You always hear that life is a battle. But a wise man once told me that it’s not always about the victory, sometimes it’s about the honour in how you fight. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now I can safely say that I have lived this legend. And telling it is easier than walking through it. This is the story of how a thirty-something family man tried to get a mortgage in the UK.
The battle to own a property has been one that I’ve fought over the last three years. Along the way, I’ve been challenged, disassembled and rebuilt more times than I’d care to count. Through this process I’ve fought financial, stereotype and mental battles that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
I don’t know why, but while the whole story is still raw, I thought I’d write about it. Thank you for humouring me. This is the story of The Battle of Mort Gage.
The battle of Mort Gage is an event that many young people will face at some point in their lives. Mort Gage is a land that can be possessed by a near infinite amount of people, shared amongst any of those who dare battle the beasty banks that hoard the gates. The beasts that do guard the lands let very few through and will do everything in their power to keep any new people from ever having their rightful portion of Mort Gage.
All my life, I have been under the impression that to be a successful man, you need to provide for your family. Not something I disagree with now either. But one of the common additives to this theory is that the ultimate form of provision is to own the roof over your head. Rightly or wrongly, it’s what I unknowingly believed since I can remember. I don’t even think anyone even told me this principle – it’s just one that I assumed to be true.
The process seemed relatively simple. Rent while you save. Work your hardest. Get a mortgage. Make rent pay for your future. Simples. Like it should be. A worthy reward for hard work.
So without knowing it, I had always been building up to this particular battle. To conquer the giants that held Mort Gage and take it for our own. It wasn’t something I really prepared myself for if I’m honest. Something that, in hindsight, I probably would have taken out time to do. Growing up you get the ‘get saving’ advice, which is great, but never the ‘learn about how mortgages really work and how they’re allocated’. For the record – both of those pieces of advice are gold.
Fighting Foot First
Considering the foundations that I had mentally found myself clinging to, a few years into our marriage, naturally my attention started to swing towards how I could make owning a home a reality for my wife and our (then) future family. As a self-employed graphic designer, options were extremely limited and claiming Mort Gage for our own seemed far-off. And it was. None-the-less, I worked hard but after my youthful efforts – my annual earnings weren’t anywhere near enough to commence battle with the banking giants. So, I did what any young solider does, practice and grow. Each year I would work harder to increase my income. And every now and again, I’d pop into a bank for a sparring session with one of the dark side. Just to keep me on my toes.
In one particularly vicious battle – a monster bank named Lloyd, metaphorically slapped me around the face and literally laughed me out of my Mort Gage meeting when I suggested I could double my income in 12 months. I did, by the way. It was hard work. But the battle with Lloyd had begun to show me just how ruthless and unsupportive the beasts were – regardless of how the marketing and branding suggested otherwise. A year later with a doubled income, even then, between my sole trading and my wife’s (then) nursing job – it was clear that we’d have limited options. We were trying to catch water. We’d likely either have to downsize from our lovely rented house, or alternatively work longer and harder to increase our income.
A while later down the road, our first kid came along and downsizing wasn’t really an option anymore. With an essential home office and now a nursery in our home – the only option I had was to continue down working harder. We had to hope it was enough to obtain take down at least one of the beasts guarding Mort Gage – and that we’d be able to find somewhere that would match our current abode. A very, very slim target to hit.
Working harder when you at maximum capacity is crazy hard. But if I were to take down a beast, it would be necessary. But it came at a cost. While I wasn’t willing to trade work for family time, it did cost me the majority of my social and relaxation time. It was a hard choice to make, especially when a lot of my people couldn’t quite understand why. But, in my mind, it was an essential sacrifice and the only way to achieve a higher income. Besides, at the time I thought it would be a relatively short-term sacrifice. Once I’d conquered a beast of Mort Gage, I’d be able to have my old life back. But I wasn’t prepared for just how long my life would be on hold for.
The greater cost
Working harder and longer coupled with God’s grace and a recent tax return yielding a relatively decent income – I had hoped the banks would meet my requirements. It had been clear that the beast of Lloyd wouldn’t falter under their ‘we don’t help anyone’ policy. So we had to target some of the other high-street beasts. One of them would surely respect my hard work, enough to hear us out at least. Not so much. Once again, through various combinations of excuses conjured by the various lenders, we were miles short of the target. We couldn’t even get face-time with a single beast. Owning a property had never seemed so unachievable, but I hadn’t even started to see how low it get get. It seemed as though the giants that held the land of Mort Gage had constructed almost insurmountable walls that only ever favoured those who were already inside of them. But that wasn’t all.
