9. Completion

When I went to pick up the house keys from the estate agents on a grey drizzly Saturday morning I felt in a rather neutral mood. Being stubborn and British I decided to walk the distance of almost two miles up hill to avoid paying for a bus or taxi, resulting in a matt of tangled, curly hair and a nose that continued to pour, even when I stepped inside the ultra clean office.

A man with overly gelled hair and patchy stubble directed me to a sofa while he consulted with a female colleague. All the staff looked like dolled up fifteen year olds, and I think no one could quite believe a young woman in unbranded jeans and a tatty Gap hoodie could possibly have bought a house from them.

The lady tottered over with a clipboard and let me sign for the keys. I politely smiled and said thanks, but she’d already gone. Everyone else was continuing to hit their keyboards in a monkey-like fashion, so I took my cue and left.

That was it. I owned a house, my house. I checked the envelope ten times over just to be sure.

“Oh my God.”

I was so overjoyed I didn’t know what to do with myself, so ended up marching straight down the hill in record time and landing back to the house I lived in. I dumped my bag, threw off the soaked hoodie and dashed around next door with nothing more than the key.

I held my breath as I inserted the key into the door and slowly opened the door. I stood there for a moment before walking in and sitting on the bottom step. I stroked the banister rail, like some prized pet.

“You’re mine now, and I am yours” I muttered.

With rain cold feet I ascended the first flight of stairs with ease and entered the bare living room and then the empty kitchen. Suddenly without warning I started laughing, then screaming, then running up and down stairs and into rooms and out of rooms. Slamming doors, apologising for slamming doors. Spinning round and round and round. I lay on my bedroom floor and took my breath.

“This isn’t happening, pinch yourself Alice, you just can’t have done this. Oh my God, what is happening? A homeowner? A homeowner…A homeowner! You. Are. A. Ruddy. Homeowner!”

I ran next door and grabbed my laptop from the top floor before rushing back round to my house. I turned it on and loaded Spotify, before blasting out Nina Simone, Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, B*Witched. Anything and everything which came to mind. I screamed every lyric from every part of the house until my throat was hoarse from all the yelling, before lying in a heap on the cold, dark living room floor.

Why? Because I could.

 

This article is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view the entire series (so far) click here.

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8. Swapping Solicitors for Social Media: Impatient Sellers

With the mortgage in place and all the relevant forms filled in, my solicitors were deployed.

For cost sake, said legal representatives were located nowhere near Swindon, but their website and documentation reliably informed me they had a small office in Suffolk. The price I paid was so low I never questioned my solicitors’ insistence on email and postal communication and in return they didn’t spit in my envelope for paying them peanuts and putting Swindon-based solicitors out of business.

The next day I strolled down to the nearby pillar post box and posted off the initial fee. “Lovely county Suffolk,” I thought, “shame about all the Londoners though.”

For the best part of a month there was little more for me to do. My energies became more engulfed with buying, collecting and, in Mum’s case, painting furniture from around the region and storing it in the furniture warehouse (alias, my parent’s garden room extension).

Meanwhile, at work, people were beginning to realise why I’d been so stressed of late. Although I’d frequently commented on “looking at houses” or “difficulties with the bank”, many colleagues had wrongly assumed I was moving into a new rental property. Given my age and martial status I can hardly say I was that surprised by the confusion, in fact I was more taken aback by the ripple effect my purchase had on these same people.

Suddenly I was the Martin Lewis of home buying, everyone had a question to ask and apparently I was the girl to give advice. The hints and tips recited beside boiling kettles and in toilet queues was little more than a blended mix of common sense and random statistics from The Telegraph, and yet that was enough. I was the Marmite of the organisation, people respected me or envied my very guts. And slowly, oh so slowly, habits of those around me began to change. People stopped buying coffee, packed lunches started making a comeback, and a night in with a made-from-scratch lasagne became the ultimate date night experience. All subtle signs of people putting money to one side for an unspecified goal.

“What have I created?” I thought.

Apart from changing the psychology of my fellow workforce, up until February life was blissful (well, compared to the fiasco with BankUK*).

I suppose I was a bit naïve to think the sellers would let the house sale proceed on my terms. Throughout the entire mortgage drama there had been not a word from either of the two solicitors to suggest concern, so I guess I assumed that with things moving at a normal pace I shouldn’t have the cause to be concerned.

