Moi

+ 10 Lessons of a First-Time Buyer

For the past five months, my boyfriend and I have been in an emotional whirlwind of failing to buy one property and (in the end successfully) purchasing another. While we had both said we wanted to buy a place together in the near future, it was my drunken clicking of the "arrange a viewing" button for a place we both loved that sped up the process slightly! Long story short, the flat we tried to buy between March-June ended up being a no-go, so I wanted to share my learnings with other first-time buyers, specifically in the bubble that is the London property market.

1) Be Head Over Heart, Not Head Over Heels

When Ned and I viewed the first flat of our dreams, where we saw warning signs we instead saw 'quirkiness' and 'character'. It was only after a supremely negative mortgage valuation and a super-expensive but thorough homebuyers' report that our cute coal vault/bedroom became quite obviously a barely legal spare storage cupboard.

We had so wanted to believe that all the little doubts in our minds were just first-time buyer nerves, but now we realize we should have thought with our heads and not our hearts. Ideally, walk around with the surveyor at the time of the homebuyers' report. This really helped to bring the report to life for us. I'd recommend choosing Gerry Brown (gb[at]consultantsurveyor.co.uk). He's pricey but we trust him 100%!

2) It's Not Over Until the Fat Lady Sings

Our estate agent emailed us saying "I am just waiting for [the seller] to confirm the date for completion. When it is, I will email both solicitors and let them know that’s the agreed completion date." This all sounded fabulous, but we didn't 100% realize what was around the corner.

The day of exchange/completion came upon us, and ONLY THEN did we find out that our solicitor's queries had been ignored and instead a proposal was put forward for an "indemnity policy"... roll on lesson #3!

3) Be Wary of Indemnity Policies

The flat we wanted to buy had works done to it that were never signed off by building control. This essentially made the second 'bedroom' invalid and brought with it the risk of the local council asking us, as the new owners, to be financially liable for either completely re-doing it and (even worse) stopping us from making any further improvements to that part of the flat. For example, even trying to apply to the council to make the room legal would have INVALIDATED our mortgage. This means we were effectively buying a 1-bedroom flat for a 2-bed price. Also, most policies only protect your mortgage lender and not you so be very careful when agreeing to one!

4) Don't Hand Your Rental Notice in UNTIL Completion

At the end of May, we had no reason to suspect that the flat purchase would hit an obstacle. Yes, the seller's solicitors were taking a frigging age to answer the pressing issues my solicitor had raised, but we thought was standard practice. We tried to create a buffer of over 3 weeks between us completing and the confirmed end of our rental contract.

This would have been great if we had completed the flat purchase. But instead, the estate agents had already found a replacement couple for our flat and so we effectively were due to be homeless. If you learn one thing from our mistakes, just cough up the extra rent and don't make yourself homeless!

5) Consider Getting a 'Mortgage Agreement in Principle'

Before we had even placed an offer, we got an "Decision in Principle" arranged over the phone for us with London & Country Mortgages. What's great about them is they offer free, impartial advice and can serve as a broker with (seemingly anyway) your best interests in mind.

Yes, the estate agent will still ask to speak to you and go through details to substantiate your offer, but having this agreement a) helps clarify what your best offer can be and b) should put you  in a stronger position if you're up against another buyer with no financial details ready to share.

6) Sign up for a 30-day free trial with Experian

I had no idea how many addresses were attached to my name until I had a free trial with Experian. It was also really useful to trawl through Money Saving Expert's website for tips on how to boost your credit rating.

7) Instant Property Alerts Are Your Best Friend

A London property can be under offer in just a couple of days, so you really need to have your wits about you when searching for prospective homes. Some estate agents deliberately withhold their listings from Zoopla and Right Move, so it's best to also sign up to the dominant agents in your area as well as the big search sites.

Other good sources of new properties are Tepilo (quality over quantity!), Prime Location and On The Market.

