Building our own Home: Where to start?

After starting a Pinterest board named ‘Mi Casa’, because ‘Interior Design’ sounded too pretentious and ‘My House’ in English was too basic, I promptly added 47 pictures of A-Frame cabins. After my third brushed bronze extending kitchen tap and sixth industrial-style hanging dining room light, I started to feel a little overwhelmed. Whilst the finishing touches are a lovely way to turn a house into a home, not only do we not have the foundations down but we don’t yet have the land to put the foundations on.

Trying to avoid a defeatist mindset I started googling. ‘How to build your own home’, ‘How much does it cost to build your own home’ ‘Can you get a mortgage on a self build project’ and quickly realised I was a long way out of my depth. It was going to be a while before my hardest decision was finding a balance between hygge and industrial furnishings.

Suddenly the dream of buying a beautiful patch of land in the mountains was slipping further and further away and an impending sense of office job monotony started creeping in again. At this point, my ingrained, millennial sense, of not being able to accept no as an answer kicked in and the start of 6 months research commenced. From mortgages, to business loans, to the return on Airbnbs, anything that had the remote chance of giving us a shot at freedom was fair game. We’ve still got a long way to go, but this is what I’ve learned so far.

You have to have money, before anyone will loan you money.

Getting a mortgage is hard. Getting a self-build mortgage is even harder. Don’t have a deposit? You’re screwed. After Christmas I started looking at our options and making enquires with a broker. The long and short of it was, with anything under a £10,000 deposit, unless you’re purchasing bricks and mortar, no one is interested in lending to you. Building your own home is risky and so much can go wrong compared to buying an existing property. Whilst it’s significantly cheaper overall and you can get exactly what you want, expect to put up at least a 30-40% deposit. If you don’t already own the land to build on, this could easily be in the region of £75-100K. Now, we don’t have that. Not even a 10th of that. So we had to go down a more creative route. If you can find something to secure it against, like property you or your family already own, investments or a car, then some lenders might start entertaining your application.

Having a few defaults on your credit report, isn’t the end of the world.

I’ve worked for a financial giant my entire adult life. A portion of which was spent in customer services, where I’ve had grown men and women scream, panic and cry over the fear of defaults on their credit reports. Until now, I’ve never tried to get anything more than finance on our car. I just assumed you would need a squeaky clean profile, earning a mint with a huge deposit or backing from the bank of mum and dad to ever be approved for a mortgage.

Turns out, even with a few misdemeanours it’s possible. After the financial crash, lenders definitely tightened their criteria and became far more risk averse than the early 2000s. However, these days there are companies willing to help those who have been shafted by the big banks, even if it does mean you’ll pay an extortionate amount in interest.

There is so. Much. Paperwork.

Proof of address. Certified copies of ID. 36 pages of terms and conditions, counter signatures, guarantees, statements, letters of consent – the list of supporting documents feels endless. Just when you think providing the video of your birth along with a blood sample is enough, they’ll ask for the midwife who delivered you, to voucher for the birthmark on you left shoulder.

Okay, so that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but don’t expect the process to be fast. It took 3 months of back and forth almost everyday for us to finally get approved for the money. Have patience young padiwan.

Everything has a cost.

Even transferring the funds to your bank account. There’s a £30 charge for that for some reason. Expect every man, woman and child who so much as glances at your application, to have some sort of cut of the profit. Usually all these fees just get added to your overall loan amount but they do add up and can quickly add a year or twos worth of extra payments to the length of the agreement.

It’s a long road to freedom.

This time last month we finally got approved for our loan. The sense of relief has been intense and meant we can actually go up to Scotland knowing we can buy our own piece of paradise. The first step is the hardest and the last three months have been long, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. I have no idea what’s in store for us next, but I’m confident it’s in equal parts exciting, challenging and filled with paperwork.

Living in the Wild: Will it be Lonely?

Megan standing on the side of a mountain, overlooking Loch Nevis in Scotland

“Won’t you get lonely?” Seems to be the one unifying sentence from city dwellers when it comes to discussing remote living. Usually followed swiftly by ‘I could never do that’. Good job no ones asking you too then. Admittedly, I have a romanticized view of what our future life in the Scottish Highlands will look like. From a hygge, self-built a-frame to wild camping with our puppies at the weekends, it’s hard to find something wrong with this picture.

With the intention of being able to perfectly argue my point (and a little out of nervousness), I started googling rural isolation and loneliness in the countryside. Between bickering telegraph journalists and images of the frail and elderly, this is what I learnt.

Loneliness and isolation are not linked.

The amount of times I’ve sat in my flat, surrounded by the 300,000 other inhabitants of Brighton and Hove, listening to my neighbours stomping and the music from an obscure festival in Brunswick Square, thinking ‘I feel so out of place’ is uncountable. In a city, I feel isolated and claustrophobic. In the mountains, in the Highlands, in the backcountry – I feel connected and content. Others find these very same open spaces intimidating and will find comfort in the hustle and bustle of a busy bar.

