2022 Goals

Three weeks into the year already and I’m still dragging my heels with my 2022 goals!

Perhaps this was because my head was still dwelling on the fact that several of my 2021 goals were derailed by my unexpected house purchase, although had I set a goal to ‘buy a house’ at the start of the year, I would have passed with flying colours!

Who knows what 2022 will bring, to mess up best laid plans?

Anyway, I’ve come to my senses – this is just ‘life’ happening, nobody knows what it’s going to throw at us.

Make goals and plans, things will happen as they always do (to a greater or lesser extent), obstacles will materialise and I must just adapt and move on, whenever ‘whatever’ happens.

So here goes with my Goals!

As usual, they’re just simple ones, not too different from previous ones, which make it easier for me to focus on them while just getting on with living my life…

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Big House Purchase Post – Part 2

[NOTE: this post is out now only because I’m still dithering over my 2022 goals!]

In part 1, I covered the financial aspects of buying my house. In this second part, I’ll try to cover all the other stuff, which isn’t really anything to do with FIRE but it all affects me and my FIRE journey, plus I need to get it off my chest!

Since money is such a big part of a house purchase, I apologise in advance for the few monetary mentions which will inevitably sneak in!

What?

When I first started house-hunting, I was looking for a 3-bed semi, with garden and a private driveway, and so it seemed was every other man and his dog at the time! Preferably in a cul-de-sac, which tend to be quieter and provide more privacy.

What I’ve ended up with is a two-up-two-down semi, with a garden, private driveway, in a cul-de-sac. 3 out of 4 aint too bad!

I am however not too far from a main road, so I can sometimes hear big lorries rumbling past, especially when they hit the potholes in the road, and am also near a railway, although the sounds of trains haven’t bothered me so far.

My house is not new and there are numerous things which need repairing and replacing. Unfortunately, several of these are not cosmetic (those were mostly sorted when I had the whole place redecorated and had new carpets fitted before moving in), and some of these things will cost thousands of pounds to sort out.

There have been essential costs/repairs I’ve had done since moving in which I hadn’t budgeted for (hello, emergency funds!) so it’s felt like I’ve been bleeding money recently, including today, when I had to pay to have 3 tiles replaced on my roof, casualties of the storm we had recently.

Where?

Another of my criteria when I was house-hunting was that I didn’t want to move too far away from where I was. I’m a creature of habit and I wanted as little change to my life in that respect as possible.

So it’s just as well that I’ve ended up in a house which is just 2 miles away from where I used to live!

Over the years, I’d driven past it on numerous occasions, never realising that I’d be living there one day.

I have to say that I’m pretty certain that had I not been working from home and been able to view the property at the drop of a hat, I would have missed the opportunity to buy it, so thanks COVID!

Just moving two miles away has had me crossing a border, into another council’s  borough, into another city even. Don’t get me started on the different coloured bins now for recycling – I have to keep referring to a post-it note before I throw anything away!

I am now closer to both my sis (only 5 mins drive away) and to my friends.  My gym is further away by a couple of miles but I can actually get there quicker as I can hop onto the motorway to reach it now. Manchester city centre is still less than 5 miles away, so still close by for social life and work (when I’m back in the office).

I also have a pub within walking distance from my house!  This wasn’t on my wishlist but something I always thought would be nice to have.  However, it’s been many years since I’ve been in that particular pub, so I don’t know what the clientele are like now, plus current climate has deterred me from just wandering in for a quick pint and a gander. More on that I’m sure at some point.

Sadly, I’m no longer within walking distance to a tram stop, so public transport will have to be the bus (unless I have time to drive to the tram stop I used to use); buses are not my favourite mode of transport, as I can’t read on them. This might be a time for me to finally embrace podcasts.

Neighbours, Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

“What are the neighbours like?” I had asked, during my second viewing of the property.

“Oh, they’re lovely!” gushed the estate agent.

“She would say that,” commented my sister afterwards. “Who knows, you could end up with nightmare neighbours!” Gee, thanks, sis!

Sadly, it was not just noisy, unfriendly neighbours I had to take into consideration for my house move; although my race and ethnicity has barely been an issue for me in my life and not even something I really think about, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder how the people would feel about a non-white person moving into their neighbourhood.

