Flat Hunting–the mission continues.

February 06 2016 – Folkestone.

I have made two further trips to Folkestone since I last wrote about flat hunting reconnaissance missions on January 15. Sadly the weather did not play ball on either of those occasions and that crisp blue sky day was not to be repeated.

My first visit was on the 22nd Jan, it was grey and miserable, the cloud was really low and there was no view at all. In a way it was good to visit on such a day, get an understanding of what an area feels like when it is all a bit crap outside. It actually wasn’t too bad, there were still people walking dogs on the cliff tops, I expect some of the walkers out and about were also visitors like myself.

IMG_3079

IMG_3080

The high street is a bit grim and uninspiring at the best of times, so I pretty much avoided that, but I did do a circuit of the Creative Quarter and there were a few folk looking into shop windows, and all the cafes were busy enough. I took that as a good sign for such a rubbish day.

I had arranged to see a couple of flats, they were both in the same block and were both vacant. I didn’t like either of them. I also hated the block. It looks OK on the outside, but it stank of cigarette smoke in the hallways, and had that air of tenanted neglect in the foyer. I left feeling pretty miserable about the whole thing. My worst fears were met. I might find a great flat but the building and the other residents may ruin that good will.

I am also having second thoughts about my chosen area due to the number of cheap hotels now acting as boarding houses for the homeless, or temporary accommodation for those who have been kicked out of, or otherwise left, council housing. It is a complex emotion and situation, I firmly believe everyone has a right to a roof over their head, to be safe and to be warm and dry, but I am also a bit NIMBY as well. I am investing most of my money, I have to make sure it is a wise investment, plus I also want to live there and sadly some of those residents bring baggage or have ideas and lifestyles that do not gel with mine.

I went back to London confused and a bit down on it all.

The good thing was I was not totally put off, I am slightly more resilient than that! What is scaring me off buying is the state of the economy, and specifically the impact it is having on my employer. I work for a language school and we are being severely impacted by the high value of the British pound against other currencies and also by the UK Govt making it harder to get a visa to come to the UK study. It is a tough time to be trading with Europe at the moment. It is not really mentioned but I am sure all the xenophobic comments coming out of the UK are detracting potential visitors as well.

Not wanting to quit before I really got started I have kept my eye on the market and earlier this week arranged to see three more flats today, all in the same area as the flats I saw two weeks ago. It is the area I want to buy in.

I finally got around to buying myself a Network Rail Card today, it cost £30 and saved me £10 on my return journey to Folkestone. If had bought one when I first decided to last year, I would already be saving money. I have been really slack lately, and have now promised myself to be more organised and committed to doing the things I need to do, when I need to do them. Less procrastinating !

I actually quite like the ride to Folkestone from St Pancras, on the high speed train it takes just under an hour, it doesn’t stop much and the scenery is not terrible. I do like the Dartford Bridge.

IMG_3121

I arrived in a grey old Folkestone an hour and a half before my first viewing was due, I wanted to do a bit more of a walk around, and check out the near-eastern cliffs. As I have said before, one of the things I like about the town is its proximity to the countryside, and right outside the station is a sign advertising it. IMG_3122

I had seen some photos of the Foord Viaduct, and had thought about trying to find it, but it all looked a bit surrounded by dull suburbia so I had not bothered to work out its location. Stumbling up on it, was I suppose, inevitable, Folkestone is hardly big. I was very impressed, it is really cool up close! Built in 1843 in under 6 months, it is comprised of 19 arches, with the highest at over 100ft. It is the tallest arched viaduct in the world. I must say I would not want to live too close !

IMG_3123

IMG_3125

After my slight detour to walk under the viaduct I walked down to the sea front, and to Sunny Beach, which I believe is man made?, well the sand part anyway. I took a photo of the Folkestone Mermaid when El and I came here a few weeks ago, it was created for the triennial in 2011 by Cornelia Parker. I decided to take another photo as I like it.

