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Spend & Save

Donald MacInnes: Would I shell out £250,000 cash for a gaff smelling of dry cleaning?


I promised (threatened?) when my wife and I started viewing new homes that I would keep you up to speed. We haven't bought a house yet, but things are trundling along. We have so far viewed half a dozen, all of them within a couple of miles of where we currently hang our hats: Blackheath, in south-east London.

If you're not familiar with this part of the capital, it sits right next to Greenwich (of "What time is it?" fame) and Lewisham (of "What time did the police station stop burning?" fame).

Greenwich being a lovely and leafy little demi-village on the river, it would probably be cheaper to buy the 02 Arena, which squats by the Thames, than to purchase a house there. Lewisham is similarly rejected, although that tends to be because, having lived in a bachelor flat there, I have heard enough screams, gunshots and wailing sirens for a lifetime. Actually, most of those sounds emanated from the flat below, which contained a man with about nine distinct personalities, who liked to knock on my door in the middle of the night in his pants. And not in a good way.

Thus we find ourselves trawling property websites for areas which offer some aspects of these two very different neighbourhoods. And, like dipping a crab paste-smeared big toe into a river full of piranha fish, as soon as you alert London's estate agents to your desire for a new gaff, you are immediately surrounded and completely besieged by swarms of well-dressed, if somewhat shifty, 25-year-olds; outwardly enthusiastic, but so utterly jaded with the whole process that you expect to wander into the kitchen of whichever empty house you are perusing and find your representative slumped on the floor, dribbling sad tears on to their iPad.

The first flat we saw was a good example of this. It was located above a dry cleaners, meaning that the whole flat reeked of whichever steamy chemicals they use to get that red wine stain off your best duvet.

As he jiggled the key in the lock to let us in, the estate agent sighed the sigh of the truly hacked-off and said: "Of course, no-one will give you a mortgage for this. It's the dry-cleaning chemicals, you see. They damage the… eh, they affect the… well, they're not good."

I cast a glance at my wife, who returned my expression of "Why is he showing us this place if no one will mortgage it?" However, it being our first viewing, we thought we should go through with it, so gave the flat the once-over, but with all the attention to detail of Prince Philip inspecting some troops in Manila in 40-degree heat when lunch is already being served.

Maybe our guy didn't think we needed a mortgage. Maybe he thought we would pay cash. But do I look like the kind of guy who keeps a quarter of a million quid in his pocket? Don't answer that…