We all have different journeys, fears and experiences that shape who we are and what we enjoy. I am naturally introverted and like to pick and choose the people I interact with. I also like to limit the number of bodies in my personal space, which isn’t always possible at rush hour on the Brighton mainline. Overall, human contact is important for all us. So if you need it to recharge your batteries and feel more like you, perhaps reconsider the move to the middle-of-nowhere.

Rural isolation is a thing and it really affects some people.

I’m not going to be one of those people that denies something exists because it doesn’t apply to me. Just because I’m a heterosexual white female and don’t experience homophobia or racism on a daily basis doesn’t mean it’s not happening to other people.

Whilst rural isolation can affect anyone – regardless of their identity – it tends to be the elderly and the vulnerable that suffer the most. Lack of health care, internet access, education and council funding can have a hugely detrimental impact on those struggling with either mental or physical health. Fortunately, at this point in my life, between Ben, my family and my friends, I have built up a strong support system. I’ve learnt the importance of talking about my mental health and am confident that if I was struggling, I would be able to talk about it with my nearest and dearest.

‘Sense of community’ vs ‘nosey neighbours’.

Relationships in the countryside are very different to those found in the city. It’s not uncommon when out hiking, to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the trail. This would be horribly impractical in central London, as you’d spend your entire morning greeting grumpy commuters.

There is a much stronger reliance on neighbours in rural communities. Need a 24-hour vet/plumber/off license? Good luck in the backcountry. Not even Amazon Prime guarantees next day delivery to the Highlands and Islands. Getting to know the locals could make things a lot more comfortable, especially if they know a trade.

The city isn’t all bad.

As much as I think my time in the South East of England is coming to an end, it’s important to remember the good things about living in a city. Inherently as human beings, we tend to fixate on all the things we don’t have and forget to be grateful for the things we do. I don’t have to think about planning meals as Coop is a 5-minute walk away and open until 11pm. My local gym has all my favourite classes, the bakery at the bottom of the road does the best almond croissants and there’s a hipster coffee shop every 100 meters. If I’ve forgotten something at the last minute for a camping trip, I can choose between Blacks, Cotswolds, Millets or one of the other 20-odd outdoors stores within a 5-mile radius of our flat.

I’ve weighed up what I’m happy to lose against what I think I’ll gain and I’m ready to make those sacrifices. One thing I’ll readily admit I’m going to miss is being able to Deliveroo vegan pizza on a lazy Sunday though. I hope the mountains are worth it. (They are).

In conclusion..

To draw some sort of vague conclusion, rural isolation does exist and it is prevalent within certain remote communities. However, living remotely does not directly cause rural isolation. Other factors including wealth, or lack thereof, age, health and family all play an important part in feeling lonely. The government are slowly making progress in making communities feel more connected. Whilst I feel confident that I won’t be one of the ones suffering, when we make our move to the Highlands, I want to help those who are. 

The Boring Phase

Unfortunately, most journeys have a boring bit. Getting stuck in traffic on the M25, queuing for security at the airport or in this case, saving money. We’ve decided on our extremely vague plan of buying a patch of land, in the beautiful and rugged Scottish Highlands, then building our own home on it. How are we going to do it? I have no idea. Ben has no idea. I know it’ll be expensive, but probably not as bad as getting a mortgage on a one bed flat in Brighton. 

I’ve watched enough Grand Designs in my time to know that the budget will inevitably run over, that trying to have both a full-time job and project manage the build is impossible and if you don’t get the roof on by winter you’re f*cked. But even vaguely entertaining the idea of architects drawings, searching for a plot of land or one of us quitting our jobs feels like a very distant dream. We’d be lucky to have enough saved right now to have a 10% deposit for a very cheap piece of land, let alone the 30% required for self-build projects. Not to mention stamp duty, construction costs and the question of what we’ll do for work when we get up there, but we’ll figure that out later!

We have a plan. Kinda. Well, not really at all, but we do have drive and a real want to live a better life. Even if that means less ‘stuff’, the experience will be worth it. I’m not convinced I’ll be reflecting on my iPhone X on my death bed, but I will be thinking about the view from our AirBNB living room window in Andorra. Or the moment the Swiss mountains took my breath away driving from Frankfurt to Lake Como. Still, it is pretty cool that you can actually be the smiling poo emoji isn’t it?

Sun setting over snow capped Andorran mountain town.

View from our AirBNB in Sant Julia de Loria, Andorra

Nevertheless, by this time next year, we’ll be debt free and ready to get seriously saving. Might mean for a while we forgo our road trips abroad for camping trips in the U.K. but it’ll be worth it. I’ve been to Fiji but never visited Ireland, so no time like the present to start exploring what’s on our own doorstep. So welcome to the boring phase! We’ll try and make this as interesting as possible, keep you all posted on our research and inevitable frustrations and who knows, perhaps we’ll jack it all in, buy a van and travel Europe before we even vaguely get close to our goal. Whatever. It’ll be fun.