8) Know your LTV Ratio

A mere 1-5% difference in your loan-to-value ratio can open up vastly different interest rates from the big lenders. If you have any spare cash at your disposal (e.g. selling shares, waiting for a few more paychecks until you buy to fatten your deposit) my advice is to put as much as possible into the mortgage. Obviously, you'll need to ensure you have money left over to actually maintain your beautiful new home, but it's worth checking with the lender how even an extra £1000 deposit could change your mortgage terms.

9) Keep Your Mouth Shut

During one viewing, I was very open with the seller about our situation "oh yeah, we pulled out of our other property" and "we're just in the process of sorting out a different mortgage now based on a different deposit".... in hindsight, you should really be selective in terms of what you say to the seller as it can completely change their opinion of you. If in doubt, pipe down!

10) Be Cautious of Requests for Cold Hard Cash

We had placed an offer on a different property via Hampton's in London, and as this sale was in a chain of 4/5 other properties, they told us in no uncertain terms that we'd need to be willing to put down a £5000 payment ASAP. This was without any guarantees of getting it back should something happen outside of our control, and zero paperwork to sign. In the end, not immediately pandering to their requests cost us the flat as another couple were willing to cough up, but I'm glad we were cautious and didn't sign away a big chunk of our deposit without any guarantees.


+ Positano Travel Guide

What do you do when you need to be at the airport by 5am? Don't go to sleep at all, that's what! Yes, we were shattered but at least the trip to Positano (taxi, plane, two shuttle buses) went quickly as we dozed the whole way. After a transfer from positanoshuttle.com, we were shown to our apartment, Sirena 1 at Residence AlcioneThis place is even better than in the photos. We paid more for a superior suite, and I'm so glad we did as we essentially got private use of a large terrace with sun loungers, beautiful plants and a patio table to boot. What really sets this place apart is the complimentary continental breakfast which is hand-delivered to your room at a time that suits you.

Residence Alcione - Sirena 1 superior suite
The terrace of our superior suite at Residence Alcione

Collina Bakery was our first taste of authentic Italian pizza, and it didn't disappoint. The pizzas were so big we got two meals in one go, and ate the leftovers on our terrace that evening! The next day, Ned and I decided to pass the beach and keep edging along the coastal path to see what was there. We weren't disappointed! For the first time we were able to appreciate how clear the emerald ocean was (although didn't get a chance to go for a dip that day). La Marinella is a rustic beach bar/restaurant with a charming waiter who has quite the way with words! 

Us at La Sponda
Ned and I at La Sponda restaurant

That evening, we got to La Sirenuse a bit early for our 8pm dinner reservation at La Sponda and so ended up at their champagne and oyster bar. This rooftop terrace dripped with elegance and made me feel every inch the celebrity! After ordering a round of drinks, they brought us almonds, crisps and bountiful green olives unlike any I'd ever tasted. (side note: I need to find out what olives these were as they were SO tasty!)

Once our drinks were done with, we went down the staircase to La Sponda. Ned decided my trip-planning skills deserved some reward, and proceeded to pay for the chef's menu with a selection of wines with each plate (picture of the tasting menu here). The food was some of the best I've ever tasted (especially the veal sirloin and coconut macaroons at the end!) but what made it for me was the candlelit view accompanied by two men playing romantic music for the majority of the evening.

Someone paragliding over Positano beach, looking from Caffe Positano
Someone paragliding over Positano beach, as seen from Caffe Positano!

 

The next day, we were looking for something cheap and unfussy and Caffe Positano fit the bill perfectly. This place had slow service, but the view of Positano beach from high up on the hill made it worthwhile. We shared a buffalo mozzarella salad and a courgette tagliatelle, both of which were divine. One thing I really noticed in Italy is the tastiness of their cherry tomatoes. Each little bite has more taste than an entire box of salad tomatoes from back home! What made the meal even more memorable was witnessing some guy paragliding over Positano, and what felt like dangerously close to where we were eating!

