Back off the ladder

It’s almost six years since we bought our house in Liverpool, possibly paying above the odds but content we’d got what we wanted despite being so late to climb onto the property ladder. The feeling of opening the door of your own house for the first time is electric, and it was made all the more special by the card and bottle of wine left for us by the previous owner.

Nice of her to do that, but then she had made £45,000 on it in just four years due to the boom. Being realistic we knew the property market had already levelled out by the time we bought, but figured it would still be a good long term investment. Property always is, they tell you.

What “they” failed to anticipate was the crash of 2008 when, unfortunately for us, I took a chance on a job back up in Glasgow and we put the house on the market. We didn’t think we’d have too much trouble selling at the time, asit was competitively priced with neighbouring houses that were on sale.

Sadly we were all as deluded as each other – our property wasn’t going to sell any time soon and neither were any of our neighbours’. As the downturn took hold and recession set in there were horror stories aplenty of people losing their jobs and their homes, never mind selling them.

Back in 2000-2001 I worked with a good guy down in London who said many times that when it came to property you should always borrow as much as you can. You’ll always find a way of paying it, he said, and you’ll romp up the property ladder in no time. That approach only pays off in boom times, though. As soon as there are no jobs and no money to be earned, a large mortgage is crippling.

I was somewhat aware that the gold rush on property was over even before we bought the place. Our friends in Liverpool had very sensibly got in and out within the space of three years – doubling their money when they sold, buying a boat, and going sailing. They timed it perfectly, it has to be said.

We had no such plan – having moved a ridiculous amount of times in the space of five years, the only reason we were buying was because the roof on our rented house kept leaking and the situation was becoming unbearable. The thought of moving again pushed us to buy, and when we found somewhere we thought we could call home for years to come, that was enough for us to go for it. We didn’t want a project or a house with lots of potential, as they say on the property shows. We just wanted a home.

That we only really lived there for three years is a bit of a shame. It was a good house with solid double glazing and a great size garden. The main road beside us could be a bit noisy, but it was handy for the station and the retail parks. However, once we were up in Scotland it became a burden – especially when we moved the contents of it up to our current, rented house and left it empty.

Even once there were tenants in there renting it off us, the overheads were a constant drain on our finances. It didn’t feel like much of an investment during the difficult year of 2009, I can tell you, and when the tenants moved out in early 2010 it felt more like the mill stone that would drag us down.

So, when we were made an offer that would see us break even, we took it – thinking it’d be done and dusted before the summer was over. What followed was weeks where the completion of the sale seemed agonisingly close, only for us to be told time and again (usually on a Friday afternoon) that our buyer’s own sale had failed to complete.

When it got to September I informed the estate agent that we were going to have to pull out of the sale and get tenants in again, because we couldn’t sustain the financial burden. Our buyer didn’t want to lose the house, so a compromise was reached where he moved in and helped to cover the mortgage. This was supposed to be a short tem solution – “a couple of months at most.”

Which is why, six months later, it’s hard to believe that the sale has finally completed. After more false dawns than I care to remember, the mortgage has been settled and the excess cash should be with us some time next week.

After debts are cleared it’ll leave us back at the foot of the property ladder with around £10,000 to build on for when we decide to start the climb all over again.

I just hope that next time it’s not such an arduous venture.