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Article by Janice Morley

The current home-buying market is dispiriting for many first timers, and even tougher for families with young children. The search for a property within budget grows ever harder – and the prospect of a lifetime of renting seems the depressing reality. This was how the future appeared to be shaping up for Alessandro Sottilaro and his wife, Hiyori, who have a daughter, aged five, and a three-year-old son.

But the young family will leave their rented flat next spring for a new three-bedroom apartment of their own at Abbey Quay, the exciting new quarter being built by Weston Homes beside the River Roding in Barking, east London. Italian Alessandro, a health and safety officer, met Japanese Hiyori at language school in London in 2010. They continued their relationship long distance from Rome and Tokyo, until they married in Japan and eventually decided to settle where they met, in London.

“We wanted children and we both worked but we could not think about buying,” says Alessandro, 45. “Prices were crazy. It all seemed hopeless. So we rented. Then our landlord’s son wanted to move back into the flat.” The couple were forced to think hard about their next move. Financially, they were not in a great position.

An old house was possibly a cheaper option, they reasoned, “but renovating was too much of a risk. We knew we would be spending all our money on constant repairs, our heating bills would be high and it would take years to sort it out,” says Alessandro.

“My office was in Barking. I am based there – so I started looking in the area. I liked the Weston Homes but we could not afford one. Then I found a scheme run with Weston Homes and the local council, called Discount Market Sale. It is for people living and working in Greater London. I thought: Wow! It offered a 20 per cent discount. With this we could afford one of their flats.

“We needed three bedrooms and by saving £100,000 by using the discount, we could afford it. We went directly to the showroom, met the sales consultant and within five minutes we wanted one of the homes. We bought immediately. We love the flat and my wife is just incredibly happy. It is absolutely fantastic. It will be ready by spring 2023.

“There is a private, secure internal garden where the children can safely play. There is a huge balcony off our living room, and Weston Homes is renovating the canal area and landscaping the private land around our homes, so we have good outside space.

“The schools are rated well by Ofsted, and the whole area is being transformed with billions spent on a new town, shops and facilities.

“I love the fact that it is so fresh and modern. It is elegant, finished to such a high standard, it is double glazed and we have big storage cupboards. We can keep the children’s bikes in the garages below, and we might get a parking space – though we will have to pay extra for that.”

Alessandro and his wife have enjoyed selecting the interiors for their new home together. “There are so many choices of tiles, paint colours and finishes to choose from. We even had a choice of door handles.” They have settled for a dark blue-and-grey kitchen and are “enjoying the designing throughout.”

As a stylish Italian, he loves quality furniture and says he’ll save up for a good bed and a comfortable, well-made sofa – “even if some things have to wait”. And as an Italian, Alessandro also loves good food. The kitchen is the centre point of their family life, while the nearest supermarket to their new home is just across the water, only minutes away. “They do good pasta. We eat pasta every day. And we both love cooking.”

Like so many, the couple have been working from home during the pandemic. “When we move we will continue to do part-time commuting and home working but commuting is not hard with two Underground stations nearby.

“We have two big double bedrooms. The children will share until they get older but for now we will use the third bedroom for an office.” It will also function as a guest room for when family and friends come to visit.

This new home gives Alessandro, Hiyori and their children the kind of future the couple had begun to think would elude them forever. “It is a huge step forward,” beams Alessandro. “It is incredible to know that it is yours. It is such a big achievement.”