When Thomas and I moved to the U.K. roughly 6 months back, our utmost priority was buying our own place.
There are many things about renting that bother me – from not being able to make permanent alterations to the space you’re living, to feeling like you’d be wasting money if you improved what’s around you, and finally, the sense that your rent is a bit of a waste of money in the first place when instead it could be paying down a mortgage on a property that will one day belong 100% to you.
But these aren’t the main concerns I had in mind when we moved to the U.K. and immediately wanted to buy. My main concern was just how high the rent prices were by comparison to how low the properties were to buy themselves. Renting a 1 bedroom flat here would cost something like £750 – utilities and council tax (the British alternative to property tax where the occupant pays rather than the owner of the property) not included. That’s a steep price to pay coming from Toronto, where I used to pay $800 CAD – utilities included (and obviously no council tax) for a 1 bedroom basement apartment. Our house in Toronto cost a lot – when we bought it (with a huge mortgage!) roughly $400,000 CAD. A 1 bedroom flat to buy here? Runs for about £140,000, and you can find many converted 1 bedrooms from studio apartments for much less. I just wasn’t willing to fork over the kind of cash on rent every month when there were other options available.
Unluckily for Thomas and I, regulations on U.K. mortgage lending had become very strict since the 2008 economic crisis. A number of visits to different banks in our area had us get the picture real quick – we weren’t quite the kind of people banks were happy to lend to. Self employment is hard to bring to a bank back in Canada for a mortgage; here it’s pretty much a death sentence. Yes, there were ways around the issue that made it so we likely could end up with a mortgage, but they’d take forever, the fees associated with getting a mortgage were high, and honestly, we’d found ourselves a bit fed up with U.K. banks anyway. We were happy to look for a place that we could buy in cash.
I’d desperately wanted find a house to live in rather than a flat. I do honestly believe it’s better for prepper purposes – I could finally have that prepper garden I always dreamed about and stockpiling could be done very easily at home, without taking up too much living space. But the prices that houses are going for here – it’s just out of the question completely without a mortgage. See, in the U.K., no matter where you are, you’re a pretty short drive away from a city – speaking from a Canadian perspective of course. For Canadians, it’s no big deal driving one or even two hours to commute to school or work each day – here, it takes under 10 hours to drive from one end of the country to the other; the same time it’d take to drive across a couple provinces in Canada. And there are cities in the U.K. pretty much spread out everywhere, unlike Canada where there are populated cities and towns, and then nothing for miles upon miles. This means that no towns have really rock bottom prices in the U.K. – likely because if prices ever got low enough, city dwellers would happily buy a home out in the less populated town then commute back to the city to work daily. Makes home prices relatively stable around the country – and high no matter where you go.
So we were stuck buying a flat at a price point we could afford without a mortgage. That 1 bedroom price – too high for us. We’d have to go for a studio or a 1 bedroom converted from a studio. Specific parts of town – way out of the question. We were hoping to be well under budget knowing that there’d likely be issues we’d have to fix after we purchased a place. Being first time home owners back in Canada, we knew it was pretty near impossible we were going to end up with a place that didn’t need some fixing, especially only having the budget to buy on the lower end of properties. We’ve always been perfectly fine with this – not minding fixing things ourselves and living with things being imperfect for a very long time. Added bonus: when things are imperfect to begin with and you fix them yourself, you end up with features on a home that you prefer. Things done your way – nicer, in my opinion than a home that’s ready to move into but doesn’t look or function exactly as you’d like. You don’t pay the premium for a turnkey property and you get everything done to your liking? Sounds like a double win to me.
Either way – with our budget being what it was – we lucked out. We got a great place in a very short time by U.K. standards; found the perfect place the first day we booked a showing with an estate agent, made an offer that very night, had it accepted the next day, and closed on the flat a mere 3-4 weeks later.
Of course, there were issues we had to fix as we’d expected there would be. Our flat used to be the only access to a fire escape for the entire floor at one point. As a result, our front door has a glass panel that can be broken or even simply unscrewed, making it very simple for absolutely anyone to break into our flat any time they wanted – without even leaving a trace behind. Not at all good from a security perspective. Instead of bothering with changing that door, we figured it’d be better to have a second door installed to separate the entrance from the bedroom/living area of the flat, giving us additional security, noise reduction, and protection against fire from the other flats.
On top of that, the carpet at our new flat was moth infested and needed to be completely removed. Seeing as how this flat was unfortunately on the upper end of our budget, this wasn’t fun to have to deal with from a budgeting perspective, but we luckily did have enough to cover these fixes before we moved in. We chose to go with more expensive flooring considering it’d be waterproof, more soundproof than alternatives besides carpet, and longer-lasting than any other flooring, but that was an investment we got to make only due to factoring changes we’d have to make to the property into our budget. Also – could you imagine if we hadn’t known about the moth infestation? We would’ve had to say goodbye to pretty much all of our clothes. Honestly, this was one of the only benefits we had in being conservative and doing a home inspection (as we’d had no previous experience with moths and may not have otherwise realized!).
Nothing much to complain about for sure with regards to fixes needing to be done to this flat; but still all had to be done. It’s been a few months since we’ve moved in now. We got our furniture in and put it together within the first month or so (Ikea is way cheaper here than anything else), and did a couple big orders from Waitrose, a large grocery store here in the U.K., to start up our food stockpile, as well as ordering a heck of a lot of toilet paper and household products. Thomas’ grandmother now officially thinks I’m crazy with regards to the toilet paper stockpile, but I’m as happy as a clam about this start.
There’s plenty more to do, plenty more to get, and we are nowhere near as ready as we’d like to be for any emergency situations that may come our way (especially due to Brexit). But we now have the peace of mind of never having to worry about rent again – of never having to stress out about mortgage payments, loss of income, and the potential of losing our house. And over time, all that extra rent money will go a long way in helping us prep, from extra funds for boosting our stockpile, to freeing up our time to learn more about what we should be learning, and most importantly for us right now, to be able to boost our emergency cash stockpile that we dipped into to buy this place so that we have options in case we need them.
But it’s a big step. Yes, a decision we were nearly forced to take due to our inability/difficulty getting a mortgage from the banks here, but one we’re happy we ended up making anyway. Downsizing is ultimately what we did, and while the extra space inside and out from a detached house would’ve been amazing, we’re going to make the absolute most out of this studio flat we have in a way that we could not have done if our funds were being crippled by an overwhelming mortgage.
So all in all, this is more of an update post than anything else, but it’s just to say – it’s nice to be free. From a prepping perspective, the number of benefits you get from owning your own place mortgage free over having a mortgaged property or renting are not actually that high in terms of count, but they are exceptionally powerful benefits. Think about it: never having to pay rent, never having to stress over mortgage payments, never having to lose your home even if you lose your job (if you’ve got enough stashed away at the bank), and a large amount of extra money that can go toward boosting a stockpile, freeing up time for learning about prepping, and increasing an emergency cash fund? Okay maybe more benefits than I gave mortgage free living credit for, but those are all enormous benefits in their own rights.
One day, we may make enough to buy a small house, but at this rate, we’ll be saving up for years upon years upon years; because I’ll want that to also be a mortgage free purchase.