Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Houseweek Part 2: deciding on a neighborhood

Image courtesy of Londonist

So the thing about buying a house is that it starts out really exciting and full of possibilities, runs through stress and anxiety before ending in desperation. That's the dirty secret no one tells you about. But before we go through the full cycle of emotions, let's start at the sunny beginning and the search – specifically for a neighborhood.

Once we met with the mortgage broker and had an idea of the gargantuan loan we would easily be able to obtain, we started to frame our priorities for our home search. It's an important distinction to talk about homes instead of houses, because we very quickly learned that properties ticking all of the boxes simply weren't "right" for us for reasons that weren't easily explained. Creating a criteria of absolutes helped framed conversation and debate about properties we viewed, but still allowed for personal preference and gut feel to live side-by-side.

Our initial criteria was:
  • at least 2 bedrooms, ideally 2.5 (at this point The Irishman was working from home, and we wanted him to have an office separate from a spare bedroom)
  • garden with decent sun
  • open plan living/dining area
  • decent closet space
  • 1.5-2 bathrooms
  • room for improvement, i.e., not a recently renovated place so that we could do some DIY and customise the place
  • ideally a full house
With that list in hand, we started looking at property listings online in our then-current neighborhood. It quickly became apparent that we weren't going to be able to afford much more than a 1 or 2 bed flat in N1, and to be honest we weren't surprised or upset. For a few months we had started lamenting the crowds on Upper Street, the amount of street noise and rowdy Friday/Saturday night crowds, and the over-gentrification of the area. At some point, when there are 5 burrito joints within a quarter mile, you start to realise that a neighborhood is headed down a path that doesn't sync with your own. So we started investigating neighborhoods boarding Angel. We were relatively open about the neighborhood itself, but The Irishman had two non-negotiables: decent transport links (at least a few night buses and one train station) and safety (so if he was away and I was walking home late at night, he wouldn't worry).

I think this is a really interesting point: we started from the idea of what we wanted our house to feel like, rather than the neighborhood where we wanted to live. If we had started in the reverse, I think we would have compromised a lot in terms of what we wanted from the property itself and probably wouldn't be as happy.

We investigated quite a lot of areas, included Kings Cross, Holloway Road/Camden, Highbury, Hackney, and even Walthamstow out east, but we settled fairly quickly on Stoke Newington. As someone who works in the design industry, most of my colleagues live in the Dalston area and we find ourselves out there a lot for parties and nights out. I personally had spent a lot of time mooching about on Church Street visiting tea rooms and shops, so I felt quite at home in the village. During our marathon training, we both had used Clissold Park for making up mileage on our longer mid-week runs. The Overground trains had recently started service and while there isn't a stop in Stoke Newington proper, the walk to Dalston Kingsland and Dalston Junction stations were manageable, plus there are tons of bus routes in and out of the village. Basically the area felt like the next steps from our lives in Islington to the lives we were hoping to lead.

Once we decided that area was the focus, we started our search in earnest and began calling the dreaded estate agents who would decide our housing destiny. That sounds melodramatic, but is actually pretty bang-on. We'll talk about them tomorrow.


  1. thank you so much for doing this series - I'm delighted for you that it's all worked out because you have a house (!!!), but mostly I'm delighted for me that it's worked out because I can learn from you :)

  2. Thanks Betsy! I'm actually in the middle of post 3 so keep your eyes peeled ;)