Later that year, arguably due to my over-working, I suffered a serious case of pneumonia. Mis-diagnosed by my doctors, I suffered hard at home surviving through my wife, family and friends as they rallied around me. I hadn’t had a very hard life. So this experience woke me up a bit. I learned to work to my maximum capacity and then rest. But it still left little time to socialise. Even this epifany didn’t really prepare me emotionally for what was next. But after my recovery, all I could do is jump back into the battle arena. Mort Gage wasn’t just going to surrender itself.
First came a victory. Less than a year after being sick – out of the blue – our landlord offered us the chance to purchase the house we were renting. It’d be rude to go into specifics but safe to say he was extremely generous in his calculations. For that, I am truely grateful. With figures in place and everyone on-board, we set off with (what I thought to be) the smoking gun that would land us the battle. We were desperate to secure a mortgage as soon as possible. Partially to help out landlord who was doing is such a huge favour, and partially to reach the figuratively bright light at the end of the tunnel that now seemed closer than ever. But it was a bit of an illusion.
The silence in the storm
Having gone to the banks many times previously, I felt like this assault was slightly different. This time we were able to take a real (and achievable) scenario to them. SURELY they would take us seriously. We had hoped the dots would connect. We would be purchasing the property at well below the recommended value, so if would be in the banks interest to invest. Mort Gage was ours for the taking. Or so we thought. So we boldly approached the battle-ground. Choosing a beast to take-down was a tough one. We needed help.
We welcomed a mortgage advisor into our ranks, he provided us with his best guidance and advice to try and conquer the great beasts holding Mort Gage. But things were suddenly needless complex. His advice, while not incorrect, wasn’t a great fit to our fighting style. Not only did the process take forever, but it was painfully longwinded. Both the lenders and the advisor weren’t sensitive to the time restraints of the scenario, no matter how clear we tried to make things. So the pressure fell to us. It landed on me heavily. Coupled with the extreme hours I had been working, and uncertainty of the ground the were walking and the fees that we were now paying – I was desperate to find a battle victory and close the case. But I was already growing weary of the uphill struggle.
Waiting literally months for replies, only to have new questions and excuses from the lenders. The cycle continued on and on. We lost funds, time and options. Finally a beast had been targeted. It was the beast of Half-Fax. But as we approached the fight – they ripped our preparations to shreds. They didn’t like the discount that we were receiving for the property. So in a strengthened swiping blow, they knocked us out of the battleground.
Disheartening wasn’t the half of it. I prayed. We prayed. We trusted God for a breakthrough, believing the situation was His provision and His blessing and that He would make it work. We had consolidated accounts, paid off debts with family loans and did everything we possibly could to try and secure a deal and slay the gruesome and unwavering beasts holding our Mort Gage out of reach.
The advisor in our ranks eventually weighed in on the situation with a note that we might be able to try again in a year. But that seemed like an eternity away – without any reason to things would be any different in a years’ time anyway. I’d like to say I didn’t give up here. But I did. I really did. I went into a low that I didn’t think was possible. A married father of two, in a state of utter rejection after spending 8 solid years of working harder and longer than most to support my family and yet – it wasn’t enough. White flag, tail between my legs. However you want to say it, I had no fight left in me. I imagine the beasts were all smiling at their success at this point.
It’s so easy to look back now and see how ungrateful I was. My life was (and is) a cut above most. I literally could not ask for a better wife and kids (who carried me out of this slump, by the way). But you have to understand the context of the scenario. When your lifes’ efforts are officially branded as not good enough for the ‘next stage of life’, and you have worked the hardest you possibly can, costing you so much, what more is there you can do? I felt I had given everything to achieve something that was now completely out of reach. And perhaps the most hindering issue was that I didn’t have the drive to work anymore. Why work hard when it wasn’t paying off? I remember at one point, I couldn’t speak for about two days. There weren’t any words I wanted to say. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. I didn’t want to eat. I couldn’t even get angry about the situation. I reached a complete state of apathy.
In my mind, the battle was lost and it wasn’t worth my fight anymore.
But God wasn’t willing to let the battle end there, even if I was.
Beyond giving up
Even in my apathy, God surrounded me with people who still believed there was a way to a win – even if it looked impossible. As if on crutches, I just about managed to pick myself up, with thanks to my wife, kids, wider family and fiends. But I had undoubtedly lost something. My faith. Not in God. My faith in me. It would be weeks before I could face up to the rejection and eventually accept that it wasn’t a personal failure, but a bump in the road. A chip in the battleaxe. This was the hardest part of the journey, by far. Picking up the fight took time and patience while I found my footing again.
