Post decision dissonance: “is this actually a shit-hole?”

I’ve recently moved. I’ve bought my own flat in a different part of London.

When the keys were finally handed over to me, I experienced a Psychological phenomenon I didn’t know was a thing, but it turns out it’s pretty common, so I thought I’d write about it.

To go back a few stages, I’ve been house-hunting, on and off for ages, since Matthew and I broke up in June 2016.

I had felt trapped in that relationship because I can’t really afford to rent on my own, in London. London rent is so expensive. I’m a healthcare professional, in the middle of the salary hierarchy, but when Matthew and I broke up previously, and I looked at flats I could afford on my own, they were mainly “one bedroom flats” that turned out to be a tiny kitchen with a camp bed in it.

However, weirdly, I can afford a mortgage on my own. This is because I inherited some money when I was a teenager, after someone in my family died unexpectedly. I’m incredibly lucky to be in that position, although I wish that person hadn’t died.

Over the years, either I lived in places and didn’t know how long I’d be in that city, or I lived with someone with whom it made more sense to rent.

Then the fire happened, in 2012. My ex-boyfriend owned that house. I had loved that house so much, and it was so devastating seeing the aftermath, it made me not want to get attached to another home.

Then, after Matthew and I broke up, I started looking at flats to buy, so I could live alone. I found one I really liked quite quickly.

It was a bit of a weird flat, and the estate agent seemed surprised I liked it so much. It was above a shop and you had to go into a dodgy car park and up some rickety, rusty stairs to get to it, but I loved it. It was twice the size of every other flat and had a lovely balcony.

I went back and looked at it again with my parents, whose opinion I value, and they told me to go for it.

Months went by, and after I’d spent hundreds of pounds on solicitors’ fees and surveys, the seller pulled out, for tedious reasons I won’t bore you with.

(This was the same day the Whippersnapper had that serious STI breakout and Donald Trump won the US election.)

Suddenly I needed to move out of the flat I’d been living in with Matthew, but I had nowhere to go.

I looked at 100s of other flats, but they all had something wrong with them.

There’s a theory that there’s only really seven different stories, and every book, film or whatever tells a variation of one of the seven.

I think there’s only really seven flats, including

  • the beautiful flat I could never live in because it’s sooo fucking small. There’s not even space for your mop and bucket, let alone boxes of crap from my childhood and excessive shoes
  • the nice flat I can afford because it’s not in London
  • the nice big flat I can afford because it’s in a block full of gangsters, a cannabis factory, or was in the news the other day because there was a stabbing there
  • the nice flat I can afford because it’s next to a sewage works/built on radioactive wasteland
  • the horrible flat I can afford because it needs knocking down and rebuilding

That’s when I moved in with Flatmate Joe.

I only planned to stay with him for a few months but I loved living with him so much I stopped looking at flats and stayed a year.

Then I tentatively started looking at the odd flat and found this one. I liked it, and it had everything I wanted – spacious, lots of storage space, a parking space, near to a station, and had a generally nice feel to it. It felt both sunny and cosy when I looked around.

I put a low offer in, which was rejected, and then I left it, because I just wasn’t sure. I really wanted somewhere with some kind of outside space, either a tiny bit of garden, or a balcony, and this flat doesn’t have that.

Then, a few weeks later, I was trying to get the train home from central London on a Friday afternoon, and my train got cancelled. The next one wasn’t for ages. I had spent so many hours at Marylebone, waiting for trains back to Flatmate Joe’s, I snapped.

I knew that trains to the new flat were every few minutes, about 900% more frequent.

I called the estate agent there and then, and put in a higher offer, which was accepted.

This meant I got to have lots more phone conversations with the mortgage broker I’ve never met but fancy.

There was a lot of dicking around with solicitor nonsense for months. Then, finally, everything was done and I got the keys a few weeks ago.

As I drove there, I felt so excited.

When I parked my car in my official parking space, the sat nav said “you have reached your destination” and I said out loud, cheerily “yes I have!”

I walked to the estate agents to collect the keys.

