Let me start by saying, I hope this is a 3 part series. We find a house, we move into that house, we set up that house. I will be shocked if this doesn't blow up into a 30 part series with intermission. I am trying to stay positive but the real estate market here is, well, interesting.
First, lets talk agents. This is not like back home, where you reach out to your family real estate agent, they get your specifications and budget, and find you housing options. In the south, your dentist, hair dresser and real estate agent are all on your Christmas card list. You want to keep that bunch happy, am I right? In a small town, it is all word of mouth and everyone just wants to help get you in a house. Here in the UK, things are much different. If you can envision a scene from "Dodgeball, " that is a bit more the speed. They are super competitive, super territorial and they all drive super nice-ass cars. Ive seen a Benz, a Jaguar and a Lexus... When they pull up to meet us, I fight the urge to sing Nelly's, "Hey, Must be the Money!" The only reason I don't, is because I really need them to like me and find us a house. Just to give you more perspective on the game here, you can email a real estate agent for a property and ask about the one listed under the SAME company down the street, and they will ask you to call their colleague to show it to you. Clear lines are drawn in the real estate mafia, and you don't want to be in the cross hairs of a turf war. On the opposing end, landlords who are listing houses are in bed with ERRBODY. You can see a house listed under more than three agencies. I have called on the exact same house three times. I have also passed on a house not realizing it was a house I liked because one company has a professional photographer and another uses a drunk kindergartner to take the photos. It is maddening. I bought a huge red calendar, here, they call it a "diary," just to keep up with the real estate company, agent and house. There have been so many things I have seen since we arrived that I thought, "Oh, why don't we do that in America, that makes so much sense?" Dear UK, you are NOT crushing real estate. We spend more time on a bus than looking at houses. (Picture of us on said bus.)
Second, there are A LOT of similar names on RightMove, the app you use to look at houses. I shit you not, here is a list of houses I have viewed for your confusion entertainment:
320 Uxbridge Road, Pinner
Heatherford Way, Uxbridge
134 Eastcote Road, Pinner
St Mary's Avenue, Eascote
1 Watford Road, Northwood
62 Northbrook Drive, Watford
I would love to say this is fiction. It is not. And I am not event going to lie and say that I did not load all 5 of us into an Uber, get the addresses mixed up, and show up at the wrong place. Zac was a trooper and laughed it off, though I know in my heart he wanted to strangle me. For a second I thought, it may be easier to find a house with one less person.
Third, we are looking at houses that are a bit of haul from Baker Street. As the crow flies they are about 10 to 15 miles out, then we get to the tube station (subway), and it says it will take us 170 minutes. Most house showings have taken us an hour and a half to get to once we walk to the metro, take the tube to the bus, the bus to the station, then walk to the house. We are thinking of purchasing stock in Uber as we have gotten lazy over the past few days, and have shelled out well over $250 bucks in car fare. I miss owning a car. You have no idea the great gift of being in control of your own arrival time.
Fourth, if you are looking at houses to rent here, leave your judgement at the door. Any judgement...at all. Every house we have viewed either still has a tenant, that left their uneaten sandwich on the counter, or the tenant has moved and left behind dust bunnies, barbie shoes and deflated balls in the koi pond. At first, I thought it was just the real estate agent that did not have her stuff together, then I realized it was the trend. I won't call it the norm, because I don't think it is normal. How am I suppose to envision our home when I am stepping over junk piles or watching Zac step into giant holes in the yard. (Sorry about your ankle my love.) I walk around every house and just keep uttering things like, "Oh, wow, they are a collector of knick-knacks" or "Oh my, they must have left in a hurry." I was most perplexed on today's viewing. Today, upon arrival to the most beautiful cottage, the real estate agent told us to be aware the tenant was very nice but really loved guinea pigs. In fact he loved them so much, he plays music for them when he is not home. I looked at her and said, "Maria, I appreciate you telling us but I don't know how you just kept a straight face." She responded like Mary Poppins, "Oh dear, you see all kinds in lettings." (PS, that is what you call renting here, "letting") We walk in, just inside, there are about 10-15 guinea pigs rolling around in a child's fenced in play area. They are all listening to soft rock music. It makes me wonder, do they really like rap music but cant tell their owner? I mean, I doubt those guinea pigs are like, "Yas, more Kenny G please!" I cannot make this stuff up. If you want a big kick in the pants, this has been our favorite house thus far, one we plan to put an offer on... the Guinea Pig Palace on Baconsmead Lane.
Final oddity here, putting in an offer. You don't just pick the house and sign a contract. No, No. The price they advertise is really just a jumping point, all prices are negotiable, whether it be up or down. You first make a verbal offer to the landlord, you ask the agent to ask them if they would "consider" this or that. Then you get everything you want in writing, things like: new carpet, paint kitchen, fix garage door. It is at this point, you make them a formal offer, and they can take it or leave it. Meanwhile, the house is still being shown to lots of buyers, so you are now against the contract signing clock. They do not have to quit showing the apartment until all items are negotiated an agreed upon. We, as a military family, have the extra fun step of working with our very disinterested housing coordinator. She, who responds to one email a day, answers one question a day and will not call us as she is working from home. Riddle me that one Batman, I just don't know.
So I sit here tonight, feeling hopeful that the Guinea Pig Palace could be ours. Dream big right?
Us, after 4 hours of looking at houses.