Right, so: we received the news that our tenancy would be ending on 16th May. I was then off sick the day after because all the stress had triggered a migraine. I had a bit of a meltdown that morning about the fact that we'd potentially have to move a washing machine and/or a fridge but once that was out of my brain we were pretty much in house-hunting mode, and by the end of the day I'd already added some properties to our favourites on Rightmove.
This time around the whole "no pets" caveat seemed a lot rarer, which was definitely a relief, and the rents haven't gone up as much as I was expecting in the past three years. Plus our own budget had increased so that made it easier to find suitable properties. Such being said, we managed to book in a viewing for another house in Rowley (about a three-minute drive from our then-current place) on 21st May, which I'd already booked as leave because it was the day after the GoT finale. :P
We both really liked the house - it had nice big windows and a lovely garden, including a big garage/workshop which would probably have ended up as storage space. We were a little wary of viewing any properties prior to 1st June, as that was when agent fees were due to be abolished, but I was in the mindset of wanting to get it over with and we both know from experience that you need to view properties as soon as they appear to stand a chance of applying for them.
The Saturday after that we were at Pride (presenting the LGBT network for the Council - for some reason the Trust does not have one) and got to march in the parade, which was a first for me. There's something very heartening about wearing a BCC logo on yourself and having people cheer you (rather than the opposite :P). The parade was led by Andrew Moffatt, the Head Teacher responsible for "No Outsiders" (the initiative to teach school-age children about LGBT issues which has received a lot of media coverage lately thanks to a row with local parents) and the theme was "Love Out Loud". I ended up wearing a trans flag which was supposed to have been on a flagpole at the Council House (which actually kept me cool in the blazing heat that day). There was one peaceful counter-protest from some funadmentalists and it caused a bit of a bottle neck, but every group who went past protested in return by blowing whistles and cheering as loudly as possible (I threw a peace sign as we passed and Paul pointed at our banner promoting inclusivity). Even more heartening was that around the corner from that, a group of pro-LGBT Christians were handing out free chocolate. :)
Anyway, shortly before the parade started Paul received a phonecall from the agent for the house we'd viewed saying we could have it if we wanted.
I should point out that when we went to the viewing, we asked the rep about the fees situation and he assured us that there wouldn't be any and we wouldn't get a hard sell. He also said all the right things about how the landlord was great and that the property was a "home".
Such being said, Paul contacted them on the Tuesday (after the bank holiday). They emailed over the paperwork and it still had all the fees on it. He called them back on three separate occasions and spoke to three separate people, including the rep who we'd seen at the property. Of course, they tried to hard sell us paying the fees, and in the alternative they gave us two options: wait until after 1st June to sign the papers (but someone else might get it in the meantime) or they would ask the landlord to pay them (yeah, that'll put us in his good books). There was also a random £180 charge ostensibly for using a website which nobody could explain, and they suggested we should just pay it anyway and they'd find out what it was for later. Er, no?
We opted to wait until after 1st June and if someone else snapped it up then more fool them for paying the fees. TBH, we were no longer set on that property thanks to the agent lying to us during the viewing.
Also, it would have been three buses for me to get to work, and given that my bus from Blackheath has been leaving consistently four minutes earlier than it should do for the past few weeks, meaning that I would inevitably miss my bus connection, there was precisely zero likelihood of my ever getting to work on time.
Luckily we had some other viewings lined up, and our agent (Ash) also gave us first refusal on a property that was currently being refurbished and if we liked it he would just transfer the deposit over. (Why this is not just standard practice by now, I will never know.)
We viewed a second property on 28th May (a week after the first one) on Perryhill Lane, near the big Toby carvery in Quinton, on the Quinton/Oldbury border (it comes under Oldbury) and had another lined up in Brandwood (Kings Heath ish) for the day after. We liked the second property so much we literally applied for it on the bus home and then cancelled the third viewing.
This property was being let through Purple Bricks. The agent was open with us from the start that we would have to pay a one-off application fee which would be refunded if we were successful. We also met the landlady at the property (very rare!) and were able to ask her questions about the house, and also check if a cat would be okay. Her response was "Well, that depends how big the cat is - is it a tiger?"
Long story short, we were accepted for the second property and our tenancy started on 1st July, which thankfully gave us a four-week crossover as the old house ends on the 28th. We didn't go and view Ash's property in the end because we were 99% certain we would be going for the Perryhill Lane house. Ash's property was also in Oldbury (about 10 minutes from Langley Green station) and even though there were 3-4 bus routes nearby, they are all terrible in my experience, and we knew what to expect because he uses the same handiman for all his jobs. His properties are all nicely presented but they are, essentially, magnolia-coloured boxes. The Perryhill Lane house had colour and character and looked like a home, not just a house. It's a subtle difference.
Once all the paperwork was dealt with through Purple Bricks, it transpired that the landlady (Julie) was only using the agent as a tenant-finding service and we would be renting directly from her. We initially wanted to sign up for a minimum three-year contract but she wanted a year in the first instance in case we were dodgy, which is entirely fair. :P However, she did make it very clear that she intended it to be a long-term let, so hopefully at the contract renewal we can just sign up for another five years minimum and be done with it.
