On the road

I haven’t updated for a while because… well I guess I’ve been scared of jinxing everything. In the last two weeks things have happened fast.

We saw the house 11 days ago.

We loved the house.

We went back to the house three days ago.

We still loved the house.

We put in an offer yesterday… and then another… and our third offer was accepted. We have a verbal agreement with the vendor giving us four months to exchange contracts on our flat.

So it’s all systems go! We have a solicitor. We have a surveyor. We’ll be instructing an estate agent on Friday.

I probably don’t sound very excited. I am! But I am so bogged down by the paperwork and the anxiety that it will all go wrong and by boxing up our clutter to be taken to storage to give us the best chance of selling that my brain feels foggy. There are endless appointments in the family calendar – valuations, plumbers, decorators, deliveries, pickups, storage drop-offs, recycling centre trips.

All I can do is tick off the tasks one by one by one and keep looking at the photos of the house. Keep my eyes on our beautiful prize.




To be continued, I guess!


In love

I’ve not been able to write since my last post because I’ve cared too passionately about everything and become a bit overwhelmed. We were both so nervous waiting for our agent friend’s report and when it came it was was very positive, which ramped up the excitement. Because she was approaching the task from a personal angle, rather than as an agent per se, she gave us lots of useful information about the feel of the place and any qualms she had.

Since those qualms were mainly about the situation of the plot within the development, there was nothing for it but to go and see for ourselves. We booked into the same Airbnb in Nartberth snd set off early on Friday morning, booked in for a lunchtime meeting with our contact and a 2.30pm viewing on site.

When I say “site”, I mean it. “Our” house (we’ve been doing this a lot, I’ll try to call it by its name, Brook House) is the only completed building, by which I mean it’s possible to live in it. Which is exactly what the developer and his family are doing. Of course he’s perfectly entitled to do that but I can’t pretend I am comfortable with it; if it’s a new house I want us to be the first people to live in it. And it’s still only about 95% there, there are bits and pieces that would have to be completed in order for someone else to move in.

Another of the five houses in nearing completion, but the rest are just breeze block shells with active work happening. Right now, I’m not sure as to the projected completion date of the whole development; that’s one of the big questions we had, but unfortunately the developer wasn’t around for the viewing as planned.

Once inside the sense of being on a building site slipped away because wow, is it a wonderful house. I won’t bore you with too many details, but against a list of ideal criteria, this house was scoring a solid 9/10 wherever I looked. Our contact’s report had noted how bright and airy Brook House seemed and as soon as we walked into the hall we were impressed with the way wood and glass have been used to make the most of the natural light. It felt open and spacious.

A kitchen range was a big plus point, as was the eco-friendly specification. It’s really well insulated. The hot water and heating run off the range and wood burner whenever they are in use, the solar panels pick up where they leave off in spring, and only when there is no other source of energy does the oil-fired boiler kick in. The burner has fans to maximise efficiency and reduce the need to have the central heating on. Other important boxes this house ticks: a garage; an airing cupboard, a kitchen you can sit and eat in; a utility room; built in wardrobes. I know an airing cupboard’s a bit sad, but we had one when I was a kid and I’ve always wanted one of my own, so there. It’s a life goal.

The down points? The aspect isn’t perfect. You can see some bits of some commercial buildings I’d rather not see. But the only way we’re going to get glorious views is to be very rural, and then we’re back to transport problems. So perfection probably isn’t viable in Narberth itself. The real problem for me (and it is what our property lady has referred to as “a deal breaker” in her email to the house’s developer and agent) is the garden.

The positives? It’s huge. It’s nice to look at because it runs down to said brook. The developer has dug himself a duck pond, although so far this has been shunned by waterfowl. The negatives…OK, so the area is on clay soil – nothing to be done about that. And yes, it has been raining a lot recently, so you’d expect the huge lawn to be muddy, maybe even some puddles here and there. But this was boggy, genuinely boggy, even on the higher ground. It looked like you could probably grow rice in it if Wales were warmer. The grass was sparse and you couldn’t really walk on it. It seemed like such a shame, a big plot that’s mostly poor-quality lawn that you can’t use. Digging out borders would be even harder work than you’d expect from a clay soil and plants would very quickly be waterlogged. Given that a garden is one of the reasons we want to move out of London, having a garden with so many problems is indeed a major issue.

