Our family home in England went back on the market at the end of September, after the prospective buyer withdrew her offer. I was disappointed, as she had seemed the perfect person for the place, but it wasn’t to be,/
Finally, just before Christmas, another turned up with an offer rather lower than we had hoped for, but – hey, beggars can’t be choosers, and the house wasn’t improving by standing empty through the bad weather. If you know the UK, you will know that for the two weeks around Christmas and New Year, life comes to a standstill. So I had to be patient until mid January, when I learned that my buyer’s mortgage application had been approved, and the solicitors contacted me for confirmation of this and that detail. The estate agent was very reassuring throughout February, and I had high hopes of completing the sale by Easter, when I shall be flying off to the sun again.
But March duly came in like a lion and the Beast from the East (as the weather-people nicknamed the violent freezing blasts from the Arctic) and storm Emma were out to wreak havoc. Temperatures overnight plunged to -8°C. Then came the thaw.
My neighbour phoned me on Sunday morning: “I’m afraid I have bad news …” My first thought was that someone had died. So it was almost a relief to hear him continue, “A water pipe has burst in the loft and there’s a waterfall cascading down the stairs.” Exactly the same had happened in his house, and another neighbour had also lost tiles from her roof and had snow inside her house. Does it help to know you are not alone in your trouble?
I had had the foresight to check with the neighbour only a few days before to make sure that the central heating was still on and the house was warm, but the loft was very well insulated, and the pipe in question, although it was lagged, was located above the insulation and therefore vulnerable in the icy air.
First aid came in the form of our trusty plumber-electrician, who ought by rights to be retiring but has more work than he can deal with. He turned off the water, electricity and gas to make the house safe but didn’t have time to stop and repair the pipe, as he had a list as long as his arm of further emergencies to attend to.
On the Monday morning I e-mailed the estate agent and a chartered surveyor friend who has helped me in the past with building maintenance work. Both of these sent building contractors to have a look, and assess the damage. The builders both said the same: the floor and wall coverings need to be removed so that the fabric of the house can dry out, and possibly the water has got into the electric circuit, but an electrician will need to look into that.
Good, I thought, things are moving. I had forgotten this was England. Things don’t move that fast if you aren’t there to wield a whip. It was ten days before a skip was hired and the sodden carpets taken up, and it will be about three weeks before the plumber gets around to repairing the pipe. Then an electrician can go in and see if the circuits are OK.
I was in Germany at the time, so I phoned the insurance company and explained the situation. There was a certain amount of confusion over the policy, which had originally been in my mother’s name and has only been in my name since last July. Apparently, that isn’t long enough for it to be retrieved easily in the computer. In the end, the woman on the phone found it in her system and confirmed that it was valid, and I should call again to make a claim when I was back home.
That delayed us another week, and no work can be done until the insurance company has sent someone to inspect and assess the damage and received quotes from the two building firms. Then, I gather, they will take over and arrange for whatever repairs are necessary. I hope I understood that correctly.
Meanwhile, the central heating is off and this weekend it’s snowing again.
It has now been two weeks since the leak was discovered. I have photos of how my poor house looked ten days ago, but I dread to think of how much worse it must be by now: sodden floorboards and walls, the woodwork swollen with water, and the front door has jammed.
Does the buyer know yet? The estate agent says he is waiting to be able to give him the good news, viz. that he will be spared the work and expense of removing old carpets and wall coverings, and the walls will be re-plastered and papered free of charge. He may even get new floors. Will it affect the sale, or delay completion? I’ll soon find out.
This weekend is the anniversary of my mother’s funeral. Although (as my daughter says) the soul had gone out of the place as soon as she was no longer living there, a year ago I was still so closely attached to her house that I couldn’t begin to think of handing it over to strangers. I was distressed when I saw the garden beginning to run wild in the summer, and it was a harrowing task to de-clutter and clear out the house last September.
However, as autumn and winter advanced, I began to look forward to closure and the idea of someone else bringing it back to life, with a young family making it their home. It will be liberating to hand it over to them. I like the idea of the timing, that they will become its new owners exactly 80 years after my father and mother (aged 24 and 21 respectively) moved in, in April 1938. Springtime is surely the best time for new beginnings. I hope and pray that all goes smoothly now.