When we bought our first home, a cute little two bed character cottage in a picturesque Derbyshire village, it sort of happened by accident. We had been renting it for a while and after a doing a bit of research we realised we could potentially afford to buy it. When we suggested this could be an option to our lovely landlady we were surprised that she was enthusiastic and from then on the ball started rolling. I wouldn’t say it was a traditional purchase in that we didn’t have an estate agent; this had it's downsides but also was a massive bonus. There were a few niggles along the way but on the whole it was a pretty easy purchase as house buying goes. We were in such a fortunate position that we knew all the houses quirks and issues and knew exactly what we wanted to do with the house once it was ours.
Once we had completed we started work on it almost immediately. We barely had any budget and had to call in an awful lot of favours from some very lovely people as well as do a lot of the work ourselves. I feel the renovations might need a blog post of their own…? Fast forward a year, as much work as we could afford was done and we decided to have the house valued, if anyone has ever done this on a whim and not ended up putting the house up for sale then please let me know!
We then we started the process of trying to sell our beautiful little cottage. This is when we experienced first hand the delights of buying a house (and selling) through more traditional methods. It was an experience I’m not in a hurry to repeat, mainly because of the ridiculously awkward buyers of our house. So, by this time we were 25 and trying to buy our second home with our cocker spaniel in tow, such a fortunate position I know, especially these days. I thought our experience of being young, first time buyers/sellers might interest those currently thinking of buying and or selling that haven’t done it before (or even those who have done it before!). No one ever tells you half the things you find yourself up against and I would have done anything for someone to prepare me even a little bit! Some of it may seem so obvious but in the excitement, madness and stress of it all these simple points can get lost. So here goes! Buying tips first…
Finding a house
Write a list of all the things you are looking for and all the areas you would consider living in. It really helps to narrow your search down. Don’t lose sight of what your priorities are. If it is essential that you need a driveway, then don’t go looking at houses that have no parking but have that dream bathroom with a roll top bath. It's so easy to lose your way so write a list of things you can't compromise on and be strong! However, compromise is of course inevitable unless you have an endless budget and you will have to give in on some things.
Work out how long you are planning on staying in the house for, don’t buy one you will outgrow too quickly. It's expensive to buy and sell and you don’t want to have to do it more often then you need to!
Don't rely on the internet. All the online house searching websites are amazing but sometimes you might have missed out by the time you see it online. Introduce yourself to local estate agents and visit them in person. They will quite often let you know if anything suitable is about to become available before the rest of the world. We just happened to pop in to an estate agent on a Saturday morning, the day after we accepted an offer on our cottage. We were told about a house that fitted the bill that hadn't come onto the market yet. We managed to view it on the Sunday and then put an offer in on the Monday. Now we live in that house!
Try not to view any houses until you are in a position to put an offer in, this means waiting until you have an offer on your existing property if you are selling too. It only ends in heartbreak when you fall in love with a house that you can do nothing about. From a seller's point of view it’s also frustrating having to give hours of your day up for viewings from people who can’t put an offer in. If you have the will power try not to spend too much time on Right Move or Zoopla, that’s probably not practical but I can't count how many houses I had moved myself into in my head that were gone by the time we were in a position to buy.
Take someone with you to view houses that can see past a house that’s dressed for a viewing. I am someone that can be completely blinded by cushions, candles and throws. And show me a kitchen with a Smeg fridge in it and I don’t see anything else. Take someone who will notice that bit of damp on the ceiling or the badly plumbed bathroom, it could cost you a fortune in the long run. The opposite is also true; try to see through other people’s mess and décor that isn’t your taste. Don’t be put off because you can’t stand the carpet or curtains, these things can be changed.
Check all the expensive things are in good working order. A lick of paint here and there and some new flooring can be done on a budget. However, windows, doors and boilers all cost a fortune if you find they need replacing and you didn’t realise they did. These things can also be used as a bartering chip when negotiations are taking place.
View the house a couple of times if you can, houses can look so different on a second viewing and you notice so much more.
Ask questions, find out what the water rates are and what council tax bracket the house is in. Even ask how much the gas and electric costs! It’ll help you budget.
Drive past the house at different times of day to see how busy the roads are. It might be delightful and quiet at 10am on a Saturday morning but if the road outside the house is like the M1 on a Monday morning then it’s worth finding that out sooner rather than later.
Mortgages and Solicitors
I still don't really get all the ins and outs of mortgages. Get an independent whole of market mortgage adviser. Ours is just incredible and takes so much of the stress away. I mean there’s still stress but much less! He doesn’t cost anything either so don’t listen to people who say they will always charge you. They can also sort all your life insurance stuff out too. Get in touch with one before anything else and they can accurately work out your affordability etc.
It's so important to find a solicitor you are happy with. You are going to put a lot of trust in this person and spend a lot of time speaking to them so make sure it’s someone good. If you are unlucky then they can really slow the process down, try asking friends and family for recommendations.
