After originally thinking we’d have to wait until next year, then a protracted saga that was far more stressful than it needed to be, my partner and I now own our first home. It’s a special feeling, one I thought I’d never experience.
‘Will you put your phone away? It’s a bit rude.’
My partner and I had gone down to her auntie’s house for a few days with the twins. Having never met them before, I was managing my anxiety through the modern meditative technique of scrolling through my phone. My partner thought I was absent-mindedly reading through Twitter. Having received a Clearscore update a week or so earlier telling me that my bankruptcy had been cleared from my credit file, I had far bigger fish to fry.
‘I will, in a minute. I’m just looking at this house. I think it’s perfect.’
It really was. A three-bedroom end-of-terrace in the ideal location – a minute from the allotment, two minutes from the supermarket and my partner’s work, three minutes from the bus stop I use to get to work, a few minutes from both our parent’s houses and within our price range. It had only just gone on Rightmove that morning, and after showing it to my partner, I gave them a ring.
‘It’s a sealed bid system, and we need your offer by Friday. Also, to view the property, you need to have a mortgage agreement-in-principle.’
This was an issue, because we were away until Thursday, and we did not have a mortgage agreement-in-principle. I’d spent six years on the credit blacklist, and had only just had the financial folly of youth expunged from my record, and we hadn’t got as far as looking at things like that. My partner did some hasty typing on her phone, and somehow managed to find a basic one that said that people in our salary range would expect to be able to borrow the amount we needed. It didn’t seem like it would be enough – they hadn’t even checked my credit file – but we sent it to David Britton Estates, and they said it was enough for a house viewing, which was booked in for 7pm on the Thursday evening.
‘This is your driver speaking. We are currently unable to say when we will get moving. The problem is a breakdown on the line further up. It could be up to two hours until it’s sorted.’
Sat on the train waiting to go home, the worst possible news came through. It was already 4.30pm. If the train was delayed two hours, we’d not get back in time for the appointment. I tried to be philosophical, telling myself that if the universe wants us to have the house, this situation wouldn’t be the end of the dream. As the minutes ticked by, and the reality set in that we weren’t going to be back in time, I decided I couldn’t leave things up to the fates. I sent my cousin a message, begging him to go around to the house and tell the owner the situation. Twenty minutes later, he got back in touch.
‘Here’s her phone number. She says to send her a text if you can be back for 8pm.’
Moments after receiving the message, the intercom beeped in the train, informing us we were about to set off. We had a chance, and as long as we weren’t delayed on the way, we’d make it back for 7.50pm. The owner of the house said it would be fine to come, as long as I could be there for 8pm. It was cutting it fine, but I said I’d be there. As we got off the train, I left my partner and the twins with the suitcases and ran home. I dumped my bag, had a quick freshen-up wash – this was the height of summer, and we’d been stuck on a train for over three hours – and then I jogged around, making it to the house just before the allotted time.
The owner opened the door, and I hoped my red-faced expression didn’t freak her out. She showed me around, and as I went from room to room, I fell in love with the place. It needed some work, and some of the décor was dated, and it wasn’t quite the finished article, but it was perfect. I felt my eyes water at the thought of living in such a wonderful house, seeing not just what it is, but what it could be. She asked if I’d be living there alone, and I said I wouldn’t, that my partner and the twins would be there too, and we needed to move so they could have their own bedrooms. She said that she’d had a few offers, but she would rather it went to a young family who could love it like hers had, so she would look out for my offer. I went home, discussed it with my partner, and we decided to go for it. I sent the email off to David Britton Estates and then went to bed, knowing there was nothing more I could do.
‘Hello, Mr. Lawes. I’m just ringing to say your offer has been accepted.’
I owed my cousin a drink, big-style.
It all got very stressful after that. First, we had to get an actual mortgage. I’d been recommended Stan Sherlock Associates of Carlisle as a mortgage broker, but when I got in touch, I found them to be quite dismissive and uninterested. Perhaps that was because of my credit history, I don’t know, but I wasn’t impressed by the way they treated me. Luckily, the estate agents had recommended Patrick James Solutions of Appleby, and they were absolutely wonderful. If I emailed them, they responded within an hour. If I was stressed about something, they talked me through the process until I understood it. If I was frustrated about something – like the solicitors or the time it was taking the seller to get basic paperwork done – they’d let me rant, they’d chat with me and they’d empathise. I can’t speak highly enough about them, especially Laura Foster, who handled our mortgage application.