When he handed the bunch of keys to me, I said “is there anything else I need to do?”

I wasn’t sure if there was any final paperwork or anything.

“No, that’s it!” He replied.

“Just ‘go and live there’ I guess.” I said.

When I got to my front door, the first problem was that I couldn’t get it to open. I had to phone the estate agent and get them to come and help me open the door.

There are three locks on the front door. Two don’t open, and one didn’t lock. After a while, the estate agent and I managed to get it open, but I knew I’d need to call a locksmith soon.

Then, I walked into the flat on my own.

Oh my god, this is it! I OWN this!

I thought, excitedly. I considered doing a cartwheel in the hallway.

Then, I noticed they’d left loads of stuff behind.

It had been rented out before it was sold, and the seller didn’t need the furniture so she had asked me if I wanted it.

I said I didn’t want anything except the double bed as I had loads of furniture in storage. They specifically asked if I wanted the big sofa in the living room, but I said no as I have a sofa already.

Oh, they’ve left the sofa. That’s annoying. Oh well. I thought, as I walked into the living room. Anyway, this exciting!

I stood the middle of the room, taking it all room.

The main road traffic is pretty loud in here, actually. But never mind!

Ohhhhhh that’s what they meant about the stain on the ceiling in the survey! I thought the surveyor was just being melodramatic. Oh well, probably fine!

I went into the kitchen. They’d left behind a cornucopia of things including a kettle and toaster and some enormous, horrible, plastic bowls in the shape of giant leaves.

I went into the bedroom.

Ok, well I wouldn’t have the bed there, I’d put it… oh god, this is one of those rooms you can’t put anything anywhere because of the shape!

I took off my scarf and tried to measure how many scarf-lengths wide the bed was, to see if it would fit where I wanted.

I went into the tiny box room. They’d left a single bed I had specifically not asked for, a poorly assembled IKEA book shelf, a small chest of drawers and a condom.

Is this actually… a fucking shithole?

My heart sank. The longer I stayed there, the more depressed I felt.

I got in my car and drove back to Flatmate Joe’s.

I had been planning to put something jolly about the new flat on Facebook, not to be showy-offy, but because lots of my friends and family had been asking what the latest was. I had imagined taking a photo of myself jumping up in the air and clicking my heels together, holding the keys.

Instead I wrote “So you’re buying a home. You find one you like, put an offer in, then spend 3-4 months dicking about with mortgage and solicitor nonsense. Then comes the big day. You get the keys and step over the threshold for the first time. Is it normal to think ‘oh. This is actually a bit more crap than I remembered’ when you look at your new home?”

I thought maybe I shouldn’t have put that – when most people can’t afford to buy a place in London and it’s only sheer luck that has meant I can, I know it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth when people moan about the process.

However, people quickly starting commenting, and I soon realised it’s a universal phenomenon!

Lots of people wrote comments like

  • Yep, we had that 😂😂
  • Defo had that
  • Yeah. My exact experience (only with six months of pointless dicking around.) Walking in and thinking ‘wow, this is small’.
  • Yep. The excitement and anticipation always whips me up lots and then it’s a bit of a come down when you realise all the shit that needs doing… 🤣😂
  • Very normal feeling, I think. I’m interested in what the house thought when it saw you coming through the door. 🙂

Then, one of my Psychology friends put “Post decisional dissonance. Quite normal and probably related to importance of the decision. It will fade, but you can speed this up by a) reminding yourself how shit the other houses you looked at were, b) focusing on the good aspects of the new house or c) moving house!”

I was so relieved to discover this was a thing.

Post-decision dissonance is discomfort we feel after making a decision – worrying we might have made the wrong choice. The importance of the decision increases the discomfort. Also, we’re more likely to have it when the other option in the decision is similarly attractive.

 

I guess it makes sense. When you first look around a house with the estate agent, you’re thinking in theory, could I potentially live here? 

Then, you have a few months when you don’t know if it’s going to work out, when the mortgage and legal stuff are going through. Every time it looks like there’s risk of it falling through, you focus on the positives of the house.