I have decided that I am not going to settle for being assured by the developer or his agent that the garden will somehow be all right, so we are looking at getting a surveyor to make an assessment specifically of the garden, its drainage and the brook (the Environment Agency have given the all clear for flood risk but I would like someone to look at the whole thing in the round). No matter how much I love the house I am not happy to go ahead with  unless something is done to improve drainage.

We viewed a second house yesterday but really although it’s nice, it’s not nice enough to put in an offer on, and we’d be kind of kidding ourselves that we want it. It would only ever be a second choice after “our” house and we would always be comparing it.  So I won’t really describe it other than to say the views were better but the airing cupboard was rubbish.

Things are now hotting up. We are coming back next weekend for a second viewing and this time the developer and the agent should both be there. Our agent friend has compiled a list of questions and concerns to be emailed over to them. We have the details of a surveyor who should be able to help as well as a reputable local solicitor.

If the money side and the timescales of selling our flat can be worked out – the new build situation makes it all much more complex – and the garden issue can be addressed… if, ifIF! We could be looking at putting in an offer.

Of course with each step further down the line, the possibility for disappointment only increases. I am in love with “our” house.


Image: “Stream” by solarisgirl. Commercial use and modifications allowed.

A fantasy

I want this. I really, really want this to work out, and goodness knows everyone else would be pleased if I knew one way or another because I can’t stop talking about it, tweeting about it, updating my status about it.

On Saturday night Harry and I went on a rare night out and all the way there on the tube I kept feeling words form in my mouth, words about the house, nut I swallowed them because I was worried that I had become irritating in my obsession. “I can’t stop talking about it,” I confided over dinner.

It was a relief when Harry smiled. “Neither can I.”

We have built this elaborate fantasy whereby we get the house and have to put our flat on the market immediately. We find ourselves already looking at storage prices for boxes we may not need to pack for over a year yet. We consider which fixtures and fitting should remain when we have gone. Where is the nearest B&Q to Narbeth? Would IKEA Cardiff deliver all the way out there? Should we get ourselves new bedding, and maybe use our old stuff for a spare room? In view of my health problems, should we go down and register with the GP on the first working day?

I am now looking at London through the eyes of someone who may be about to depart. Lovely though Saturday’s concert was, I really noticed the smell and the noise and the sheer grime of the tube. I walk around our borough thinking, “Can I really leave all this? Am I ready to?” and the answer is yes. I feel really lucky to have had the experience of living in London for 11 and a half years, but I am mentally moving on.

Today’s the day that our estate agent friend will meet with the developer and the agent for the (not so) putative house. She’ll then tie all her findings together into a report which we can expect that this afternoon, or maybe tomorrow, depending on how much information is still to be incorporated. This means I will be frantically and pointlessly checking my emails every five minutes from lunchtime onwards, ready to text the headlines to Harry at his conference. I feel as nervous as if I were waiting for the result of a job interview.

“I’m worried,” I told my daughter, “that this will all come to nothing and Harry and I will be disappointed.”

“Disappointed just means you might find something better.”


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I met a house that wasn’t there

Oh how quickly I became fixated on this putative house, the one that might not even exist.

Knowing it might not have been built didn’t stop me from snapping into full-on obsessive mode. I kept calling it “this putative house” because we honestly didn’t know whether it was even work in progress. What we called a house could have been no more than a line of breeze blocks in the mud. Excitement levels rose and I found myself unable to think of much else.

Then lo and behold our estate agent friend emailed to tell us that the house does exist, and is the only one of the five houses in the development to be almost finished (finished enough for the developer to camp out there while work on the houses continues – I don’t know how I feel about this, if I was going to live in a new place I kind of wanted it to be untouched by anyone but us).

This has further fuelled my excitement, but also my anxiety, because things are starting to seem real. I haven’t slept much since my last post, which feels like months ago. I have been to three yoga classes and found myself unable to calm my mind. Because now I know the house is real, my mind has moved onto practical matters. How do you expand into a much bigger space? How do you start from scratch in a house that has no curtains, that probably needs decorating throughout, that will need to be made to feel warm (both literally and metaphorically) before it can be a home?

