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To move or not to move? And if so, where?

(35 Posts)
katydid2 Tue 11-Mar-14 23:01:39

My husband and I are expats who have been in London for nearly a decade. Until recently, we never seriously considered buying a house; though our plan was to remain long-term, we never felt settled enough to make such a permanent commitment. Now that we have citizenship and two small children, however, we feel foolish continuing to rent in central London, and I'm beginning to think more about our long-term future as a family. Alas, we have nowhere near enough saved to buy a three-bedroom house in St Johns Wood, where we currently live, or in Belsize Park/Hampstead, where most of the schools we've applied for are located. We could possibly buy in a few years if we buckle down and save more, but in the meantime, we've outgrown our small two-bedroom flat, and it seems silly to spend more to rent a larger flat. Ultimately, I'm tired of the competition for schools and the ridiculous price of housing, and I'm afraid we're being unrealistic to think we can stay put here. Most of those I know in the area are expats here for a few years, or the uber wealthy. That being said, I worry about feeling isolated in a less transient, more 'English' suburb, and frankly I don't even know where to begin looking. Are there any more affordable areas, further out, that would still be within an hour's commute of Canary Wharf, where my husband works, and that has good independent schools for boys and girls? Have other expats moved further out, and if so, have you felt isolated?

invicta Tue 11-Mar-14 23:04:41

There's re lots of good places to move to. It may be helpful to say how much you can afford, what size house you are looking for,a ve of children etc

invicta Tue 11-Mar-14 23:04:53

Age of children

oscarwilde Tue 11-Mar-14 23:19:05

Lots of places with good schools which are an hour from the wharf. How far out depends on budget and housing requirements. Eg would you move to the 'sticks' for less than 4 beds and a big garden or would a smart 3 bed terrace close to good schools in zone 2 (or gasp zone 3) work?
What is your current monthly rent? Could you spend the same on a mortgage?
Have you applied for state or private schools ?
What nationality are you? What attracts you to St John's wood in particular at the moment?
Have you ever been south of the rivergrin?

katydid2 Wed 12-Mar-14 00:08:33

Hi there. Thank you for your replies. We have a 3.5-year-old and a 2-year-old, a boy and a girl. We desperately need a third bedroom, and I'd love to have at least 1,500 square feet. That being said, I could quite happily live without a massive space or a huge garden if there are green spaces nearby. That's what attracted us to the area initially -- the proximity of Regent's Park and Primrose Hill, and the host of other greens spaces nearby. I love that SJW offers so much for children -- classes, activities, the parks, the zoo, schools -- but we couldn't even afford to buy a modest three-bedroom in this area. We're currently paying £3,000 per month on rent, and we'd have to pay at least £4,500 for a three-bedroom flat -- either a tiny one, or one that looks like a place I wouldn't have lived in as a student. We could comfortably afford to spend a bit more on a mortgage, but it pains me to throw away so much on rent in the meantime. In terms of buying, we currently only have about 10% for a deposit, and that doesn't include stamp duty or legal fees, or leave us any cushion, so we'd want to save for a few more years, and during that time prices will only increase. I suppose I'm now questioning whether it's better to live in cramped quarters for a few years longer to save for a house in the area or maybe in the more affordable West Hampstead, or to move somewhere we could live more comfortably now and well into the future.

Though I love that SJW is such a diverse and welcoming place (when everyone is an expat, it's easier to make friends, I think), I do think I'd prefer somewhere less transient, more settled, and less competitive. I'm so tired of the obsession with schools, tutoring, activities, etc -- they're three-year-olds!

Bottom line: more space but doesn't have to be a four-bedroom house; lots of green space nearby; within an hour's journey of Canary Wharf; good independent schools for boys and girls; houses (not 1,000 square foot hovels) for less than six figures…

katydid2 Wed 12-Mar-14 00:09:56

Ha -- sorry, I meant less than seven figures…

LittleBearPad Wed 12-Mar-14 00:36:48

How much do you have saved? House prices in that part of London are rocketing.

katydid2 Wed 12-Mar-14 00:54:18

Thanks. We have about £120K saved. It's sobering to see how little we could afford! I mean, 900,000 for a lower ground, 900-square-foot, two-bedroom flat?

householdchorewhore Wed 12-Mar-14 01:06:14

It is one of the most expensive areas in London though OP. Would you nice elsewhere?

householdchorewhore Wed 12-Mar-14 01:06:25

* move

aufaniae Wed 12-Mar-14 01:09:46

So you have £120k deposit, great smile How much do you think you can borrow on a mortgage?

