Friday, 13 July 2018

10 Things I learnt As a First Time Buyer

As you may know, we have just bought a house for the first time. We had one agreement fall through, and had to go through the whole process of finding another. With all this in mind I've learnt a few things a long the way that I'd like to share.

I'd like to make it clear, that this is the first house I have bought, and while a lot of this has been true for me, every house purchase is different, so as much as I hope these lessons help you in your house purchase, you will inevitably find your own way with some things. You might even flat out disagree with my opinions! My hope for this post is to help you have an idea of things that you can do if you're right at the beginning of your house buying journey, and if you're well on your way to completing, reassure you that you're not alone in the crazy!

1. There is no such thing as too much research.

So long as it doesn't stop you from actually moving forward. This is the first thing we started doing, and to be honest we continued to do it throughout the purchase.

Before you do anything else, start your research on the location you're thinking of buying in. Our research was not just restricted to the area we were buying in, our research began in finding a town to buy in in the first place. We lived in West London so there was no way we could afford to buy where we were living. This meant finding a town that we could afford, was a reasonable commute to work, was close to our friends and family, and that was a nice place to live. Each of the places we looked at required us to give a little bit on one of those categories. Either it was a longer commute than we wanted, or it wasn't the nicest town to live in, or we weren't as close to our friends and family as we would like. We ultimately gave on the proximity to friends and family in favour of a reasonable commute, where we could afford a house rather than a flat, and is a really nice place. Now that decision wont be right for everyone, so you have to know what your parameters are and which areas you're willing to compromise on if you need to.

Once you have a location start looking online at what you can get for your money. I have an account on Rightmove so that I can save properties that I like. Then I can keep an eye on them easily to see how long they stay on the market, if the price gets reduced etc. I did this for months, and when we finally came to viewings and negotiating I had a much better idea of how far we could push it in terms of what we offered, because I knew if it was likely to sell fast or hang around, or if they were asking for too much, or if it was a total bargain!

2. Speak to the Bank

This sounds like such a "well duh" one, but honestly, this was one of the first things we did to get a rough idea of how much we could borrow. I phoned the bank I have a current account with and said I was looking to buy a house and wanted to know roughly the level I could borrow from them. They asked what our combined income was and from that they were able to give us a general idea which would be dependant on a variety of other factors. This allowed us to know what price range we needed to be looking at when viewing properties.

3. Do Lots of Viewings

Another "well duh" one, but let me explain. I don't just mean do property viewings, because that's a given, and a lot of agents wont accept your offer if you haven't viewed it anyway. We went and saw a few properties before we were in a position to make offers, because this helped us to get an idea of what the sizes were like and the condition of them is rarely as nice in real life as in the photos. Also because we are buying in a town we don't know that well, we quickly discovered that one area actually wasn't for us, and it helped us to narrow down areas we wanted to live in within the town. Also it gets you on the agents lists and they start sending you properties that are new, and sometimes telling you about them before they've gone online. If you're thinking about putting an offer in on a property it's always good to view it more than once, and at different times of day. We weren't able to do this because of how far away we lived, but I often wished I had seen it a couple of times, because once we viewed it we then didn't see it again until we were moving in, and that was about 3-4 months later! If you know you wont be able to view twice, take LOADS of photos, you will forget what it looks like so it's really good to be able to remind yourself. To be honest, I'd say take loads of photos even if you are able to view it several times, because your photos will always be better quality than the ones on Rightmove, and you're more likely to take photos of the things you liked the most in detail. Also if you see anything that looks like a concern to you (mould, cracking, condensation on the windows) take photos of these too, you never know when that could come in handy further down the negotiating line.

4. Mortgage Advisor

Getting a mortgage advisor was not one I was particularly interested in doing. I thought it would be expensive and we did not have the budget for expensive. But with a bit of research (see told you) we found out about mortgage advisors that don't charge you, they take their money from the bank you go with. I was a bit dubious about this, as to whether they would actually advise the best offer, or just tell us to go with the bank that pays them the most. We ended up going with London and Country. They have been great and because we had done so much research on rates when they told us who to go with, we were able to ask them why they hadn't recommended someone else we thought was better. They explained how due to hidden costs that one wouldn't work. I should mention that they don't work with every bank, so it's still worth doing your research on rates of the lenders they don't work with, in case they are offering a better deal. But when we were doing it, the lender offering the best rates did work with L&C so they have handled our whole application (actually because of the house that fell through, they've done two applications for us). It's made things such a breeze and we aren't going to have to pay them a penny.