Tagliata wine, our starting dish and the view of the coast from Tagliata

La Tagliata was our destination for the evening. This family-run restaurant is almost nestled in the clouds it's so far up! As it's quite difficult to get to, upon reserving your table they ask where you're staying so they can pick you up in a complimentary shuttle. At 7.15pm, a shuttle turned up and we began ascending the mountains. We were greeted by Vincenzo, who explained to us upon arriving that there was no need to choose what to eat as a set menu cooked by "mama and papa". Thankfully another couple got up and left so we nabbed a table with a better view of the coastline. Despite the thunderstorms, there was an awesome, brooding tint to the evening that was a beautiful accompaniment to the great food and (even better) homemade 'Tagliata' wine. Oh, and if you're in any doubt, they do drop you off home at the end of it! For a price of ~35 Euros each, the food was well worth every penny.

Saturday was spent walking around the town once more, however by this point of the trip I had succumbed to a weird, odd, disgusting skin rash. "Polymorphous light eruption" basically means my porcelain white skin had forgotten that UV light can tan my skin.. instead, it thought it was being poisoned and initiated a way OTT response to protect my skin! To be fair, we couldn't tan much anyway as the thunderstorms started to descend late afternoon. And, before we knew it, we had to leave Positano behind for our one-night/one-day stay in Naples before our flight home.

You can track the places I visited in Positano using the nifty map below!

Naples

We went with the dependable www.positanoshuttle.com to get back to Naples on Sunday evening, and our hotel of choice was Ciliegina Lifestyle Hotel. This hotel is pure luxury with a jacuzzi hot tub on the roof terrace complete with sun loungers, and also a jacuzzi bathtub in the bedroom. Even better, we were greeted with a free glass of prosecco. The hotel is also f***ing good at continental breakfast, delivering it to your room with beautifully made cappuccinos.

Pasta shop in the historic district

Although my first impressions of Naples were in stark contrast to the dream that is Positano, I really warmed to it as we meandered through the narrow streets and started to soak up the culture. I would really suggest just getting lost and finding your own 'Naples'.

So we were given two main recommendations by friends (not to mention our taxi driver!) which were a restaurant called Sorbillo and another nearby called Di Matteo. When we walked past, Di Matteo didn't seem to be a good place to dine in, as it looked like it was solely takeaway pizza. So, we decided to walk back up towards Sorbillo.... however, we ended up in the copycat restaurant!!! Not to worry, the pizza was 6 euros and tasty, but trust us to get pizza wrong in Naples :/

For others looking for a good pizza place in Naples, I would probably err on the side of caution and go to this Sorbillo, and only try the 'copycat' if the other one is busy :)


+ If I Won The Lottery...

My boyfriend and I joked a while ago about what we'd do if we won the lottery. When I started to actually think about it, it took me a while for my imagination to run riot!

I've just finished paying off my student loan (yay!) and so will be getting a bit of extra moulah in my bank account and my initial thought was an extra designer bag but I bagged one in Nordstrom San Francisco when I was with some persuasive colleagues :) So, minus the designer bags, here's what I'd want to do if money was so no object:

- Plan my own festival just for friends and friends of friends, booking a varied and eclectic mix of artists like Arctic Monkeys, Björk, Queens of the Stone Age, Beyoncé as well as a few DJs for good measure. This festival would likely be held in the height of summer in an odd location, maybe in a secluded part of Sweden or Norway, where we could watch the northern lights after hours of dancing and pure happiness.

- I'd acquire an extensive portfolio of international properties. Each home would offer unlimited access (within reason) to my friends and family. Potential locations would be:

  •  a loft apartment nestled in Valencia
  • Townhouse in NYC, with a walk-in closet a la Carrie's in the SATC films.
  • Beach house in quite frankly any Caribbean island
  • A posh chalet-style house in the Alps
  • This dream treehouse in Australia

- I know I said no designer handbags, but I'd really want to acquire the entire contents of Rosie Huntington-Whitely's and Miranda Kerr's closets.