On February 14th 2017 the tenants of the house formally moved out. I knew this because a) They told me this when I met them to discuss buying furniture (of which I bought none) and b) I saw the van on their drive that very evening as I walked back from food shopping. The tenant had wanted me to buy his wares to avoid use of a van, which made me watching him struggle with an oversized pine bed particularly awkward. Unable to commit my vocal cords, I made somewhat awkward eye contact and mouthed “hi” in the winter darkness before scuttling into the house next door and telling myself I was not to go out again that evening.

On February 15th the chasing began. My solicitors informed me that the sellers’ Swindon solicitors were constantly asking for updates at request of their client. This was frustrating my people in Suffolk because they were not being paid enough to care or give five minute updates to first-time sellers who weren’t clients. I thanked them for letting me know and assured them that I’d see any documentation was returned promptly upon receipt and funds were moved into place ready for exchange.

To save boring legal and financial jargon, the planned exchange date fell through. The fault was not down to myself, nor my solicitors, not even the sellers, but due to incorrectly submitted documentation from my old friends BankUK.

I called Katie* to inquire as to the hold up.

“We sent both sets of documentation through, your solicitors should have read them and used the right one.”

“But why wasn’t it made clear?”

“They were sent both the first and second versions because of the difficulties we faced with your application before. If they’d read the figures correctly…”

I was already impatient. “I can’t believe this. At the final hurdle BankUK have messed up. Look, whatever documentation my people have got it’s wrong. They need a different form to either of the two you sent them. If the exchange falls through again the whole house sale might fall through. You can understand why I’m a bit frustrated, no?”

“We are aware of this Miss Bennett and looking into it now. I’ll remind you to watch the tone of your voice on the phone.”

“For Christ’s sake” I said as I hung up the phone.

I never spoke to Katie again.

I cursed under my breath but hoped that the sellers would accept the revised date and understand there was nothing anyone could do until Thursday, two days later.

That was when the seller’s fiancée crossed the line.

Before this situation had kicked off I’d met them very briefly to check out the white goods which were being included in the sale. From that I learnt the house belonged to the man and he and his soon to be wife were buying a new build on the edge of Swindon. In turn they learn my first name and I lived next door. In the world we live in that’s all she needed.

I don’t know how, but she found me. Of all the millions of Alices on Facebook she found my profile that evening and, in blatant convention of legal process and regulation, she sent me a direct message.

“Hi Alice, My solicitors have just told me we are not going to be able to exchange today due to BankUK not being in a position to go forward…We’ve been advised by our sellers that they are very reluctant to continue with the sale to us if the completion date is affected, consequently if they pull out we will have to too. Many Thanks.”

I was stunned. Was she seriously threatening me to pull out on the entire sale, over Facebook? She wasn’t even the owner of the property.

Eventually, after fully processing what I’d read I wrote back a response with the help of my parents down the phone. I sent it thinking it would be the end of it, but no the messages came in thick and fast from her, pouring her heart out with the added threat of turning at any point and making her partner put the property back on the market again. After all I’d been through and money already sunk in, I couldn’t bear the pain of living in the shared house next door, forever watching people go in and out of my ‘could have been’ home. I’d had enough, I ratted them up to my solicitor and under their instruction ignored all of the messages sent from thereon.

It transpired that the real reason why the house sale almost fell through was so petty it was almost a joke. My sellers’ sellers didn’t want to pay another monthly repayment on their mortgage which would happen if the exchange was delayed by two days. The news came to me via phone after we finally exchanged. It was one of the few times I actually spoke with my solicitors.

“But if they relisted the property they’d have to make the payment anyway?” I questioned. Surely no one can be that stupid?

The speaker sighed. “Yep. You’d think someone would have told her that before she started shouting and getting your sellers into a state. I don’t know what game she was trying to play and we don’t know why it wasn’t handled better as opposed to scaring everyone in the chain. As for the Facebook messaging, well that’s taken us all aback.”

“I suppose it’s the world we live in right?”

