As previously documented, renting a house in London is sheer hell. But, because you’re a masochist, after doing it ten or 12 times you may decide to take things to the next level and buy a place, a process that costs roughly 20 times as much and lasts longer than the average war. Got that deposit all saved up, have you? Looking forward to popping open some champagne, are you? Not before you’ve experienced this particularly shitty obstacle course.
The bit where you feel all optimistic and grown up
The prospect of tallying up the amount you’ve spent on rent in the past decade triggers a mild panic attack, so you decide not to. The future’s what matters, and you’re going to spend it as a genuine, real-life home-owner, with coasters and cushions and one of those things you put hot pans on so they don’t burn the shit out of your kitchen worktop.
The bit where you realise your deposit isn’t big enough
You can get a mortgage on a one-bed flat with a pretty small deposit these days, but even with 20 grand in your savings account, you’ll struggle to get through the ordeal of buying your first property. This is because – as well as being life-shorteningly stressful – buying a flat is also hilariously expensive. Along with the deposit, expect to cough up £1,500 in mortgage set-up costs and close to £2k on legal fees. But the mightiest bastard of them all is stamp duty, a lump sum that goes in the government’s pocket whenever anyone buys any property, just because they say so. The amount varies depending on the sale value, but for anything over £250,000 (the going price of a decent place in zone 3) you’re looking at three percent, so an extra seven and a half grand. JUST BECAUSE THEY SAY SO. You look at the numbers. They don’t add up. You look at them again. You pour yourself a drink.
The bit where you lower your expectations
With your dreams of cushy inner-zone-2 living crushed by the aforementioned fees, you start studying the further reaches of the tube map. The names of the places you find there feel strange in your mouth, like the meat in a dodgy takeaway. Can you really face handing over your life savings for a one-bed flat in Penge?
The bit where you think about buying a castle in Fife instead
Here’s a fun game to play while looking for somewhere to live – broaden your RightMove search parameters from your desired London postcode to the entire country and you’ll find that, for the cost of a dilapidated bedsit in Hackney, you could be the motherfucking king of a six-bed manor house in a beautiful patch of Scottish countryside. You’ll briefly consider chucking in the rat race for a life of daisy-fringed rural bliss, until you realise the nearest pub is four miles away and your chances of getting an Uber are basically zero.
The bit where you realise you’re basically still renting
Unless you’re a member of the royal family, chances are your first property will be a one-bed flat, the majority of which are sold on a leasehold basis. This means that you don’t actually physically own the building itself, just the right to skulk around and watch Netflix there for a certain period of time, usually between 70 and 100 years. Sure, you’ve got the freedom to decorate and do all sorts of things you can’t in rented accommodation, but if you want to do anything major, you’ll first need the blessing of the freeholder, who’s sort of like a terrifying, invisible landlord.
The bit where you Google ‘how to use a fax machine’
The vast majority of UK mortgage providers operate in a bizarre time warp where documents can only be accepted by fax and ‘Karma Chameleon’ presumably plays on the office stereo 24-fucking-seven. Chances are there’s a fax machine somewhere in your office – most probably wedged deep in a storage cupboard between a VCR and some other long-forgotten relic of the 1980s.
The bit where you become acutely aware of the fact that you’re boring the shit out of all your friends
Buying a house is a bit like going on holiday – unless you’re there, hearing all about it isn’t actually that interesting. Your pals will nod and smile politely as you regale them with tales of mortgage rates and legal wranglings, but bang on about it too much and don’t be surprised when you stop getting invited to things.
The bit where you have to go to Blackpool
Hiring a cheaper property solicitor from outside of London is a great idea – until you’re summoned to their offices to sign a form, resulting in the briefest, dullest day at the seaside of your entire life. Don’t buy an ice cream, you can’t afford it.
The bit where you realise you’re going to be skint for the next year
The offer’s been accepted, the documents have been signed and a move date has been agreed. Congratulations, you’re the proud owner of some walls, some carpet and maybe an oven! Because, unlike with renting, when you buy a place you don’t usually get all the stuff you need to actually live there thrown in. Cue 12 months of frenzied sweating whenever it’s your turn to get a round in, as you realise you probably should have bought a bed instead.
The bit where you give all your money away and have a little cry
Before handing over your deposit, that wad of money in your bank account represented more than just a decade-or-so’s hard graft and saving, it represented possibility. Maybe you’d jack your job in and go backpacking across the Andes for six months; maybe you’d get your arse cheeks cast in solid gold. Now, those possibilities are reduced somewhat. Do you go for a walnut coffee table or beech? Welcome to life as a genuine, real-life home-owner.
Rather stick with renting? Take a look at this tube map of rent prices on the London Overground.
By David Clack