IMG_3128

It is really windy today, really really windy, so there was a bit of a swell going and I was surprised to see surfers out, I did not picture Folkestone as a surfing town, but you learn something new every day, another positive.

IMG_3129

I walked along the wall above Sunny Beach, and then up the stairs to the cliff top. I am not sure if the sign or the seat was first….

IMG_3141

IMG_3130

IMG_3133

At the top there are a few second world war pill boxes or coast watch buildings one of which is still being used not sure if it by the coast card or the RNLI, but I like the way it is all hunkered down in the cliff top, It needed to be in this wind.

IMG_3135

With its proximity to France this section of coast has long had a military presence, with small forts and large castles like Dover dotted all around. There is also a long string of Martello Towers, small 19th century coastal forts, in between the large forts all along the coast here.

IMG_3138

The view up and down the coast from here was nice, and one day I could see myself exploring up and down those cliff tops !

IMG_3136

IMG_3139

It was drawing close to time for the first viewing so, I headed back the way I came, and once off the water front, decided to wander up through the Creative Quarter, which was really busy again.

IMG_3142

I just happened to pass by Salvation Records and had to go in, and this time was forced into buying couple of things. When I come back, I must try and stay clear, or stay strong if I do visit ! To be fair to myself, I have wanted that second Telescopes LP for a while and it was on sale…

My first viewing was a real let down, it was a basement flat, which I will admit I was not interested in anyway, wanting to be at least first floor, but it was in a real state. It would need tens of thousands to sort out, I was wondering why it was so cheap! I was informed by the real estate agent that the second viewing was off as the sellers had taken the property off the market. This was not working out well at all. The second viewing was the ground floor in this building.

IMG_3144

There was another guy looking at the basement flat while I was there. He wasn’t interested either, but he did live in the street, and has been renting for a year and is now looking to buy. He loves the street, he said the low rent hotels do not cause any real issues, and he is keen to buy there. This was great news and made me feel a whole lot better about my choice of location. We had quite a good chat and compared notes on our experiences with agents and areas. It was very worthwhile.

After a break for coffee and cake I met the agent for the last viewing and quite liked the flat, clearly the best I have seen and well within my price range. It needs some work, decorating and a shower fitted, nothing major and is in a nice spot, with a view out to sea of you look sideways out the bay window. It is a Victorian conversion so has some of those nice Victorian features, like high ceilings and a fireplace. To be considered.

I went home feeling a lot better about the experience. As this was my fourth (fifth ?) visit to the town, I am more familiar with the streets, and with knowledge comes some comfort, I felt less like it was an alien place.

I will organise myself some more viewings now, and maybe a follow visit to the one I sort of liked, this time with El.

House Hunting-The First Sequel.

January 15 2016 – Folkestone.

It is winter in the UK at the moment, which generally means a lazy time for me. This makes it a good time to look for houses and since my trip to Broadstairs, Margate and Deal I have been pretty busy doing that. Online at least. El and I have just booked a trip to Valencia for a long weekend, good friends of ours have recently bought a holiday home there and we are going to join them for a weekend at the end of Feb. It hasn’t all been house hunting!

After knocking my action list down to just Folkestone and Broadstairs when I came back from my trip last week I have made a further cut to the list and am now going to focus solely on Folkestone for a while. I like Broadstairs but Folkestone has a little more life to it than sleepy Broadstairs, and that suits me more right now as this is not a long term purchase. If I was retiring it would be a completely different story!

I was in luck again this week with another gorgeous looking day on Friday, I had booked myself train tickets earlier in the week, betting on the weather staying nice. One of the advantages of Folkestone over the other locations is that the high speed train goes there so it is a 55 minute trip, out of St Pancras. Broadstairs is slightly longer at 1:20. Trains out of St Pancras was a key factor in choosing the Kent coast over Sussex or further west. St Pancras is 10 minutes from work and 20 from El’s house, far more convenient than Waterloo or Paddington.