If you want to get a mortgage – especially if you have an imperfect credit history – use Patrick James Solutions.
Two months after our offer on the house was accepted, our mortgage was approved, and it was far cheaper than I imagined would be available to someone like me. This is when it got really frustrating. First, the seller hadn’t filed the paperwork for the land searches, so it added an extra six weeks to the process. Then, their solicitor went AWOL, unable to be contacted by anyone, which dragged it out even longer. In the meantime, I got a surveyor out, and he highlighted a problem with the electrics. I had two different electricians look at it, and they both said the same thing – the wiring was abysmal, it was lead-cased, and it needed replacing.
This was a big setback, because I knew it would be costly. Everyone said we should haggle the price down, but I refused to do so. Part of that was because I was scared of the mortgage acceptance being reviewed, and then the mortgage offer being rescinded, and part of it was because house prices had risen loads since the house had been valued, and it had been in such high demand, and I didn’t want to risk her pulling the plug on the deal and us losing the house. I could imagine living there for the rest of my life, and there was nothing else on the market that even came close to ticking our boxes. It just wasn’t worth taking the chance on losing it for a few grand.
Eventually, the land searches came back, and we tried to set a date, but her solicitor had gone missing again and was uncontactable. Ten days later, when they got in touch, they said that before they could set a date, she needed to get her ex-husband’s name taken off the deeds. ‘I told you about that at the initial viewing,’ she said. Why in the fuck haven’t you got it sorted in the last five months, I thought. Still, I bit my tongue. It wasn’t worth risking losing the house we loved so much.
As November gave way to December, we still didn’t have a date, so I told my solicitor that we wouldn’t take the keys until January, information she passed onto the other party’s solicitor. As if by magic, we got a response within a day, offering us December 17th as a completion date. Given that the electrician probably wouldn’t be able to start work until January, it meant covering an extra month’s bills for an extra house, which was far from ideal. However, it had been six months, and I wanted it done, so I agreed. I spent the next week or so waiting for some other hitch to come around.
No other issues emerged, and at lunchtime on the seventeenth, I took the call we’d waited six months for.
‘The money has been transferred. Congratulations, Andrew. You and your partner are now homeowners!’
It’ll still be a month or so until we get moved in, because we’d rather the electrician had the run of the place to get it sorted. There’s a bit more cosmetic work that needs doing than it looked like when it was furnished, but I guess that’s always the case when buying a house. The most important issue is that the deal is done, and we now have the rest of our lives to make it ours.
Walking around the house on Saturday morning, showing it to my partner for the first time (she’d refused to go and see it until the deal was finalised), I was struck with a tremendous sense of achievement. All my life, all I’ve ever wanted is a family and a home of my own. When I was locked away in the hospital, bankrupt and penniless and alone, I never thought I’d ever manage to fulfil those dreams. Now, somehow, at a time when the world lurches from crisis to crisis, I’ve not only got the most incredible family, we have the perfect home to build our life in. And all because I was a bit anxious at my partner’s aunt’s house and was scrolling through my phone. It’s funny how the most innocuous moments can change your life forever.
Sometimes, I fear that I’m still in the hospital, and that I actually did lose my mind completely, and that this life I’m living is just some sort of projection to protect myself from the fact that I’m catatonic and lost to the world. It’s incredible to me that I’m not. I feel so grateful to live this life, and I’m so proud that I’ve managed to turn my life around from my worst nightmare to achieving these dreams. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with my wonderful partner, raising those two wonderful twins in our wonderful home. This is what it feels like to be blessed, and I’m so thankful that I’m still here to experience this life. I hope everyone gets to feel this way sometime, because it’s the most special feeling.
Song of the Chapter:
‘Our House’ by Madness
Quote of the Chapter:
“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Photos of our house, from the estate agents' website (except the last one!):
"One of the most insightful works I've read on mental health problems in men ... It is very well-written and a real page-turner. I would recommend it to anyone.
Dancing With Disorder
"It communicates a deep understanding of troubled individuals who suffer from the challenges of mental disorders ... Courageous, wise, humorous and thought-provoking ... an easy-to-read, surprising and subtly moving chronicle.
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