Solicitors as well as estate agents will throw an awful lot of house buying jargon at you. If you don’t know what they’re on about, which I very rarely did, then don’t be afraid to ask them to explain.
You’ll hear the words exchange and completion banded around all over the place. When you’ve exchanged it basically means there is no going back, until that point in England either party can pull out of the sale. You can after exchange but you have to pay a hefty penalty so you don’t want to be doing that. Completion means you are now the proud owner of a house!
If you have access over someone’s property or they have access over yours then this can add paperwork. As can a peculiar parking arrangement. It's not a problem just be prepared for people to start asking for statutory declarations from people to ensure all is well and all loose ends are tied up.
Buying a house is expensive. I certainly didn’t realise how many additional costs are on top of buying the actual house. You have solicitors, searches, surveys, stamp duty, estate agents too if you’re selling! It’s worth costing out how much all this adds up to. Also, factor in buying new furniture and appliances as if you are starting from scratch this can add a huge amount onto the cost of buying.
Think practically, if a house needs work can you afford it? We’ve all told ourselves we can live with things as they are but lets be honest, it’s hard to live somewhere where you can't afford to make it your own. Speak to builders and tradesman and work out how much would need to be spent. If you’ve never been in a position where you’ve needed to spend every weekend trawling the isles of DIY shops then get yourself down there and realise how much that Farrow and Ball paint you’ve been lusting after on pintrest actually costs!! Home improvement costs so much more than you think even if you’re doing it yourself.
Making an offer
Don’t be afraid to haggle. Don’t let the fact that you have never done this before let people walk all over you. Set an amount you can afford and stick to it. Being a first time buyer puts you in a strong position as you have no chain, to a seller that's great so make sure you use that as a positive in negotiations. It’s generally considered that 10% under the asking price won't offend anyone but if you’re feeling brave then go for less, especially if the house has been on the market for a while. Asking for a chimney to be swept or boiler to be serviced can be added into negotiations.
Do your research on the market in your area, sometimes properties move so fast you need to just bite the bullet if it’s the right house at a price you can afford. All estate agents will try to tell you there are other people interested so try and understand the local market and work out how quick you do actually need to be or whether they are just pressuring you for no reason.
Be completely clear as to what is included in the sale. You don’t want to move into the house and realise they have taken that beautiful range cooker and log burning stove that you had your heart set on.
Surveys and Certificates
Who knew that there were different levels of surveys?! Take advice but sometimes you can end up paying a lot more for something that isn’t going to tell you much more information than the basic level. It’s worth looking into the different options.
Make sure you get FENSA certificates for windows and doors that have been fitted in the house. If there is a Log burner also check the sellers provide the solicitor with a HETAS certificate for it, this proves a professional has fitted it. Without it your home insurance doesn’t cover a fire caused by your burner. I stress this as I spent months of my life chasing a missing HETAS certificate!
Make sure you get home insurance from exchange, once this has taken place the house is your responsibly as you are tied into the sale of the house. Get buildings as well as contents cover. I think most mortgages require you have it anyway so someone will remind you to get it at some point.
Getting ready to move
Try not to get too carried away buying big items of furniture before you move in. It’s worth waiting to make sure things will definitely fit and work in the space. If you do need to order a sofa as its going to take 4 months to arrive then make sure you have the dimensions of the room exactly right, don't assume they're right on the brochure.
The dream is to use a removal company where someone will collect all your possessions and take them to the new house where they will unpack it for you. However, after lots of ringing round I realised that for some reason you require a second mortgage for such a service. So, hire the biggest van you can find and rope in all your friends and family to help. It makes it more fun anyway!
Pack all of life's essentials into a box, including cleaning products, toilet rolls and the makings of a cup of tea (including a kettle!). A bottle of prosecco is also classed as an essential on moving day. Load this box onto the van last so that it will be unloaded first.
As soon as you have collected the keys from the estate agent then you can make your way to your new house. When you get there don’t forget to take meter readings straight away and change your energy provider, they always seem to start you off on the most expensive tariff.
Don’t forget to be excited and get that bottle of prosecco opened! You can get so caught up in the stress that you can forget that what you're doing is something amazing!
So there you have it, all my tips for buying. I should probably add, just because I am telling you these points does not mean I followed all of them myself, of course I didn’t. We hadn’t bought a house ‘normally’ before and honestly I think even if you have you never really know what you’re doing. It’s always a learning curve and it’s different for everyone. This is just a few things I leant from our particular experience; I would like to think I would follow them next time, if I’m ever allowed to move again that is…
Hope this helps some of you lovely people out there who are hoping to buy. Although it’s one of the most stressful things you may do it’s totally worth it in the end and the sleepness nights and stressful phone calls are forgotten eventually! I’ll do another post full of tips about selling your first home soon.
Thanks so much for reading,