I had a small panic last night when I got home from visiting a couple of galleries and having dinner with my mate Daryl and discovered I no longer had my wallet. I rang the burger joint we had eaten in – Honest Burger off of Old St, and thankfully my wallet had been handed in, phew. It was a great burger too !! Almost as good was they opened at 9:00 today so I could get there, pick up my wallet and get to the station in time for the train I had booked at 10:30. Ample time really, it is only 10 minutes away.

I arrived at St Pancras with time enough to get a coffee and a muffin before heading up to the high speed platforms to wait for my train. It was a lovely, clear but very cold day.

IMG_3029

The train I was catching originated in Folkestone and I was pleased to see it was really full with office workers and other city types commuting from there, or thereabouts. It was a bit comforting to know there were other ex-Londoners there.

IMG_3030

I had spent a bit of time pouring over maps of Folkestone and noting a number of properties for sale that I could do a walk by. I do not know the area and wanted to suss out a few streets that looked OK and had properties I could afford. Luckily they were all on the west side of town, so it did not include too much walking. I had also organised my first house viewing in Sandgate. On the train I organised my day and made a bunch of notes on some street maps I printed out. I wanted to make real use of my time there. I had also arranged to meet a friend of a friend who lives in one of the areas I am interested in. Getting some local knowledge about the place was critical for me.

The train arrived on time and wrapped up warm I headed off from Folkestone West station to the north to check out, and write off a couple of flats on my list. One was sold and the other was on the corner of two major roads. Not for me at all!

Heading back the way I came I arrived at Sandgate Rd just behind the Metrople Building, which does have a flat I am vaguely interested, I love the building, but am not sure I could live in a converted hotel. I will try and get a viewing next time I am down. It looks a lot better from the front.

IMG_3036

I walked down Sandgate Rd to the village of Sandgate, at the bottom of the hill, and right on the sea front. It is quite a nice spot, very close to the sea – too close when I saw a photo of a wave breaking on the houses…. I was here to look at a top floor flat in the orangey coloured building.

IMG_3038

Last week I registered with one of the big estate agencies, taken my first step into the painful world of unwanted phone calls, texts, emails and probably a lot of frustration. But it has to be done, and to be fair after the early rush it has been OK since. I just know I am going to have to register with a load more before I find the place for me. I sort of liked this flat, but it need a lot of work, and to be frank, I am lazy. I have closed the book on Sandgate for now as well. The risk due to flooding and storms just seems too high, when there are good opportunities at the top of the cliffs. But as a place to visit, on a day like today, lovely. Apparently the path goes all the way to Rye, way down the coast. Something for some long flat runs.

IMG_3040

IMG_3041

I walked the path back up to Folkestone for my meeting with Eugene. The amount of beach on the path definitely helped in my decision making, there are now houses here, but the houses back in Sandgate are not far off being this close to the sea.

IMG_3043

There is a lovely park stretching along a section between the sea and the cliff, with paths winding their way up to the top. A good spot for getting some hill reps in.

IMG_3046

At the top of the cliffs is The Leas, a wide section of grass and path for walking and relaxing, a legacy of when Folkestone was in its heyday back in Victorian times. There are a number of flats around here which I am interested in, nervously so as it looks all a bit too nice to be true, especially when the sun is out. I am going to try and have a look at a flat in here. Which I subsequently found out is too good to be true as it is over the road from a hotel how being used to house families that have been kicked out of council housing.

IMG_3049

IMG_3050

Eugene lives around here and I stopped in with him for a cup of coffee and a chat about the area, he has been here for two years and quite likes it, though for family reasons is heading back to London. At least the streets seem quiet and safe, both day and night, a couple of points I really wanted to have Eugene clarify.

IMG_3053

After receiving some great advice I headed off back down the Zig Zag Path to the sea front, a continuation of a lovely walk.

