Prologue: I remain stuck in flat-moving-limbo-hell. In February, I agreed a price of £343,500 for a 400 square foot flat in the dodgy end of Islington, London N7. And because of some diabolically tedious legal wrangling over a lease, The Vendor and I have not been able to exchange contracts. Meanwhile London house prices have risen in record time. To add to the general feeling of anxiety and neurosis I have moved back to my mother's house. It was supposed to be for a few weeks; it has now been several months. All things considered, my patience - and sanity - is being tested. Like never before....
Tuesday, August 5th: 9.16am - Day off. Wake from uneasy dreams involving Foxtons Minis (entirely unsexual). Switch off alarm and instinctively reach for mobile phone. Check portable device for messages from either The Lawyer/The Estate Agent/The Vendor/The Management Agent and/or The Landlord. Crushingly e-mail free inbox. Punch in number of my solicitor. (I now know these digits off by heart.) It rings out.
Tuesday, August 5th: 9.19am - Dial again. In recent weeks there have been almost daily calls to my brief demanding updates on my proposed flat move. I have plumped - through a mixture of hopeless naivety, rising panic and utter helplessness - for a tactic of: Bug-the-shit-out-of-my-legal-team-until-they-snap-and-work-extra-hard-to-sort-out-my-seemingly-near-intractable-lease-problems-faster. I will concede; my strategy is not entirely fool-proof. After 22 excruciating electronic bleeps I hang up.
Tuesday, August 5th: 9.25am - Try to connect once more. 30 rings this time until solicitor finally picks up. I'm breathy and demand answers. I dispense with the pleasantries. WHY IS THIS MOVE TAKING SO LONG?!...DO YOU HAVE ANY, LITERALLY, ANY IDEA HOW MUCH PRICES ARE SHOOTING UP AT THE MOMENT?!...WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU CAN'T HURRY IT ALONG WHEN THE LEASE IS STUCK?!...WE'VE AGREED A PRICE!...I JUST DON'T BUY THAT!...CAN'T YOU JUST DO YOUR JOB PROPERLY?!
Tuesday, August 5th: 9.27am - Indomitable advocate calmly refutes then bats away each hysteria-induced entreaty. But I can't process her answers. The salient facts remain; the (already exorbitant) price of London property is intensifying each week. The Vendor can pull out of our arrangement at any time if he sees fit. And, gallingly, there is nothing...NOTHING I can do about it. I know only too well that were he to shun me and whack his apartmnent back on the market for £50k more than our agreed price - in this climate - he'd get it. And that crushes me.
August 2nd: 9.41am - I'm agitated and stressed as I head downstairs. Mother offers me freshly made coffee to calm me down. I grunt and avoid conversation. I take my americano out to the garden where I call The Estate Agent. I tell him the process is stuck. Log-jammed. And borderline fucked. I implore him for help. He says I might want to sit down. He has something to tell me...
Tuesday, August 5th: 9.42am - "The Vendor called me yesterday," my agent calmly relays. "He is thinking about pulling out the sale. The market has moved so much since you agreed a price. He thinks he is giving it away." Giving it away. My worst nightmare realised. If he pulls out, I won't be able to get a loan under the government's new mortgage rules. I may never be able to bag in this city I've always lived if this move falls apart. The Estate Agent assures me he has convinced The Vendor not to call off the deal. But he doesn't sound convincing. Why should he be? This chump would make better commission if it sold to a higher bidder, someone with more money than me. An entirely awful Capitalist merry-go-round.
Tuesday, August 5th: 9.45am - Agent rings off. The market thus dictates I must have total trust in The Estate Agent (Number of times we've met: 1) and The Vendor (Number of times we've met: 0) not to renege on the biggest, most important purchase of my life. But I am starting to feel it all slip away in the most excruciating, clichéd way imaginable. I throw coffee dregs on mother's petunias and put my head in my hands. I feel a migraine coming on. (Number of migraines I've had in my life until I started house-hunting: ZERO.)
Tuesday, August 5th: 12.25pm - Arrive at some faceless, overpriced West End coffee shop. I have an interview for a freelance writing gig. The interviewer read this Huffington Post blog and is interested in me doing some work for his website. I could do with this chat today like a hike in interest rates and a punch in the gonads. But I need the money. And needs must.
Tuesday, August 5th: 12.32pm - Interviewer and I make small talk about what seems to have become my favourite ever subject; house-buying. He casually lets slip that his son has just been gazumped. "The seller wanted twenty grand more and he just couldn't afford it. That's the market I suppose. It's just so dog-eat-dog." This cuts to the heart of my insecurity and I momentarily lose all reason. "Why are you fucking telling me this?!" I blurt out. He stares at me hard, eyes wide and open-mouthed. Oh crap...