“Where rules don’t apply because it’s social media and everyone thinks they can be a solicitor,” there was a slight pause, “I’ll send you the final invoice via email shortly. If you can pay it ASAP we can at least complete on the original date everyone agreed to, even if the exchange was delayed.”

 

I did all that was required by me, signed a few bits of paper, moved a few digital numbers from one place to another and then waited. And as if by legal magic I received an email saying I owned a house.

No big deal.

 

(Names marked * have been changed for the benefit of this article.)

This post is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view the full series (so far) click here.

This Could Be the Best Homemade Video Since Charlie Bit My Finger…*

(* – no promises made)

What does one get a family member who has everything? More to the point, what does one get a family member when one has no money, no time and has a terrible habit of writing in the ‘one’ tense? That’s right, she makes a truly amazing video featuring Phil Collins (obviously).

It seemed such a good idea to make a video for lil bub Bennett’s birthday, but then in truth I think I may have really just wanted to pay tribute to Phil Collins and feed my middle age condition (the one where people are born liking The Archers and consider staying up to watch the BBC News at 10 to be a ‘crazy’ one. Yeah, that one.) Anyway, I thought the video would be a nice thing to do for her.

20 hours later…

Brain dead, caffeine overdosed and fed up of seeing my sister’s face more than my own, I finally created a masterpiece. “She better love this” I thought, before dashing into Lush the next day to buy a back up present. Safe thing too, when I first presented her with the gift she seemed less than amused at the offering.

“Right. Ok, well that’s a very nice memory stick Ali, thank you.”

“No you donut, it’s what’s on the stick.”

“Oh right!”

“Did you seriously think I’d give you a cheap USB stick for your birthday?”

*Silence*

“Just play the video.”

Luckily, she loved it. And now, for your viewing pleasure, I have added that same video here. Enjoy! (Well as much as you can given you know nothing of my family and it’s in-jokes…if nothing else watch it for Phil.)

 

 

Written in response to the WordPress prompt Dancing

7. A Surreal Settlement: Mortgage Conclusions

Disclaimer: names of individuals/financial institutions marked with * have been changed.

Same bank, same branch, same waiting room with the same generic music. The only difference was the day. Yet another meeting with BankUK* and advisor Katie*, yet another week in mortgage limbo.

“I should be in work now.” I thought.

At this point it’s worth noting how lucky I was to still even have sniff of the house I’d set my hopes on. The offer had been accepted by the seller in November, yet here I was in January with nothing more than a Chamberlain scrap of paper to suggest the funds were in place to buy the property. Since then there had been no requests for updates from either my solicitor or the agent which suited me to the ground. To tell the truth would be buyer suicide.

I walked into a different meeting room, this one blander than the others. The other rooms had photography with inspirational sayings on, this one had a single thank you card in the small, square, window which faced onto next door’s brickwork. The only ounce of personality in a white-washed cube. I half wondered if I was living in the Truman Show, that the same utilitarian chairs, desk and room was also used by dentists, consultants and middling management. As if at any moment a forklift truck would lift up the confined box and move it to different location, to film another character in an ongoing Soap which I was part of.

Such ponderings were brief, Katie walked through the door swiftly with all the relevant paperwork for signing.

“Before we sign the formal documentation for your mortgage, I’d like to sort out this business with your complaint.” Katie opened with.

“Ok,” I replied, “what’s the situation with that then?”

Katie went on to explain in detail the nature of my complaint, that the comments in the subsequent letter sent to head office had been fed back to her. She understood my frustration but told me it was something none of them could have predicted or prevented against, that their policy was underpinned by UK law. In other words, “our hands were tied, what could we do?”

In equally “I don’t give a stuff fashion” I nodded through her comments until she got to the bit we all cared about, what BankUK were going to do to shut me up. It was clear that I wasn’t going to let this drop easily, I’d already threatened further action on the phone and in my letters. I was looking forward to a big settlement.

“So, in light of all this, we’d be prepared to offer you a cash amount to the value of the administration fee on this mortgage. Given your original application was for a different mortgage at the same interest but fee-free, we believe this settlement to be fair. We are prepared to offer you £99 today. If you accept this now, we can close the complaint and move on with your application.”

Kate slid a prewritten cheque across the desk, signed by an unknown individual, presumably the branch manager.

