Real life

Our East Sussex house-hunting nightmare

18 September 2021

9:00 AM

18 September 2021

9:00 AM

The two-acre smallholding lived up to its name in being very, very small indeed.

We had to squeeze around the front door one at a time to get into the entrance hall, which was also the front room and the entry to the stairway.

It was a red-brick semi in a row of cottages on a ridge overlooking a valley just outside a quaint Sussex village where we stopped beforehand and convinced ourselves we would be happy with one unfriendly café, a novelty homewares store and a hiking shop that was so pretentious it was advertising ‘directional clothing’.

The short, block-paved driveway of the house was so steep we didn’t dare drive the XC90 up on to it for fear the handbrake would give way and the Volvo would crash through the living room window of the house opposite.

While attempting to perch it in the road sideways on, we noticed that the paving of both this house and the one next door was covered in chalk drawings… an elephant, a swirly-tailed pig, a sun symbol…

I saw chalk pavement art in India, but those drawings were exquisite and these were scary. As we stood staring at them, a car pulled up at the house next door and a harassed-looking mother and two kids got out.

They were those children with messy hair-dos and outfits that are so ill-defined they could be either boys or girls, or one of the exciting new varieties in between. She ushered them into the house giving us an accusatory look that said: ‘You better not stop my children chalking pictures on your side of the drive if you buy that house. Because Sky and Willow need to express themselves.’


As I watched them go inside, I realised the entire front of their house was covered in chalk. This mother had allowed her brats to graffiti the walls. ‘They’re monsters,’ I whispered to the builder boyfriend.

The agent arrived looking embarrassed, as well he might, and tried a dozen keys before he found the right one and invited us to squeeze sideways round the door.

It was a worker’s cottage, but they had stuck lumps on it and divided it into lots of rooms, all the size of cupboards. There were also a lot of cupboards. After trying to make sense of a tiny master bedroom with an ensuite bathroom right next door to the main bathroom, I felt so confused and claustrophobic I was glad when he finally took us outside to see ‘the land’.

A small patio area led to a small, unused stable yard, and beyond that were the two acres, which had been set up as five-a-side football pitches. Kiddy-sized goal sets and footballs were scattered about.

As we had been told the tenant renting the place was a single guy, I feared the worst: Sky and Willow had commandeered the paddocks, and were coming through a gap in the fence to express themselves with footballs when they grew tired of chalk.

‘It’s not for us,’ said the BB, in a rare moment of word mincing.

We just wanted to go home. We were worn out on this, our first house-hunt in East Sussex.

Earlier, we had viewed a derelict bungalow with water pouring through the ceiling. It did have six acres, but on the down side, the grandson of the deceased owner had taken up residence in a shed in the grounds because of a dispute about the will.

We saw him as we walked around the wildly overgrown garden. He was sitting by the open door, his feet in a tub of water, a can of beer in one hand and a TV remote in the other. He had a brand new, shiny, black, what the BB called ‘pimped up’ Range Rover on the driveway.

‘Is he cooking meths in there?’ I asked the agent, but he didn’t see the funny side.

As we arrived, an ashen-faced young couple had marched down the driveway, pushed their two children into the back of their people carrier and sped down the lane with their tyres screeching.

Let’s face it, the agent had shown about 700 people around this dump and all of them had said they could fix the roof, but the feature grandson in shed with feet in bucket was a deal breaker.

Clearly, these nightmarish places had been priced for developers. The owners were hoping a house builder would come along and buy them out at top dollar for an exciting new development called The Paddocks, or Cedar Heights.

One good thing came out of it. When we got back to our deceptively spacious house on a village green, with idiot dog walkers screaming and blowing whistles and angry stockbrokers pedalling past on electric bikes, we were more grateful for the place than ever.

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