Tuesday, August 5th: 12.33pm - I grimly try and row it back. "I mean...HA! Thanks for telling me! HA! That's good to know. So is your lad gonna look at shared ownership options instead...?" I carry on digging myself deeper. As a stand up comic of...mercurial talent, I know well enough when I've lost the room. And this guy's a goner. He tells me, in no uncertain terms, that that this freelance gig is not for me. Bugger.
Tuesday, August 5th: 12.34pm - I make to leave. His eyes nervously follow me towards the door. He must think I'm unhinged. And right now he may have a point. The hell of house-hunting in 2014 could be bringing on a form of bourgeois psychosis. And I must learn to bite my tongue. By the front door a handsome, if overly-familiar server beckons me over. "How was your coffee experience in our store today, mate?" begs he in sprightly Aussie twang. I shoot him eye lasers. At the ridiculous asymmetrical haircut and across to his square jaw. I've no idea what to say. "On balance," I snort slowly, "it's been a real cunt."
Tuesday, August 5th: 6.02pm - Sip tea with mother back at parental home. She asks after interview. I provide heavily redacted version of events. "It was shit pay anyway," I tell her. And she politlely asks me to stop swearing in her house. I can't get my interviewer's story out of my head. It's a narrative I've heard from other would-be flat-buyers. Colleagues and friends have all suffered in this cynical sellers' market.
1. Buyer sees/likes flat and puts in an offer.
2. Vendor and Buyer agrees price.
3. Buyer tries to rush sale as they see property values rapidly rise.
4. Vendor sees sky-rocketing house prices in press. And Vendor gets greedy.
5. Buyer redoubles efforts to convince Vendor to exchange contracts.
6. Vendor pulls out of deal and puts property back on market for tens of thousands of pounds higher than previously listed.
7. Buyer curses and cries. And curses again.
And there is no escaping the reality: if The Vendor chooses to pull out of our deal - which, of course, he can do at any time - I would not be able to afford the same flat again. Nor get on London's fabled property ladder. During my six months of waiting prices in the capital have shot up by as much as 20% in some areas. 180 days. Less than 5,000 hours. The papers are lapping up this property gloom; I've read two leader articles on the subject already today. This can't happen to me, I think. And I opt for some drastic action...
Tuesday, August 5th: 6.04pm - Dial The Vendor. I want to sound him out about our flat deal and find out if he is equally as obsessively across every neutron of property news. As his phone rings I utter out loud: Is this a good idea..? but before I can reason, he answers. We swap pleasantries. He sounds agitated. And then I hit him with it...
Me: "....I just wanted to say that, as a journalist, the news is all just crap isn't it? So negative all the time..."
The Vendor: "Why are you telling me this, David?"
Me: "Well, I just think for everyone's health it's better to avoid newspapers. It's all so depressing..."
The Vendor: "David I need to go. I'm a very busy man..."
Me: "JUST DON'T READ THE PAPERS PLEASE!"
The Vendor: Heavy silence. "Goodbye David." He croaks and hangs up.
Tuesday, August 5th: 6.07pm - Lie back on the bed in mum's spare room and contemplate train-wreck of a phone call exchange. Put my head in my hands and shout FOR FUCK'S SAKE! A familiar voice floats up the stairs. "David, darling. You must stop cursing while you're staying here..."
Tuesday, August 5th: 11.12 pm - I grunt my way through dinner and slouch off to bed. A shockingly bad day has come to an end; my worst as a house-hunter. This feels like touching bottom. I'm so desperate I decide to pray. I haven't reached out to God once in my life. I kneel by the side of my bed. But the words won't come. So, like any good atheist should - whilst beseeching a higher power in whom he has no belief for ethereal facilitation on a material possession he scantly deserves - I opt to quote Morrissey. And shut my eyes... "Oh Lord. Please, please, please let me, let me, let me, let me get what I want this time. Good times for a change. So, for once in my life, let me get what I want. Lord knows, it would be the first time. Er... Amen"
Tuesday, August 5th: 11.22 pm - Switch off lights. As I do whenever I feel morose or down, I whack on The Smiths. I pull the duvet over my head. I try and hold back the tears and meekly hum along to my heroes. I've seen this happen in other people's lives. And now it's happening in mine. It's happening in mine, happening in mine, happening in mine, happening in mine, happening in mine....