Spoiler alert – the title of this post was deliberately provocative, extreme and a little bit silly, so there is no need to panic about political correctness gone mad and storm the gates in outrage or anything.
So, like many of you, I love to spend my evenings in front of the telly, with a glass of wine, browsing Rightmove and Zoopla for the dream house I’ll buy after I win the lottery.
We’ve all been there.
I love my little casa and after 9 years I have finally got it just how I like it. I’ve converted my loft into the penthouse of my dreams, I LOVE my ensuite shower, I’ve done up my lovely little kitchen, and put my amazing jungle lemur wallpaper in my bathroom and generally decorated every room to my liking. However now that I have a toddler I also feel a little overwhelmed with all the toys and stuff and it feels a little cramped suddenly, especially my tiny garden. And also because I’ve just bought a massive tent and camping gear and basically don’t have anywhere to put it!
So you know, I dream about winning my millions and building my own Grand Designs mansion (I LOVE that show). Or buying a 5-bedroom converted barn in the Cotswolds with all the amazing features. But mostly it’s all in my dreams.
However, it has been pointed out to me that the UK goverment currently has a stamp duty holiday until next March, so if I were to want to move to a bigger space, now is the ideal time to do it, and when I looked up stamp duty and realised I would save around £10,000 or so it was certainly worth considering! Also, while I can’t borrow any more money, I can transfer my mortgage to a new property without incurring any charges, and this has got me all excited about moving! My mortgage advisor did suggest I look at renting my house out and borrowing against it to buy a second home, but I’ve decided against it as I don’t really want to be a landlord and would rather find a nice home for my daughter that we really want to live in for the next few years…
But where to move to, and what am I looking for? This is the tough question. I’m waiting to have my house valued, as there is not much point looking at houses I can’t afford and I don’t yet know what I can actually afford. But I think given the location of my house I could afford to upgrade to a 4-bed if I move further out of Oxford.
I initially start looking at 4-bedroom places, with the idea that I could move further south towards Abingdon, but there are a range – some 4-bedroom places are not really any bigger than my current 3-bed house, and of course cost more. So now I’m thinking about getting a spacious 3-bed place that’s cheaper and use the extra money to convert it myself by doing another loft conversion or kitchen extension etc. A bit more hassle, but also it’s a cheaper way to do it and would add back the value over time anyway. In addition, if I am going to move it’s likely to be somewhere I’ll want to live for the next 10 years or more, so I like the idea of doing it up myself and having a bit of a say in the redesign of it etc.
It seems silly to move out of a house when I’ve only just gotten it how I like it, but it means next time round I already know what colour I want to paint the walls, and what tiles I want in my shower and what jungle-themed lemur wallpaper I want in my bathroom etc.
So suddenly I’m actively browsing Rightmove and Zoopla not just for fun but with a real intent to buy and to move. I’ve also realised that aside from the stamp duty (I didn’t have to pay it on this house, so had no idea how much it actually was!) the estate agency fees/commission and solicitor’s fees will be significantly more than last time around, as last time I was only buying, not buying and selling, and in addition a lot of it is worked out based on a % of the house value – it was much cheaper when I bought it and I was only buying a 50% share so it’s a whole different ball game now.
So I basically need to get at least £10,000 more for my house than the one I want to buy, in order to cover all the commission, fees and moving costs etc.
Of course I now also have to think about schools and nurseries, and it’s a shame as I love my daughter’s nursery (as does she) so I don’t really want to move her straight away, but I could always commute and drive her back into Oxford for a little while until we find something suitable.
So I’m now starting to really look seriously and hone in on what I want.
My current estimate for my house is around £385,000-£425,000, so if I could get a spacious 3-bedroom somewhere further out of town I’d have hopefully £50k-£60k to do another loft conversion or kitchen extension and do it up, which I really like the idea of the more I think about it. So now I’m suddenly eyeing up smaller and cheaper properties and looking at the potential to expand them – eg how much garden do they have, is the loft space high enough for a conversion, and could you expand a bedroom out over the garage at the side of the house and so on…. LOTS to think about!