She then offered to give us the keys a bit earlier than the start date because 1st July was a Monday, so we could start to move in the weekend before if we wanted. Paul met up with her towards the end of June to get the keys, and she was apparently carte-blanche, "If you don't like any of this you can change it" in terms of decor etc. (For now I don't think I'll change anything as it's nicely decorated - the only thing I will probably change at some point is the colour of the wall in the kitchen/diner and the Venetian blinds in there because they're not as nice as the others in the house.)
We did the majority of moving on the weekend of 6th/7th July, with thanks to family/friends and colleagues for the use of cars / driving of vans / heavy lifting. I had a fortnight off to use up my leave before the school holidays and to try and get vaguely settled, which means that this time around we are significantly less boxy than we ever have been before. Also, we have downsized (losing a bedroom) so I've had to be ruthless and throw out loads of stuff I was hoarding from my childhood. I filled eight carrier bags full of children's books and only kept stuff like my Roald Dahl / Dr Suess collections and things with significant sentimental value (including some toys). There is a lot of storage at the new place but I made a decision to just get rid of stuff rather than contstantly have to move house with it. I probably would have cleared it out eventually in any case (if we'd ever sorted out our front room, for example) but the move this time forced my hand.
On 11th July we went to Coventry Ikea to buy some new furniture (bed, desk and office chair) and some other bits that we needed, as this was all stuff we were going to replace anyway and it saved moving it from house to house. It got delivered the day after and was all built by Monday, as well as rebuilding the wardrobe, so the two bedrooms are looking less like a bombsite and more like actual rooms. The living room is also pretty much sorted now, and I had half-organised the kitchen on Friday but we then moved the rest of the boxes (after I'd had another massive sort-out) at the weekend so the dining room is a box city again. :P
18th July was a very long day. Julie and her partner, Colin, came to remove the washing machine so that we could install ours, and the whole day became a comedy of errors. On removing the old machine, it fell off the sack truck and broke the back door frame (it's still secure and Colin sealed it to prevent water getting in, but the frame will need replacing at some point). Our washing machine went in no problem. Then he also fixed the cupboard / unit baseplate where the dishwasher is so we could open the door properly (it was still usable but we couldn't reach the back of the bottom shelf - incidentally, having a dishwasher is going to be life-changing and I'm not even exaggerating).
Lastly, he attempted to reaffix the bedroom radiator to the wall as we'd noticed before moving in that it was hanging off on one side. That then caused a leak and resulted in Julie having to contact an emergency plumber. Colin managed to fix the leak in the meantime, and the plumber managed to get the radiator back on the wall, but then couldn't get the water system / pressure to refill after switching off the boiler. He charged them over £100 for the call-out and at that point we were without any hot water / shower for an indeterminate period of time. Julie then managed to get through to her usual trusted plumber (Dave), who then came out that evening and fixed the issue in 15 minutes (and showed us what to do for the future). Crisis thankfully averted.
All in all it was a very long day but Julie and Colin were very thorough and she kept us updated via text about everything. A day later some glaziers also came out to replace the back bedroom window and a pane in the front bay, which was supposed to happen tomorrow (23rd July) but she'd managed to bring it forward as I was at home anyway. Thankfully, that went without a hitch. :)
Such being said, for most of Thursday I got to have a nice chat with Julie about basically everything, including my folks moving abroad and our eventual plans to buy property in Bulgaria rather than saving for a deposit for a property here in the UK. So despite all the drama it was great to get to know her properly and give us some indication that we are, indeed, intending to live in the house long-term. As Colin was leaving he also wished us many happy years in the house.
For the fourth time in a row, we've struck really lucky with our landlord. Our first move (from the flat in Kings Heath to the house in Warley Road) was of our own volition, and all the moves thereafter have been due to circumstances beyond our control, but on every occasion the people we have actually rented from have been decent. In that respect, we seem to be very good at landlord roulette. My understanding is that Julie and Colin are living on a farm in Worcestershire now, and she's been renting the property out for a while (including to her sister at one point) so hopefully we can stay for more than five years this time...
I'm sure I mentioned this before, but this time around I've found the entire process much easier to deal with. (It definitely helped that I had my steroid injection literally two days before we moved, so my energy levels have been where they should be - for the month beforehand I was half-dead from exhaustion.) For the most part that's because I haven't been dealing with unexplained chronic health issues and I'm more emotionally stable, but it's also because three years was not long enough to really get attached to our previous house, and it never really felt like a "home" in the same way the new place does (or indeed like Warley Road did) - we only liked it because it was massive. If I'd managed to decorate at any point it might have felt more homely, but thank goodness I didn't spend good money on doing so. The only problem is that, obviously, we bought lots of storage furniture to fill up a gigantic room and I've had to be very creative about where it lives in the new place, as well as getting rid of the sideboard which was only three years old (but one of Paul's colleagues is taking it off us). There are still two bookcases / shelf units I have no idea where to put yet, but hopefully a place will make itself apparent once I clear some boxes out of the way...
