Moving Chronicles: Seoul to Bristol: Househunting, UK-Style

MsCaroline is going to have to brush up on her geometric boxwood-trimming skills.

For those of you who are not MsCaroline's FaceBook friends, today's post is a follow-up to a comment she made in her last post:  The AsiaVus have Found A House. It is not located in Bristol, but in a nearby city that MsCaroline will not identify in case of stalkers and weirdos, so she will only tell you that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it rhymes with 'path.'  Sorry that she can't be more specific.

It will hold their furniture (barely.) And yes, they can bring the dog.

Those are, actually, the 2 most important things.  The rest, as they say, is just details.  Nonetheless, MsC is pretty pleased, because, for a while there, she was despairing of ever even finding a dwelling that met her requirements, which were, she felt, fairly straightforward:
  1. Somewhere that allowed dogs
  2. Somewhere that was close to transportation links and a reasonably short commute for MrL 
  3. Somewhere within walking distance of shops (groceries, pharmacy, pub, dry cleaners, coffee)
  4. Somewhere with at least 3 bedrooms that would hold all their furniture that had been shipped from Korea (keep in mind that approximately 8000 lbs of their belongings had been left in storage in the US, so it wasn't like they had shipped that much anyway)
  5. Somewhere with more than one bathroom
  6. Somewhere that fit their budget
It did not take much research for MsC to figure out that numbers 1 and 5 were clearly going to be the most problematic, and that the rest of them weren't going to be a walk in the park, either, given that Bristol is, according to her realtor, "the hottest market in Britain at the moment," meaning that properties are snapped up before they even get on the market.

As she has mentioned previously, for all the fact that the UK is clearly one of the most dog-friendly countries on earth, it is also, inexplicably, one of the most difficult places to find pet-friendly rental property that MsCaroline has ever run across.  It is also (apparently) unheard-of to have a dog (no matter how small) in a flat of any kind(at least, in this area), unless it is a garden flat, and even those were iffy, which left Houses Only, which knocked out most of the contenders in the parts of town where they wished to live.

As far as bathrooms go, well, MsC understands that things are a bit different in the US.  She also understands that if you are going to be living in a dwelling that was built before the advent of modern plumbing, you cannot expect to have nearly as many bathrooms as you would in a more recently-built dwelling.  However, MsCaroline is still scratching her head over the tendencies of landlords here to put one large luxurious bathroom into a house rather than two less-grandiose ones(which clearly would fit in the same space.) She cannot tell you how many properties she looked at that boasted one lone, enormous bathroom that looked like something out of a spa - but that was it. What she could not grasp was sharing a 1-bathroom dwelling with her husband and two sons (particularly during their early adolescence, when they suddenly became very hygiene-conscious and spent ages in there.) For this reason, she always marveled at the real estate descriptions describing a 'perfect family house' containing 4 bedrooms, a conservatory, and exactly one toilet. (MsCaroline may have misplaced priorities, but she thinks that she would rather have a second bathroom than a conservatory. But this is  probably part of why it is so broadening for one to experience different cultures.) 

Many of them did not even include the mysterious cloakroom, which - MsC finally learned- is the American equivalent of powder room - toilet and sink -but it took her quite a while to figure out that they weren't referring to coat closets. 

While MsCaroline considers herself a well-traveled, fairly enlightened person who is (mostly) free from narrow cultural constructs, she has to admit that the one bathroom issue was the most difficult to get over. No closets? Fine.  Small rooms? Cozy.  Washing machine in the kitchen? Convenient.  But one bathroom?  argh.

Fortunately for her, the house they have rented has not one, not two, but THREE toilets (1 bathroom, 1 'shower room' (ie, no tub) and one loo-under-the-stairs), which was one of its major selling points, along with permission to have the dog.  In fact, those were pretty much the main reasons they put down a deposit on it so quickly - well, that, and the fact that the attic had been turned into a giant 4th bedroom loft that would hold #2 and all of his paraphernalia.  But MsCaroline digresses.

So, yes, the decision was made quite rapidly.  The actual process of finding the house, however, was very slow.  While MsCaroline actually only viewed one or two properties in person (they were usually gone before she could get there), she spent hours poring over online real estate, learning an entirely new language, and discovering just how challenging it was going to be to even find a dwelling that met all her picky particulars, much less get in to view it before it was snapped up by a competitor. By the time she did find one, she was almost ready to put a deposit down, sight unseen.

A typical description, which would fill her heart with hope (quickly followed by despair) read as follows:

 Spacious character home located in sought-after neighbourhood of Adorable Quaintness;  this charming Victorian home features 4 bedrooms (2 doubles, 1 good-sized single, and 1 smaller single suitable for a study or nursery), 3 receptions, double-glazing, a fitted kitchen with gas hob and electric oven, all white goods and a sunny conservatory.  The spacious family bathroom has been remodeled to the highest standard and contains a 4-piece white suite including a separate shower cubicle. Parking is available through the residential parking scheme.  This desirable property is located  just minutes away from the shops, restaurants, and pubs of Lovely Historic Market High Street and offers excellent transit connections.  Spacious front and rear gardens. An ideal family home! Viewings are highly recommended, as this property is expected to go quickly!

