How A Home Starts: How to Survive Those First Few Months

It seems odd to write a survival guide for moving but it is easy to get sucked down down into the maelstrom which is viewings, solicitors, movers and decor. Thanks to house buying and interior design television shows we have started to see the trees rather than the wood. We talk prices rather than home. We dismiss anything that isn't quite in the right area or worst still isn't quite our taste. We have forgotten the bigger picture. Here are some great tips to remind you that every move is a project and nothing will ever be perfect at first.

Yorkshire Cottages at Pig Row

You get the keys on the day of exchange and there is a deep sense of contentment as if you have been holding your breath for the last couple of months. Certainly when we moved into Pig Row we felt like that, Carol was seven months pregnant and on the day of exchange the mortgage company had gotten the numbers wrong, trying to give us £10,000 pounds less than they'd agreed. They tried to get out of giving us that money but couldn't as they had agreed a certain amount of money with our solicitor. Here's our first tip, never allow any mortgage company to fob you off. If they have agreed in black and white to something, hold them to it, don't allow them to give you excuses and stay on that phone line when talking with them. On the day we moved they tried to tell me that all the bank managers were in a meeting and I demanded that they had to come out of that meeting as they were putting me in breach of contract and they were also breaching the mortgage they'd agreed with me. It was breaches everywhere. I literally wouldn't get off the phone until I could tell my story to someone who could make a difference. Which is really our second tip, only talk to people who hold the reins, who will drive your sale forward. Someone in a call centre on minimum wage won't be that committed to helping you when they're knocking off in 20 minutes. Remember this is business, they don't have to like you to take your money and you'll be kidding yourself if you think being nice will get you remembered. I am not talking about being nasty. Which brings us to our third tip, be firm, be polite, be clear and to do this, when dealing with anyone over the phone, write a list of everything you want to talk about and remember to take their name and the exact time and date you spoke with them. That neatly encapsulates the fourth tip, keep records. For the record, the mortgage company gave us the correct sum after doing all of this and my solicitor pointing out that they had breached contract. Remember, know your stuff and don't back down if you're in the right. You do have a voice, so use it but don't yell.

Starting a garden from scratch

All houses will look different when empty. Don't get wound up that something isn't right, it will be eventually. Just remember to have patience. That is a great watchword for anyone taking on a new house or a project, be patient. You don't think that after Kirstie and Phil have left, and the cameras have stopped rolling that everything is perfect? There is a reason that sometimes they don't go back for a year. It's called settling in or controlled chaos. That wonderful architectural feature that swung you to buy the house didn't look that great when you put your furniture by it. It looked even worse when it collapsed after you updated the heating system. It happens. Bad things tend to happen in the first twelve months. If the house has been empty it will need to dry out. Have patience. It will all be put right one day.

Bedroom is the south sun.

We all know that tastes change and it is easy to rush into your new house and start painting and ripping out walls. STOP. I am a gardener and when I took on the garden at Pig Row, I didn't touch it, I waited, I watched, I saw how I interacted with garden, where I walked and how nature lived in that garden and then I started to build but only when in my bones I knew it was right to. Paths went where I walked and where they made most sense. Interior design is a lot like that, you will go in with grand plans, do them and then regret them. Stop, look around, decide how the space can work for you. It is better to have a few months of building chaos than piece meal chaos throughout the years. Make the house work for you. If you are there with a view to moving up the property ladder, make the house work for you too. This is your home, love it and get the basics done first, doors, windows, roof, heating, bathroom and kitchen. Leave the bathroom and kitchen to the last as again you will change your mind until you have lived in that house for awhile. Leave the painting until the last because once you start stripping wallpaper off you won't be able to go back. As one couple we know did, they stripped off all the wallpaper on their lounge ceiling and then put up some more wallpaper straight away. During the night as they slept sound in their bed they were awoken by a loud crash, fearing burglars they rushed downstairs, slippers in hand, wielding them like crazed slipper ninjas only to find that the ceiling free of the years it had been held up by layers of wallpaper had given up the good fight and had collapsed all over their new furniture.

The horrors of a lounge

We had a light feature in our lounge, we didn't like it it was of its day, which was somewhere around 1963. However, we did like the location of it until I kept catching my head on it. We'd laugh, I'd swear, Carol would call me clumsy and I would try to remember to duck each time I passed it. We were going to replace it until I forgot to duck one day and headed it into a corner, narrowly missing Little D. It ended up in pieces across the room and I had a cut on my head from the glass shades. Never forget that we are all clumsy but men are especially clumsy. Always take into account in surviving your home, the male factor. I have heard stories of men taking on kitchen conversions, their own bathrooms and failing spectacularly from drilling through the mains to plumbing their central heating system into the shower. One man I heard of wired his boiler into his security lights outside, each time the boiler came on the lights outside came on. I kid you not. Remember, it is better to hunt around and find someone recommended to do the work than getting a guy or girl out of the book. Recommendations go a long way and you will not be able to do everything. Wielding a brush is one thing, doing your own electrics is illegal unless you are qualified. 

However, there is one job everyone can do and that is labouring. There is nothing more satisfying that ripping out crap decor or decor that is rotten, of the period or worst still, a fire risk. Our kitchen was largely wood panels and all this came out in the first summer we were there. The wood made the kitchen damp and cramped. We had a quote to do this which exceeded £1000, as a brick wall and partition with stone base had to be removed. I did all off it in one weekend. Clearing the debris out back, stacking the bricks and stone for reuse in the garden and the rubble in bags for hardcore use in the paths. In one weekend we went from a cramped 11 x 15 kitchen to 11 x 23 kitchen. I only did this because I knew what I was doing and had had professional advice to do so. However, everyone can take down old curtain rails, old rubber tiles and wooden cabinets that are no use anymore. Just remember that common sense goes a long way and wear gloves, goggles and a hard hat. Remember to use the right tool for the job, never take down a curtain rail with a knife as one of my friends did, he slipped and cut the tip of his thumb off.

50s/60s kitchen

Larder partition

Don't forget that that first year doesn't have to be a whir of DIY. Take sometime to get to know the house. When we moved in the chimney had been blocked up and there was an electric fire in front of the hearth. We had it removed and after unblocking the chimney opening we found an old coal fire opening, we had it swept (we always advise sweeping your chimney before use) and it was used that first winter to keep us warm in the evenings. We knew then as we used it we wanted to a real focal point in the room and have opened the hearth open more since then had a Burley Stove fitted by a heating engineer who was HETAS qualified. We'd recommend Burley as they are ultra efficient and can be used in smokeless zones to burn wood.

Burning wood on an open fire

Always remember though, there was always a reason why you moved. Don't kid yourself that it's about climbing the property ladder or because of family, there is a real reason why you have agreed to move and it is only known to you. We moved to Pig Row because we'd fallen in love with the view before we'd even crossed the doorstep. The house had sold itself regardless of the work that was needed, who could give up the opportunity to have this outside their window each morning? 

Looking out to the West Riding

Why do you live where you are now?