In Search of Our Dream Bungalow by Mary Mae Lewis
It has often been said that moving house involves a level of stress that’s akin to divorce. I’ve never been through a divorce, but I can testify that trying to up sticks from our traditional four-bedroom detached house to a retirement bungalow is proving to be that proverbial ‘pain in the back-side’. I am stressed out about it, and have been for over eighteen months… and we still haven’t found what we want.
Admittedly, my husband was reluctant to put our family home on the market, but me, at 70, with double sciatica and arthritic hips, was pushing for a move. Luckily for hubby, even at 78, he had no idea of the pain such afflictions can cause.
We put the house on the market in March 2020 and started looking for a three- to four-bedroomed property with two bathrooms (one en-suite), double garage and a dine-in kitchen. Our new home had to be in a good area, not on a main road, with a medium-sized garden. We’d prefer not to be overlooked by neighbours and really wanted a home with a lovely view. Oh, and it had to be within ten miles of Stoke-on-Trent. We weren’t asking for much, I thought. And, if the price tag could be less than £555,000, we truly would have found our slice of heaven.
By April, we had a potential buyer for our house, but the euphoria of that news didn’t last. One bungalow we liked very much, even though the garage wasn’t big enough for hubby and it was on a main road, proved to have a sceptic tank which needed overhauling before it could be sold. We hesitated, as the tank was cited underneath a greenhouse in a farmer’s field.
We then fell in love with another place that had a swathe of apple trees in the garden; it was one mile down a country lane, on the side of a corn field. I swooned at the thought of cows mooing over the fence and the bird song waking us every morning. The three stables could easily have been converted to an enormous garage/workshop. Again, this wasn’t going to be Shangri-La; the house’s water supply came from a ‘friendly’ farmer’s spring and likewise the septic tank - a WW2 construction - was situated in his field. “We can overcome all of this,” I cried. “I just love the greenhouse…” but I relented when, on further inspection, the bare roof space contained, not only a mass of cobwebs, but a mind-boggling array of electricity wires and cables. Just too much of a DIY prospect for us at our time of life.
After a few more disappointments and our buyer asking for a reduction on the purchase price, due to the house needing an update, we took the decision to take our house off the market and do the sprucing up ourselves. We spent three months painting, decorating and rearranging the bathroom, before finally having more viewings.
We quickly had a buyer, again, even though we had upped the asking price; after all, house prices were on the rise. During the time that our house was not sold, many bungalows came onto the market and were sold before we could view them, which we found soul-destroying but luckily our buyers were in no hurry to move in; they said they could wait for at least six months as they were living with relatives.
Even so, we went into full action mode to scour the area for our dream home. We set up searches on all of the main property sites, including: Rightmove, Zoopla and Prime Location; and I waited each morning with bated breath to see what was on offer.
Two bungalows that looked like they would be ideal were sold before we even got to see them. One viewing appointment that we were looking forward to had to be cancelled, as my husband was too ill to go. Another bungalow we couldn’t reach, as the road to it had been completely blocked. This particular dwelling was on a higgledy-piggledy lane, up a steep hill, definitely not the best location for us. Another had a pylon by the front door, which wasn’t shown on the photos.
Yet another property, a converted coach house, we would have bought… but the people who viewed that morning, before us, snapped it up.
Another one, in a complex known as the ‘Hollywood of Stoke-on-Trent’ was stunning, but in need of TLC. Hubby didn’t like the look of the flat roofs over two bedrooms or the lift that was essential in order to reach the house from the double garage.
There was one which I really liked as it was in a woodland setting, but my husband wasn’t so keen. It was advertised at £575,000, as a three-bedroom bungalow - but it was really two-bedroomed; they were using the dining room to sleep in. The estate agent had seriously misled buyers with an inaccurate description of other aspects of the property too. A double garage at the back turned out to be nothing more than a concrete shed that could not have housed even a small car. ‘Immaculate’ the bumph said – but the living room carpet was marked and scruffy. Even so… it did have a tandem integral garage, a field to one side, a fabulous kitchen and a modern en-suite. We offered £490,000 for it, but the owners wouldn’t budge. It’s still on the market now, so I don’t think we were mistaken in our offer.
Another fabulous bungalow was just in the wrong place; you could hear the traffic’s roar from the garden, even though it was tucked away behind a row of three-storey houses. We thought we might be able to tolerate the traffic noise, but then decided that wasn’t a good idea. That proved to be a good job too, as soon after we learned that a housing estate was going to be built on those lovely fields out back.
Okay, we were still being ardent in our searching and, not finding a bungalow to suit, thought that perhaps we should go for a house with extra sleeping space downstairs? That change of tactic proved to be a waste of time until we almost fell for a 1980’s bespoke five-bedroom, two-bathroom home built on farmer’s land, hidden down a private road. Advertised as having three garages, we found one had been converted to an annex (bedroom and en-suite, plus kitchen). It seemed ideal… until we found out that sewerage had to be pumped uphill to the mains drains. and we wondered too why the floor plan online had not shown this annex and showed only 4 bedrooms and one bathroom upstairs, when we saw more! The journalist in me pondered… had the house been built contrary to planning permission? This was such a shame as the property had lovely views over the Cheshire Plane on the west side and a south facing garden with a few out-buildings for chickens (or a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, I fantasised.) After we had backed off, we learned that the gorgeous view was again to be marred by new homes. So it was back to searching again.
