I have now given up the idea of buying a house, which is what I really want, because if I want to be within easy public transport reach of my friends, a house would cost me at least £400,000. And that's a tiny two-up, two-down terraced cottage we're talking about here, not a lovely, peaceful detached house set in the glorious garden of my dreams.
I have recently extended my search area to include Finchley, London N3, and on Monday I trekked out to see two likely-sounding properties. The first was a two-floor maisonette with a garden and the moment the agent opened the door, the smell hit me, redolent of old cat-food tins in an unemptied bin. The second thing I noticed was the filthy stair carpet, edged with black grime. By now, I was feeling queasy. When I saw the encrusted cooker and greasy sink, I felt even worse. The rooms were tiny and the so-called second bedroom was in the loft, but there was no mansard (the bit that sticks out to give you extra headroom when you do a proper attic conversion), so you could only stand up in about three feet of it and it was like being in an old-fashioned tent. The garden was detached - you had to walk down the street and go through a gate to get to the rear half of what was once a lovely garden in the days when it was all one house. The price? £245,000. I wouldn't have given £45,000 for it, especially as it was over a mile walk from the tube station.
Onwards to the second. This was in an interesting little cul-de-sac tucked behind the main road and screened from it by trees. So farm, so good - until I heard a rattle and a roar and saw the tube train hurtle past, just four houses away. Hmm...
My friend and I walked in. What should have been a living room at the front had been turned into the main bedroom. There was no double glazing to shield you from road and tube noise. The second bedroom was small but perfectly formed. Room for a double bed and a wardrobe. The bathroom was lovely, light, bright and modern. The kitchen-diner was also new and sleek, everything white and chrome and at the end were doors leading onto a glorious, sun-drenched garden. Very nice, but... where was the living room? The answer was, there wasn't one. A sofa and TV had been placed in the open plan kitchen-diner and this was the lounge referred to in the details. Nowhere to put stereo, CD's, bookshelves, all the things you want in a lounge. Did I feel cheated! The price of this wrongly-labelled '2 bed apartment' was a whisker short of £300,000. Then the agent hit me with the bombshell; you also had to pay £8000 to extend the lease.
Bidding the agent a disappointed farewell, we went off to meet another friend for lunch and walked to a cafe in Highgate Woods. By the time I got home, my sandals had rubbed - I must have walked four miles - and all the skin had come off the underside of one of my toes. It's red raw and I'm still hobbling.
Next morning, my friend and I exchanged various scathing emails about the flats. I then had one from the agent asking if I was intending to make an offer. I hit the Reply button and told him no, then later in the day was mystified when I had a curt email back from him thanking me for my 'full correspondence'. That's when I discovered that the new and ghastly Hotmail program had somehow added the emails I had exchanged with my friend to the foot of my email to the agent, probably because it had the same subject heading, and he had read all our nasty remarks about stinky, overpriced flats. After my initial sense of horror, I thought, 'serve him jolly well right!'
(Note to other Hotmail users: if you don't want to get into hot water through accidentally sending insulting emails to people, or, even worse, exposing the fact that you indulging in a red-hot extra-marital affair, make sure you haven't got it in 'series' mode. I think - hope - I have managed to sort that out now. Only time and lawyers will tell!!!)
10 hours ago