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 Two: Location, Location, Location

Of course, the flat we had written off before visiting it turned out to be gorgeous. So Julie arranged for me to take Tony to see it.

He sees what I don't. He sees a nick in the baseboard and I see sun streaming through windows. He sees a bit of mould in the corner and I see a deep window sill for cat sitting. We both saw that you could take the door off the tiny kitchen to give it a bit more room. And that there was no garden (ie, yard).

Nice entranceway, big airy living room, small #1 bedroom, smaller #2 bedroom. However—right in Sutton Coldfield. Convenient, bustling, desirable, over-priced Sutton. A block away from buses going either direction.

When we moved from two-cars-to-a-household South Florida, to public-transportation-mad Europe, we thought we would rent a place near shops and wouldn't need a car. Doesn't England have news agents and pubs on every corner? We survived car-less for a year. Last Christmas we broke down and bought one so Tony wouldn't have to wait in the cold for the two buses necessary to get him to work.

Our Vauxhall Vectra is reliable, but husbands take cars with them to work at night. What if you're at home and you need something and you can't walk to the shops, or something happens and you have to
go out and... OK, I'm paranoid. My mother never learned to drive and I live in fear of being trapped in a house where I can't go anywhere. I need shops. And buses.

Based on our own wanderings, and suggestions from friends, we decided to expand our search to include 'the posh part of Erdington'. This concept is hard to explain to someone unfamiliar with 'Brum. For Pittsburghers, think 'something nice near East Liberty'. For South Floridians, 'the nice part of Hallandale'. For Dubliners... well,
everything in Dublin that was rubbish is now overpriced, so there's no comparison.

I invested in a 'Birmingham A to Zed'. I sat down with the weekly newspaper estate ads and a pen. I put the ads in two piles: one with a cat on them and one without. I looked at each listing in our price range
and eliminated everything that was more than two stories and therefore looked like 'the projects'.

In the A to Zed, we live on page 69 and the flat with the cramped bedrooms and no yard is just over the page edge. The £125-130,000 range gets you over to pages 84 and 85 in Erdington. Real houses. Two
bedrooms — sometimes three if you're way on the bottom of page 85. Two floors, big 'bay' windows. A conservatory! (A typical Midlands addition. For Pittsburgh, think deck. For South Florida, think pool. For
Dublin, think... conservatory.) A lot more house for the money.

Tony and I got in the car with our A to Zed and my coded, scribbled, circled newspapers. We drove through Boldmere, across the Sutton border of Chester Road. Julie had shown me a nice modern flat there. Very busy road. More cars than buses and no shops. Down College Road, the route my bus takes me to school. Little side streets that look better than we thought. Then through the crap area with grey houses, old cars and bad smells. We had to loop around twice to find my 'wild card': Built in 1655 and restored by the Birmingham Conservation Trust. But, 1 BR and
facing a busy, dirty street. On down through Erdington High Street, the home of charity shops and cheap furniture. As we drove closer to Birmingham's icon, Spaghetti Junction, the prices stayed the same and
the houses got bigger.

But so far from Sutton. Our lovely Sutton. Are we not good enough to live there?

We still haven't found out if someone will be stupid enough to give us a mortgage, but Peter the Mortgage Guy is working on it.

He's hopeful.

Fingers crossed.

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