Then, when you get the keys and go back for the first time, you have a completely different set of eyes compared to the first time. You’re thinking how urgently does it need decorating? and I’ve just signed over 30 years of my life to pay this off. Is it worth it?

Every single home in the world would have positives and negatives about it. When you don’t know if it will work out but you want it to, you’ll only focus on the positives. As soon as it has worked out and it’s too late to change it, the negatives come into view.

I felt better already as I realised this.

I spoke to my parents on the phone and they said they’d come down the next weekend, to help me figure out what I needed to do and how suspicious the stain on the ceiling was.

As soon as they saw the flat, they loved it. If they’d hated it, they would have found a way of saying something nice, but I would’ve known, but I knew they genuinely liked it.

I realised partly all I had needed, all along, was for someone to say “No, this is good! You made the right decision.”

They spent the weekend with me. Amazingly, my Dad managed to fix the broken locks on the front door. We washed the walls, ready for me to paint them, put lining paper up, my Dad showed me how to fix cracks in the walls and the stain on the ceiling was diagnosed as being officially Not Suspicious.

I moved in a few weeks later.

I still have a lot to do, but various friends have come and helped me decorate, and my living room is already looking amazing.

I really, deeply love my flat now. When I come home in the evenings, I feel real joy at being there. And I still don’t even have the internet yet!

The boiler and thermostat are really good, and I can set the heating to come on whenever I want. I’m not really a morning person, but when I get out of bed every morning, I touch the radiator, and when I feel it’s already hot, I think You! Amazing. It feels like the flat is saying “we want you to be warm!”

18 thoughts on “Post decision dissonance: “is this actually a shit-hole?”

  1. I have such fond memories of my first weeks in the apartment I used to live in. I started out with NOTHING – the first delivery was the biggest Argos had ever seen (well, in my head). I felt sorry for the delivery driver. I didn’t have a couch for two months, because I couldn’t afford it lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have experienced this phenomenon with every single place I’ve first moved into. It takes a few days to adjust, as you’ve found. Things get a lot better after you’ve moved in and make it your own. 🙂

    I’m glad you’re loving your new place. Congrats!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a similarish situation and I think I may face the same temporary let down as you after I finally get the keys. I’ve decided to rent on my own as houseshare accommodation has become an absolute no no and noone is going to give me a mortgage ever. But it’s still a financial risk even though I am not buying. I don’t have that much cash to throw around but I need to improve the quality of my home life and this is the only way it’s going to happen.

    To cut a long story short I’ve been waiting 2 and a half months for this flat because the previous tenant decided not to move out when he was supposed to and they had to get a court order to evict. Every month I’ve had to rehand in my notice because I don’t want to suddenly get a call saying the flat’s yours and I end up paying two rents for a month. Making do with any properly has become norm for most people. You never get what you want. There is always a compromise.

    The big different between us is that this property is yours and it’s a project waiting to happen. Don’t worry about the end point, enjoy turning the space into yours bit by bit. Think of it as a huge art project. I hope you enjoy living there. Your own space at last. It’s such trepidation but such a liberating move. This will be the first time I’ve lived alone in 20 years and I am so ready for it, IF I ever get my foot in the door.

    Good luck. I’m sure you’re going to have a wonderful time there. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Had this when we moved into our current house. It was furnished and fine when we viewed but then we got the keys on a wet January day and the place was so cold and echoey and then a freight train went past and the windows rattled. The house has improved a lot.
    Still don’t like the neighbours though 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This post had such a feel good ending, I started to get a little worried at the beginning!!
    Welcome to your new flat, I am sure you are going to make it even more YOU as time goes on

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I like the emotional journey in this post, an I’m glad you found peace by the end 🙂 One thing to remember is that, even though you love the place now, you probably won’t be there forever. It is not the millstone tied around your neck – it is the liberating force of home ownership and relative freedom, and you should be darn proud that you have achieved this – on your own – at your age. Onwards and upwards! (In your cosy nest)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: 82: My Post Decision Dissonance – Not Your Average Girl

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