What you may not like:

No pets,
No smokers
No unemployed

And now, the American English translation:  

This is an adorable and charming historic home that is exactly what you Americans think of when you imagine yourself moving to England.  It is located in an awesome neighborhood with all the charming details you would expect in an English Victorian home.  It has 4 bedrooms, 2 of which will hold double beds but not much else, (certainly not your ludicrously oversized American King-sized bed which you should have known better than to ship overseas anyway,) 1 of which will hold a twin bed, and one of which may or may not hold a twin bed, depending on whether or not you care to put other furniture in it, but either way, it's going to be tight. None of them have closets, so be sure to plan a trip to Ikea to buy some wardrobes very soon.  The house has a living room, a dining room, and a room that might be used as a TV room or study ('reception'= rooms you would have company in. MsC feels that, theoretically, 'reception' really should include the kitchen, because in an American home, that's where all the company ends up anyway, but maybe this is not an English thing.  She will likely find out pretty soon.) The windows are double-glazed, and this is important because it will keep you warmer, and is also a good indicator that the landlord takes pretty good care of the property.  It has a kitchen with appliances, (not all of them come with appliances, so this is actually important to pay attention to)  The cooktop is gas.  There is a conservatory (eg, 'Florida room'/glassed-in porch) off the kitchen.  There is one huge, remodeled bathroom, and it is really nice.  There is no parking for this house (no driveway or garage), but you can pay an extra monthly fee for a neighborhood parking permit to jockey with all the other neighbors for a parking spot on the street if you can find one. There are lovely front and rear gardens, which you will need to keep up, since all the gardens in this road are incredibly lovely and you will not want to be the only one without a gorgeous garden. This house is within walking distance to everything worth going to, which is why you will not mind having 1 bathroom and no driveway or garage. This is an excellent house, and by the time you call your realtor, it will be rented, but thanks for reading this anyway.  Also, because this house is so obviously perfect for you, we will not let you have a dog in it, but we waited to tell you that until the end of the description (MsCaroline quickly learned to scroll down and look for the 'no pets' warning before even starting to read, just to avoid all the soul-sucking disappointment.) 

 Add to all that the smoking-hot real estate market, and it meant that, as soon as MsC and MrL saw a house that would even vaguely meet their budget and requirements, they would have to put a deposit on it immediately.  So it came to pass that MsC and MrL viewed exactly 2 and a half (the half was one they approached and dismissed based on neighborhood before they even went in) properties before making a decision.

So the offer was made - and accepted - and now they just have to wait until March, when they can move in.

As it the case in every home one buys or lives in, there are always pluses and minuses:   in addition to its toilets and pet-friendly lease, the house has the coveted 4th bedroom that the Asia Vus had hoped for, although it doesn't have parking and is a longer commute than MrL would have preferred. It's a bit farther away from the city centre than they would have liked, and there has been some heated debate about where all the furniture will go (thank God for the garage, which is too small for a car but provides some badly-needed storage.) They are also not looking forward to waiting until March to move in, which means another 5 weeks in the tiny and cramped serviced apartment.

But really - MsCaroline is just relieved that they found something that will work, in a nice neighborhood, and she's looking forward to living in a real home - not a temporary apartment - again soon. She's looking forward to family dinners, strolling to the pub at the end of her street, digging in her own garden, and having her own books and art, her own cookware, cajun seasoning, and her own pillows again.

Most of all, she can't wait for this:

March can't come soon enough.  


