You go to the bank. And although you are wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt and a hangover, and the man across the desk eyes you with suspicion, like you’re his teenage daughter promising you’ll be home by midnight, somehow the figures add up and he agrees to lend you almost £200,000.
£200k! You’re rich, dammit baby! Rich. And even though you can’t take it in cash and roll around the bed on it laughing, you can do what you are supposed to do with that mortgage: go and buy yourself a house.
All that money! Your eyes prick. For the first time since you were 17, you are going to have a place to always call home. Then you click on Rightmove and discover that even a garage in London comes in just shy of 300 grand.
Trying to buy a house with £200k in London is like winning £200 on a scratch card on holiday in Monaco. My friends circulate pictures on Facebook of the worst places they have seen: the studio flats without bathrooms, or made from converted cupboards (like the snooker-table-sized one near Harrods that cost £200k). The cupboards for rent as “loft rooms”, the shops with “mezzanine bedrooms” on shelves. You can cackle at the worst at terribleestateagentsphotos.com.
It’s not funny when you’re viewing them as your potential first home. There is a language reserved for estate agents, for whom a bike shed in Walthamstow is a central pied-à-terre boasting truly stunning features. Estate agents are worse than journalists, who at least aspire to the truth — I know, I used to be that agent. At university, while flat-sharing, I showed people around million-pound properties. Patting walls, I’d opine, “I’d just knock this down,” while buyers worried: “Isn’t that a supporting wall?”
You sign up with estate agents, they jot down your requirements, then ignore them. They call up, saying, “I know you said Dalston, but have you thought of Croydon?” Or, “Do you really need a whole bedroom?” Or, “I’ve got this beautiful place on at a million,” and you remind them: “I don’t have any more cash!” So when one agent called and said, “Look, there’s one place, but it’s unliveable,” I said: “Let’s look.” We stood in the living room, ignoring the urine smell, the estate agent booming, “You can hardly hear the trains”; the windows rattling as he spoke of “potential”.
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