- Lifetime supply of crème de la mer. Not because I think it's any more special than a Nivea tub, but it makes me feel super sophisticated and adds a touch of luxury to your daily routine.

-While I live in a beautiful maisonette in North London, I'd consider moving to a three-storey house in Hampstead. The main thing is that it HAS to have won awards for the architecture and come filled with mod-cons while retaining tradition. It would HAVE to have a wine cellar like the picture at the top too!

- Auto-reserved seats in the West End: I would sign up to some kind of service that auto-secures me two tickets for me and my man to watch all the noteworthy shows in the  West End. Fuck it, add Broadway to that too! I am so bad at planning and having the equivalent of a 'royal box' would bloody rock.

- Hostess with the mostest: I would schedule a monthly knees-up at any one of my properties and serve a spread that Martha Stewart would be proud of. Obvs I wouldn't actually prepare any of this myself as I'd have a live-in chef or two. At the do, we'd all gather round either the swimming pool or fireplace depending on the climate and lose ourselves in a good old natter. If we have to stay in, we'd spend it in my cinema room or perhaps playing some board games. Even better, for my girlfriends I'd book beauticians to come over and tend to us while we sip champagne.

- Learn to dive I would spend a month in Ko Tao or Bali to get my PADI course. Once that's complete, I'd cruise the world viewing the most coveted dive spots.

-Become best buddies with Charlotte Tilbury or any other celebrity make-up artist and have them at my side, EVERY DAY. 

There's also this fab Reddit page, If I Won the Lottery which includes posts like 'hot tub under a waterfall', 'secret rooms' and getting someone to wash your hair salon-style every day!


+ Highbury Area Guide: Things to do in N5, London

It's been almost a year since we moved to the N5 area (between Highbury and Finsbury Park). In that time I've seen a few new businesses pop up and seriously think it's only a matter of time before it becomes the next up-and-coming London neighbourhood to watch.

What I love most about the area is that N5 has only a handful of chains and the majority of local businesses are one-off London gems. The N5 area is also super close to the hip and hippy Stoke Newington, and Clissold Park is just two minutes' walk away too. See below for my Highbury area guide:

Green Spaces: Within the grounds of Clissold Park is the impressive Clissold House, as well as a deer enclosure, butterfly dome (although it's currently devoid of butterflies), tennis courts, a skate park and two large lakes. Ok, it's absolutely pissing it down outside right now, but I firmly believe it's one of the best places to run in London when the sun is shining! What's also great about N5 is that you have Finsbury Park about ten minutes' walk up Blackstock Road, so there's no shortage of greenery, and absolutely no excuses for not heading out for a jog (of course, with exception of the rain)!

Brunch Heaven: Since we moved in, a couple of very on-trend cafés have opened up in the local area. On Blackstock Road is Frank's Canteen, which I've reviewed over at Yelp as well. As you can see from the photos below, the food is pretty extraordinary.

Also recently opened is the unique Fink's Salt and Sweet Deli. I walk past this place everyday and while they have a loyal lunch crowd (especially at weekends), it also welcomes a few local trendsetters in the evenings for some low-key glasses of wine.

Another fave of mine (which I don't have photos of yet) is the Blackstock Kitchen. We always go for the chicken & avocado sandwich and a tuna & sweetcorn toasted sarnie to share. Very friendly staff, a nice local feel and some space outside to enjoy the sun, whenever it comes out!

Furniture Shops: Gathering Moss is a beautifully kitted out shop featuring shelving units and bench tables made from reclaimed wood, trinkets, candles and general boho chicery. Ned and I actually found our much-loved bench table from this shop, and the shop staff actually delivered it to our flat within 30 minutes of purchasing! There's also a hidden-away furniture shop called Bennet & Brown which sells gorgeous pendant lamps, 20th-century trinkets and wooden furniture.

