Saturday, March 06, 2010

Moving matters #4: Things ain't what they used to be

Just got back from my first proper day of house-hunting.

Things are getting a little panicky at home as we've started getting people offering actual money for our house and this has made us realise that when you sell the house from under your feet you aren't allowed to live in it any more.

This means you have to find another house to live in. Quite quickly.

So I began my odyssey around the south-east of England - more specifically, my home county of West Sussex - to work my way through the "hmmm.... maybe" houses we've gathered in our long, long spell of whimsical drifting around internet house-hunting sites. Mostly drive-bys to check out gardens + locations, though I did go inside a couple of them.

This made me realise that houses, and more to the point gardens, have shrunk in the eight years since I last did this. And West Sussex is all but unrecognisable from my admittedly nostalgia-tinged memories of a rather idyllic childhood spent riding ponies around the South Downs.

First, most of the area from Arundel to Petworth to Chichester to Rowland's Castle - that's much of the south-east of England - has been paved over while I wasn't looking.

Second, the bits that are not paved over are eye-wateringly expensive.

So here's what house-hunting is like in our credit-crunched topsy-turvy times:

House 1 was right on the high street of an extremely busy (but quite pleasant, if you didn't have to open your front door onto it every day) country town. Didn't stop long enough to see the garden or I would have caused a traffic jam right in the middle of the Saturday shopping crowd.

House 2 was said on the estate agent's particulars to be "a plot of 0.7 acres". Sounds good, doesn't it? Until you realise that a) the estate agent clearly has his acres confused with square metres, and b) about 0.6 of the 0.7 is house.

House 3 was the only one I saw all day which was in a location I would have lived in. Stunning views across the countryside, pretty village, primary school, nice neighbours.... The garden was quite manicured in an uptight sort of way (pampas grass, trimmed euonymus, spiky things in tubs) but not too unpleasant - only trouble was the estate agents' blurb hinted there was much more of it than appeared to be the case. Though I might have got the boundaries wrong. Another major setback was that the house was more akin to a beach hut.

House 4: in such a nightmare location I couldn't stop without causing a pile-up (I was going 50mph at the time like the three lanes of traffic beside me and only just glimpsed it out of the corner of my eye).

House 5 was a pretty little bungalow - normally I'm very biased against bungalows but this one was gorgeous, all hung with creeper and cottage garden. Like many streets where bungalows are found the neighbours scored quite high in the blue rinse stakes but at least it was peaceful. Quite keen on this one until I got home and found it had already been sold.

House 6 had a fantastic garden with quite the biggest greenhouse I've ever seen in a domestic setting. It stretched from one side of the garden to the other - that's about 40 feet - and there was a second (more normal-sized) greenhouse as well. If I tell you that even with both greenhouses and a summer house there was still loads of garden left you'll realise what a covetable space it was. Only trouble was that you'd have an audience for every spadeful you dug: there were no fewer than five houses backing onto one side, and two backing onto the end. Talk about gardening in a goldfish bowl.

House 7: why do people choose to live in places where you get mashed to a pulp by speeding motorcars on taking more than two steps from your front door?

House 8: the chavs over the road were doing something so complicated to their souped-up car (spoilers plus decals) that they had to play VERY LOUD MUSIC to get the screws to loosen off. I'd have my screws loose living opposite that lot for long. It was a shame really as this one had a huge garden with a pony paddock in the bottom too: mind you the chav music was almost - but not quite - drowned out by the relentless howl of combustion engines from the not-very-far-away A3.

Conclusion from the day: we can't afford to live here.


M@M aka VP ;) said...

So does this mean you're staying put or shipping out on a much bigger scale than you originally envisaged?

Sounds like you had quite a sobering if not down right depressing day.

Sorry - you're just about to get me pop up in my Malvern disguise...

Victoria said...

I totally agree with you about W Sussex. It's one of the most gorgeous counties in England and yet it is full of horrible houses, inches away from horrible roads.
Like you, I remember it as rolling Downs and woodland, with country lanes a-froth with wild flowers and horses dozing nose to tail beneath the shade of a vast chestnut or oak. Now it seems to have Executive Homeitis. How did this happen?

Victoria said...

PS: Having said that, I have seven (I think) houses backing onto my garden here in London and it doesn't bother me. Thank goodness for trees!

The Constant Gardener said...

Hello VP - yes it was a bit depressing to tell you the truth. But definitely shipping out on a bigger scale than previously envisaged - watch this space!

Victoria - another West Sussex girl I see! Actually after yesterday I think I prefer the West Sussex in my head and shall visit that in future instead.

Plant Mad Nige said...

I feel for you. Moving and house-hunting is an absolute nightmare. One just wants it to be over. Estate agents tend to be lying toads, the properties that look lovely on paper look horrible when you view them and the ones you knew would be horrible never fail to live up to expectations.

The only thing that seems to be infallible is that feeling, when you finally find the one. 'This is it!' says your heart, usually as you go through the front door. When that happens, you've usually made up your mind to such an extent that you hardly take heed of the sales pitch the vendors are giving. You are already deciding what plants will go where, outside, which pictures will hang where, inside, and how soon you can move in.

Perhaps that's why we've ended up living in a hopelessly impractical, largely unsuitable house which, nevertheless, we love!

Elephant's Eye said...

Build? Garden from scratch? Also eye wateringly expensive. But you get, what you think, you wanted.

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