Trish said…
So exciting to hear about your successful house search. I quite agree about bathrooms - even if we book a self-catering apartment on holiday I prefer two bathrooms, and there are only three of us!
You have a house! It will take a dog! And Bath is a great place to live. So glad to see it is all falling into place, however haphazardly. I have had such fun reading your last few blogs. I remember really vividly my very first trip to the States, about thirty year ago I suppose. The thing that most amazed me, along with driving and talking and money and huge huge shops, was that people didn't seem to cook from scratch in the way I knew but open packets and put a meal together from ingredients that someone else had done things to. Suspect we may be going the same way in the UK now but not in my house. A friend of my daughter expressed amazement that she knew how to make pastry. Why would you do that? Hope you are having a good time.
Potty Mummy said…
Ah yes - the bathroom situation in older houses in the UK. I agree; two small bathrooms is much better than one large one, but I have no idea why, in so many houses, the latter route is the one people take. Not looking forward to the househunting when we head back - but as you say, being in a house with two boys rapidly approaching adolescence, 2 bathrooms is non-negotiable! Well done for finding what you were looking for!
MsCaroline said…
Trish - oh, I'm glad to hear that! I debated even mentioning it, not wanting to sound like a whiny American after my comments about laundry and small fridges! But really, we are so chuffed to be here and having this experience, I'm sure we would have survived even with a single loo. That being said - I'm with you - two are highly preferable!
MsCaroline said…
Elizabeth - yes, we are so pleased (and relieved!) You are definitely right, lots of typical American meals are based on mixes, cans, and boxes, although many of us do prefer to make things from scratch when possible (and when time permits.) I would love to be able to make my own pastry - a mediocre piecrust is about as good as I get - but I still have time to improve! We are loving Bristol and the UK, but are looking forward to being settled in our own nest again. Thought of you today whilst at the park - bulbs popping up everywhere and the most glorious jasmine (I think it was) scenting the whole place!
MsCaroline said…
Clare - well, to be fair, older houses in the US are usually a bit short on bathrooms as well; but I think the tendency is still toward putting more smaller ones in as opposed to one larger one. 2 is definitely preferable with teenagers in the house - if for no other reason than not having to deal with all their highly-scented products! I do not envy you the house hunt when you return -although it is always more satisfying to find a house to buy rather than a house to rent- we were so relieved that we didn't have to include schools into our calculations for the first time in 20 years!
Karen said…
Carolyne! Just spent a quiet and very enjoyable hour getting caught up on your move to Bristol. December for me was a tangled jumble of preparations, school paperwork(5 of my 7 IEPs due before Christmas, 2 3-year evaluations, a final comprehensive eval for a graduating student and progress reports) and the myriad doctors appointments that are my life. I was aware of your exodus but unable to do anything except glance longingly at your posts. Add in a Christmas epidemic of flu in my family and the time that it takes to make up all those missed celebrations and we come to late January before I am finally able to breathe and read! I didn't realize until I did read how much I have missed your hilarious style of writing and stories of your adventures. Loved the bus story and the pub story especially. They made me think of the errors I have made over the years due to not hearing important pieces of information. Come to think of it, in a milder way I live permanently in a culture where I do not always grasp what is going on. Probably why I enjoy your stories so much. That and your fabulous writing! I hope to be around a bit more (especially if these Nor`wasters keep coming through) so keep the stories coming. Will you be seeking employment? And what are Cullen`s plans?
BavarianSojourn said…
So so so so happy you found somewhere, it looks gorgeous, and if I have guessed correctly to where you are moving to, it is one of my favourite places in the UK! Roll on March! :) x
MsCaroline said…
Karen- Yes, I've been following you on FB and noticing that you were pretty quiet - especially when you got hit with the flu at Christmas! I'm glad you enjoy my escapades! I'm sure that you feel, as I do, that the experiences are miserable when they're happening, but a little time and perspective make them worth sharing after all. I am planning to look for work eventually (maybe next fall after Cullen goes back to the US for university) but will need some time to get myself sorted out as far as qualifications etc. Cullen is looking for a job at the moment since he'll be here for a while. If he finds one, he'll probably stay with us until he leaves for Uni, otherwise he'll go back in the summer and work in one of the summer programs he attended last year at UC Berkeley. I, of course, would prefer he stayed - not quite ready for a completely empty nest!
MsCaroline said…
Emma - ha, you clever girl, I'm sure you did guess correctly! We are really looking forward to moving in and being settled - waiting impatiently!
Nance said…
My, my. Back in The Day, my family of six grew up in a teensy bungalow with all of us sharing one bathroom with only a tub, no shower. And all three of us girls shared one attic bedroom, with my sister and me sharing a bed our whole lives.

Fast forward to my married life. One bathroom downstairs with a tub/shower. A half bath upstairs in the boys' converted attic bedroom.

Both older homes, yes. Isn't it astonishing what we can become used to?

So glad your entire family can soon be together. The time will fly as you get things ready, I know.
MsCaroline said…
Nance - yes, it's amazing how one's standards change, isn't it? I know I lived in at least one 1-bathroom house whilst growing up, and don't remember it as an enormous privation, but I have to say that the thought of going back to 1 at this point seems rough, mostly because I fully expect quite a bit of company in the years to come. If it were just MrL and I, I don't think I'd care too much, but adding in #2 (and #1 when the semester's over) not to mention what I hope will be a steady stream of visitors - I'm sure you get it. I'd really only dared to hope for 1 bathroom and a loo-under-the-stairs; we were incredibly lucky to find a house with the 2nd actual 'shower room.'
That looks like a lovely house! Congratulations on finding one that suited...
Yes the UK has very different attitudes to bathrooms, and also much smaller furniture than US furniture (we struggled to find bedside tables in the US - or nightstands as they're called -- that would fit into a bedroom back home). In fact, one of the reasons I love our new house is that the boys have their own bathroom, and indeed their own separate floor - they're not teenagers yet but I can just imagine.....

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