LittleBearPad Wed 12-Mar-14 08:09:19

Stamp duty on £900k would be about £36k. You will need to factor this in, given the scale of the payment you'll have to make. So you have about £85k deposit. How much will a bank lend you?

Nationwide/Halifax both have calculators - nationwide is more generous imo

oscarwilde Wed 12-Mar-14 12:19:23
What does this do for you?
It's within 5 mins walk of two very highly regarded private prep schools and 10 mins into the centre of Blackheath. You can see Canary Wharf from the window of the property I'll bet. It's been on the market since Sept so if they accepted �875k at current mortgage rates it would cost you circa �3800-�4000 per month on a repayment mortgage.
Too far south? grin
It's a lot of money to spend on a flat imo but there are lots of v nice houses for this sort of money in the area but without quite the wow factor of being in a listed building.

oscarwilde Wed 12-Mar-14 12:45:08

Staying in more familiar ground to you ....
Fixer-upper in St John's Wood. Leasehold though.
In better repair but pretty tiny
Show home ready in the same area but cheap - there must be a catch, probably the leasehold or ground rent.
Or this is what the same money buys you in proper suburbia. Depressing isn't it? Sevenoaks is a high speed commute (20 mins I think) to London Bridge. Door to door including the 1.7 miles to the station it would probably take close to 1hr.

Right - off to do some work - getting totally distracted with property p*rn for other people now grin
I think you need to sit down with your DH and decide what's important to you besides his commute. Your network of expat friends in North london, free and good schooling, space, a short commute for you if you wish to return to work too. Space for a live in nanny. etc etc. Proximity to Heathrow ;)

katydid2 Wed 12-Mar-14 13:20:33

Wow, if you're not an estate agent, you have a second calling Oscar Wilde. A friend did suggest Blackheath, and I've been meaning to explore one weekend -- just go for lunch and walk around. It is very sobering to see how much more we could afford in proper suburbia. It is very tempting to think about moving further out for a proper house and garden. We're currently spending a fortune on a full-time nanny, even though I'm home, because without proper indoor space or a garden, I have to shuttle the children to and from activities, play dates and the park. It's so difficult to entertain them in a cramped flat, and it means they spend far too much time watching cartoons instead of running around outside, especially when, as today, they're home sick. However, I do worry about feeling isolated and, as you say, having a long commute should I decide to return to work. Living too far out likely would preclude my returning part-time, for instance. Part of me wonders if we should look for something like you found here in SJW or Belsize Park (actually, the Eton Ave flat is nice, far nicer than I thought we could afford), but I do worry about a bubble, and being stuck in a 900-sq ft flat with two children and a massive mortgage. Of course, we'd be spending the same each month as we are now, so maybe it wouldn't be so horrible…

Are there any areas in, say, zones 5-6, that we should consider? I once volunteered in Stanmore. I really didn't see much of it, but it is on the Jubilee line. Another friend recommended Pinner, but it's so far west, it doesn't seem ideal for Canary Wharf. I also love Barnes, but it's not convenient to Canary Wharf, and it didn't seem we'd get much more for our money than we would here in SJW, at least not as renters. As an expat, I just don't know much about areas further out. Most of my husband's colleagues are also expats, and they live in central London, most as renters, mortgaged to the hilt, or in tiny flats. As for schools, my husband is set on independent schools, but presumably they're less competitive a bit further out...

aufaniae Wed 12-Mar-14 13:54:30

How about Highgate? Lovely area and you might be able to get a house. No idea about schools though.

