For the past 7 months James and I have been in the process of buying a house. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the process this is my breakdown of the whole experience:
- Apply for a ‘Mortgage in Principal’. This is a somewhat excruciating process (particularly, in my opinion, for a Creative) as it means having your income and general finances scrutinised and held up for inspection in order to check whether you are a viable candidate for a loan. For someone with 5 different jobs and a ‘self-employed’ status it is even more complicated and unpleasant.
- Look for houses within your budget. (You’d think this would be the fun part. It’s not, but I’ll come back to that)
- If you find a house you like, make an offer. i.e. “I shall give you TEN pounds for your house!” (Multiply that by 20,000 and you’re getting somewhere)
- Have offer either accepted, rejected, or enter into negotiations.
- Have an offer accepted (You think it’s all over. It’s not).
- Apply for Mortgage Approval. This involves providing even more evidence of earnings, employment status, incomings and outgoings, in the way of submitting all your bank statements and payslips for further scrutiny.
- Employ a Solicitor and their services (and pay them lots of money).
- Once a mortgage has been approved, contracts with the seller agreed and exchanged, the process is complete and hey presto you have a house! Sadly, we haven’t been allowed to get to this bit.
Before we even got to stage two I hated the house buying process. I assumed that my haphazard employment and various sources of income wouldn’t allow us a mortgage and feared being held to judgement for this. The pleasant surprise, at first, was that it seemed we would be allowed a mortgage for a larger sum than we ever expected. But to buy a reasonable house in our desired area of Cheshire (often known as Footballers county…go figure) would cost us every last penny.
We searched high and low for 5 months, emailing each other properties to consider morning, noon and night. We considered The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
The Good: We found a lovely, ALMOST affordable, 3 bedroomed, 1950’s, detached house in a quiet, family cul-de-sac in the heart of Knutsford, Cheshire (too good to be true), with some beautiful art-deco features, high ceilings and views over the rolling countryside. Alas, we were outbid by young professionals with vastly more money than us.
The Bad: We viewed numerous ex-council estate houses – nothing wrong with that, but the areas had an air of depression about them. The houses felt like boxes that served the purpose of merely sheltering from the elements. I found it fascinating how little some people care for the spaces in which they inhabit. Battered skirting boards, dirty carpets, dark, dreary colours on the walls sucking you in to a soulless void. It was actually really sad.
The Ugly: Our first experience of viewing a property with the seller, as opposed to an Estate Agent, they enthusiastically beckoned us in and proudly showed off the dog and cat hair infested carpets, precarious staircase without a banister and damp stained shower-room with pubic hair covering the drain… then asked us what we thought. We virtually fled from the premises.
We have disagreed over location, space, possibility for improvement. My pros have been James’s cons and vice versa. What was more important? A local pub or a bath with a stand-in shower? Properties I thought had ‘character’ James thought were completely unliveable in. And the ultimate crunch was what monetary value we thought a property was worth. They say that buying a house is one of the top 3 hardest things you ever do in your life. We have certifiable experience to testify to this fact.
Just when we’d run out of hope of ever finding a house we both loved and agreed on I decided to book to see 6 different houses one Saturday in April. We had got to the point where we had to view houses separately as our schedules just didn’t allow us time off together. By this stage we had learnt that we approached the process very differently. There are (apparently) three common states of mind; The Rational Mind, The Emotional Mind and The Wise Mind. I (unsurprisingly) am the Emotional Mind. I am a visionary. I see what could be over what is. I see possibility, the best in people and things and I invest myself emotionally very easily. James is of course the Rational Mind. His ability to walk into a property and immediately dissect every little nook and cranny, asking questions about things I would never in a million years even consider, would both mesmerize and infuriate me. James never once said “I love this house” or even that he really liked anywhere, until I threw all of my toys out of my pram and demanded he gave me an actual emotion rather than fact (poor man).