I should also say that the new place is marginally closer to work and on a better bus route, and it's much closer to Bearwood and all the places we like to go. So overall, it's been a really positive move even though the circumstances were rubbish. (Also, as our old landlord is having some work done on the church tower, he's given us permission to use a skip outside the property, which has made getting rid of obsolete furniture much easier.)
In the meantime, there has also been some family news.
My grandmother passed away in June (I can't remember the date now, and I know that sounds terrible but honestly, the past two months have been a bit chaotic and manic and the house move has taken up all of my energy). TBH, I think I'm still processing this because I've been so busy, but for the most part it's a relief. I think I mentioned in my previous post that she'd been diagnosed with vascular dementia whilst in hospital after a fall, and that in itself was a blessing in disguise as it gave everyone something to work with. However, Paul and I are both well aware of the statistics around elderly people in hospital / step-down units, and I think I'd been preparing myself for it without realising. The relief comes from the fact that it's one less stress to deal with in my life.
My uncle caused us a bit of a dilemma / drama after he shared the news, as he was in a panic and was convinced he would be homeless, as he couldn't afford the rent on his own. He asked if we had a bed he could use and at that point we had to tell him we were moving - we'd decided to wait until after the move before informing them rather than burdening them with our stress. (When we last saw my grandmother just after Christmas, she'd fallen out with my uncle and her anxiety was all over the place because he'd gone to Liverpool and hadn't called her all day.) We had to veto that because I didn't want to jeopardise our new tenancy, but if all else failed we agreed he could probably make use of the spare bed at the old place until the tenancy ended. Eventually he went to the CAB for advice and seemed calmer afterwards.
He then went incommunicado for a couple of weeks and was uncontactable, so all we could do was wait for him to get back in touch with details of the funeral. He did suggest that my father would not be coming as he was on holiday (priorities!) so at least I won't have that to deal with.
TBH, the thing which stressed me out the most was how to go about informing my mum of the news, or even if I should at all. When they left the UK they were no longer on speaking terms with my grandmother or my uncle, and David did ask about them the first time we visited because we'd bought gifts for them, but apart from that I have mostly kept silent about it because it wasn't their problem to deal with. I didn't want to burden them with the news but a part of me also felt that it might give them some closure - and I needed a bit of emotional support from someone who had known my grandmother longer / better than Paul. In the end I emailed my mum the news a couple of days after we'd found out. As she rightly pointed out, there probably isn't any way of getting closure on "decades of rollercoaster behaviour" (I won't go into that here, but I may have to do a full processing post about this later) but it gave me a bit of a chance to offload and that made me feel better.
The funeral is this Wednesday, and hopefully after that I can give myself some closure and process everything properly - and with any luck my father will keep his promise and not turn up, as I have no idea what will go down if he does decide to attend. His behaviour over the past few years has thrown into perspective that he has always been an abusive dickbag in every possible sense, and I make a point to avoid toxic people as much as I can. He apparently threw a tantrum at his own father's funeral (circa 1997) because his then-girlfriend wasn't allowed to attend, i.e. made himself the centre of attention, and I imagine something similar will happen if he isn't allowed to bring his entire brood this time. Hopefully, my uncle has just... not told him the details.
TBH, I almost feel like I've done a lot of my grieving already because I was waiting for the inevitable, and because dementia kind of... kills the person you knew, in a lot of ways.
I've had a couple of tiny internal wobbles: the sudden realisation that she wouldn't get to see our wedding (she was constantly paranoid we'd gotten married without telling her and couldn't understand why that wasn't the case because we couldn't afford it yet), and a taxi recently taking me past a horse-riding centre in Woodgate Valley which reminded me of her taking me for lessons as a child during the summer holidays. That was actually a relief, because for some time I could only remember the times during my adolescence when her behaviour was borderline emotionally abusive, and her terrible treatment of my mum immediately following the divorce. I guess that's all part of the process: remembering the good as well as the bad - "rollercoaster behaviour" is honestly an apt way of describing it.
There was also a comment made by my uncle in the immediate aftermath that he and my grandmother had "raised" me - because I spent a lot of time with them during my school years (including most of the holidays) because my mum was working full-time to support me and my education. That comment triggered a lot of emotions for me, because I don't see it in that way at all, and because I have no doubt that she did indeed want to "raise me" as her own. I think, essentially, I have a lot of history I need to unpick before I can fully process everything, and the timing has been spectacularly unhelpful when I've had a house move to deal with - particularly when I've been trying to see it as a positive and a fresh start.
Anyway, as I say, maybe at some point later I will put together something to help me fully process everything, but for now it is what it is. The funeral is apparently going to be a very small and quiet affair, but beyond that my uncle has been elusive with details. Fingers crossed it goes as well as it can do.
Well, that was a bit of a word-dump, for which I apologise, but the past couple of months have been insanely busy.
Normal service shall now be resumed. :P