House hunting and life in London

It’s 9pm here in London and we are in a pretty great routine where Luke puts the kids to bed and I get to sit and unwind. We’ve had a long but productive past 3 days.
As you may or may not know, Luke works for Skype. Part of our relocation package included a relocation specialist who will drive us around London for 3 days worth of house hunting. It’s a real treat, especially since we don’t have a car, and London is large and hard to take in on foot.
To prepare, we needed to find a babysitter for our house hunting days. With no family or close friends in the area, I was a bit overwhelmed with the idea. However, one element of the culture here, is that childminding is a profession. Childminders have to be certified by the government, they have to take various courses, and they are overseen. The profession gets the respect and oversight it deserves here, and that is comforting.
Given that it is a profession, it was hard to find someone willing to do just a few days work. Most people are looking for full-time or part-time work. But after contacting 6 or 7 potential candidates, we found Helen. She is wonderful and gentle and kind. She also has a puppy named Jaunty and a hamster named Mousey. So though we are in a foreign place surrounded by strangers, Helen and her animals have been a great treat for the kids- so much so that they are asking us to go on dates so they can see them again πŸ™‚ Here are some photos that Helen took of the kids:

On Wednesday, the kids and I met with her to introduce ourselves.
On Thursday, she came by and we went house hunting with Claire, our relocation specialist.
Claire is lovely! She is very British and has the wit and presence of Mary Poppins! I can’t imagine a better help for our task πŸ™‚

This is Claire

Drivers in London are a lot more assertive than the states. It is also completely normal to stop in the middle of a four lane road and turn it’s taken some getting used to being in the car with Claire, on the wrong side of the road, maneuvering in ways that would get you many, many fines in the US. Fun though, and lots of beauty to see on our drives and great conversation.
Thursday we focused our house hunting in the area of South Woodford (North East London) and Hampstead (North London). Here are a few images of the properties we viewed:

One of the homes we liked in South Woodford
Same home, beautiful windows and pine floors.
Lovely streets signs, but hard to figure out what street you’re on unless you happen to glance down at the right place, right time
Typical amount of garden space, though many homes don’t have a garden
Street in South Woodford
Luke whose expression perhaps suggests that I am taking too many pictures πŸ˜‰
Set of flats on Hampstead Heath. Very beautiful, but also very tiny 😦
Luke crossed the street to check-out the heath
High street in Hampstead

We saw 16 properties on our first day, and seeing these properties happens very differently than in the US.
First, rental properties are all handled by agents (letting agents) similar to real estate agents for home sales in the States. Also, there are no open houses, so you must contact an agent directly, make an appointment, and then you can view the property. Claire did a terrific job and got us in to see much of the areas and the homes/flats we could afford.

I felt really overwhelmed last night, because there are so many different areas of London. As I thought of moving here, there was excitement to live near the city, but also a desire to be on a charming tree lined street in a Victorian home. It’s hard to find both, especially as homes are very pricey and we won’t have a car. This home/flat needs to be affordable and also be walking distance from shops, schools and hopefully the tube station. The overwhelmed feeling arose because there are so many variables to consider that I didn’t know how to approach the search.
Enter Luke—>
His job involves considering multiple variables, valuing each and ranking them in terms of priority. Late last night, he walked me through all of the taxiing planes (our term for the multitude of thoughts I was trying to organize) and helped me to land them.

It was so very helpful, and we came up with a really helpful tool for assessing potential homes.
Here it is (in priority order):

1.Great schools for the kids
2.Have enough money to live in London (like eat out once in a while and be able to go do and see things)
3.Functional environment
o3 bedrooms/1 bathroom
oSome family/living area
oCan enjoy while we’re there (rainy months, etc)
oKitchen that doesn’t make us depressed (natural light, able to cook)
oA neighbourhood our family can enjoy (British U in neighbourhood :))
4.Daddy has enough time and energy to enjoy London with the family (commute time not energy draining)
5.Can enjoy London within a 5 min bus/tube from our front door (not isolated from the city)
6.Have enough money to explore Europe
7.Can explore London when we walk out our front door (we’re not extremely isolated)
8.Great kitchen (hospitality and cooking for the family)
The items above the line indicate things that we don’t want to compromise, those below are icing on an already amazing cake. This list really helped us out today as we ventured to another area of London to look for housing, Richmond (South West London).
Richmond is…breath-taking! It is on the Thames, charming, family friendly, with great schools, accessible transit and a very concentrated and comprehensive high street area. It is also a very sought-after area of London and thus, quite expensive. Here is one picture of Richmond:
After exploring the area for a few hours, I was convinced of two things:
1. This is where I want to live
2. We will probably have to compromise even more to live here.
The schools are great (though we may have to bus to schools further away) and to have enough money, we will probably need to live smaller and in a less charming flat. It’s been a good learning and unifying process, narrowing down what is really important to us and what we can do without. We found two properties today that were stunning and out of our price-range and we found a very small flat on a very nice street near schools, the high street and station that would work. When we viewed the property it was occupied, and I got a sense walking through it of new habits that we will need to adopt- drying laundry on racks in the hall-way, having bare minimum furniture with lots of hidden storage, buying small amounts of food each day (very small refrigerator). No offensive or bad, just different from what we’re used to. On a side note, David Attenborough (British naturalist) would be our neighbor and we can (if we stretch our necks) see his front yard from our kitchen window. He has a lovely yard, so maybe we can get to know each other and introduce 3 additional fauna to the mix πŸ™‚ We haven’t decided on it yet, but we’re close. I plan to work while we’re here which will help with the budget, but we don’t want to count chickens before they’re hatched.
Here are some photos from our Richmond visit:
Kitchen from one of the posh properties
Beautiful decorative detail…also at a very posh property
We had lunch here, at a lovely gathering space in Richmond Park
Another posh kitchen
Beautiful old pine floors
The property I absolutely adored was on this passage way called Albany passage. Think narrow, lined with beautiful flowers
Typical size of a single bedroom
Kitchen of the place we’re considering- hi David!
Dining area of the place we’re considering. It is a small room separate from the rest of the house, about the size of a bedroom
Living room of the place we’re considering

I’m not sure where we’ll end-up. But I’m hoping that we will know soon. Overall, still can’t believe we are here and get to live here. We don’t know what the future holds, but we are, as I’ve said earlier, pushing forward and learning as we go πŸ™‚

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