I never thought I would be worried about ending up in the hospital from moving boxes, yet here I find myself thinking this very thought. I sit in my London flat, surrounded by boxes (most yet to be filled with all the things we’ve acquired in 7 years of living in London), and wondering to myself, Should I wipe every box down with our dwindling supply of antibacterial wipes, or just be really keen about washing my hands?
It’s been three months since we were served notice that our landlord would be selling the flat. We received the letter in April, about 3 weeks into the Covid-19 lockdown, and when case numbers were starting to soar, and at the time, we just had to sit with the fact for a couple of weeks before we were able to have any kind of conversation about it. We didn’t want to move. We wanted to stay safely tucked away in our little garden flat that felt like a luxury when we literally didn’t leave home for weeks. Not to mention, estate agents were not even open! The idea of finding a house felt ridiculous, and to be honest I was angry the landlord would choose this time to make a decision like this.
I considered all sorts of wild options. Move to the countryside? We don’t have a car, so that was another obstacle. Pack everything into storage and move back to the States to stay with family? With the kids in school, that seemed like a risk, and not knowing when/if access to flights would be restricted.
We took some time to just sit with the fact that we needed to move, and eventually started peeling back the layers of what it was that we wanted in our next house.
I learned when we moved here that I’m a location, location, location person. I would much prefer to live in the neighborhood I love over having the perfect, spacious house. Our first flat in North London was lovely, but for me it was too far from the world I wanted to be around, so a year later we turned around and moved our life down to West London, where we currently live.
But living through a lockdown has made us reprioritise the way we live, and what’s most important to us. And guess what? Turns out, it’s space! Growing children are only going to keep growing and with the city shut down, our normal life outside of our home was confined into a 900sq ft flat and if I was ever going to be convinced to move further afield where your pound stretches a bit further, it would be now.
On the other hand, I never wanted to be plonked down in a big house far away from any kind of community that I knew, and especially for my business, London is where I want and need to be. There had to be some middle ground.
When finally it was getting close to moving time and nothing was coming on in our neighborhood, I went into attack mode. I would like to tell you that I took a sophisticated approach to considering other neighborhoods, but, I’ll let you be the judge, haha. I looked within basically a 3 mile radius of our current neighborhood, and knowing the areas that have a great village feel and community, cross referenced with good schools for the children, and THEN cross referenced with great bakeries (I know, I know), we narrowed our options down.
In May, finally the estate agents were able to reopen and by that time we were very ready to start viewing properties. A few listings had video viewings to go with the properties, which was so effective in helping us see more places that we would’ve been able to. And for the videos that looked promising, we set up viewing appointments. Masks and gloves in hand, we set off to see some properties over about a two week period. The homes only allowed one person in at a time, so I did most of the viewings on my own, which was just easier not having to tow the children along, and have to assuage their inevitable disappointment not being able to go inside with lots of ice cream.
Onto where we looked. We went across the river in Barnes, Clapham, and Putney, but came back from a couple viewings with a pit of anxiety in our stomachs, clearly not ready to make the move South. As lovely as those neighborhoods are, maybe if we had started out there, it would be different, but our world is West London right now, and we weren’t ready for the big change in the middle of a pandemic.
We looked in Northwest London, too. Queens Park, St Johns Wood and Little Venice are all lovely, with great high streets and independent shops, but nothing ever felt like home anywhere we looked.
Next we looked West – Chiswick, Brackenbury Village, Fulham, Ealing always seemed like good options for families. Brackenbury is an adorable little village with terraced houses and a few cute tea shops and pubs sprinkled around, with good transportation links. Chiswick is its own little village unto itself with a buzzing high street, filled with independent shops, retailers, and close to the River Thames, a bit further west than where are currently. Fulham is like a little Chelsea, with great local shops, and not far from where we live now, so definitely put that option on the table, too.
After viewing 6 houses, we put an offer in on a terraced Victorian in a cute little West London village, and to my surprise it was accepted!
The funny thing is about this house? I don’t really remember it in detail, and there were parts of it I only glanced into the room but didn’t have a proper walk around or nosy through the cabinets. I had to view every house with gloves and a mask, and we were in and out very quickly as most of the time as people were still in the house and, again it was very much in the midst of pandemic. Nobody wanted to be looking, and none of the current tenants wanted visitors. Not ideal, but this is house hunting in Covid-19 times.
The other funny thing? I’m the only person in my family who has seen it! We had videos, photos, and floor plans to pour over, but really it was about the square footage, the great layout, and the location close to good shops and cafes that won me over. Everything else can be adjusted if needed.
So. We get the keys tomorrow. I’m letting the boxes sit for a day before we start packing to let any potential virus die off. And this time next week, we’ll be up to our ears in boxes and stress, and probably lots of dinners delivered by our friendly Deliveroo driver. It’s funny that it took a pandemic for us to realise that you don’t have to live in the middle of London to enjoy the city, but that’s where we are. We hired a man and van service to pack our things and will be masked and gloved on moving day.
Next, I plan to write a bit more about the process of renting in London, as this is our fourth time in less than 7 years making the move, and how it was different during Covid-19. Spoiler alert, it was VERY different!