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December 2022
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Bobbing along, singing a song?

Actually, if you’d ever heard me sing, this statement would induce horror, but the sentiment is there. Everything is ticking along nicely.

10 years ago, next year, we moved house and increased our mortgage. We reached a milestone this month on our mortgage this month which is definitely cause for celebration. When we had our first shared mortgage, we got a bottle of champers to celebrate each £10k reduction in our mortgage, so increasing it was not at all desirable. We’ve been lucky, we’ve been able to do that given what’s been happening the past 18 months.

My son has just had his first pay check from his first accountacy role, which is very exciting. He’s happy and planning for the future which brought back memories from when I started with my firm 25 years ago.

Back then, I could buy a house for £55,000. Honestly. It was a big reach on my salary at the time – I was buying the 3 bed-semi on my own. I had a small student loan I was also paying off, so I knew life should get easier after that initial shock – the first month in my house was the first I’d dipped into savings, it was only the £500 cashback on the mortgage that kept me afloat that first month and I put half of that back as savings for my heating and water bills for the winter. It was an EPC rating E house of 78m2 and produces 4.5 tonnes of CO2 a year! The money covered a third of the running costs in those days. For very little money, it could be got to a B and mostly through insulation.

My son is not in the same position. The financial crash in 2008 lead to the use of low interest rates to ensure 10000s of people weren’t left homeless through repossession. Which meant anyone in secure position could borrow money cheaply. This had the natural effect of driving up house prices: what should have made life cheaper for all had almost the opposite effect. If you could get in early enough and be ready to move quickly, houses could be bought with small impact.

Inflation is going to be changing that, hopefully. House stock may also become available due to the requirement that rental properties have an EPC certificate C. Given much of the stock is Victorian or Georgian, they have few opportunities to get that high without considerable investment so may come on the market at short notice. Hopefully.

Of course, my son in his trainee role is competing with people on a much higher salary than him. “If someone tells you life is easy [], they are trying to sell you something”.

Of course, I’m writing this after the first budget from Liz Truss’ government. Trickle down doesn’t work. How do I know this? We’re people who are supposed to trickle down and we don’t.

My house is a finite size: I don’t want to fill it with so much stuff I can’t move. I can’t eat so much that I put on weight because that would shorten my life. I work full time, I don’t have the time (or energy) to spend on leisure other than the basics of keeping fit and holidays. You’re supposed to invest 1%-4% into your home – replacing carpets, investing in renovatings, decorating, new appliances – each year. For us, that’s two – eight months’ taken home wages. For bigger projects, we save up, the kitchen is probably going to be 4 years’ worth of that budgeting and planning. We’ve replaced most of the appliances over the past two years to be more energy efficient.

On our list is the kitchen, the double glazing units, flooring, and of course, a replacement heating system. That’s the thing with houses – the running costs, outside of the gas, electric, and water, need to be considered on top of food and the mortgage.

If you do some of the maintenance your self, you can save a great deal. We spend a Saturday morning twice a year cleaning out the gutters. It’s easier to do with a couple or three people. We have one ladder and a platform so two people sit either end of the gutter and lift out the hedgehog and a third person hoses that brush down. We’re lucky in that we have a low roof line – a Georgian or Victorian house might need scafolding put up to do the same task – a “town house” definitely does. Safety first – no point in hurting yourself so you can’t work to save paying a professional.

Some jobs are budgeted on lifetimes. I spoke of replacing our UPVc windows, they are coming to the end of their life and being a cheap version, that’s been a little shorter than we’d be looking to achieve next time. Windows, carpets, vinyl flooring, bathroom fixtures, etc, all need to be replaced over time. Even the big appliances only have a 20 year life on them in general. Servicing of boilers, heating and cooling systems help extend lifetimes but lifeless objects do not self repair.

The trick is planning. Service things once a year, plan the big jobs for one a year on a rota. It lowers the cost and allows you to save for them rather than borrow. Fix the items you are not planning on replacing if required.

With carpets and flooring, we’ve started to do them on a room by room basis as our house approaches 20. When we decorate a room, we do the carpet. That means next time around the costs can be balanced over a longer time frame. We’re just gearing up to do the landing and stairs for example.

Taking our time has been rewarding. We know the rooms we do allowing us to make the right decisions and be delighted with the results.

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