Leaving London: why one family swapped their east London home for an ‘uninhabitable’ doer-upper on the coast

Leanne and Andy with their son, Noah  (Handout)
Leanne and Andy with their son, Noah (Handout)

Everybody has a pandemic tale to tell, but the ups and downs which Leanne Fraser has endured over the past two years are more dramatic than most: a job loss, a career change, a relocation, a renovation project and a new baby, all within barely two years.

In the first few weeks of lockdown 2020 Leanne was informed, on a conference call, that she was being made redundant from her job as a childrenswear designer for a major high street retailer after ten years.

The news left her feeling shell-shocked. “The timing couldn’t have been worse because of course there were no jobs in retail at that time,” she said.

Her husband Andy works in advertising and began to work from home, which was a tight squeeze since the couple were cooped up in a modest two bedroom maisonette in Walthamstow with their son, Noah, who is now three.

Getting out of London before Noah started school had already been a life goal for the couple, and Leanne, 39, had always dreamed of living by the sea.

The difficulty was that without her income getting a mortgage on a new place was going to be tough, and the market for homes on the coast had become fiercely competitive.

Leanne decided a career change was in order and retrained as an infant sleep consultant and baby massage teacher (@babysleepthenight_leanne). By the end of 2020 the family was ready to start looking for a home.

Their search area included Broadstairs and Ramsgate, in Kent, where high prices and lack of stock for sale put them off, and Hastings, across the border into East Sussex. “It was a bit cheaper but there also was nothing much on the market,” said Leanne. “We found that everything done up to a good standard was going really quickly, and for high prices too. We weren’t going to get a bargain.”

The couple decided the only way they were going to find a property within their price range was to go for a doer-upper, and in February they sold their flat for circa £450,000 and invested £535,000 in a four bedroom house just north of the centre of Hastings.

The good news is that their new home is around four times the size of their old maisonette.

Everything done up to a good standard was going really quickly. We weren’t going to get a bargain.

Leanne Fraser

The bad news is that it was pretty well uninhabitable. The couple are now living in an Airbnb while a full renovation is carried out. “It hasn’t been lived in for about eight years, and although it is structurally sound nobody has done anything to it for years,” said Leanne. “It has got electric storage heaters, layers and layers of wallpaper, and the garden is like a jungle.”

Renting their Airbnb is costing them £950pcm, but they are comforted by the thought that when completed their house should be worth around £700,000. Their second child, another boy, is due to be born in August.

Life in Hastings is proving to be exactly what Leanne had hoped for. “As soon as we moved down we just instantly felt like we had space to breathe,” she said. “It was like a whole load of stress was lifted. Everyone here is so friendly and talks to you, and there is something about being by the sea which just instantly lifts your mood.”

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