The biggest issue I’m having, the thing I am most torn about however, is the diversity factor. We went and looked around Abingdon recently and I LOVED it. It’s a picturesque small town very similar to the small town near to where I grew up, and I loved small town life. However – the two black/mixed race kids in our small town did not love growing up there, and while that was 30 years ago, it’s a HUGE consideration for me now… On our recent visit there I was struck by how overwhelmingly white it is. Now, I currently live in the most diverse part of Oxfordshire, so frankly there is nowhere we could possibly move to that will have the same level of diversity. And I’m not sure we can afford anything bigger here in this area. But how to weigh up this issue with other quality of life issues?
For example, the street I live on now has fantastic diversity – our local primary school is less than 50% white and there are at least 2 other families on my road alone who are mixed-race kids with white mums, so my daughter and I fit right in, and she’s just like everyone else. But we’ve also had a number of drug raids on my street, one stabbing, prostitutes using my parking space outside my house for blow jobs at night (before I got a car), and a lot of domestic violence – such as the recent incident involved a car getting smashed up by a hammer a few doors down.
So obviously in addition to wanting more space and a bigger garden, I’d love to move somewhere where there was sligthly less drugs and violence and stuff – to raise my kid in a nicer area where there is less of that happening right on our doorstep. But it’s very hard to balance that with the realities of raising a mixed-heritage child in a white family, and then on top of that moving to a majority white area – if we do that, she will always be the odd one one, always be different, and a lot of people of colour that I know have expressed how challenging this can be for your identity later on. Since reading books like “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” I have really had my eyes opened to the casual, everyday racism that persists and how this could be so easily magnified in a different location. One of my (very woke liberal) friends I was recently talking to about potentially moving and the issue of diversity commented “Oh well there will be at least some other non-white kids at the schools, they won’t be all white, as Abingdon has some social housing too”. The assumption being that there is a poor, less nice area of the town, and therefore there will be some black/brown people in it. I was quite shocked by this automatic assumption that black or brown people won’t live in any of the nicer parts of town, yet at the same time demographically speaking that’s probably true, both there and in a lot of other places in the UK. There are statistically going to be fewer black people living in Highgate than in Brixton or Peckham, for example, but it’s a complex issue of race and class and identity and heritage and so much more.
So is the answer to move there, and have all the other aspects of a higher quality of life, at the expense of my daughter’s identity, or to stay in a crappier place where she will fit in and know who she is and where she fits in the world? I have posed this question to various of my facebooks groups, and interestingly all of the white parents of mixed race kids have said unequivocally yes, I should just move, my daughter will be fine, there will be one or two other children of colour at the schools, so it’ll be fine. And all of the people of colour who responded have said no, they struggled as children and faced overwhelming daily racism and didn’t know where they fit in or where they belonged, and it’s far better to be surrounded by people who look like you do at the expense of a crappier neighbourhood or a smaller house. Many of the people of colour I discussed it with said they were actively trying to move closer to diverse urban areas even if it meant downsizing to smaller houses to avoid their children having the same experiences they had growing up, and that is very compelling. I feel that I need to put more weight on the feelings of those people who have actually lived that experience, and all of them were pretty clear that it was not a great experience.
So now I’m thinking, well, it’s not just me now – if it was up to me I’d move to a bigger house in this gorgeous picturesque town in a heartbeat, no question. But now I’m looking at houses in my current area too, thinking about whether I can afford something bigger if I move to an even shittier part of town – is it worth the compromise? Or do I just stay here and not bother moving at all?
I’m also now thinking more strongly about going overseas. I’ve always loved the idea of giving my daughter an expat childhood overseas for a few years, and with my current job I think I could potentially just rent my house out and relocate somewhere lovely like Senegal, and give my daughter a few years of living a nice expat life in West Africa, where we can live near the beach and eat fresh seafood and experience a totally different culture. Would that counter balance the identity issue later on down the line if I wanted to move her back to an all-white small town in the UK to do her secondary education? Probably not, as living in Africa as a mixed-race British expat is hardly likely to support her in developing a strong black British identity… Also I’m not confident she would fit in any better over there, as she would still stand out as different, being half-white. But it’s very tempting….
So, in a nutshell, I got all excited about moving to my dream house, and then stopped and suddenly thought, what if I’m completely fucking up my child’s future? As Philip Larkin would say, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad, they don’t mean to, but they do”
And now I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing at all….