Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Where to buy?

We had a fantastic week away in Yarmouth last week, and were very lucky with the weather. On the day we drove back, it began pissing down with rain. Prior to that it had been lovely - warm enough for us to go the outdoor pool at the park, a rarity indeed on our holidays on the home front in recent years.

Whilst we were down in Yarmouth, we spent quite a lot of time looking at property in the local area. This wasn't a spur of the moment decision but part of a long term plan, of which relocating is one of a number of options.

We've been privately renting in Bicester for some years, which has suited our purpose well, up until now. When Claire and I got together and Ollie was born we were on somewhat of a less secure financial footing than we are today and renting was our best option.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately, if you own a house), property prices have spiralled in Oxfordshire in recent years, to prices that I consider to be quite ridiculous. A recent survey showed that compared to average wages, this is the most expensive place to buy in the country - even more so than London.

This has made me extremely reluctant to buy back into the property market here, when prices are so inflated. If it was a case that we had jobs here that we were tied to - well paying jobs, then it would make sense. That's why it makes sense for so many London commuters to buy here. They need to be in range of the capital to be able to travel there to bring home the big salaries. It is partly the demand for housing from these people that drives the property market in this area. I don't have a problem with that or any cause for complaint - it's a simple case of supply and demand.

Up until about 18 months ago, I had no choice but to stay local. I was earning a good living as a DJ, with a regular slot on a Sunday at the White Hart and lots of lucrative weddings and other gigs bringing home plenty of bacon. The downside was, it tied me to this area. We probably could have scraped enough together to buy a house locally at this point, but it would have meant mortgaging ourselves up to the hilt.

And I was tiring of the DJ'ing. It was something that I loved doing, but I never truly got the chance to express myself in the way I would have liked. Playing an old skool gig full of Ibiza tunes or an Indie music night would have been my dream night as a DJ - making a room full of like minded people go crazy. Sadly I never got to do that, not once in seven years. Week after week, I had to rely on the same old cheesy 80s tunes, Motown songs and R&B to keep the crowd happy at the weddings. Playing it safe like that just isn't my way, and I found it increasingly boring.

My writing career was blossoming at the time. I already had my blogs, my non-fiction books and my Oxford Mail column and I was toying with the idea of writing a novel. The thing I loved about writing was I had total freedom to be myself. For the Oxford Mail, I just wrote exactly what I felt, in the same style I'd always written. They didn't edit it any way, and ran every one, word for word. It was a huge confidence boost for me and gave me the impetus I needed to embark on the the novels.

Now here we are a year or two on, and I'm so chuffed to be able to say I'm making a living from my writing. Every time a new review pops up on Amazon from someone saying how much they love my work, it makes me feel like I'm finally doing something worthwhile with my life and I can express myself completely freely. My heart and soul goes into those stories, with no need to doctor for the audience. No-one half way through any of my books is obliged to burst into a chorus of Agadoo to please a pushy bride!

Where's all this leading? Well, crucially, my writing is something I can do anywhere. No longer am I tied to the local area. My books will earn the same money in Bicester, Yarmouth or the Outer Hebrides. I've given myself the freedom to move - if I so want to. I could not have done so if I was still DJ'ing for a living. The other good thing about the writing is that the sky is the limit potentially, and my books keep earning money long after I've written them.

Claire works for the NHS, so she too has transferable skills. In short there's nothing to keep us here.

But do I want to move away? It's been our home for so long and there are the kids to think of. It would be a big wrench to leave everything behind. But buy a house here when we don't need to? To me that's madness along the lines of going to fill up the car for £2 a litre at Esso when Shell have got it for £1 next door.

To put it in perspective. We looked at several perfectly nice 3 bedroom houses in Yarmouth that were in the £120k to £150k range. Here in Bicester, you would not even get a 1 bedroom flat for that.

So - two options really - carry on renting forever or relocate...

...or are those the only two options?

There is in fact a third, and it is one I am leaning more and more towards. In fact, I've already put in an application. There are to be 1,900 new plots of land made available on the old Graven Hill army site. These are being sold at affordable prices for people who want to build their own homes - not for property speculators! A few months ago, I became aware of this, and I thought, what if we could build our own house?

The more I've thought about this, the more it's seemed like a possible solution. Build our own house? Seems like a monumental task. But I've got a good team on board. My Dad designed and built his own house in the 60's, and not only that, my brother-in-law is a builder.

For the past few weeks we've been doing some serious research into this, and we truly believe it is a possibility. There's no guarantee we'll be accepted, and it will be a lot of hard work if we do go ahead - but what an exciting project if we do.

It's a hugely daunting prospect, but if other people can do it, why can't we? If I really put my mind to something, I can achieve it. If we are given this opportunity, I'll grab it with both hands. The chance to build a home for my young family? Bring it on.

And if we don't get a plot, well there's always Yarmouth.

 Jason Ayres is the author of six books, including his brand new novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

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