In this week’s edition of What I Own we chat with Suzanne Bearne – a journalist and media consultant.
She lives in Margate old town and has fallen head over heels in love with the area.
Suzanne bought her property on her own back in 2016, when she was working as a freelancer – after spending a few years saving for a deposit.
Here’s what she has to say about her home-buying experience…
Tell us about yourself – how old are you, what do you do for work and where are you based?
I’m 38 and a freelance journalist and a media consultant who teaches PRs and businesses how to secure press coverage through courses and webinars and owner of a content network agency. I live in Margate and London.
Where abouts is your property? What do you think of the area?
My flat is located in Margate old town, a charming area with all kinds of wonderful and creative independent shops like Little Bit and The Margate Book Shop, restaurants such as Bottega Caruso and Ralph’s, and cosy pubs you don’t want to leave.
I’ve fallen head over heels for Margate. Even after four years here I’m constantly starstruck by the sunsets.
After a sunset swim I feel like I’ve just won a million pounds. It’s also the kind of place where you step out your front door and within five minutes you’ve bumped into a handful of people you know. You need to add on an extra 10 minutes every time you head anywhere.
When did you move in?
At the end of 2016. It took six months of closed bids pushing the property up by £30,000, securing the flat then a week later losing the property after being ga-zumped by cash buyers, crying and writing an embarrassing kind of begging letter to the seller who never responded.
Then there was a massive U-turn when the cash buyers split up and the apartment came back to me – and I eventually got it back to the asking price. That was one hell of a rollercoaster.
How much does your property cost?
My flat cost £155,000.
How much was your deposit?
I put down a deposit of £23,500.
What is the monthly cost of living here now; both mortgage and bills?
It sets me back about £1,000 or so a month – a price tag not too dissimilar to my old flat share in Newington Green, where the landlord thought mice weren’t his problem to deal with and referred us to the council who swiftly pushed us back to our rodent of a landlord.
How did you save up for your deposit?
I’ve always been a bit of a saver, to be honest. My parents really taught me to save and not to spend what I don’t have and so even on tiny journalism salaries I still managed to stash something away.
Over eight years that amount rose to about £35,000. The deposit was £23,500, which I could have paid with my savings, but my parents – very kindly – gave me £10,000 towards it.
What was the process of getting a mortgage like for you? Did you find any parts challenging?
Although I had a partner at the time, I was buying on my own, working as a freelancer (not always the most preferred demographic to lenders), and had a fluctuating income due to regular stints abroad.
As I knew I wouldn’t be deemed their most attractive customer – even though I knew I’d be able to pay off a mortgage every month – I didn’t think actually think it was possible to actually buy a property.
Friends in couples shared horror stories of banks grilling them so I was apprehensive about my chances given I was buying on my own. Fortunately a friend put me in touch with a brilliant mortgage broker who took all that strain off me and helped land me a mortgage.
Where did you live before this – were you renting or living with family?
I spent a decade living in what felt like almost every London neighbourhood.
I’ve lived in East Dulwich, Balham, Clapham, Highgate, and Victoria Park before settling down in no man’s land, otherwise known as Newington Green, where I stayed for four years across three different places. I also spent time in between living in Berlin, Lisbon and New York.
What made you want to buy rather than renting?
I’m quite nomadic but after moving almost every year I yearned for my own space. I never really felt a real sense of home in each place. I was forever packing my bags, moving abroad, then coming back and finding somewhere new to live.
By the time I reached my early thirties I felt ready – and had saved enough – to consider buying somewhere to call home. I felt I could always rent out my place if I craved another stint abroad.
How did you find this property? What made you choose it?
Through an estate agent. I’d booked to view about six properties. Mine was the last one and as soon as I walked in I knew. Love at first sight.
I loved the light, the open floor space, the terrace. It was an open day and I could hear everyone saying they were going to put an offer in. I walked outside, did a little circle around the old town and came back to look again. I put in an offer later that day. My heart was set on it.
How have you made the property feel like home?
Having been so transient, I’d never accumulated furniture unless you include a lamp shade and a mirror. It was pretty bare for a while. I prefer to buy second-hand goods that I’ve fallen for or feel some kind of connection to, so it’s been a slow-ish process. Over the years I’ve scoured Gumtree, Freecycle, local antique stores and charity shops and a Margate Library of Things Facebook group, which I set up in March.
I’m lucky there was no big renovation project needed. Instead I replaced the magnolia-coloured walls with a couple of coats of an off-white shade that I spent far too long deliberating over, found a light pink sofa from Gumtree, sourced a beautiful second-hand industrial style table that works both as my kitchen table and my work station, and (rather than spending thousands on a new kitchen) I painted the god-awful brown cupboards and tiles.
Oh yes, and over the years I’ve also accumulated enough plants that it’s starting to look like there’s a garden centre in my loft.
Do you feel like you have enough space?
There’s enough space to hold a yoga class in here.
Do you have plans to change the property?
Not drastically. I’d love to jazz up the bathroom and the en-suite in a kind of bootstrapping way with vintage finds.
Are there any problems with the property that you have to deal with?
It’s certainly not been an easy ride. There’s been roof issues and we’re currently in the process of paying for a new lightwell roof and a box gutter. A group of us then leaseholders also managed to pool together and buy the freehold so now everything is in our interests.
What do you want people to know about buying a home?
I love my home so much. I don’t know how I’d ever let it go. I feel so attached. But there’s also a mountain of issues that you never have to think of or face when you’re renting.
I recently paid for a new boiler (about £1k), bought the freehold last year and paid for roof works (about £11k in total) and have further roof work to pay for that will set me back thousands. Saying that, I certainly understand how privileged I am. I have my own little oasis and for that I’m very grateful.
What are your plans for the future, in terms of housing? Do you plan to stay here long term?
My partner lives in London on a canal boat so half my life is there and half is here. But my dream is to have a little retreat in the countryside.
It might be that we try renting somewhere and live there part time before buying. Maybe it’s pipe dream and I’m watching too much of The Good Life but I’d just like to grow more vegetables than on my terrace and open my bedroom windows and see rolling hills, please. That’s my dream.
How to get involved in What I Own
What I Own is a Metro.co.uk series that takes you inside people’s properties, to take an honest look at what it’s like to buy a home in the UK. If you own your home and would be up for sharing your story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’ll also need to be okay with sharing how much you’ve paid to live there and how you afforded the deposit, as that’s pretty important.
If you’re renting, you can take part too! What I Own runs alongside What I Rent, which is the same series but all about renting. Again, if you’d like to get involved just email email@example.com.