I can’t stop thinking about it. I found myself browsing furniture websites until Tilly, my wise niece, suggested that I put my credit cards away and make a board on Pinterest. My fantasy house now has those curtains, and a dining table that can actually seat more than four, and some interesting bookcases and table lamps. I apparently feel the urge to go for a mix of traditional and vintage, probably because I worry that a new build could feel sterile and I don’t want to feed into that with modern furniture.

I keep on reminding myself that it is still a fantasy house, no matter how real the bricks and mortar. There are important steps to go through before we know if this is a real possibility. The estate agent needs to prepare her report and send it to us, and who knows, something contained within might stop us in our tracks. If we like what we see in the report, we’ll go down next weekend and actually take a look at the house; we may not like it then.

And there are still so many things I don’t quite understand… if the house is ready for sale as soon as it’s completely finished, but we’re not ready until we’ve sold our flat and Harry’s worked out his notice period, what happens then? Because somehow we have gone from having two years to get our London flat ready for sale to potentially doing it in about three months. All a bit scary.


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Among the pigeons

It’s been a while since I posted, and to be honest I thought it would probably be a while longer. Next steps were all arranged – a week’s holiday in Devon – and between now and July all there was to do was print off timetables and colour in bus routes on my new Ordnance Survey map.

We like to go to National Trust properties when we can (which isn’t all that often). It’s a good way for us to get out of London, be around plants and gardens and get some exercise in the grounds. On Sunday we headed for Stowe House in Buckinghamshire, ready to walk around the lake and look out for snowdrops.

I can’t remember what made me think of it, but sitting in the car I said, “Harry, did I read you that email from Angela?”

“Estate agent Angela? From Narberth? No… when was this?”

“I don’t know, a couple of days ago? She sent over the details of some new development. I didn’t think you’d be interested.” We had said that we’d consider new build, in the right location and at the right price, but I always thought that I was more into the idea than Harry was. And we’d been clear with Angela that new build would be second choice, with a character property being the ideal.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me! Read it to me.” I fished in my handbag for my phone.

So: the location was good. Really good. Shops, bus stops, leisure centre, GP all within an easy walk. Station a little further, but then the station’s somewhat out of town. The right sort of size – bigger, in fact. Garden and garage. A quiet development in the process of being built. Harry was getting excited, and I could feel myself getting excited too.

“Well,” he said. “Well. This creates a dilemma. If we saw something we really, really wanted but now, or in the next six months, rather than the two years we’ve been working to, would we go for it? Could we go for it, financially speaking? Because this would tick so many of our boxes and we don’t know when something like that might come up again.”

It was true. In a small town, waiting for a character property that met this many of our criteria could be a very long game indeed.

We went for lunch in the café, where we talked about the house. We went for a long walk in the grounds and we did see the snowdrops, but we talked about the house. Every so often we tried to give ourselves a reality check. The house wasn’t even built. It didn’t exist. Someone else might have put a deposit on it anyway. Our estate agent friend might do some digging and uncover some major flaw in the design or location. It seemed like such a long shot.

That was Sunday afternoon. It’s Tuesday morning and I feel like we’ve done nothing but talk about and think about this putative house ever since. It’s become impossible not to get progressively more excited with every view of the floor plan, every read of the specification. We’ve exchanged no end of emails about it. “Anything from Angela?” Harry keeps asking, and I keep checking, and lo and behold there is something every few hours. Angela is on the ball.

We are both struggling to rein ourselves in, and failing pretty badly. At what point in the building of a new house do you specify any particular needs? Can we have a kitchen with space for a table? Can the kitchen door have a cat flap? Where is the nearest animal shelter? “Anna!” says Harry, “we need to stop. It could all come to nothing.” Five minutes later he is on his phone, scrolling through the plans again. “It looks to me like the garden goes down to this boundary…”

So yes. The cat is well and truly among the pigeons, probably via the flap. Everything we thought we knew about timescales has gone out of the window. We could face having to put our flat on the market much sooner than expected.

Or it could all fall through. Angela’s investigating and will meet with the agent and developer on Monday. She could come back to us with an honest recommendation to drop the idea after all. She could have to report that someone just pipped us to the post. We’ve emailed her a long list of questions to be asked on our behalf and she’ll write up a little report after the meeting. We just have to patient until the report comes through.

