Buying our first house in lockdown

Being the superstitious worrier that I am, I’ve delayed writing this post to avoid jinxing the very motive behind it. Clearly the House-Buying Gods smiled down on me and appreciated my thought because thankfully this blog can go ahead. We own our own house!

Thinking back to pre-lockdown feels like years ago. Nevertheless, it’s only been five short months since we started looking at buying our first property. We fell in love with only the second we viewed and, one cold February night after our third viewing, excitedly called the estate agent from a local bar (obviously, liquid courage was necessary) and made an offer. My partner and I both work in sales so aimed to play the estate agent at their own game and after some back-and-forth it wasn’t long before we had our offer – which was nicely below asking price – accepted and mortgage confirmed. It only became real when this monstrously large figure was added to our direct debit accounts after moving in.

We had a week of blissful stress-free skiing in France and were, no surprise, sat in a local bar when we heard about the lockdown that had just hit Europe. We frantically called our mortgage advisor who started hinting at some potential outcomes and outlined a couple of additional considerations: delays further up the chain, halts in the housing market in the future, dramatic reduction in house-prices… Maybe the House-Buying Gods weren’t going to be so kind after all. We had 0 experience of purchasing anything more expensive than a car so the thought of gambling with hundreds of thousands of pounds (as well as the next ten years of our lives) was terrifying.

Being the worrier I am, I had visions of being stuck in a house for the next 30 years with no ability to sell because the house wasn’t worth what we paid for it. I had premonitions of wanting to start a family but with no hope of moving somewhere closer to our own parents in Devon. We couldn’t even go to see the house again because of lockdown restrictions and no number of drive-bys eased our concern. My partner is without question the less-stressed one in the relationship so thankfully his cool head and process-driven methodology kept us on the straight-and-narrow. We both spent time researching the housing market (which, in hindsight I like to think we would have done had lockdown not happened) and took our parents’ advice to sit tight.

Now, living hundreds of miles away from our friends and family and with both of us working from home through lockdown (and sans printer) made signing contracts and having witnesses for said contracts extremely difficult. What would usually take us an hour or two took us weeks, adding to the anxiety that we wouldn’t get our paperwork completed by our exchange date – which unbeknownst to us – was taking place six weeks earlier than planned. Cue extreme wine-drinking and feeling like we were in a scene from Money Heist gathering thousands of pounds for our deposit ready to send to our solicitor.

And then, there was nothing. We received polite emails to confirm our life savings had been safely stashed and were told to wait for a call on the day of completion weeks later to pick up our keys. We organised delivery vans and carpet cleaners and packed up about 2 weeks earlier than necessary, then before we knew it the 15th July was here and we were driving to pick up the keys (clearly we were driving far too hastily as we got caught speeding on the motorway. Great start.)

But, finally, we did it! We spent 2 solid days scrubbing the place top to bottom and running up and down *our own* stairs like children. Our first few nights felt like we were staying in a hotel and having cool glasses of G&T in the garden in the evenings felt like living in a dream. The weeks between our move-in date and today have been one huge blur. We’ve had both sets of our parents travel up from Devon and have spent more time in the sun in the last few weeks than we did in the entirety of last year (a garden with sun is 100% my favourite part of the house).

I’ve only started to understand just how stressed living in a built up area with no garden or sunlight was making me. I’m so much more relaxed being in our own place where I can see a sunrise and sunset and am in walking distance of a woods (and yes I’ve already scoped out at least 10 riding stables in the local area). Having our own base really is priceless and I’m so happy we stuck with our guns – particularly for a home that really is everything we wanted it to be.

I’m sat in the garden with a G&T on one of the hottest days of the year, the sun beaming down, feeling truly content. Next step… a puppy!

Teenage Life in the Country

Yep. It really was like this.

Sitting cross-legged on my side of the bed in our old bedroom writing this article, the downstairs television and wafts of conversation reverberate through the thick farm-house walls. The blustery Devonshire gale rips through an open window, closed doors rattling through the rooms. A call comes up the stairs “Callum, Lauren, diiiiinnnnerrrr”.

Visiting home is like being taken back in time. Nothing really changes in the small seaside town we’re from but it seems a lifetime away from our ‘new normal’ in West Sussex. Coming home provides the opportunity to reflect on my teenage years spent in the country and identify the differences to those who grew up in central towns and cities.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I know that West Sussex is hardly the Bronx. But the close proximity to London means ‘city-life’ feeds into the mindset of most who live there. Life is fast-paced, energetic, always on-the-go. Whatsapp, Deliveroo and Uber are ways of life. Devon? 3G is a rarity, your only takeaway option is a 25-minute drive to the nearest fish-and-chip shop, and convenient public transport means waiting an hour for a bus (and you’ve got no chance on a Sunday).

In my teens, a typical Friday started by mucking out the horses (usually in my school uniform), before our parents ferried my sister and I to the top of the country lane where we’d catch the school bus and not go home until Monday. Our parents never worried. They knew we’d be somewhere locally with friends, confirmed by a passing conversation with the postman who’d mention he’d seen us in the park earlier in the day, or with the barman who’d joke at our failed attempts of buying cider with awful fake IDs. I didn’t think twice about spending two hours on a rickety bus to travel to see friends in a nearby town, however the anger of missing said bus and waiting an hour for the next was a constant source of frustration. Our time was filled with the dramas each teenager experience: school, parties, relationships. But, we took for granted the horses, the beach parties, the freedom – because these things were all we ever knew. Until the age of 21, my life was spent with salty hair and minimal makeup, driving around in my 1987 classic Mini Mayfair called Beethoven.

Living in South Devon was an idyllic place to grow up. The pace of life was – and still is – most definitely slower and, although we lived in an expensive tourist trap, the cost of living was a fraction of that in London. However, it soon became clear that well-paying jobs are like gold-dust and, if you want to pursue a career, relocation (or a 4 hour daily commute) is necessary.

It wasn’t until we were propelled into ‘urban life’ upon our move to West Sussex that I understood just how different my upbringing made me to my new colleagues: I’d never been to London. Wearing heels and bronzer were alien to me. I was genuinely excited about being within walking distance of a train station. This period of adjustment was huge and it’s taken me two years to find a balance of ‘country’ Lauren and ‘professional’ Lauren.

I’ve learned that no city bar beats a beach BBQ and that life is a hell-of-a-lot simpler when there are fewer people around. But, I also have come to appreciate the beautiful surroundings of my hometown far more than I ever did when I lived there, and know when the time is to leave. It’s true what they say about living in small towns. Nothing really changes and that feeling is claustrophobic. I love now living somewhere which is vibrant and ever-changing. I love working in an environment full of energetic, young people who reflect my mentality.

Living in the deepest corners of the countryside before moving to ‘civilisation’ has taught me a lot about the qualities I want to maintain, no matter where I live. I’ll always hold on to the dedication it takes to live on a farm and appreciate early mornings. I’ll never forget the brilliance of board games and evenings spent with the family around a roaring fire in the depths of winter when nothing is open because all the tourists have gone home. I am only really calm when in open green spaces or on the beach, and I know to give myself the dedicated time each week to find my ‘calm’.

Moving away from your hometown is something everyone should do at least once. But, don’t forget what you learned from living there, and use that to help shape who you want to become.