Silence. I looked at the cheque and then up to Katie, then down to the cheque, then to Mum who was sat beside me for support. Her face was a mirror of mine.

“And the rest?”

“Sorry?” Katie blinked twice.

“Well, this can’t be the entire settlement. Given I’m not getting the full mortgage amount I was promised and after how much I’ve been messed about. I’m meant to be at work right now, not here. Besides, I should have got the fee-free mortgage in the first place. Thank you for this opening offer, but I reject.”

I handed the cheque back to my advisor. My response to what Katie, her manager and BankUK had assumed to be a fair offer stunned the former who once again returned to the same nervous state witnessed in our first meeting.

“Urm, can you give me a moment? I need to talk to my manager.” Katie requested.

“Sure,” I said, leaning back in my seat. “Take all the time you need. I’ve got all day.”

She returned a short while later to after apparently speaking to the invisible bank manager which we weren’t allowed to meet.

“My manager wants me to ask you if you had a settlement figure in mind.”

“A figure?”

“Yes, something for us to work with. What would it take for all this to go away?”

“Can we meet the manager?” Mum chipped in. “I believe my daughter requested this on a previous email which you agreed to.”

“I would, but she’s in meetings all day today, but if you feedback to me I can pass any messages onto her.”

That was it, I decided. I’m officially banking with the mafia.

“Well I’d have to go away and carefully put a figure together. There’s money owed for transport, time off, stress of a house sale almost falling through and so forth. I think it’s best you tell your manager that I can’t be expected to pull out a random figure out of the air without some thought and analysis. It wouldn’t be very professional or fair to BankUK.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“But that said I would like to get this sorted today. So, in light of that, I propose that I take the £99 today (as this is money you owe me anyway) and I sign the mortgage documentation so I can get the ball rolling on my house purchase. Meanwhile, I want to keep that complaint open for me to take this further with your regional managers.”

In my head all I could hear was Aretha Franklin singing Respect. Part of me wanted to flick my hair storm out of the cube room right there and then.

“Let me speak to my manager.”

Those six words marked the end of face-to-face negotiations with the white collar mafia. They accepted this temporary deal (more than anything to get rid of me). I signed the paperwork and finally secured a mortgage. Not the mortgage I’d originally wanted, but a mortgage nonetheless.

After another month of further discussion via letter and email a more reasonable settlement was agreed. In digging about to prove they were in the right, BankUK discovered that Jack*, my first advisor, had actually been in the office for several days prior to his accident. Several working days where he’d forgotten/put off contacting me about my failed mortgage application. Coupled with the birthday card and Katie’s admittance that they’d failed me, BankUK had little to use in their defence. They’d have to give out more than £99, either through the imposing financial regulators or one woman and her persistent emails. They went for the logical option, firstly by offering the higher mortgage value I’d originally applied for, followed by a request for a final figure to close the complaint for good.

I collected all my receipts and carefully justified every penny of compensation but in the end no hard evidence was required. To say they handed me a blank cheque would be over selling it, but to say they cared deeply would be false. At the end of the day they’re a bank who would be taking interest payments from me and millions others in the years to come. They weren’t short of money then and they aren’t short now. The figure on the cheque wouldn’t make the slightest difference to them, but it would to me. Was it the greatest victory in the world of small claim settlements? Nah, of course not, but it was a victory nonetheless. I’d taken on the banks and won.

The icing on the cake was my demand to sign the settlement paperwork in no other location but Swindon. Previously an unthinkable request, BankUK shoved Katie in a car with a cheque and sent her packing to Wiltshire.

I signed the documentation, took the cheque and wished her well in life. It was the closest thing to a thank you card she or BankUK were ever going to get from me. After all the stress and frustration, I finally had a mortgage and could start formal proceedings on my house purchase.

 

This post is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view the full series (so far) click here.

On Becoming an *Actual* Adult

Have you ever had that moment when you stop momentarily in the middle of something (be it mundane or professional) and think “gulp, I’m an actual adult now”? For me it happens alarmingly often, and I never quite know if it’s a good thing or not. Seeing as I tend to get it whilst singing along to Horrible Histories songs or dancing around to S Club 7, it’s probably more likely the latter.