Having the rug pulled out from under us meant actually gave us a chance to review our battle plan.There were a number of reasons why we had been discredited from Mort Gage up to this point. A lot of them were policies that the banks had, with little or no reason for them, preventing us from succeeding. I’m shocked to this day at some of them. Safe to say, the hoarders of Mort Gage had bundled up just about every reason under the Sun and sent it hurtling at break-neck speed into our world. But now we could counter their reasons with carefully constructed defences.
We were even able to identify weaknesses in our regiments and start from scratch. With about six months until the end of the next tax year. This was our next opportunity. We had to make it count. The first hurdle was choosing which beast to take down. Since the previous advisor had really steered us right before, we felt it was time to welcome a new mortgage advisor into the ranks. With him on board, we disappeared to the outside world, right up to the start of the new tax year. Working, planning, choosing and preparing our battle plan.
New roots and load-bearing branches
We worked so much so, that the workload and business processess were now being held back by my sole-trader employment status. But, since changing to a limited company would mean ‘changing my employment status’ and the banks ‘needed’ at least two years of my current employment – we were locked out of becoming a limited company until we were holding the land of Mort Gage. We had begun to own the phrase ‘maximum capacity’.
Now it was about more than just beating the beasts. More than just acquiring Mort Gage. It was about fighting for the things thereafter a victory. Going Limited company. Expanding the business. Redeveloping our house. Even taking a holiday – something we hadn’t done since 2013. We had to stare the monsters down. We had to win.
At the completion of the tax year, and with a fresh set of business accounts in hand, our new (and INCREDINBLE) mortgage advisor on-side, we navigated through the murky underworld of beasts and other lender-creatures faster and more accurately than we had previously experienced. This time, it felt like we were taking a tactical assault. Three honest people in a world of corruption and evil (or so it felt). This time, all on the same page of the ever-pressing urgency.
The advice our new advisor gave us was spot on. He even managed to find a mortgage for us. Within a week of searching. We couldn’t believe it. This was it! The Beast With No Name were going to hear us out. The battle lines were drawn, and for the first time ever – the final blow to the enemy was in reach. It was the closest we’d every been. Then, suddenly, out of the blue the The Beast With No Name ambushed us from the side as they raised their wall ever-higher. They changed their policy the day before we signed the application, locking us out of the contract. My shocked and widened eyes rolled and my wounds starting aching. Were we ever going to break the back of this thing?
And if this story is starting to sound a bit repetitive, it’s because it is. We seemed to be in a spiral of constant blockages. And believe me, living the process was a lot more repetitive than just reading it.
Hearing of the repetitive and thus-far-unsuccessful battle we were fighting, a friend of the family (who had connections) got us into the arena with one of the biggest beasts we had ever encountered. HiSBec. HiSBeC was a crafty beast. But being in the ring with it gave us an opening we never though possible. Perhaps this was an alternative route to victory? We walked into the battle with confidence, after all, our influential friend had got us this far. Surely HiSBeC would respect our friend to hear us out. But, unlike any battle we’d fought previously, HiSBeC played us. They led us on, kept us going. Made us fight smaller battles and jump through hoops. Only to turn around and say ‘actually no, we couldn’t have ever helped you actually.’ This time I felt the anger. I was mad. But my team kept me calm. We weren’t out of options yet. Even though HiSBeC literally told us how insurmountable the odds were that we could ever possess Mort Gage. Having been at my lowest previously, I was prepared for this outcome but didn’t make it any easier to take. The face punch from a crafty beast had left me a bit dazed. As we walked back towards our rented home, I had to wonder – was this meant to be? Maybe we were never meant to get the house.
I remember that evening very well. My wife was out at a meeting. The girls were asleep. I lay myself down on our sofa and I silenced a word to God. “Why?”
Before I could even vocalise the hundreds of questions and doubts in my mind, in an instant He showed me a vision as clear as day. Like the eye of the storm, a peace I’d not felt about the situation before. The vision was, in part, this :
I saw people. Families, couples, singles. They were stacked inside a giant clear dome (to those who are familiar, think The Simpson Movie). These people didn’t own homes. But through the glass they could see home owners on the other side. The gone owners were playing with their homes as of they were baseballs. Spinning them in the air, tossing them to one another and swapping them. All the while smiling and laughing. I knew these were home owners. They weren’t doing anything wrong but their actions were on public display and they were particularly visible to those in the dome.
I saw me in the dome. Desperate to get out and join those outside. But the harder I tried, the stronger the dome seemed. I was feeling the frustration and hopelessness like I’d experienced so many times already in this process. I knew the others beside me in the dome felt the same way.
Then I stopped trying. A quieted myself and thought things through. I looked and listened and found a crack in the dome in a small corner. Domes don’t have corners, but I found one. I tapped the crack and squeezed through the gap. I was out, I was free. But I knew that although it was my turn to play ball with the house, there was something more important I needed to do.
