This year has been one filled with milestones – I took part in my very first volunteering trip, helping children in India. I’ve recently turned 30, and now I’m about to buy my first property with my boyfriend!
I debated whether to write this post or not, as I would in no way say that because I’ve managed to get onto the property ladder, I’m now an expert in buying. However, getting onto said ladder is a pretty big deal these days in itself. Buying a home is becoming increasingly more difficult to do. With high rents, the need for a hefty deposit behind you (not to mention all the extra fees and possibly stamp duty), younger generations are finding it harder to save money and get on that first rung.
Firstly I want to say I’m SO proud of us for being able to do this, but after hearing so many horror stories along the way – sellers pulling out, chains collapsing, mortgages not granted, surveys coming back with a long list of problems – the journey hasn’t always been the most exciting and I really wanted to share my experience. Hopefully if you’re in the process of buying, or saving up to do so, you can take some advice away.
How much can you borrow?
Before you even begin looking for a property, it’s a good idea to do a mortgage calculation, to understand how much money you can borrow and how much you will need as a deposit. There are many tools online that can give you a rough estimate based on your salary and outgoings. We also paid a visit to our bank to hear what they had to say, but we found that all of the high-street banks would offer us very little, because Stew’s salary is largely comprised of commission which most of them wouldn’t take into account. We decided to go through a mortgage broker after seeing adverts for Habito, who ended up finding us a much better deal with Nationwide, which leads me onto my next point…
Should I pay for a mortgage broker?
Many people pay for a mortgage broker, especially when buying their first property. This can be a good idea when you know very little, as there are many things to take into consideration that you would never think of. However, mortgage brokers can be costly, so it’s good to weigh up the pros and cons before making a decision. The cost initially put us off, but then we found Habito, who are a completely FREE service. They are based only online, but we cannot fault the service. We were assigned a mortgage broker who stayed on our account for the duration of us finding a property, having our mortgage granted and completing our property surveys. We often spent evenings on web chat speaking to him, or he would follow up with a call the next day. The service was impeccable and he helped really dumb everything down for us! (Some of the jargon is pretty intimidating). This is in no way affiliated with Habito, this is simply our personal opinion, and I would truly recommend them. Despite making a cut on our mortgage they found us far cheaper deals than we were able to find ourselves, and Nationwide offered a great package that was a no-brainer.
Beginning your search
A colleague of mine advised us to begin with a checklist of things we knew we definitely wanted, that we would like (but not essential), and things that would be a great bonus. This helped us initially with our search, getting an idea of what was out there that fitted our ideals. And then we set about searching on Rightmove and Zoopla, putting in our postcode and a +3 mile radius. We knew we wanted to continue living in North London, but it wasn’t until we began viewing properties that we got a real idea of areas that we liked, and ones that we really didn’t. We found flats that were beautiful and on paper ticked all of our boxes, but they were often in places that would add too much time onto our commute, or in areas that had no amenities. This soon made us realise, that no matter what, we’ll have to compromise, and actually the area ended up meaning more to us than we first thought.
I would highly recommended initially looking online to get an idea of what is available within your budget, and then keep a couple of weekends free to book in as many viewings as possible. Working full time meant that we only had weekends, and luckily the market has slowed down quite a bit, meaning properties weren’t being snapped up in a couple of days like they were a year ago. However, it did mean that we had some really hectic weekends, seeing 6 or 7 properties a day! We made a joint calendar and factored in transport between each, to make the most of our day. We also found that some estate agents had multiple properties that we wanted to see, and they would drive us to each, which was amazing! Although, don’t get sucked in if they want to show you ones you’ve not seen online yet, or don’t sound like what you want. It’s likely they won’t be what you want and it will be a giant waste of time! We learned that lesson early on.
How do you know it’s the one for you?
