- After years living in London and paying extortionate rent, I moved in with my dad during COVID.
- With no housing expenses, I was able to save $1,200 a month for a down payment.
- Life being turned upside down by the pandemic showed me I needed a home base once and for all.
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Before the pandemic, I was living in Notting Hill in London, right on Portobello Road. The famous book store from the movie "Notting Hill" was about 20 meters from my flat.
I was sharing a two-bed, sixth-floor flat with my friend and his then-girlfriend. Splitting the rent three ways meant I was getting a steal for the location at just $1,166 (£845) per month. Today, I'm nearly finished with the purchase of my own home. I have the pandemic to thank for that - the silver lining of a dark year.
I moved back in with my dad to ride out the pandemic - and landed on a golden savings opportunity
Allow me to acknowledge my privilege: I will be forever grateful that I was able to emerge from the darkest depths of a pandemic in a comparatively better financial situation than when it started. I know not everyone can say the same.
When the pandemic first gripped the UK, I had just returned from spending a few months working remotely, finishing up in Brazil. As the COVID situation worsened, I decided that staying in my friends' spare room in London wasn't the best place to ride it out. Instead, I moved back into my dad's house in Durham, where I grew up, in the North East of England. It was a safer bet than trying to find a rental place in the middle of a pandemic. More importantly, it meant that I could finally start saving to buy a place of my own.
After years of convincing myself (and trying to convince my dad) that it was feasible to continue spending a hefty chunk of my salary each month on rent, the pandemic sparked a shift in my now 30-year-old and (slightly) more mature brain. Enough was enough. It was time to buy a place.
Fast forward to July 2021, and I'm one step away from completing the purchase of my first home - a beautiful apartment near the River Tyne in Newcastle, a city high up in the North East of the country, not too far from the Scottish border. At $234,000 (£170,000) it's not cheap for Newcastle, but less than half the price of what many people I know are spending on similar properties in London.
I think it was a combination of nearing 30 years old and life being turned upside down by the pandemic that shifted my mindset. I love London and I'll forever cherish the memories of my 20s in The Big Smoke. But it was time for change. I suddenly felt the desire to put down some roots, really take control of my finances once and for all, and move into the next decade of my life as a homeowner.
I wouldn't say that I'm completely done with London, I'd say we're just separated for a while, since I have plans to travel and work in London in the future. But my new home in Newcastle will be my very own space and a base that I will always have to come back to in between doing what I love most - travelling.
Living with my dad was the only way I could have saved up enough for a down payment
For the majority of folks in cities like London and New York, saving money isn't easy. If you're a high-flying lawyer or banker who can afford to pay extortionate rent, live the big-city life, and still manage to put a decent amount of money aside, then yes, it's a different story. That was not the case for me, and it's not for many people I know in London either. Even earning a higher-than-average London wage, it was a struggle to get to the end of each month in the green.
Over the four and a half years I lived in London on and off, I spent somewhere in the region of $70,000 (£55,000) on rent. I'm aware that this figure would likely be considerably higher for those living in Manhattan, or even out in Brooklyn or further afield. But, when you consider that's enough to pay cash for a three-bedroom property up here in the North East, it brings things into perspective.
It took me almost a year of saving to put away $23,000 (£17,000), the 10% down payment I needed to secure a property valued at $234,000 (£170,000). I decided I'd aim to save around £1,200 per month - the same money that I would have spent on rent and other outgoings in London.
Some months I saved more, some less. But each payday, I'd transfer the amount for that month into a separate bank account so it was out of sight and out of mind. I chose this method rather than the UK government's Help To Buy ISA (Individual Savings Account) because I wanted to save more per month than the limit would have allowed. The funds soon built up and before I knew it I had enough for a deposit.
Why did I choose to buy a house in the middle of a pandemic? Because I saw an opportunity and grabbed it. Until now, it's something I hadn't even considered doing. Not because I didn't want to, but because I would never have been able to save enough to buy a place of my own if I'd stayed living in London. It's an unbelievably satisfying feeling knowing that now I'll be paying my own mortgage every month, rather than someone else's.