range. But moving down the line brought us to Colchester, which was also too big for me, and from there we discovered Wivenhoe.

We also made a list of things we needed (train station, off street parking) and things we didn't (a big garden, more than three bedrooms) so we knew where we would both compromise. Lots of first time buyers are in their early thirties now, there's no point in buying a one bedroom flat if you're planning on starting a family in a year's time!

Once we knew what we wanted in a property and where we wanted to move to, we started the search seriously!

Rightmove, Zoopla or direct to agents?
The two main house buying search engines are Rightmove and Zoopla. Of the two I'd say Rightmove is more well known, there are certainly a lot more houses listed on it, but I found both of them quite easy to use, and I found Zoopla's "Advanced Search" tools to be better than Rightmove. The other bonus to Zoopla being a little less popular is that you have fewer estate agents stuffing search results with inappropriate properties, such as putting a terraced house as "semi detached", which happens on Rightmove and drives me up the wall!

If you sign up for both sites then you can set up email alerts for specific areas. When a property comes up in your preferred area, with specific cost settings, you'll get an email straight to your inbox. This means you don't have to load the website up every evening to see if anything new has cropped up. The price settings are really good as you then don't get spammed with properties that are well out of your price range. Just a few clicks and it's ready to go!

Although a lot of listings tend to go online quiet quickly, it's worth signing up for estate agents too, both the larger chains and the small independents. We mainly just wanted to get ourselves known as looking for a property, so we weren't automatically dismissed as timewasters should we phoned for a viewing. We also at one point got a phone call from one of the larger agencies inviting us to view a house that wasn't on Rightmove yet. This was probably an attempt to get us in to a bidding war, they had multiple appointments throughout the day, but it didn't really matter as after viewing we turned it down. But it does show that not every property makes it online, so signing up to a few agencies can help.

In the end we bought a property that we found through Rightmove, without ever meeting the agents!

We had to book viewings at weekends as neither of us wanted to use up annual leave for property
Hopefully your vendors will cut the grass before
your viewing!
viewing. We went to a few open days, quite a few of which were for properties that were empty. Open days are meant to get many people through the door was possible, and hopefully engineer interest from multiple parties. We placed an offer on one house after an open day, the asking price was £220k and we offered £200k, but we were quickly outbid and were informed that our maximum of £205k wouldn't be enough either, so we dropped it.

Due to the types of property we were looking at (in need of a bit of work) we found that we rarely met the owners, and were dealt with purely by estate agents. But if you're a first time buyer looking for a flat, buying off someone who used to be a first timer, then meeting the vendor is more likely. You may even prefer it, you can ask extra questions that the agent wouldn't be able to answer, such as whether they get along with the neighbours.

Whether you're being shown around by the agent or the owner, the first viewing is always a bit odd. You're stepping in to someone's home, trying to picture it with your choice of furniture, and mentally judging their wallpaper-carpet combo. So if you like a place and you're thinking of putting in an offer, ask for a second viewing! A second look, perhaps at a slightly different time of day (is the road outside quieter in the mornings than the afternoon?) or with different weather (does it look just as nice when it's pouring with rain?) can seal the deal in your head. I went for a second viewing with my Mum and Jon's parents, taking along other people can help you spot problems you hadn't noticed!

We found most agents were able to accommodate weekend viewings, and again the only one that was a problem was the one we ended up buying! Ask if you take a few shots as you around, to help refresh your memory later. After the viewing go for a drive around, see what shops are near, and get a feel for the local area. Although the agent may chase you for feedback within a few hours, you may find you prefer to sleep on it before making an offer.

After 6 months of searching we were sick of house hunting and ready to give up. I hope your search goes quicker!

Our Home - A Background

Sunday, 5 February 2017

In December 2016 we bought our home. It had been months of stress, and we were glad to see the back of it. I got to the point where any time my phone rang, I felt a little sick as I was sure it was going to be bad news about our purchase.

We originally viewed it all the way back in early June. It had been on the market for months at this rate, and the asking price had been reduced by £10k. It was being rented out to three students, and had been advertised as for buy-to-let only, but recently changed to "suitable for first time buyers".
Just getting to see the place was a faff. The agency didn't work weekends, just Saturday mornings, and they were "fully booked" for Saturday mornings for 2 weeks. So we both took a day off work to view it on a week day. Less than 15 minutes away from the house we got a phonecall to say it had been sold to someone else and the viewing was cancelled. We managed to persuade them to let us see the house anyway, but they told us the students living there would have to show us around as the agent already had another appointment.

The students themselves were nice and let us in and showed us around. The house was clearly a place that wasn't really cared for. There were patches of damp between the walls and ceilings, a big patch of ceiling painted cream (the rest of the ceiling was white) were some repair job had taken place, and the bathroom had black mould growing on the grouting and ceiling. But we could see the potential, so we made a counter offer that afternoon.

Sadly the offer was rejected, and we had to move on. But we struggled to find somewhere else we liked. We'd been house hunting for months by this point and were getting fed up.

Number Three on the day we completed!Then, one week after Britain's EU referendum (known as "Brexit"), the house popped back up on Rightmove! Even though we'd made an offer before, no one from the agency called us to ask if we were still interested! They just put it back up online. After discussing it we decided to make another offer, only lower. After three weeks of chasing the Agency, who only told us the vendors were on holiday after I'd chased for a response 3 times, we were finally accepted and began the buying process officially!

We got our mortgage offer quickly and arranged a solicitor, but the vendors were dragging their feet. We'd agreed the price back in mid-July, and by August were still waiting. Then at the end of August the agents called us to say that the students were refusing to move out, and were invoking a clause in their contract that would let them stay.

So we called off our purchase. We'd made it clear right from the start that we were buying the house to move in to, not to rent out. After yelling at the agent I burst in to tears, I couldn't believe that we'd come to so close to finally getting the house that it was now out the window. Three days later a very sheepish agent phoned me and asked if we were still interested in purchasing? They'd found alternative accommodation for the students, who would be moving in the next 24 hours, and our purchase was back on.

After that it was relatively smooth sailing. Given the general neglected air of the place we decided to get a full building survey, which came back with lots of little problems (evidence of mice or rats in the roof, an out of date fusebox in the kitchen, minor damp in rooms which would be sorted with proper ventilation) but nothing major. We also had an electrical test carried out, which confirmed that although the plugs were old they were still in working order, we would just need to get the fusebox replaced if we wanted any work done in the future as it was about a decade out of date.

So when we finally got the keys in December we walked in to a house that had been empty since the beginning of September. It had been cleared out by the lettings/estate agents (although one of the wardrobes appeared to have been ripped apart in the process, leaving lots of fragments of MDF scattered across a bedroom carpet) and just left. There was an enormous pile of uncollected post on the floor, a smell of damp in the air, a seriously neglected back garden and muddy boot prints all over the place. But it was ours, and now I can look back on it and see how far we've come :)