Highgate house

GingerMaman Wed 12-Mar-14 13:59:24

Cambridge would be perfect! 50 mins to London.

oscarwilde Wed 12-Mar-14 14:26:15

I have a lot of work to do and I'm procrastating until it is horribly urgent.... blush

I haven't even started on Dulwich or Chislehurst smile West London for me is just too awkward for Canary Wharf. I'm sure people do it, it's just a grind and not any cheaper really. I'm making some sweeping assumptions given your rental costs that your DH probably has an early start and often a late finish so the more you can mitigate against that the better. To be honest - if you currently spend �3k a month on rent, can comfortably afford more, and have a full-time nanny (when you aren't currently working - lucky thing!) and have kids already in private school/nursery I think your likely budget is quite a bit higher than the links I have sent you. Deposit may be your issue in which case you might have to rent a bit longer to get the right LTV ratio for a mortgage in your preferred area in place. No harm in renting elsewhere for a bit to try it out if you can sort the school issue though? Personally I'd see a financial advisor and work out a plan. Given current price rises I'd be tempted to buy something sooner and plan to move again in a few years rather than hold out.

If you have a full-time nanny you have no excuse grin Get thee to the outer zones and start exploring without the kids and narrow down your areas a bit. I think you get a different feel for an area mid-week too when the kids are in school and mums and nannies are out and about.

By bubble I presume you mean property bubble? I think you would have to be very unlucky to actually lose money in an area like St John's etc. We considered West Hampstead when we first bought but in the end the same cash bought us an entire house in Greenwich so we headed south of the river and haven't looked back. We opted for Greenwich over Blackheath as it's a short walk there and transport options are better from Blackheath. Blackheath has a lovely vibe though and the local private schools are there so its handier to live there for the school run. Both "villages" have lots of other nationalities as many people work in the City or Canary Wharf. It's certainly not a little Paris or similar though.

Local prices have rocketed though. I was living very near to Regents Park at the time and while it was lovely to have the park on your doorstep it doesn't help when central london is sweltering in a heatwave so not meaning to cause offense, I wouldn't wish to bring up my children in an apartment with no outdoor space if I could avoid it. We don't have a huge garden but it's nice to open the back door and let them potter about for a bit while you unload the dishwasher without "assistance". Greenwich Park and the Heath are 10 mins toddler walk away for proper walks and scootering.

We've not moved to somewhere like Sevenoaks as we both work and even with a short commute we would see very little of our kids Monday-Friday. When they are older and we want to remove their easy access to the West End we'll consider it grin It's a big trade off though if you always thought your kids would learn to cycle a bike in their back garden.

Good schools are always in demand but I have never heard a conversation locally about a child being tutored just to get into a nursery... Blackheath Prep is co-ed. Blackheath High is girls only and there is a secondary level also. Colfes is co-ed prep and secondary. Heath House prep is co-ed. Pointers prep is also co-ed and near Westcombe Park station.

Look at Dulwich and Chislehurst for schools

Have a look or post on the property section - it's a frequent topic as the Wharf is so awkward

oscarwilde Wed 12-Mar-14 17:56:14

Oh dear -procrastinating even.

katydid2 Wed 12-Mar-14 21:01:57

Your procrastination is my gain -- thank yougrin. This is all very helpful! I do think we need to meet with a financial advisor as soon as possible to find out how much we really could afford to borrow, and to come up with a plan to save more. You're right in that our issue is with the deposit. Given what we're spending now on rent, we could afford something decent in terms of the monthly mortgage, but saving more for the deposit, stamp duty, and fees in the meantime is going to be difficult, unless we stay put in our tiny flat a bit longer, or rent somewhere more affordable while we look to buy there. Exploring during the day is a great idea, certainly preferable to the potty training and chickenpox going on at home at the moment! More difficult is persuading my husband to consider
moving further afield. I don't know why, but he seems absolutely set on the schools in SJW/Belsize Park. We have considered West Hampstead. To be honest, I think it offers the worst of both worlds in a way, as it doesn't seem very green, and yet, the houses are still comparatively cramped and the gardens tiny. Then again, it potentially would allow us to stay put in the short-term, with a view toward buying somewhere else in the longer term.

