What can you expect from the houses in England?

First off, I need to thank the people that took part in my survey to help me figure out what Americans think of the housing situation in England. They really helped me get an idea of people took notice of so this could be more generalized and not just my opinion!

The other thing I have to say is that it is best that you come over here with an open mind and to remember that this is England and whilst they may not have homes like we do, doesn’t mean it’s wrong as people live differently all over the world from Americans. Believe me I have had to tell myself this about a lot of things but you are going against thousands of years of tradition. If you can embrace that I think that you will enjoy your tour here and be able to find a suitable home. Another thing we need to remember is when America was growing her suburbs and 1950's homes, England was rebuilding itself after WWII. This set England behind the USA about 20 years because it was more important to provide homes for people and the conveniences came later. Also I would like to add that many of the homes that USAF personnel and their families live in during their twenties, the locals would almost only be there in their late thirties and early forties. So I am asking you to be humble and appreciate how good you have it.

Based on my research 73% of the people live in a free standing house, 13.5% semi-attached, and 11.5% terraced-house. If you are looking to live near the town centre, you will need to expect to live in a terraced house. Perhaps the best of both worlds, would be to live in a semi-detached which means that only one side of the house is attached to another. Until the 1970s many homes only had one or no cars so people lived close enough to the town centre so that they could walk to the shops, the station and to work.  It wasn't until around the 1970's that women started to drive cars. This is why there is limited parking and the roads are narrow. My husband does like to remind me that a lot of these houses were built before cars even existed. The older houses are more solidly built. The houses from the 1970's to today aren't as they were trying to cope with a large population that needed homes.

To have an opened planned house is rare (whilst it takes a while to get used to it, it appears that people really like this!). There is a fire safety code that states that there must be a door between each room. Also to save money, its best to close doors to rooms you do not want to heat. Check out my other tips on how to save on utilities. Most British houses do not have closets or other cabinets for storage; instead, they often have wardrobes where they store stuff. Although a lot of people recommend you take only half of your stuff and get rid of the rest!

You will get more home for your money the farther from base you live but not near popular cities such as Cambridge (a lot of people that work in London commute from Cambridge). The sizes of the houses that people in my survey range from 900-2800 square feet. Half of the people responded said that their home was not smaller than the last house that they lived in the US.

Kitchens and laundry facilities can also become a shock to Americans. There are no garbage disposals. Most English homes have a washer machine in the kitchen (some houses do not have space for a dryer). It wasn't until after the 1970's that washer machines became common in the home and dryers in the last 15-20 years.  You will need to read my post about washing clothes practices to know that a lot of English was their clothes when dirty and not just when worn and generally line dry in the nice weather and use a clothes horse in the winter. Also you can hang your clothes in the airing cupboard which is where the boiler is and it will dry your clothes quickly. Remember that energy is expensive compared to the US so these are also ways that you can cut back on your expenses. The refrigerator wasn't common until the 1970's but women would go shopping at their small local grocer everyday or every other day. That is why you will see a lot of Co-operatives around. They used to store meat in a larder which is a small cabinet that keeps cool, mine is under the stairs. Many people still continue to small shops for what they need especially after the recession.

The bedroom sizes are not generally as big as US ones and some rooms would not be considered bedrooms at all in the US. Rooms are generally long and narrow. They are also smaller as most people just sleep in these rooms and spend time in their living/sitting rooms, that is why these rooms are usually bigger.

Bathrooms are a bit different than in the US. It is not as common anymore but do not be shocked to see an outdoor loo. Some bathrooms are baths that have showers added at a later date; it appears to be in the 1980’s, which is in line when England caught up with the US and other appliances that were common in the USA became common here. You might also find your bathroom might be split into two rooms, one where the toilet is in one and the another is where the bath and sink are. Some bathrooms might have carpet. There are no outlets for curling irons but there are ones for shavers only, this is because the voltage is twice the strength of the US and it is dangerous to have electrical items that might get wet. That is why the lightswitch is either outside, or a string to pull, because with wet hands you could get a shock. Many bathrooms do not have mirrors in them as women would have gotten ready at a vanity table. You might also have a half bathroom on the ground floor. Also there are usually are no mixer taps in the bathrooms. In some homes where there is only one bathroom, it is common to have it on the ground floor, although in new builds you will see a bathroom on every floor.