It will be very hard not to spend the seven days browsing for kitchen tables and rescue cats.


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Next stop Devon

So we had our little meeting. The dating analogy resonated with Harry, but more from the perspective of “internet date fatigue”. Putting yourself out there on date after date certainly gets tiring. I remember the night we met, how I went through the motions of doing my makeup and straightening my hair, how I sat on the train thinking, Can I really do this again? Have drinks with a stranger and try to seem interesting? I almost got off the train and went home.

The prospect of researching another location and making all that emotional investment… we were flagging before we began. But suppose I had got off that train? I have no way of knowing what my life might have been like, but I don’t want to imagine a life without Harry. Who knows, there could come a time when we don’t want to imagine a life without Devon.

Because Devon is next up. Not for any specific reason, but it’s on the list and and a number of friends on Facebook recommended that we take a look. The initial plan was to quite quickly undertake a lot of fact-finding and go down in April to look around, but I was immediately daunted by the scale of the research. Devon is a big area with two coastlines and we’d like to look at both towns and villages. I’d only made a tentative start before I began to feel overwhelmed. I managed to check that the houses appeared to be within our price bracket and that rural villages seem much better served by both buses and trains than their Pembrokeshire equivalents, but then I ran out of energy.

It was clear that neither of us was relishing the prospect of some sort of relentless relocation hunt, and it wouldn’t allow us to judge the area fairly if we went down with a sense of resentment, so we’ve decided that rather than try and cram it all into a weekend or two, we’ll spend a week there in July as a sort of working holiday. Harry has booked a sweet little Airbnb cottage by the south coast so that we can relax as well as investigate, and my daughter may come too.

Despite giving ourselves a breather on the research front and trying to make it fun, we both have misgivings and it’s hard to figure out why. Even if we decide that we don’t want to live there, the worst that can happen is that we have a nice summer break, right?

We talked out these feelings and where they might be coming from. “I’m scared we’ll find somewhere we like more than Pembrokeshire,” Harry admitted, and I knew exactly what he meant. Maybe the next date will be the date, the one more likely to lead to a solid future. But then we would have to let go of that intense first love. And that would be hard.


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Mapping our future

So we’re both supposed to be thinking carefully and logically about our next steps. The problem is that I often think with my heart, not with my head.

My head is at least making an effort. It says: OK, what if we can’t find a house we like in Pembrokeshire? What if we can find one, but it’s in a village with little public transport? What if something unforeseen comes to light and we decide it’s just not for us? It would make sense to at least look for a backup option. Who knows, there’s an outside possibility that we’d find somewhere that we like even more.

Only since we got back I can’t stop thinking about Narberth. When we were there, London felt like some kind of a distant memory. Now we’re back, it’s Pembrokeshire  that seems like a dream. I feel clingy. I don’t want it to slip away.

I’ve started researching villages in the area, noting bus routes and amenities like shops, pubs and village halls. I keep poking around on Google Street View, dragging my unwilling little avatar past churches and bus shelters and up residential streets that peter out into narrow country roads. My hope is that when an agent  – eventually, eventually, I must remember that nothing will be happening for ages – recommends a house, we will know whether it’s somewhere we would want to be.

I have spent several happy hours (I did say I was a bit nerdy) with an Ordnance Survey map, marking the bus routes with coloured pencils, drawing circles around villages and affixing sticky arrows showing distances in minutes to Narberth, Tenby and Haverfordwest. I bought a pair of compasses and some new Sharpies especially.

I crouch over the map spread across the carpet, and my heart says: I’m pretty damn emotionally invested in Narberth, aren’t I?

Harry and I have set aside some time tomorrow to talk over our conclusions. We weren’t supposed to share our thoughts until then, but I already know he wants to see other places. I almost typed “people” there, because that’s how it feels. If you’re smitten in the early days of a relationship do you commit, knowing it’s probably too early, emotionally risky? Or do you remain pragmatic, carry on dating, secure in the knowledge that if you have found the right one it will become obvious in time?

I guess it depends on your outlook.

(Hint: after I met Harry, I never went on another date again.)


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