x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

On the Money: Call to home ownership is finally loud and clear

For the first time, I want a place to call my own. A base. A chance to finally gather up all my belongings, inconveniently located in Australia, Asia and Europe.

Gary Clement for The National
Gary Clement for The National

Ah, the irony of it all. Having spent the better part of my adult life avoiding that ball-and-chain commitment known as owning a home, I suddenly want one. Now.

I've spent years frittering away my money on rent, arguing that I wasn't ready for the weight of responsibility that being a home owner would bring. And being a long-term expat, the thought of managing a property from overseas always seemed too complicated.

But then, a few months ago, it hit me like an express train: all those years of renting meant that I'd been paying off quite a few mortgages anyway. Unfortunately, none of them were mine. And, yes, before you state the obvious, I know that I could have been a global property tycoon by now if only I'd woken up sooner. My new mantra? Live and learn.

And so I find myself at a crossroads in my life. For the first time, I want a place to call my own. A base. A chance to finally gather up all my belongings, inconveniently located in Australia, Asia and Europe (not to mention what I've got here), and put them in the one place. Somewhere to go in the summer holidays, instead of constantly being on the move, living out of a suitcase for weeks on end and relying on the generosity of family and friends to put you up for a few nights here and there because that five-star hotel you had your eye on has been booked out for the summer.

I'm in unfamiliar territory, but I figure it happens to everybody one day. Kind of like getting married or having kids. For some, at least.

I started my property search a few months ago. But what you see in the virtual world is very different to the real world. On the internet, I found properties that captured my imagination, but it turned out there were always hidden snares. Some were money pits, others were riddled with damp and the rest were simply not worth the asking price.

I gave up on the virtual world and decided to spend the past few weeks looking for the house of my dreams during my summer holiday. It may not have been the most exciting of breaks, but it was an eye-opener - more so because I was looking at houses through the eyes of a potential buyer and not a renter.

I've looked at a lot of houses and flats before, but only with a view to rent. As a renter, issues such as when the roof was last replaced or how old heating or air-conditioning units are were never a problem. As long as everything worked, all was good. And if something broke down, then the landlord would take care of it.

And this is what scares me: as a home owner, you are responsible for everything. It's not that I shirk responsibility. It's just that owning a home has always been one less responsibility for me to worry about, not to mention nurturing my mortgage-averse personality. If the truth be told, mortgages terrify me, especially these days.

There was one house I knew I couldn't live without. But it had been snapped up before I could even organise an inspection. Number two on my list was still available. And it ticked all the right boxes. A fabulous cottage just south of Stockholm, near the picturesque village of Gnesta.

But my goal of returning to Abu Dhabi as a new homeowner wasn't to be, thwarted by an express train of the real kind. The inspection was going well - until, that is, the Göteborg to Stockholm fast train roared by. "There's a rail line at the bottom of the back garden," the agent suddenly remembered to tell us.

But he'd done his maths. According to the agent, the total daily tally of noise from the Göteborg to Stockholm train was just 10 minutes. He even timed one go by when we were there, as agents do when they are trying to find a way to brighten up a negative selling point.

In the 30 minutes we were at the house, four trains whooshed by. So that's eight every hour. Or 192 over a 24-hour period. If I'm there for a three-week break, I'd have no choice but to morph into a nerdy trainspotter. Why? Because in that time, I would have watched 4,032 trains rumble by. Not what I'd call an incentive to buy this particular house and spend my holidays there.

And so my search continues, despite the urgency I'm feeling. In the meantime, I am probably paying off another person's mortgage. Deep breath. Live and learn.