How does one know what one’s new neighbours are like?

By speaking to them of course!

Prior to exchange, I drove over one afternoon to see if the neighbour was in. She was indeed and not only was she friendly, she invited me into her home for a chat!

Box ticked – PHEW! What a huge relief for me, but probably for her too, that she wasn’t  going to have a new nightmare neighbour herself!

Two days after I moved in, I invited her round for a cuppa. She’s now no doubt told the neighbourhood about me (she has various friends and family members living on the estate) which is great as it has resulted in a couple of others stopping to say hello and asking me how I’m settling in. I do think it’s worth getting to know neighbours, plus now, I have someone I trust to accept my deliveries when I’m not home!

The neighbours on the other (non-adjoining) side? It’s a rental property and although I’ve been told it’s a couple of beauticians/nail technicians who live there, I haven’t seen or heard a peek from them yet. Their garden (front and back) is a right mess though.

And the old neighbours?

The day before I moved out, both sets of my old neighbours had me round at theirs for a cuppa to say goodbye and in a lovely gesture, both gave me leaving cards and gifts – we had gotten to know each other more during lockdown and I will miss them.

Moving and Settling In

The day of the move (an Auspicious Day no less, something important to my family which I was happy to go along with), all went smoothly and as the removal van didn’t have very far to go, the whole process from loading up everything to emptying it all into my house took just under two hours! I was fully packed and ready the night before so there was no waiting time at all for them and they were really quick about their business.

As I wasn’t in a chain, I only moved bulky items, furniture and essential stuff – enough to fill the removal van but not to the brim! Since then, I’ve been back at the old house to pick up bits and pieces, things I want to keep but I wasn’t sure if I would have the space.

I’ve effectively downsized from a 4-bed house to a 2-bed (dropping three Council Tax bands in the process!) so wasn’t sure until I moved in and unpacked whether I could take all of the nice-to-have stuff left behind, or if they were destined for charity or the recycling tip.

In the old house, I used to make use of two of the spare rooms (for laundry and extended wardrobe purposes, ahem!), a study (for WFH), a shed, a utility room and garage.

Now, my spare room is the spare bedroom-cum-study-cum-laundry room and my shed will also have to store the things that I have in the garage, which has yet to be emptied – me and sis are putting this off til the last minute, probably will start panicking as the sale of the old house progresses!

Most things at the new place were set up easily, apart from my broadband, which inexplicably took a month to connect (fortunately I had use of a wifi mini hub so work wasn’t disrupted) and over 10 hours on the phone to sort out with BT, although they have given me a £20 credit because of my complaints…

I’m still trying to get used to buying my groceries from a different supermarket and actually miss my old Tesco’s, where the layout made sense (to me) so I could be in and out really quickly.

Morrissons on the other hand seems to be laid out to trap unsuspecting shoppers down random aisles, inviting and tempting me to make purchases I shouldn’t make, but I have to say that I do like their fresh meat and fish counters.

Forever Home?

I’ve lived here for less than a month so have no idea if this will be the case. I have however already planted some shrubs (shrubs I’ve dug up from the old place which won’t be missed!) which won’t mature for many years so that might be me thinking long term!

It still doesn’t quite feel like home yet; I can’t yet get used to how different it sounds from the old house, the different creaks and rattles. That said, my only restless night was the night I moved in, as I was sleeping in a ‘strange house’ – I’ve slept very well since.

A few friends (and colleagues) have asked for photos but I’ve declined – it’s my private dwelling and if I invite them round, they’ll see what it looks like. Only my family have seen photos of it (they obviously recognise all the furniture from the old place!), plus I did a little video tour to show them the size of the place – it was a very short video, haha!

After years of being used to living in a big cold house, I’m finding this cosy one a little on the warm side as it heats up really quickly when the heating comes on (my thermostat is set at 19 degrees). I’m sure I’ll get used to this and at least this means lower bills, a good thing with energy costs going up. The first thing I did when I moved in was get a water meter fitted as I saw that the previous owner’s water bill was more than double what I paid at the old house (including when sis and nephew were living with me!)

And that’s it really on my ‘home sweet home’.

