Houses I’ve loved before

It is like a whole subculture has opened up to us: house hunting. We have never done it. We are lazy homemakers by nature: we lived in a one-bed flat near to law school, so small I could have a bath and chat to my boyfriend while he watched the football. Then we moved into his sister’s house, in the suburbs. She did us a deal on the rent. It was a two-up, two-down house. We liked the wooden floors and that there was space to put up a Christmas tree. We immediately filled the loft with novels and legal textbooks and old paperwork we’d never need again. My boyfriend’s sister wanted to sell, three years ago. We exchanged a glance, sighed, and said: ‘Okay, we’ll buy it’: the laziness of not wanting to move usurping the laziness of not wanting to save, to get a survey, the hassle.

But now, here we are, three years on, and our mortgage lender sends us letters about the end of our redemption period. We shrug when we receive them. ‘We should find a house soon,’ one of us will say. The other will nod, and agree entirely, and then we will do nothing about it.

Until two things happened:

  1. We accidentally sold our house.
  2. I got obsessed.

It began with the Rightmove parameters. Four beds. A detached or a semi. Character, I typed into the little ‘extras’ box. My world opened up into one containing field views, thatched roofs, bifold doors. ‘Uh huh,’ I thought, one night, with ninety tabs open. ‘I can get obsessed with this.’

Luckily, he got obsessed too. We drew little pockets of where we would like to live. Our criteria surprised us. Not en suites and suburbia and close to Waitrose but rural and quiet and spacious. Every day, the Rightmove alerts come in, and every evening, with coffees, we review them. We ponder strangers’ decorative choices. I like to pause at photographs of cats on beds. We usually agree completely on what we like and don’t like, which is nice. We like grey walls, Instagram bathroom tiles, and pretentious kitchens. We don’t like anything that looks remotely dated, except the walls of the house themselves, which must be at least a hundred years old, if not two.

We view them on Saturday mornings, slotted in around work and novels. We haven’t loved one yet. We viewed a Victorian town house and – inspired by their fruit bowl – bought a melon on the way home. We viewed a ‘doer upper’ that we laughed our way around. ‘We would just live in it, mouldy floors and all,’ we said. We viewed a grade II listed building which absolutely stunk of cigarettes. The estate agent was poker faced, and we kept exchanging mystified glances, wondering if perhaps she couldn’t smell it.

We viewed the most recent one on Monday, at 5:00pm. I picked my boyfriend up from the station after a day on my novel. ‘Look, it’s not set back from the road. There’s no path or verge,’ I said, pointing to the latest house. ‘And the road’s fast.’

We sat in the car, the rain tapping on the roof and running down the windscreen, and watched as the estate agent got out of her car and unlocked the house we would not be buying.

‘It’s a shame,’ I said, turning to my boyfriend in the kitchen. It was open plan, one of our criteria, but we could hear the roar of the road even inside. ‘It’s so open. We could chat while you watch TV, me in the bath, like we used to.’

He squeezed my hand as we left.

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