IMG_3055

You cannot see it here, but I promise you on that horizon sits the coast of France and I could clearly see the cliffs.

IMG_3058

I made my way along to the harbour arm, passed this lovely terrace on Marine Parade and the not so lovely old and unused railway station.

IMG_3059

IMG_3060

The harbour arm is closed at the moment, but last summer it was the scene for pop-up bars and cafes and all sorts of things, so looking forward to that opening up again – if I do choose to buy here before summer time.

IMG_3063

I walked up through the Old High Street and the Creative Quarter, which is one of the key things that attracts me to Folkestone. The Creative Quarter is set over a couple of streets leading up from the harbour where most (all ?) of the properties were bought by a trust set up by Sir Roger de Haan back in 2002 as part of an creative based regeneration of the area. Sir Roger was the owner of Saga a large employer in the area and when he sold the company he chose to reinvest in the town. The area is cute and full of small shops, galleries and cafes. I also came across one of the less charming sides of these up and coming towns as I followed a family up the hill where the adult male who was obviously drunk was swearing and talking loudly at the kids and his partner. Lovely chap.

IMG_3064

At the top of the hill was my second to last destination for the day, and a good reason to want to buy in this particular town. Hot Salvation records, what a cool shop, pretty much specialising just in the music I like as well. I didn’t buy anything today as I was planning on meeting El in London when I got back, but I could have…

IMG_3065

I stopped for a very late lunch at 3:00 at one of the cafes nearby before walking back along The Leas, stopping to take a last couple of photos of the setting sun before heading up to the station for 4:00 train back to London.

IMG_3068

IMG_3069

I had to make a bit of a fast walk to the station and a quick run into the loo before the train arrived. I don’t think it was something I ate, El had been sick earlier in the week, but I am very glad I made it. Apart from the end it had been a good day of checking out properties and locations and I came away feeling better informed and keen to come back and actually view some properties next weekend.

P.S. I am writing this a couple of days later and have been unwell all weekend, fortunately not with anything vile, just horribly tired and a bit achy. I was in bed by 9:00 both Friday and Saturday nights and suspect I will be heading back their again before 9:00 tonight, Sunday. Work tomorrow, where I am sure I will be perfectly well!

P.P.S. El and I have just booked holiday to New Zealand over Easter. Yahoo!

Flat hunting-early days.

January 07 2016 – Broadstairs, Margate and Deal.

Happy New Year !

If you have been following my blog over the last few months you will have noticed that I am looking to find myself a flat somewhere outside of London. I am looking for somewhere I can set up with my things and it can be a bolt hole for both El and myself. I want to be on the coast so I can smell, hear and see the sea. Last year I looked at a couple of towns with properties that I could afford to rent and then decided that renting was a waste of money. I have some funds in New Zealand from when I sold my house four years ago. There is not a huge amount left, but I have decided to transfer it here to the UK when the term deposit matures in February, and it will make an OK deposit on a cheap flat. It was time to change my search parameters from ‘rent’ to ‘buy’. It is all a bit scary!

To make life easier, and ultimately cheaper I made the decision to restrict my searching to the Kent coast, from Folkestone, up and around Margate and further along to the more genteel Whitstable.

El and decided to take a day trip out to Broadstairs between Christmas and New Year, a friend has family in Broadstairs and we stayed there a while back and quite liked it. I did some online research and found a few properties to walk past for a quick look see. I am not ready to do house viewings yet, I want to find a town/village/area that I feel comfortable in first and then focus my attentions there – though keeping my options open as well.

We wrapped up well as it was a windy day and we had a bit of walking to do. Our first stop was in a small area outside of Broadstairs and as we walked up from the station and out in to the countryside I was getting quite excited. Sadly once we got there we found the flat had been sold. First lesson of buying a house learnt. Just because it is showing on sale on the property websites doesn’t mean that it still is. Bummer! I would have bought it without going inside as I loved the look and the location.