This is going to sound so cheesy, but you’ll know as soon as you walk into a property! We had seen ones that we liked, but there was always something holding us back, and then when we least expected it, we found the ‘one’. It was a rainy Saturday and our last viewing of the day. The photos online hadn’t done it justice, and I couldn’t have been less enthused. The flat is located on a busy road, above a shop – two big no no’s for us. However, the moment I walked in, I had this feeling. I knew I wanted it and I was just praying that Stew felt the same. The estate agent let us walk around the flat by ourselves, which was a nice touch (clearly he knew it would be an easy sell!). As we went from room to room, more and more of our list was ticked off. We spoke to the agent, and asked the seller (as she was at home at the time) a few questions. This had been her and her husband’s first property bought together, and they had lived there for 4 years, had one child and another on the way. Her story felt similar to how we see our lives hopefully developing over the next 4-5 years, and that for me cemented it. The only awkward thing is, how do you say you like it without sounding to eager and being ripped off in front of the seller?! As we left the property, we spoke some more to the agent and said we wanted to put in an offer. The three of us stood in a cramped hallway. It was all very surreal. And just like that, the following Monday we were given a link to input our offer online. As we typed the 0’s my heart was racing. We weren’t hopeful, as they had originally wanted more, however luckily for us they liked us, they had a good feeling about us and we were super flexible with move in/out date. Being first time buyers, you don’t have a chain, and this can majorly work to your advantage. Luckily for us, they didn’t have one either, as they were moving into a rented property temporarily. Our offer was accepted, and although I wanted to scream with excitement, I knew that that really meant nothing in today’s climate!
Once our offer was accepted we had to begin all of the legal stuff. And when I say ‘we’, I mean Stew. At this point I didn’t fully understand much, and we were being bombarded with different documents to either read, read and sign, or read, print, sign and send off. It was all completely overwhelming and sadly our solicitor wasn’t the most reliable. Weeks would go past with no word. We would email, call and receive nothing in response. I’m hesitant to name and shame at this point, as we have still not completed. But I hear this is common.
However, we persevered. Our surveys were completed and luckily nothing too worrying came back. There are different levels of survey you can have – from what I understand, the cheapest one is the bare minimum and the most expensive is probably unnecessary. So we went somewhere in the middle.
Once the surveys were done, we signed our mortgage offer and began negotiating with the sellers over furniture, move out date etc. This went pretty well and our solicitor followed up with theirs for anything that was missing our outstanding. At this point we were really in the hands of our solicitor, not having much of a clue – which is pretty scary! But patience is key, and in the end, however many weeks and months later, we were in a position to exchange.
Normally these both happen fairly close to each other. However because we had agreed a move in date of a couple of months’ time, we wouldn’t be able to complete until then, but wanted to exchange sooner, as this would put our mind at ease. (Once you have exchanged the property is (almost) 100% yours. At this point for either party to pull out, it would be severely costly!). Exchange was probably the most terrifying stage. Parting with ALL of our life savings is a scary prospect. Putting all of your faith at this point into your solicitor and triple checking their bank details before clicking ‘send’. Gahh! It also didn’t help that our solicitor told us the wrong date of when she would be back in the office, so she wasn’t actually at work the day we sent the money. We were chasing her and getting no response – what did I say about having the worst solicitor?! But alas, she finally replied and everything was done!
It’s also worth noting that at this point you only exchange the deposit. If you are due to pay stamp duty, you do this on completion, along with any other outstanding fees.
Having exchanged a couple of months ahead of completion, we now have some time to continue saving and think about what we need to do in preparation – selling/buying furniture, notifying our landlord, booking a professional clean and inventory check, updating our address, ordering a removal van… The list is endless, and our shared G Doc gets bigger by the day. But it’s been so helpful having everything in one place. I might do another post on all of the things to consider when moving in/out of a property, but for now I think this post is length enough! Sorry it’s a long one.
Please let me know if you have any questions, or could share your buying experiences. We are due to move in at the end of August, so the countdown is well and truly on now! And if you’re wondering what these photos are of, this is our current rented flat in Crouch End/Stroud Green. We’ve lived here for just over 3 years, and it’s going to be a really emotional day moving out. This was our first home just the two of us. But we’re ready for the next chapter!