So on The Saturday of Six Viewings I took my trusty little notebook and committed to writing down only facts about each property, not feelings, and then would pass them to James to read and decide upon which he thought was worth viewing again. The first house I visited at 10am that morning was well outside of our budget but the location gave scope for us being able to barter the price down. I struggled to park on a busy commuter road outside a tall, Victorian semi-detached house. Exasperated I stepped through the front door and beheld the most magnificent original Victorian tiling throughout the hallway. I was a goner. There was a beautiful archway with fanning over the hallway, working fireplace, enormous kitchen-diner, en-suite master bedroom and (wait for it) an Orchard in the garden running down to a brook. This was The Dream House.
Over the course of the following weeks The Emotional Mind and The Rational Mind grappled to become one, united Wise Mind, but eventually we became an unstoppable force and had an offer accepted. I can’t quite describe the smug satisfaction we had as a team for having won ourselves a very beautiful but also very spacious and practical first house.
To cut a lengthy, arduous and rather dull story short, this is the house we have been fighting for, for the last 3 months. Yesterday we lost the battle because… I am a Creative.
After the initial scrutinising of my finances, payslips, tax returns and salaries, we were assured we would get a mortgage. It has taken 11 weeks of submitting even more payslips and bank statements, waiting for references from our employers; to then discover that the nature of my employment results in there being absolutely no possible way anyone will give us a mortgage. None. Zilch. Nada. Despite the fact that my various jobs amount to a very stable monthly salary, despite the fact I have held my teaching post in higher education for 4 years, despite having slaved, sweated, been broken and persevered in order to do what I am passionate about and survive, despite having been a committed employee with guaranteed teaching hours every month, despite two degrees, one Masters, I am not allowed to buy a house with my husband.
You can sense the bitterness, right? Initially I sank into a self-pitying depression, feeling horribly responsible for this disappointment because of my stupid life choices. But they’re not stupid. I am proud that I live perhaps a little dangerously but with integrity. There are not many creative people who are self-employed, who can afford to continue doing what they love and earn a decent wage. My work isn’t selfish. It is in the service of other people. I don’t do it for a huge salary and fame. Whether it be providing background music in a restaurant, or working to build the confidence of a young person who has come for singing lessons, or helping actors to acquire vital tools to help them in their chosen profession, I give my gifts to please others and I am immensely proud of that.
But this isn’t just about me. My self-pity turned to bitterness, which turned to sheer rage. This is the world in which we live? Where good, grafting and grounded people are penalised for having chosen not to do a drone-like, 9-to-5 job, that sucks the creative soul out of them and pays you to doss about?! (Disclaimer: this is my Rage talking. I am not saying that anyone who does a 9-to-5 job sits about doing nothing. I just don’t think it’s right that I should be punished for making different choices.)
The entire house buying process reeks of judgement and condescension. We considered the route of asking my parents to be Guarantors (basically sign to say that if we can’t pay our mortgage, they will) and even that was a no, no because neither of them are a ‘Professional’. When I queried what is deemed a ‘Professional’ I was answered with ‘A Policeman or something like that’. Something like that? My mother is a Seputy Headteacher and my father is a Reverend working for the Archbishop but apparently neither of those career choices are worthy of approval either. It’s such a powerful word – “Approval”. It strikes me the great number of thing we are willing to do to get approval, most of which are at the sacrifice of our true selves.
As I rant on I’m asking myself what is the point blogging about this? This space is meant to be for nice things, creative, crafty things. Not sad, unjust things. Maybe I’m posting this for sympathy (woe is me). Maybe just because I enjoy telling stories (dull though they might be). Or maybe because, as ever, I just have to tell the truth.
I am discovering that there is something restorative and redeeming about writing. Through telling stories of hardship and pain I find clarity and, in place of the pain, joy. Yes, this world is horribly unjust, discriminatory and narrow minded but I look at how blessed I am to have a husband who loves me, a kind and supportive family and the ability to share what I love with the world. I don’t know if or when we will ever own a house, or indeed get any of the things we dream of. But I know I will not sacrifice being a Creative in order to be approved of and I will fight until my dying day for creative work to be recognised as a viable, intelligent, grafting profession, worthy of recognition…and approval.
I am reminded of the closing stanza to one of my favourite pieces of poetry, ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley :
” It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”