 Other Places to Try:

Primeur - This place was initially hard to book as you had to go in person days before you'd decided to eat there, but they now have a Twitter account to take bookings (@primeurbookings). I haven't been to this restaurant yet, but will definitely take advantage of this and book asap!

Garufa - An Argentine grill that does the best brunch, as per my Yelp review, and they've also recently started advertising Malbec Monday's where they offer all wine bottles at 50% off. I hate Mondays but love Malbec so need to give it a go.

Exeter Street Bakery - I spotted this when I walked north of Finsbury Park the other day, and the bread looks world-class!

 Cafe Vintage - The food varies in quality but even so I really appreciate having a quirky, multi-purpose business down the road. This non-chain cafe always has great seasonal window displays, nice coffee and the odd piece of clothing to buy too.

Seasons and Blossoms - Kaleidoscopic selection of organic fruit, veg and they even sell 'biodynamic' bananas! Will definitely go back again to try out their coffee.

La Fromagerie - They often have events, but of course the main draw of this place is their locally made cheese and wine selection.

For more info, you can see all my Yelp photos and reviews.


+ Introducing Chickpea + New Kitten Checklist

Chickpea

Disclaimer: I've never been a cat person since I got a bit too close to my neighbour's cat at four years old and got scratched. I'd had the best of intentions, wanting to stroke it and shower it with affection, but it really didn't want me all up in its grill. Since then, I've always been very much on Team Dog!

However, working in a full-time job where I travel abroad frequently has meant that my dream of being a dog owner has had to be tamed. Ned and I both reeaaaaally want to get a dog, but we know it's not fair as they are much more dependent on human attention, and combined with this, doggy day care and other costs are astronomical compared to cat care.

Once we'd decided to consider a cat, I began viewing the feline variety differently - where I once saw aggression and indifference, I now saw a fluffy ball of happiness. It also helps that I watched endless YouTube videos of kitties miaowing, as these tapped into my 'caternal' instinct like nothing else.

I first laid eyes on our future cat from my Tokyo hotel room, browsing Pets4Homes for North London kittens. The advert read '¼ Siamese kittens' and the photos were adorable. I got in touch with Ned who was back in London and he arranged to see her on Sunday, the day I flew back home. I was adamant that he should say yes to the cat as I was so sure she would be perfect, but he was very much 'no you should see her first too'. But as I touched down on Heathrow Tarmac, my phone showed the text: “some news for you to come back to: we now own the most beautiful kitty ever!”

Fast forward nearly over a month and all I can say is, if you are considering getting a cat, do it! If you need convincing, take a look at the photos of her below:


Here are my do's and don'ts from what I've learnt post-Chickpea:

New Kitten Checklist

Do buy some inexpensive crinkle balls - they are essentially christmas decorations in ball shapes, and your kitten will go mad for them!

Don't bother with a cat bed. Various people warned me about this but I still went ahead and do it. Chickpea has NEVER used this and instead sleeps between me and Ned every night.

Do ensure you see the mum so you get some idea of how healthy your kitten is likely to be/size etc. Con't even consider a kitten where you can't see the mum!

Don't waste your money on cat's milk.

Do rub a blanket on the kitten's mum so kitty has her scent when she arrives at your home. Chickpea wasn't anxious at all and got used to our flat straight away, which was really lucky for us.

Don't let the kitten play with your fingers and hands. I used to let Chickpea lick/nibble my fingers but as she's getting older I know there'll come a time when it's no longer play-biting and could actually really bloody hurt!

Do rotate what toys you leave out for your cat as she'll easily get bored otherwise.

Do put up a bird feeder near a window so that the kitten has something to occupy her! Chickpea is an indoor cat at the moment (at least until her vaccinations have all been done) but we plan to put up a bird-feeder next to the conservatory, one of her fave places to chill out.

Do leave multiple bowls/sources of water for your cat around the house. We leave one in our bedroom and we often hear her at night having a quick refreshment!

Don't get carried away and buy lots of expensive accessories. Chickpea gets excited by cardboard boxes far more than any expensive toy ever could.