5. Don't Be Afraid To Walk Away

A bit like Ebay, but a lot more money on the line. Before you put in your offer, know what the maximum is you're willing to negotiate to, and then stick with that. It is easy to keep offering a little bit more, in the hopes they'll accept because you really want it, and then suddenly you're offering more than you can realistically afford. So be prepared to say, sorry that's my final offer, and if they don't accept it, WALK AWAY. Sometimes they might accept it if they know it really is your best and final offer. But not always, and you have to be able to walk away, and know you'll find something else.

6. Get a Survey

Especially if you're buying an old house, it is a really good idea to have a home buyers or building survey done. We had a building survey done on the first house we were going to buy, because it was almost 200 years old, and hadn't had any work done to it since the mid 1980's by the look of it. He came back with £49,000 of work! We were fairly sure we could do a lot of those odd jobs ourselves, but things like new boilers, recovering the roof, and getting drains unblocked and repaired are pricey jobs that need a professional! There are so many things that can be wrong with a building, especially an old one, so it is well worth the money having a professional and qualified surveyor check it out. Depending on what they find, it may not be enough to make you walk away, but you can go back to the seller and renegotiate based on the amount you're going to have to spend fixing the house. We also had a building survey done on the house we have now bought. There were issues flagged up that required us to ask the seller to get further surveys done. We didn't renegotiate on the price, but we are now confident that we know the house is safe, and there shouldn't be any skeletons in the closet about to give us a nasty surprise (literally and figuratively!). 

7. Roll with the Punches

It is going to get stressful. There is no doubt about that. Be prepared for the stress, even if it is smooth sailing for a while, be prepared for the shit to hit that fan at any minute. The truth is this transaction requires the cooperation of, at the very least, you and your seller, chances are there is a whole chain of people all with their own ideas of how they want this to go. Pick your battles, and avoid threatening to walk away until you're dealing with an issue that is a real deal breaker. If and when you pull that card out the bag you need them to know you're serious. Try not to let every issue weigh down on your mind all day every day. It is exhausting and a waste of energy, try to calmly make a decision, take the advice of the professionals you have employed to advise you, deal with the issue, and then try not to dwell on it until you need to make another decision. This is definitely a do as I say not as I do piece of advice. I am the WORST for dwelling on issues and getting myself all worked up until they are fully resolved. Lucky for me my solicitor is such a calm person, I swear she has a magic voice, every time I spoke to her I instantly felt calmer. Which leads me onto my next tip...

8. Get yourself a good solicitor!

This just might be the best piece of advice I can give you. When you start the process of buying, the world and its mother will be asking if you want to use their in house legal team. Now I'm not saying they are bad, and actually I've never used them so I really really cant comment. But their biggest sell to me when I told them "no thank you I have a solicitor" was how cheap they are, and asking me what fees I was paying my solicitor and how there was no way they were doing it cheaper. Now when you are paying every penny you have and then some on buying a home it is so tempting to go for the cheap option. My stance on this though is that if you're a first time buyer chances are this is the biggest investment you've ever made in your life, and will possibly be the biggest investment you ever make. So why would you cheap out on one of the most important elements of the purchase? 

9. Don't take things personally

Try and think of this as a business transaction. It's not about you, or whether they think you're a nice person (although that can definitely help!) it's about both you and the seller getting what they want out of the transaction. Sometimes that wont be the same thing and a little negotiation is required to come to an agreement you can both get on board with. Do not take this personally. This mentality should help you to feel more confident asking for what you want, and in some cases insisting you get it. At the end of the day you're both after the same ultimate goal, you want to buy their house, and they want to sell it to you.

10. It's ok to have a little Cry

Buying a house is bloody stressful, especially the first time round when there are words and phrases being thrown around that you've never heard of let alone understand. At times this all might get a bit much and you might need to have a little cry and step back. If you are buying a house with someone else, this might be the moment to ask them to take the reigns a bit and let you gather yourself. As Lisa in Vampire Academy said "It's your turn to have a little cry, and my turn to kick a little arse". (I really wish I had a cooler film to quote from!) 

So there you have it, my top ten  lessons learned as a first time buyer. I hope you found it helpful, and if you have any other questions about any thing please do let me know in the comments, if I can help I will. As I've said this is all based on my experience, and every house purchase will be different, so I am by no means an expert on this. My friend Laura who writes the blog Nachos and Wine did a top tips post on buying a house which inspired this one. Her house purchase has been WAY different to mine, so well worth reading to get a different view on it. 

One more bonus tip, try to enjoy it, it's exciting getting your first home, and you've worked bloody hard to be able to do it! It will all come together in the end, and then you can focus on paint colours, and sofa swatches to your little hearts desire!


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