A Yank Searches for a House in 'Brum

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My Irish Husband Tony and I moved to Birmingham in September of 2004. This past year we finally decided it was time to quit paying rent. This is a chronicle of our journey through the world of UK property buying.

Week One: The Search Begins

Who would be stupid enough to give us a mortgage?

That is the question that came to mind whenever we gazed longingly at the pictures of the houses and flats in the estate agents' windows.
Some day, honey. Look at that one. Gawd, that's gorgeous. £500,000! That's a million dollars. We sure live in a good neighbourhood.

A 'For Sale' sign appeared three identical buildings away in our cul-de-sac. A mirror image of our 2-bedroom ground floor maisonette, but with all real wood trim. Just roll our belongings down the short slope from #7 to #10.

She had recently come down to £143,000. At $1.90 to the pound and rising, over a quarter of a million dollars in 'real' (American) money. For a 2-bedroom flat with a small garden, a tiny kitchen, and a wimpy synchronous shower. Which would fit inside the living room of our former Florida apartment. Welcome to the UK real estate market. London just topped Tokyo for land prices. And we are 100 miles away in Birmingham.

But rent is sucker's pay. My father sold real estate. (He'd clean up here: Not only are 'estate agents' not licensed, they don't even come with you to look at the property if it is occupied.)

So we looked at that mirror-image maisonette two doors away. We decided where the TV would go and how the cats would like the view. We crunched the numbers based on using our every available asset as a down payment and mortgaging the rest. If someone was stupid enough to give us a mortgage.

About this time, we also decided that because all of our 'After this, then we'll...' events were behind us, it was time to grow up and get life insurance. Think about death. Old age. Ill health. Widowhood.

The only way to approach this happy stage of life was through networking. I asked my mentor at work who passed us on to his financial adviser who passed us on to his company's mortgage broker. So that is why I spent this weekend looking at 2-bedroom flats in Sutton Coldfield instead of at the writer's conference in Norwich.

I liked Julie. After finding an exact description of our current digs in our price range in her company's window, I called her office. 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and Julie was there. At 9:01 on Saturday morning she called back with more details. I liked Julie.

My Irish Husband Tony and I decided to take advantage of having a joint day off to drive around looking for the addresses the estate agents had supplied:

  • Off Boldmere Road. Close to buses. Good. But-yucch.
  • Wilkinson's Close. Near to train, but not anything else. Yucch.

We made an appointment and went to see A*** Drive. Aaah. 'First floor' is what Americans call the second floor, ie, upstairs. That means you have responsibility for the roof. On the 'ground floor' you get direct access to the garden (read 'yard') and are responsible for landscaping instead.

Mr Smith is moving in with his girlfriend and will have to give up his flat with the Star Wars games shoved into the closets. He did an admirable job of cleaning up for us. Tony hated the painted-over wallpaper. Neighbourhood a bit tacky. Sorry, Mr Smith.

I scoured the local weekly paper. Another candidate in our price range. Because it was vacant the agent arranged to meet us there. Way, way, over there. Nice neighbourhood, but... so far away from our lives. It's easier to move from Miami to Birmingham than from Maney Hill Sutton to Walmley Sutton. Window seats; fake fireplace. Nice garden. Big living room. Crap carpet in the main bedroom. Too far from bus. Sorry, Walmley Sutton.

Yesterday we drove by the one we are scheduled to view today. Near Sutton town centre, near buses. Good. Three-story building, communal entrance - feels more like an apartment than something we OWN. Street is a bit cluttered with parked cars. But every street is too cluttered with parked cars. This whole country is way too small for all the cars they have.

We told Julie we would look at that one at 2 pm on Sunday, Week Two. Tony's working, but I'll go anyway. You never know. 'Nothing is totally worthless. It can always serve as a bad example,' says my friend Mary Lou.

Fingers crossed.

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