IMG_3011

We walked back into town along the cliff tops. stopping to check out a few places on the way. I really like the fact there are cliffs here, albeit small ones.

IMG_3012

We had a coffee and a look around a number of streets in the centre of town that had flats for sale. We liked the look of Broadstairs, even on a windy Saturday in late December it was not overly quiet. We had decided to walk along the front to Ramsgate, into the teeth of a really strong head wind. Scenery wise it was nice, looking down over the (off) white cliffs and sandy beaches, but the wind and then the rain made it a rather unpleasant walk.

IMG_3014

IMG_3016

We arrived in Ramsgate, which I was sort of interested in. In has a really good music venue, so would definitely be more lively than Broadstairs which appeals to an older crowd. After a late lunch in pizza express, and with clouds low down and the rain getting heavier and heavier we decided to call it quits and head up to the station. The walk was not the nicest unfortunately.

Some ideas were formed tough, so it was a very worthwhile, though tiring day out.

Over the next couple of weeks I completed a lot of research on locations, prices, crime and other social statistics and looked at loads of properties on line. Being winter and the festive season there was not a lot of action on the property boards, but I did build a list of every possible shape and size property in my price range.

Two weeks, and what seemed like two seasons later and into 2016 I hired a car and headed back out to Broadstairs, this time with a plan to drive up and around to Margate. The sky was clear, and there was not much wind but it was quite cold. I parked the car just off the high street and had a much broader look around, being a Friday (I do not work Friday) there were a lot of older folk around and teenagers on lunch break from school. There were very few people in between old and young, I took that as a good sign of employment. The beach was glorious, under a very blue sky. It is quite an old fashioned beach, beach huts and spade shops. Lovely…

IMG_3018

IMG_3020

The drive to Margate along the coast is really nice, some really cool looking surf beaches, almost remote, and all quite appealing. I have read and heard good things about Margate coming up, and it has the lovely Turner gallery as well as a nice little old town. I spent a bit of time driving around trying to find somewhere to park, there were a lot of people around, a lot of ‘youf’ on the street and not a lot of parking choices. I was about to park on one street when I saw two teenage boys just casually riding their bikes along checking out the contents of the parked cars. I decided to keep going – and going. Not finding anywhere else to stop I drove on out of Margate.

It was still early in the day, I had not had lunch yet so decided to carry on looking and headed south to Deal. I have been fascinated by Deal since El and I went there. It is a nice little town, and I thought the same again today. The weather helped of course, but it is flat and small enough to walk around and the old part behind the sea front is quite cute, and very much like a flat St Ives, plus it just seemed to have a nice feel about.

I walked out along Deal pier for a short distance to take a couple of photos up and down the pebbly beach – no smooth sand on this part of the coast !

IMG_3022

IMG_3021

IMG_3023

The sun was just popping into the clouds as I walked past Deal Castle, so I grabbed a last photo of the day before heading back to the car and off home to London.

IMG_3026

It was a good day out, informative. Over the next few days I did more research and reading and worked on tightening my list of what I want from a property.

I really like Deal, but I cannot afford the parts of town I like. There has also been two weather related incidents in the past couple of weeks. A storm has damaged the sea wall outside of Dover which has forced the closure of the train line from Folkestone to Deal, almost cutting it off from public transport. That storm also saw some localised flooding in town,  so sorry Deal, I have had to drop you from my list, much as I like you.

I have also dropped everywhere else except Broadstairs and Folkestone, I am planning on visiting Folkestone next week. Whitstable and Herne Bay and the stretch along to Margate do not have the sort of sea I want access to, too tidal and calm. Margate and Ramsgate are just not quite up and coming for my needs. Broadstairs is staid and quiet, but with a plan to only keep a property for 3-4 years, I need to know it will sell. Broadstairs still sells. So Sorry Thanet too.

However, if I see the right flat then anywhere could be back on again!