It’s funny how things which made no sense at one stage of your life can make complete sense years later when it’s too late to go back. Case in point, this video which I first viewed as a student. I thought then I knew what it was like to be an actual grown up, but hahahahahaha I was so wrong. (WARNING: video below contains adult content.)

Pulling things back in my defence for just a moment, can I just say Horrible Histories was/is awesome and, yes, it was used as a revision aid during my University degree finals…

(100% true story)

Furthermore, there have also been a few occasions where, in stark contrast, I realised that I’m actually more mature than I let on (yes, that was a serious comment).

Remember those children’s magazines where there were double page pizza spreads? I knew I was getting more mature then because by the age of nine I was choosing to enter in for the draws where the prize had the most monetary value or use in my life. Hobby Horses? Hah, no way, enter me in for the prize to win the designer riding clothing worth over £150 (another fun fact, I won that competition. Mumma Bennett thought it was a hoax at the time so didn’t tell me for days until she couldn’t ignore the calls anymore. That riding gear was amazing.)

Shortly after that I took a liking disc 2 of Now That’s What I Call Music and boom! There went my childhood. We all know that feeling. Overnight I went from listening to this:

To this:

From Darius and Steps to Amy MacDonald and Plain White T’s. No complaints here.

Yet years down the road, on a Wednesday evening, I’m sat on a sofa, covered in tea (as per usual), watching clips of Tots TV (I’m not even going to try and explain it – if you’ve never heard of it, YouTube it). And apparently I’m an adult? How, just, how?? It’s all a bit alarming really, I mean I have the following things (sorry not sorry if it comes across as smug):

  • A house
  • A car
  • A job
  • A 6″ 7 beast of a man
  • All the things referenced in Nina Simone’s “Got no, got life”

Basically all the things that naturally are meant to mature one into feeling more adult like. All I’m missing is a pet and/or spawn but then those things cost money and require more time and effort than a tea round for all the King’s horses and all the King’s men. Can’t be dealing with that.

So I guess I better accept it, I’m an actual adult now with actual human responsibilities. But does that make me mature? Hell no, another slice of cake please sir. Why? Because I’m an adult and I darn well can!*

*Just make sure that cake is billed to anyone else but me – I may be an adult but, owing to expenses outlined above, I (ironically) have no easily accessible money. Being an adult is hard!

 

6. Mortgage Developments

Disclaimer: names of individuals/financial institutions marked with * have been changed.

Six weeks after my first mortgage meeting I found myself sat in the same bank branch, listening to the same generic music, with Mum by my side. The latter element caused a great deal of unease among the staff, the Customer Service Assistant’s face said it all. She handed us drinks and scuttled off to warn Katie* about the deeply unhappy customer and her menacing bouncer.

In stark contrast to both former advisor Jack* and her telephone demur, Katie was a quieter, more reserved figure. The sort of person who looked very knowledgeable and nice, but not built to handle stress or pressure. Like Jack she looked not much older than me, although the engagement ring on her finger suggested a higher degree of maturity and stability compared to her predecessor. Early on, as part of attempts to break the tension, she commented on her house purchase. Oddly enough, it didn’t work.

By the time my meeting with Katie had come around I had developed strong, understandable and justified reasons to be ticked off with BankUK*. Waiting for the elusive Saturday slot I’d had time to simmer, research and rebound. I’d sat in my small house share room fuming at the situation, firing off emails to solicitors promising all was in hand. The offer had been put on the property in November and it was now mid-January, unsurprisingly people on both sides were starting to ask questions regarding the legitimacy of funds. The emails I sent back were at best holding emails, at worst down right lies. I settled with telling myself they were white lies, the only thing that could hold the sale together. When I wasn’t on email I was on the phone, researching and grilling BankUK. I didn’t believe for a second that what they’d done was above board and was determined to find out more. One Thursday evening the exhaustive, repetitive, calls finally bore fruit.

“…well BankUK’s lending policy changed on January 5th. We decreased the lending multiples on that day.”

“Remind me again what date my mortgage was declined? The application which was based on the higher lending limit?”

“It was declined on January 7th Miss Bennett.”

“Right. I want a transcription of this call please.”

With this previously withheld knowledge now firmly in my grasp, Katie’s attempts to try and lighten the mood did nothing but make her look like an increasingly fragile figure.