I waited by the dome crack and called others that were still inside the dome. They trickled to the crack. But they could not all fit through. So we widened it. More and more so that more could exit and play ball.
That was all the nudge I needed. This was going to happen. I didn’t know how. I couldn’t see a way. But it was going to happen and that God wanted to show me that this was more than me getting a house. It was about more than just me.
I got up. The process to date had been monumentally difficult -but- I began to see just some of the lessons that God had taught me already. Perhaps most importantly, I realised that I had been so fixated on this particular victory that it had become a part of my identity. And that, for once, I needed to stop desperately swinging punches at the air and start breathing that air. That somehow a solution would present itself. Even if it were God himself who would do it.
True to His suggestion – God did present another option. Our fantastic mortgage advisor had been working behind the scenes and managed to find another option. In his own words, it was the bottom of the barrel and our final option. It wasn’t a conventional mortgage. Some might say this wasn’t even a beast at all. They didn’t accept digital evidence or applications. Everything was done with paper. Even our advisor was amazed at the process. But it was a creature that was willing to put down their weapons and hear us out. And that, was good enough for us. There was one catch, a big one – we’d need a large deposit to accompany our application.
As a self-employed family, now with two kids, the very little ‘disposable’ income we had coming in would very quickly go on essentials. But even then, we wouldn’t be anywhere close to the deposit we would need. Both our parents and grandparents contributed what they could, but it all fell miles short of the target, which left us (relatively speaking) back at square one. Perhaps our final option wasn’t even an option at all.
My father had a pension which he was so kindly willing to invest into the property – but to his (and my) shock, the pension tax and withdrawal process would cost him over a third of his savings. Worse still, it would take a year to compete the process. So even his valiant efforts weren’t enough.
Then came the generosity of strangers. A friend of the family, who knew very little of us was willing to assist us in battle. We were (and are) so incredibly grateful to know people who care enough to help. This person especially, went the extra mile to make a difference.
It was also very humbling. Years of isolating myself to work hard had left me feeling quite self sufficient. So to ask someone for a cash injection to help us knocked any pride or any possibility that this victory would ever be my own doing.
We reached out to our mortgage advisor to let him know that the deposit had come in. It was time to battle. And before long, we were filling in paperwork at a stage we’d never been at before. The lender had hundreds of questions which resulted in a lot of back-and-fourth. Something we were already used to, just not at this scale. But we battled on. Continuing to fight with the last bit of energy we had. We paid fees and for official valuations. We answered in-depth questions about out lifestyle (which were, arguably, unnecessary), but nothing could dampen this flame now. This was the final chance and we were going to put everything into it. But then silence.
Recycling Strikes Back
At this point I was starting to treat the battle for what it really was. It was more than about securing Mort Gage, more than an investment in our future. It was a marathon that continued to stretch and grow me and my family. The weariness hit new heights on a Monday morning where I was particularly absecent minded. Enough so to topple the recycling bin whilst trying to crush cardboard in it.
The CCTV tells the rest of this chapter, but safe to say it was an unhelpful health disadvantage to accompany the battle. But even my biggest injury to date wouldn’t be enough to distract me from the battle at hand.
And like a old man with a hunch, I continued to push on. But the reality of it was, there was nothing to push on with. We were simply waiting to hear from the lender. Had the lender decided? Was it a green light? Was no news, good news? I thought back over the lessons I’d learnt and realised the only thing to do now was to let go and let God. It was amazing the freedom that came then. I felt a weight lifted that hadn’t been lifted in a long time. And even though it wasn’t completely gone, it was enough to take a deep breath and smell the metaphorical roses.
The final wait
So we waited. Something that I’d grown used to at this point, but somehow I’d not got very good at. As I took stock of all the lessons I’ve been taught through this process and I’d thought I’d write them out. We’d done a complete loop of knowing the victory of Mort Gage is ours. But now, as we go around the loop again, I’ve got rid of the misconceptions about Mort Gage. About the importance of owning it. About timing. And most importantly, that God’s ways are most definitely not the same as my own. But his are miles better.
I’m not proud of how I battled throughout the process, not least at the point of my surrendering to apathy. But now I know, that every battle makes us stronger. And every lesson can be learned or ignored.
And that brings the battle up to date. Yes, the final wait still continues. We still don’t have the final victory for Mort Gage and our landland renews our rental lease in less than 40 days. But somehow, through it all, I have a peace that God is going to do what God is going to do. And that’s OK with me now. So we wait, shields drawn and arrow flung. All armies await in anticipation to see where the arrows land.
Whether it’s a victory today, tomorrow or next year. The victory is on the horizon. We just need to prepare its welcome.