Aptly, this pic shows the 3 new tiles I got on my roof!

I do hope that as time goes by and I settle in some more, I will stop possessing this  ‘critical eye’ as I can’t help but see things which need doing up around the place.

How long until I will stop this ‘seeing’ and just start being content to just live with these imperfections, so I can maintain my focus on FIRE?

I guess it’s just as well that I’m not one of those types who strives to maintain a beautiful home with all the mod cons, fit to grace the front cover of ‘Ideal Home’ magazine, otherwise my FIRE plans would be well and truly stuffed!

I have a couple of friends who do have such wonderful and beautiful homes, but they’re also the ones who mysteriously claim that ‘their house is their pension’, whatever that means.

In any case, I’ve banned myself from going to B&Q for the rest of the month and I think I need to do the same for the Amazon website!

House Purchase Post: Part 1

So much to write on this, so I’m just going to talk about the money side of buying my house first.

Bloody ‘ell, BTL

The plan had originally been to sell my buy-to-let (BTL) flat to fund my house purchase. However, my flat is caught up in the cladding polava and unless I wanted to make a massive loss by selling it to a cash buyer, that route was closed to me.

So plan B was to attempt to remortgage, to release some equity.

Alas, the lender valued my flat at a big fat ZERO as it did not conform to the new fire safety regulations.

To pile on more financial stress, the service maintenance charges on my BTL for the past year have trebled, to pay for a Waking Watch.  Although I believe a new fire alarm system has now been installed resulting in the WW no longer being employed, I have yet to see what the final bill will be to ensure that my flat will fully comply with regulations and secure the coveted EWSI certificate which will allow me to sell the property. I have already been advised that us leaseholders will not qualify for full government rebate, so await with dread on how much more I will have to pay.

Since I couldn’t release any equity, I had no alternative but to accept the loan from my parents and dip into my Future Fund.

The BTL has been a good investment but I will very likely be selling it – receiving rental income isn’t part of my FIRE plan. Assuming prices haven’t plummeted for such properties in the area, the equity I get from the eventual sale should repay the family loan in full and might even fill the hole that has been made in my Future Fund.

Dead Pledge

As per a comment I made on Monevator’s recent post which suggested that making payments on a mortgage was a form of saving, it was with some trepidation that I took on board the biggest debt of my life (on my own) at an age when many are (or close to being) mortgage-free.

At my age (the wrong side of 50), the length of the mortgage term was restricted – I certainly wasn’t offered 30-year deals!

As I went through the application with the mortgage advisor (which was all done online and over the phone, versus the face-to-face interview at the building society which I had for my first mortgage, armed with paper copies of my bank statements and payslips!), I was surprised at how much I could borrow on my own.

Some would say ‘get the biggest house/mortgage you can afford’ with these (current) low interest rates, but since I’m still aiming for FIRE, I was mindful of the size of the mortgage payments. I didn’t want to feel like the mortgage was a noose around my neck, it needed to be affordable and I needed to be comfortable with it.

So in the end, my budget didn’t cater for the biggest house I could get and I ended up with a mortgage with a LTV (loan to value) of 64%, which gave me affordable repayments and a bit of spare which I will need to split between saving for FIRE and a fund for future ‘house renovations’.

There will be some who will think that the deposit I made should have been smaller, that I could have invested the extra cash and made the most of investment returns. I did consider that but knowing me, it would have just caused me both investment stress and stress over higher mortgage payments so I did what I did for better peace of mind.

Anyway, I’m on a 2-year fixed repayment mortgage, 1.25% interest. It makes my mind boggle that the interest rate for my first mortgage over 20 years ago was 8% – let’s hope we never see those kinds of numbers again!

My mortgage term is 22 years so I’ll be in my early 70s when it’s paid off (earlier of course if I make overpayments).

How do I feel about carrying such debt into my old age?

I didn’t feel comfortable with it at first but it’s likely that when my DB pension kicks in at age 65, the 25% lump sum can more or less clear the balance of the mortgage, so I will have options when the time comes.

My mortgage payments will be more than what I am paying my parents for living in their house but at least my utility bills will be lower, which will provide some offset. However, until my parents sell their house, I will be paying 2 lots of bills but I chose to do this rather than be caught in a chain.