“Now, I’m aware you have a complaint with us, but I am here to start a new mortgage application, as discussed on the telephone…”

“Yep, I remember that call,” I replied with a straight face.

“We’ll pick up the other outstanding issues once I’ve submitted your new mortgage application,” Katie quickly added with a strained smile.

It was at that time I realised that Katie was perhaps not as hard faced as her telephone manner had suggested. When the office scanner started playing up I could see her hands visibly shake. Trying to cover up her emotions, Katie squeaked “this printer always plays up!” I meanwhile sat across the desk, unsure what to make of my new advisor. “This can’t be the same woman I spoke to on the phone” I thought, “a puff of wind would blow her over”.

Watching someone get into a state is never particularly pleasant, especially when it’s over the presence of one’s own mother. Minutes later, with advisor and printer getting into an ever worsening state, the Katie dashed out of the room to find an alternative scanner.

“She’s freaking out.”

“She wasn’t expecting me to be here. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s gone to her manager.”

“I’m not angry at her, she’s not the one responsible for messing this up. But if I don’t assert myself they’ll think they can walk all over me.”

After a vacating for a lengthy period, Katie returned to the room in a more composed state. I did everything I could to speed the meeting and forced myself to think happy thoughts when I agreed to apply for the lower sum. At the end of the meeting Katie took the print outs of the emails and a scan of the famous birthday card and promised that the complaint would be looked into.

“In order to move this on, I suggest we meet this Thursday.” Katie said, shuffling papers.

“I work in Swindon during the week. Can we do Saturday?” I asked.

“I do alternate Saturdays I’m afraid.”

“Do I need to come to this meeting? If all it involves is signing the agreement can I post it?”

“Sorry, it needs to happen in Heathley branch. It’s policy.”

I sighed. “Fine, I’ll use my annual leave to sit in a finance meeting.”

“Great, I’ll see you then.”

And that was that.

Other than a quick email confirming my second application had been approved (“too ruddy right it has been”), the next time I spoke with Katie was in the second meeting. And if I thought the handling of my application was already poor, the situation was about to get a whole lot more bizarre…

 

This post is part of the ‘First Time Buyer Diaries’. To view the full series (so far) click here.

Mess With My Garden, Mess With Me. 

It’s a gloriously sunny day in the fair town of Swindon, Britain. The temperatures are scorching, children are playing about on the lush green communal lawns and there are men walking around topless who really shouldn’t be. So why do I find myself ripping my hands to shreds as I tug away at weeds and vines in my garden?

Crawling under my front hedge to pick up pieces of rogue rubbish, putting together an outdoor table and realising at the finish line I’d screwed one part upside down and thereby having to start all over again. When I bought a house they did no tell me this is how I would spend my finite time on Earth. My government sold me a lie! Damn you Teresa May!

As I look at my patio garden, now with correctly assembled three piece dining set, I acknowledge that to some the small outdoor space would hardly pass as acceptable. The fact that despite the owner’s hard efforts, vine and weed sprouts are already starting to poke through the wicker fence would be inexcusable. There is no water feature or decorative sculpture, no plants and excluding the weeds there isn’t a speck of green. Not a single blade of grass can compete with the paving stones which stretch from the back door to the boarder of my territory. In fact it could be said that the only characteristic feature of the plot is the clothes horse proudly plonked in the centre to catch as much light as possible. As I type my floral duvet in ruffling ever so slightly in the near still breeze. Foliage will make an appearance eventually, as soon as I have the money to buy pots, soil and greenery which requires zero attention to look fabulous. (As I reread that I realise that basically I’m asking to plant a tub of weeds…)

And yet do I care? Pfft, of course not! Because although it’s not perfect and it’s not a 20 acre meadow, it’s mine. Who wants perfect? Who wants to battle a wild meadow on their weekends just to use it as a five minute conversation piece at dinner parties? Not me. You can keep all that, I’ll take my perfectly small, perfectly improve-able garden. It’s not ugly but a work in progress.

It may not be full of colour, bees and landscaped features but it’s mine and that makes it more attractive than any one blossom in your garden. You mess with my garden, you mess with me and my poorly constructed table.

IMG_2629

Written in response to Daily Prompt Blossom