Sunrise/sunset: Up all day.
I am buying a house! I wanted to get that in there right away as it’s filling my mind. It seems odd that at 53 years old, I am back at the point of going through new and momentous experiences, but I guess that’s true of anyone who has left a long-term marriage and started again. This will be the first house I will have sole ownership of and this is also the first time I have gone through the buying process in Norway.
I went to the viewing last Monday. I guess all the details I am about to give might be boring for my Norwegian friends, so I apologise to them, but for me it was all new. When Charlie and I moved to Norway, he came six months earlier than me and the children, so by the time I moved over, he had gone through this whole process and I wasn’t involved at all.
In the UK, viewings tend to be individual. You call the estate agent, make an appointment, then go to look. Most often, it’s the house owner that shows you round. If you like the house and think you might want to buy it, you will probably get a thorough survey done before going any further. After that, the whole process is bound up with solicitors and takes an age.
Here in Norway, the survey is done by the seller. All the details about what is sound and what isn’t are provided in the listing. A viewing time is arranged with the seller and anybody who is interested in the house attends during that timeslot. The house owner goes out; it’s the estate agent who remains to direct proceedings and they don’t show you round. Rather, you have the freedom to wander through the house at your leisure in the same way you might if you were viewing a new build house in the UK.
It was a lonely experience. I had hoped that John or Andrew could come with me, but both had other commitments. I also considered asking a colleague, but I had put in my mortgage application late and I hadn’t heard back from the bank, so everything was still up in the air. In Norway the bidding process often happens the day after the viewing. You can’t bid unless you have finances in place and I didn’t want to see the house if I wasn’t sure I could afford it. The bank finally told me at quarter to three on Monday afternoon that I could have a mortgage big enough to cover the house, and the viewing was at five, so I headed out there, feeling underprepared.
I didn’t love it. You often hear about people falling in love with houses, but there were many small things which didn’t show up in the photographs or survey details. The bathroom looked smart and modern in the pictures, but when I walked in, the shower unit was obviously older than I had thought and it will never look sparkling clean again. In the bedrooms, hallway and living room, there are lots of little holes, badly filled ex-holes and lumps in the papered wall panels, which are made of wood and not plaster. There is wallpaper that’s been painted over, and in one random patch, the textured paper was different from that surrounding it. All-in-all the house had an unloved feeling. I can’t blame the person who did this. I did the same in the house I shared with Charlie as I am no expert and had no money to do anything better, but I know that when I get this house, I want gradually to erase all those flaws.
It’s not particularly big, but it has four bedrooms. Perhaps it seems odd to want to make sure John, Anna and Andrew can all still come home at the same time and have their own space, but that is what I want and I’m not going to fight it.
Anyway, having been to the viewing, where the only other people were a young man and (presumably) his father, I had to wait until 18th May for the next steps. As I said above, the bidding on a house often starts the day after the viewing, but the viewing was on 16th May and the day after is a special bank holiday here in Norway – Norway’s national celebration. I haven’t any pictures (the weather was awful this year) but the link above will take you to last year’s, (rather muted) celebrations.
I had an appointment in Tromsø on the 18th and I was staying there for the rest of the week, so Wednesday afternoon found me alone in a hotel room, trying to work, while wondering what I would do about the house. I still wasn’t certain I wanted to go ahead. It seemed too significant a decision to jump into blindly.
Bu then the estate agent sent me a link to sign into the bidding. Having come thus far, I thought I would sign in and see what the thing looked like. I was still kind of terrified. Once you bid, your offer is binding if the seller accepts it. It felt like a monumental decision to be taking on my own in an anonymous hotel room. But what was there to lose if I put in a low bid? If it was accepted, I would be getting a bargain I could easily afford. If it was rejected, or someone else outbid me, then I’d lost nothing. I typed in my bid and the time when then offer would run out. My fingers were shaking as I clicked “send”.
It was at this point it crossed my mind that I could contact Lara Wilson. Many years ago, back in the UK when I was a high flying executive (well technically the Operations Manager at Vets Now) Laura was the head vet in the Belfast clinic and we hit it off immediately. Our friendship has deepened over the years and it was Lara who basically chivvied me into completing my last book manuscript, despite the fact that she was in Glasgow while I was in Norway.
Within minutes we were in conversation on Facebook messenger, and her enthusiasm for life (and buying houses) was seeping in and bypassing my wibblingness. I had set the offer timer for only half an hour. How to do the whole thing, and what the norms were, were outside my range of experience. The form had told me a minimum of thirty minutes and I had followed that as the time had popped up automatically. I watched as the clock ticked down, wondering if there was something else I should be doing. Though I’ve never bought a house in Norway, Charlie and I had recently gone through this process from the other side. If I tell you I missed the actual bidding process that time because I was on a flight from Tromsø to Oslo, you can probably get an idea of how fast the whole thing usually goes.
Would my bid be accepted? Might another come in? If it wasn’t enough, the seller might make a counter offer. Presumably the longer it went, the more likely it was that I’d get it?
I was on tenterhooks as the final minutes ticked down. Then the time came and went, and a sign popped up to say my bid had expired.
What on earth? I admit I felt baffled. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Picking up my phone, I called the estate agent’s number. The woman from the viewing answered and I asked her what had happened. She took a look, then explained that the estate agent was in a meeting. He hadn’t even seen my offer before it expired. I asked her what happened next? Should I bid again? Should I give a longer time? How long was normal? She couldn’t possibly say. Not allowed to advise me. I confess I was a bit frustrated with her. I wasn’t asking for advice, I was asking what was normal. She said she’d get the estate agent to call me when he came out. He probably wouldn’t be long.
I whiled away the time by putting in another bid, this time with a longer expiry. This time, the estate agent saw it and I received a message that it was now live. Yet again, I watched the clock tick down, and yet again there was no response. I was pretty much at the stage of giving up by now. I wasn’t sure how it should go, but this definitely wasn’t it. And then some action came. The owner, I learned, had made a late counter suggestion and from there on in, it was no longer an auction, but a bartering process. It dribbled on a bit. I get the impression that the seller was reluctant because she wasn’t getting as much as she’d hoped for. But by two o’clock the following day, we had agreed on a price and I was committed to buying.
Since then, there has been a parade of links and tasks and forms to fill in. Most of them are in Norwegian obviously, which adds a little piquancy to the whole process. I still feel I’m stumbling through thick woodland undergrowth wearing a pair of steamed up sunglasses, but presumably at some point I’ll come out on the other side. Hopefully it will be sunny.
Anyway, in other news, we visited the farm where John is lambing last weekend. It was a wonderful day. John’s employers were very welcoming and seem very pleased with him. I felt very proud as I saw him handling the animals with assurance. And of course, lambs are very, very cute!
On Thursday and Friday I was working in Tromsø. Amongst other things, Line had arranged for me to blood sample two cows. There was some pressure, given that I had been brought up from Finnsnes and had been touted as an expert, but thankfully it went off without a hitch. The cows were fairly quiet and I took the samples from their tails, as I had done thousands of times before, many years ago in Scotland. Indeed, I think I could happily spend my life blood testing cows. If anyone knows of such a job, please do let me know!
Last but not least, we inspected a husky farm. Seeing the lovely, friendly dogs, the brightly coloured sledding gear and the hut, where the ceiling was blackened from woodfire smoke, really made me want to come back in the winter and take part. One day, hopefully I will.