I just hate that the children are spending their formative years in a cramped flat, surrounded by pavement and exhaust fumes. I'm not offended in the least about the suggestion that more space is better for children. As someone who grew up running around barefoot in the country, I hate that I can't just let the children play in the garden while I cook dinner or unload the dishwasher!

Are there any other areas further out on the Jubilee line worth considering? There is a debate about the tube v. overground trains in other posts, and I have to admit that we're reluctant to move somewhere without tube/bus connections, as my husband often works ridiculous hours.

Thanks again!

invicta Wed 12-Mar-14 23:22:39

Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells sprung to mind.

invicta Wed 12-Mar-14 23:22:52

Or Harpenden

oscarwilde Thu 13-Mar-14 10:37:24

I thought that hours might be an issue so Sevenoaks was as far as I suggested. There are very good schools in Tunbridge Wells and it's awfully "naice" - but it's an hour by train to London Bridge and when you work until 10pm, you want to be able to zip home in no time at all if possible and you definitely don't want the hassle of waiting 40 mins for the next train.

It might be worth contacting the preferred schools to look at their school bus service if they run one? It might open up new parts of the city rg: Islington/Highbury if you don't have to drive 3 miles across town every morning to do a drop off. Anyone outside London would read this thinking WTF but the 3 miles could take 50 mins by car! The school will be able to talk to their catchment areas too - as in how far some children are travelling. Not too much fun though to have a "commute" as a small child. A London teen will happily get a train in the morning though. The education forums would be a useful place to start a chat about the actual school you prefer and if there are alternatives which might work. I know there is an american school in SJW for example, and the embassy publishes a list of other schools but obviously you may not be American smile and may just have a simple preference for a good school in the area.

It might also be worth posting on education to see how other naturalised expats are managing? Have they tried to send their children to American/French schools or have they simply selected schools that have good progression to IB at secondary for example. Did they have problems if they relocated home again? Perhaps your DH hasn't mentally reconciled to a mental image of being an emigrant rather than an expat and always assumes he will return home? grin I'm Irish though - we would be laughed out of the house if we ever described ourselves as expats in London!

It wouldn't kill your DH to change tube lines once on his journey either. Nice to get on the tube and just get off at your destination but it's a luxury. Does he really need tube/bus connections? Usually when someone works silly hours in the City, transport home is provided after 9pm. He could be home by cab to Greenwich/Blackheath in 10-15 mins for example. However if he often has to entertain in the West End, then it is important imo. Personally I take the overground in preference as it is faster into the City but we would always jump on the Jubilee line to get home to Greenwich quickly from the West End. You just have to watch out the Beyonce isn't playing the O2 or there will be no cabs left for the 10/15 min walk home blush

I haven't the foggiest about the further reaches of the Jubilee line - I'd post something in Chat or Property to canvas views on specific areas. This looks nice in Stanmore - mortgage might be tricky though smile. This and this is closer to notional budget and you certainly get a lot more bang for your buck. North London Collegiate school is v close (I think it is one of the top schools in the country but possibly girls only) as is Harrow so I am guessing it is quite an affluent area.

I agree about West Hampstead and it's levels of leafiness - but there must be parts of it which are close to open space? It might help to focus a search on specific streets and then jump on the first suitable property to go and have a looksee.

I guess ultimately if you are tying yourselves into a specific school /area/ lifestyle/ commute then that will result in compromises. Anyone who lives in London with kids has the same issue. We visit friends who live in commuter towns and return home to questions from the back seat of "why don't we have a big house/I would like a big garden" etc etc. Out of the mouth of babes and all that but you do constantly question your decisions. I hope my kids remember the stuff we got out and did in London when they were kids rather than the absence of a trampoline in the garden .... fingers crossed.

oscarwilde Sat 15-Mar-14 00:27:12

Dammit. No response. I'm going to have to do some work now. hmm

freelancegirl Sat 15-Mar-14 00:37:57

I'm with Oscar Wilde and was going to suggest Blackheath/ Greenwich. Not exactly cheap but a beautiful place to live, definitely easier to buy than SJW, great links into the centre of town and a very nice, quick commute to the wharf on the DLR or even walking/cycling under the foot tunnel. Go for that lunch and explore the area. It's really lovely round here.

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