Buying a property in the south of England is an extraordinary journey in suspended belief.
What could buy you a manor just past the Watford Gap will get you a glorified shed in cities like Brighton. From this point on, potential homeowner, you must dispel all dreams of grandeur - this is a 'desirable' location after all, and if someone somewhere is prepared to pay out of the petunias for it, well, then so must you.
To bring further jubilance to your day - purchasing a house in the south, particularly in in-demand cities like London and Brighton, is not only hella expensive, it's also pretty freaking difficult. So, if you fancy dropping a wad on a cupboard to call your own, here's what you need to know.
KNOW WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR, BEFORE YOU START LOOKING
We walked miles, which was great for Fitbit, terrible for my sit/move balance. And around 98% of the properties we viewed were totally inappropriate. In the end, we had to sit down and decide what we absolutely needed (outside space, central location, lots of light), what we quite fancied (a second bedroom) and what we didn't actually care that much about (parking space...luckily).
It's also a good idea to decide what you really don't want (a damp, crumbling heap a rubble with an ORO £250,000 price tag).
COMMUNICATE THE ABOVE CLEARLY WITH ESTATE AGENTS
Diagrams, sign language, white boards and sticks - use every possible tactic to communicate what you do and do not want because believe me, estate agents seem to know the inner workings of your heart better than you do.
"Hello, Miss Turton. We have found the IDEAL studio top floor flat on London Road. What it lacks in natural light it makes up in character. I think you would just LOVE it."
That said, the estate agents we ended up going with have been very helpful. Just be aware, so many of them are sorcerers masquerading as property merchants. Before you know it, you're standing in a damp wardrobe thinking 'well it would be nice to have inbuilt storage'!
BE PREPARED TO SPEND MORE THAN PLANNED
I can't go into too much detail - if I tell you, dark and terrible things may happen. Just be prepared for the solicitor to tell you one figure and then slap down a far bigger one, including extra charges for searches and other random bits such as the chancel repair insurance of an invisible church.
Also don't expect that just because you're paying a conveyancer, they'll respond to your emails or answer your calls. They know things about the law that you don't.
GET YOUR DECISION IN PRINCIPLE BEFORE YOU START
Get all the nitty gritty sorted before you begin your quest. When you see that perfect property, you'll need to act fast - it's likely half of your area and beyond also want to buy it (apart from Northerners, who know it's far wiser to stay put).
You won't even be in with a chance if you don't have a decision in principle and deposit ready to put on the table.
PLAY YOUR CARDS CLOSE TO YOUR CHEST
Don't tell your estate agent your top budget. If it accidentally slips out while they're doing that weird swirly eye thing, be prepared to not pay a penny under it. Their business is your precious pennies, after all.
BE AWARE OF THE RISING DAMP OF BRITAIN
It's to be expected, in a country creaking at its seams and surrounded by the sea. But some places are much worse than others and damp is a hell of a thing to live with (and not cheap to fix).
Look in the cupboards, particularly at the back of wardrobes, don't be afraid to nosy around someone else's house. If there are yellow patches or mold anywhere, or a pesky smell lingering beneath the intense incense, that is a warning sign you should definitely follow up with before you make an offer.
BE PREPARED TO COMPROMISE
The reason so many parts of the south are so expensive is because a lot of people want to live there - demand outweighs supply. You're not going to get everything you want on a small budget, a compromise is inevitable.
If you want more space, look further afield - go North, you may even get a friendly smile to go with your purchase. But, if you want a central city location, you probably won't be able to afford more than one bedroom (and you better believe you're lucky to get that).
DON'T LOSE HOPE
These things aren't meant to be easy. But with the right approach, they can be a lot of fun. Just as my mum always said when I was looking for my first job, "it's a numbers game" and it's likely you'll see many properties before you find the one for you.