Carpets is an interesting topic that came up. Carpets like many things are expensive. The kind of carpet is different as well. They tend to have the short length style. An interesting thing that I found out is that when people moved home, they used to take the carpet with them. This is less common now a days. If you have a child with allergies, its best to find a home without carpets.

Some houses do have garages but the British often use them more for storage rather than parking the car in it.

There aren't porches over here as you know them in the US, but a lot of houses have conservatories which are made up of windows. They catch the sun when its out and are a nice place to sit when its raining outside. The British would never sit out in the front of their house. The front garden is for show and the back garden is to enjoy. plus the British are quite private people so they would prefer to be in the back. Just because a neighbor can see your garden from their windows, does not mean that they will be watching over you, they respect other people's privacy. This seems to be a concern for Americans that neighbors will be watchign them in their gardens?

Another thing that they mentioned is that heating your home by oil is expensive so if you can find one with a good energy rating and doesn’t use oil, that would be preferable. Also central heating wasn't seen in England until the 1970's. If you want a rural house, you will have to have oil. Many towns and villages are not connected to gas mains as the pipes are not running to them so these locations so you do not have a choice. Certain areas have oil because of this whereas others do not.

It doesn’t happen very often but we do get hot weather. The heat mixed with the humidity gets the Americans pining for their air conditioners but it’s a luxury over here. They recommended that if you have one, bring it with you but remember that they will need to use a transformer which will rack up your energy bills. Also windows do not have screens in them.

A lot of people commented on how expensive the houses were. The reason housing is so expensive is not particularly because of the US market nowadays, it is because the value of the house and the land it stands on is so high. Generally, landlords work out rent on an annual return basis of around 6 - 8%, so if a house is worth £100,000, they would expect a rent of £8000 per year, ie £650 per month.  So it follows that a £200,000 house, the rent would be £1300 or so.

Pets can make a home harder to find. Some landlords will not accept any pets or will require a double deposit.

Almost 75% respondents said that all over their furniture fit in their house. One tip was if you have a bed that is Queen or bigger, its best to have a box mattress that is split to aid the bed getting up to the room that you want in.

One person said that if you are open minded about how you want to school your children perhaps send them to British schools and that means you can be more flexible with where you live (and your children will be 1 1/2 years ahead of American children!).

Some things that shocked people about homes over here:
  • How small the washer and dryers are.
  • Most things don’t fit up the stairs.
  • The houses were as small than I thought.
  • Living here has shown us how spoiled Americans are.
Things that people liked:
  • You can adjust the temperature of each room by the knobs on the radiators.
  • Security of the doors and windows.
  • Small water heaters.
  • Small fridge = less junk food
  • History that the houses have (used to be the Old Village Hall)
  • The houses have character!
  • If you live in the right town, everything is walking distance.
  • That you can turn off the outlets at the wall to save on electricity. 
  • Conservatories!
  • They are more eco-friendly here. We only heat our water 3 times a day instead of all day.
  • They make you realize that you really can live without things you took for granted before. You also learn to appreciate them more.
  • I like that I am learning to live in a different manner. Making do with less, and living a bit simpler, if more cramped life!
  • Towns are made to be pedestrian friendly which is nice! 
Tips that they wished someone told them:
  • Ship your Household Goods ASAP so that they arrive here by the time you do.
  • Check the energy rating of your home, the better it is the less you will spend on heating it. (High D and above will be covered by the money you get for utilities).
  • It is hard to mount TVs.
  • Do not bring little appliances (vacuum) with you or anything with US plug. Transformers are pains and eat up a lot of energy (which means they cost you more money!). You can also check your electronics to see if they automatically handle the voltage, if so you just need an adapter to fit it in the wall.
  • Use cleaners from off base because they are developed for the water over here.
  • Take photos of house before you move in for any stains and marks for your records.
  • Take your time to find a house you like but once you find one, jump on it as they go quickly!
  • Use this as a chance to get rid of things that you don't need.
  • Move off base if you feel like you can be part of the local culture but in order to do that you must leave your expectations behind and embrace the differences.
  • You will hate it here if you only go to base and back. Make the most of the opportunity to travel, learn and grow.
  • Do NOT bring your washer and dryer!!!!
  • Look further from base, you get more for your money!
  • Set up a British bank account because they have chip and pin and a lot of places do not accept the swipe card you get from banks on base!
All the Best!

American to Britain