My savings rate will unlikely to ever reach its previous dizzy heights but I’m resigned to this – I think if I can achieve a savings rate of around 10%, I will be happy with that until things settle down cost-wise. Need to be smarter with some of my expenses and hope that the stock markets continue to do their thing for my portfolio.

Other House-Buying Costs

I wasn’t planning to get my property during the stamp duty tax holiday so I didn’t join the frantic and desperate race to try to complete before the end of July, although there had been a chance to complete before the end of September to pay a reduced amount. Sadly, this didn’t happen (the seller and then my solicitor were on holiday so three weeks were lost) so it was with a grimace that I paid out over £7k in stamp duty – ouch!

With some time on my hands before I move in, I decided to get all the rooms redecorated/painted, new carpet, floor tiles and fitted wardrobes.

Getting people in to do all the work during such a busy period has been a right pain and the labour costs have not been cheap – I feel like I’m just bleeding cash and will be so glad when it’s all done.

I do have an actual moving in date set but still so much to do (and pay for) before that happens but at least things are moving forwards.

 

House Hunting during a Property Boom

As mentioned recently, I have been house-hunting.

The last time I did this was ten years ago, when I bought my BTL flat.

Different times, different circumstances, different reasons.

Fast forward to today and let’s just say that had I been able to, I would have picked a less frantic and chaotic time to look for a new home!

Boom

I’m sure most of you will be aware that there’s currently a property boom, with properties being snapped up like hot cakes, despite the continually rising (and often ridiculous) prices. It’s definitely a seller’s market.

As soon as I knew I was buying, I registered with around a dozen local estate agents. Only 2 bothered to get back to me – they’re inundated with buyers.

Walking into the estate agents’ offices yielded better results. Some properties were on the market for only a few days (some for just one day) before they were sold and I can verify this from my own experience of fruitless efforts.

Why the boom?

Various factors, including people having surplus cash saved up during lockdown and of course the stamp duty holiday. That said, house prices are predicted to continue rising for a while longer even after the holiday ends and then at some point, the housing bubble might burst – the prices can’t continue to go up forever, can they?

Viewings

Anyway, it was weeks of frustrating searching before I was even able to get to view my first property, despite finding several which I liked.

With COVID restrictions still in place, properties were already sold or under offer even before I had the chance to enquire about them, never mind view, or the sellers weren’t accepting any more viewings because they already had (on two properties I was interested in) over 30 buyers interested. Ridiculous.

I realised that I had to dedicate time in the day to enquire about properties – leaving it until when I’d finished work was too late.

Went to view one house which was nice at an affordable price but I realised that it was too far away from friends and family (and work, as I’ll still be expected to go in the office, even if on a flexible basis) so at least I was getting a sense of how far I would be willing to move to.

Agents told me that they had even been selling some properties with no viewings (as in people just buying from looking at photos) – it’s not something I would contemplate doing.

Alas, with demand far exceeding supply, I’m competing against families looking for a decent 3-bed semi-detached, with a nice garden in a nice location. Lockdown has changed the priorities and perspectives for many, although such properties have always been in demand, the current boom is exacerbating things somewhat.

I’ve been thankful that I’m working from home so I’ve been able to block out my calendar for 40 mins and nip out for viewings in the afternoon; this task would have been virtually impossible had I been in the office, with only evenings or weekends available.

Rush Hour

I know I shouldn’t rush my decision in buying a house, but I feel like I’m caught up in very fast moving times and if I don’t move at the same speed, I will miss an opportunity and in this current climate, there aren’t that many to begin with. And of course, property prices continue to march ever upwards.

via GIPHY

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in a much better place than I was a couple of months back when my head was in a complete spin and I couldn’t think straight.

I have a plan, I’m progressing with it, I feel like I’m getting back in control.

When I see a house I really like, I will make an offer – I don’t feel like I have the luxury to dilly-dally or drag things out.

Anyway, I have a viewing lined up this weekend and another next week, so fingers crossed I will find somewhere soon, somewhere which ticks most of my boxes.

I’m resigned to the fact that I probably won’t find my perfect ‘dream home’, but whatever I find, I hope to just make it ‘my home’.

Wish me luck!