I've known this family for quite some time - they've been regular and active members of Life after London as they've explored their different areas and plans so it gives me so much personal pleasure to be able to share their experiences with you, now they have made the move. They have so much good advice to share as they had more than their fair share of 'experience' during the whole process - tips such as getting your house on the market, focus on what you want to achieve, get to know your estate agent - all such great things to remember. May I introduce the Family May....
So we’ve finally done it. We’ve actually made the move out of London to Saffron Walden, with three kids (aged 7, 6 and 2) in tow and after almost three years of “shall we, shan’t we?”, including two aborted attempts.
It all started, as I’m sure most of these things do, with a casual flick through Rightmove just “out of interest” to see what we could get if we sold our slightly cramped terraced house in Chiswick and made the big move out.
Turns out you could get quite a lot, and we stumbled across a gorgeous looking Georgian farmhouse in the middle of Norfolk. It ticked all the fantasy house move boxes: beautiful, massive, lots of land, outbuildings, a small lake, cows in the field next door. And a tennis court. Yes, a tennis court. My wife grew up in Norfolk so we thought we might as well have a look at it, in the flesh. So we had a good look around, then a second viewing and before we knew it we’d decided to make an offer (we’ve since learned how these things take on a momentum all of their own). This being 2015, we put our London house on the market and had it sold within about a week. We were on the way!
Money Pit Tastic
Except we weren’t. To cut a long story short, we bailed out of that one thanks to a combination of unexpected subsidence and the growing realisation that while the house was relatively cheap (compared with London) it was going to hoover up money much faster than we could earn it. There was also the small matter of the imminent arrival of child number three, with a wife experiencing continuous nausea and sickness throughout the pregnancy. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.
The Pull of the London Village
To be honest, we were both quite relieved to have some solid reasons for staying put. After all, we loved our little corner of London and had no burning desire to leave that behind. We were very lucky to live in a part of town that felt a bit “villagey”, with the river and lots green space on the doorstep, while still having all the buzz of the big city nearby. We also had great local primary schools and a fantastic community of friends. So we decided to stay put, focus on the safe arrival of baby #3 and forget all about moving for a while.
About a month after baby had arrived, we found ourselves on the moving trail again much to my wife’s ‘joy’ (turns out a four week old baby and house hunting don’t really go that well together). We really did need more space though and, with parents based in North Norfolk and Derbyshire, we wanted to get a little bit closer to some family. We found a great house in a village a few miles north of Cambridge, had an offer accepted and, boom, we were off.
Except we weren’t, again. This time the sluggish London housing market, stamp duty changes and impending Brexit referendum meant we couldn’t sell our house, so we had to bail out again. Thoroughly fed up of spending endless hours in the car on house viewings with a tiny baby (the novelty of breast feeding in car parks and lay-bys wears off surprisingly quickly), we put the whole moving idea on hold again.
Third Time Lucky?
18 months later, we were ready for attempt number three. By this time we’d figured out a wish-list of things we needed to make the move work for us:
- A location about an hour from London (near enough to get back easily, far enough to feel like we’d actually moved out)
- A house in, or very near, to a reasonable size town (having lived in London for 14 years we didn’t want to suddenly feel isolated)
- Nice countryside on the doorstep
- Really good primary and secondary schools (ideally within walking distance)
- Within 90 minutes drive of at least one set of parents
That’s quite a list, and we realised that to achieve all of these things, we’d have to give up on the idea of the big old “chocolate box” house that we’d initially imagined living in. We narrowed the search down to the area just south of Cambridge, hired a nice Airbnb for a couple of days and had a good look around. We quickly fell in love with the North Essex countryside, with its rolling hills and pretty villages, and decided Saffron Walden was the place for us.
We put our house back on the market in August 2017 and once again started looking at properties. After a while, we found a house that ticked all of our boxes and just instantly felt like it could be our home. We moved quickly and, despite a long and very stressful process, we exchanged just before Christmas, moved in early January and we’re delighted to be here.
What have we learned in our journey that might be worth passing on?
1) The basic decision to move or not move out of London is properly tough. We agonised over the pros and cons for months, and never really came to a definitive conclusion. In many ways it would have been easier to stay, but we knew the long term benefits of moving out would be great for us.
2) If at all possible, move before your children start school. If it’s too late for that, be aware that there is huge pressure on school places almost everywhere. Don’t assume that you’ll easily get your children in to the local school. Do your research, speak to the schools and be aware of their situation before you make any offers. Finding places at the same school for more than one child is especially difficult and stressful.
3) Be honest about what you want out of a move. If you genuinely want a big old Grade II listed house in the middle of nowhere, go for it. But look beyond the initial appeal of a house and think about what daily life would be like for you and your family, both now and in years to come.
4) Before making any offers, get as much detail as you can on what the onward chain is. Not always easy, but our move almost collapsed due to some especially awkward vendors and useless estate agents at the top of the chain. No onward chain is definitely worth a few quid!
5) Get your house on the market before you start looking. You need to be in a good position to move things forward when you find your dream house and make an offer. With the London market not exactly buzzing, it may take longer that you expect to sell your own property, so don’t delay.
6) Work with an estate agent you really trust. If the deal gets tricky, you need someone good in your corner. We absolutely had that with ours (Whitman & Co in Chiswick) and luckily were dealing with a very good one (Mullucks Wells) on our purchase. Between them they kept the whole thing on track when it could have easily fallen through.
7) Keep at it. Moving your life is a massive challenge and a very tough process. You’ll often feel like giving up, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re convinced of the merits of moving, keep going and eventually you’ll have that wonderful feeling of getting the keys to your new house and can start building your new life.
8) There is life after London. Of course there is. Yes, it’s a bit different, but there are restaurants, theatres, pubs and cafes everywhere (can’t say the same for Uber, sadly). Maybe not as many as you’re used to, but how many do you really need?
And London (along with other cities) and your old friends will always be there.