Meanwhile, after having had several inspections on our house our buyers asked for a £2000 reduction, as a drain was found to be damaged by tree roots. We refused, as we felt it wouldn’t cost that much to put right. That might be a deal breaker for them though. Time is ticking – if they really want to move in, we have to move out - and quickly. We have decided to move into a rental if the sale now goes through speedily; but we are on holiday at the moment, so can’t look for bungalows. Even if we magically found our dream home, we couldn’t possibly have the solicitors’ side of things completed so quickly.
While we are away from home, the subject of moving into a bungalow is not far from my mind; I am even dreaming about single story dwellings. Only this week, I dreamed I had tea with the Queen. This is probably because Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee Weekend celebrations, are being beamed onto Spanish TV. In the dream, Queen Elizabeth had come to Stoke-on-Trent to open a new pottery factory in Tunstall; a local mayor had offered to host her for tea in his house in Summerbank (where I went to school). The ‘High Tea’, for her Royal Highness, coincided with me arriving at the dignitary’s bungalow, which was for sale. I was invited in and told to sit next to the Queen. Her Majesty was eating cream cakes and seemed aware of my reason for visiting.
“So, a bungalow is what you require, is it?” The Queen inquired. “Actually, I wouldn’t mind one myself… Buckingham Palace has far too many stairs and it’s awfully draughty. And, Windsor Castle is just too big for Philip and I!” she winked at me and I told her just how hard it has been to find my dream bungalow.
The Queen nodded sympathetically and patted my head. “Patience my dear. But I am sure this bungalow will suit you well.” She turned her head slightly and looked at the mayor, who was hovering dutifully two yards to her right. “Don’t you think so, Mayor Sudworth?”
“Yes Ma’am,” the mayor spluttered.
“And how much are you asking for it?”
“£500,000, Ma’am,” he blurted out.
“Come, come, that’s being rather greedy, my good man,” the Queen shot the petrified fellow a solemn look of disapproval.
“I would say that £250,000 is a fair price to charge this charming lady.” The Queen raised her voice…
But then, of course, I woke up!
Remembering that one bungalow, (we rejected) advertised as being in a ‘bucolic paradise’ of a village we were disappointed to find it was on a rat-run bank where all the cars and lorries changed gear and then revved madly up the hill, I was beginning to despair. How many more disappointments were we to face!
Still, alongside the traumas and disappointments, we’ve had some fun searching for our dream retirement home. Experiences that we will in time, look back on with a smile. Like the time we went to view a bungalow in the rain…
On the way to the viewing, the agent phoned to say that road works had been set up on a route that led to the property, but he said there was a way around them, to the north. This would mean us going down a set of country lanes. Our first attempt led us up a lane blocked by bales of hay! We turned around and approached from another direction; I then put on the Sat Nav. On and on we drove for miles and wound our way over hills and down vales before we were instructed to “…turn sharp left”. (onto a dirt track).
“Is this right?” my worried husband questioned, as our route became steeper, narrower, and bumpier.
“Yes – that’s what the Sat Nav says…” I replied with assurance, until we came to a slithering stop, about half a mile in. “Damn! I’ll call the breakdown service,” I said begrudgingly as I extracted my mobile from my handbag. But even that was not going to give us a smooth ride.
“No! No! My phone’s dead – give me yours?” I requested of my husband, who looked deflated.
“I, um, didn’t bring it – sorry.”
I got out of the car, fuming, and tried to push the car uphill. The wheels skidded in the mud and I got splattered. At the same time, as if by celestial order, the rain came down harder. “Okay… I am going to walk there – see you later then…” I declared emphatically, whilst trudging off, leaving my husband with his face in his hands. It was another half mile of uphill slog to the bungalow, I stumbled, but did eventually make it to the appointment, half an hour late. The owners opened the door to me, and the sight must have given them a great shock: a potential buyer who looks like a drowned rat. I tried to explain what happened and their hesitancy to let me in made me feel like running away. I apologised, (not that any of what we had been through was exactly my fault) and was eventually let in and dutifully shown around. On the tour of the house, I relayed the fact that my husband was stuck in a field, but that didn’t move them.
When starting my long walk back to the car I was met by my husband; he’d backed the car down to the tarmac lane and galloped up the dirt track to meet me. What a man… my hero! Together we headed into the bungalow again, to an altogether more welcoming reception, but our hearts were just not moved and we said our goodbyes.
Then there was the traditional three-bed detached bungalow that had been extended to accommodate a fourth bedroom. It had a double garage and was set in a cul-de-sac on a prestigious residential estate. From the outside it appeared very respectable: middle-class 1950s - but the deceased, previous occupiers must have been a somewhat eccentric couple. The 6m square lounge was carpeted in plush red carpet that set off the spectacular grand piano and an oversized, elaborately carved bar with mirrored tiles. Two of the walls were papered in gold patterned lamé and two in silver. In the middle of the floor was a sunken garden; lilies and other similar plants were in flower. “Liberace, perhaps?” I ventured. “We’re just ever so slightly north-east of Hollywood…” I continued, and we all laughed.
“Wait until you see the master bedroom’s en-suite,” the estate agent giggled.
It was indeed impressive, and much bigger than the bedroom. A round jacuzzi that would have comfortably fitted six was situated in one corner; its cast brass tap, in the form of an eagle, stood about a foot high. Plush brown carpet covered the floor. Twin sinks stood sentry-like side-by-side and a door led to the garden. Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas now came to mind.
“Hell of a project to put that lot right…” my husband groaned. He was right.
“Thank you for showing us… but no, it’s not right for us…” we said with a spring in our step, and moved on.
To this day we are still looking for our dream bungalow… the only trouble is… we need to move out of our house in seven weeks and it looks like we will be in that rental property for a while!
Maybe we shouldn’t have been so hasty in turning down Liberace’s former home!