When my boyfriend and I bought our first home, it was not a quick or easy process. We spent a year saving money, looking at different properties, and figuring out where we wanted to be in London. We knew that this was the biggest financial commitment we had ever made and knew that the more research we did, the better the decision would likely work out.
Naively, once we found our flat, I thought that was it - we would sign the papers, get the keys, and be moved in in a few months. However, there is a LOT more to it than that.
Buying any property is a big deal, but buying your first home, whilst extremely exciting, can be hugely overwhelming. As with anything you haven’t done before, you are venturing into the unknown, and dealing with things you haven’t faced before.
Here are some important lessons I learnt when buying my first home:
1. Know your budget
There are so many costs involved with buying a home and you need to work these out as accurately as possible. While most people know and have budgeted for a deposit, there are lots of other costs involved that can be forgotten about. Research the market in your chosen area to work out the deposit you are likely to require. The bigger the deposit you can save, the wider the choice of cheaper mortgages open to you. Even if you are a first time buyer, if you are buying a property above £500,000 you will need to pay stamp duty on the entire cost of the property, which can add up to thousands of pounds.
Other costs you need to factor in are
• Mortgage arrangement and valuation fees,
• Survey costs and conveyancing fees,
• Buildings insurance,
• Removal costs,
• Furnishings and any home improvements you need to make.
2. Work out which first-time buyer mortgage is right for you
First-time buyer mortgages are specifically designed for people who are new to the housing market. Some companies may use incentives such as cashback schemes, to entice you to get a mortgage with them. Different mortgage providers will vary significantly in terms of the loan-to-value they are willing to offer you. But remember that you’ll still need to meet strict affordability criteria to get approved. Think about if you want a fixed-rate mortgage, or a floating-rate mortgage. A floating-rate mortgage means that if interest rates go up or down, your mortgage could get cheaper or more expensive.
3. Know what you can afford
It is so easy (and fun!) to go on Rightmove and scroll through all the expensive houses in your dream area that you want to buy. But it is so important to be realistic about what you can afford. Before you start searching for your dream home, finalise your budget and make sure you stick to it - estate agents will always take you to properties ‘at the top end of your price range’ but be strict with them and let them know your budget early on.
4. Don’t fall in love
When looking at potential properties it is so easy to fall in love with the house with the best interior design, rather than thinking about any practicalities in the house. Make sure you don’t let your emotions affect your decision. Whilst it would be great to be able to move into a house that has nothing wrong with it, it is quite unlikely. Remember that changing the paint colour or floor can be a lot easier to do than changing the plumbing or structure of the property.
The buying process is also extremely long (and sometimes draining) and even once you have had an offer accepted, there is still a possibility it could fall through. Keep reminding yourself that the property is not yours until you are handed the keys.
5. Make a list
It’s really easy to walk into a house and forget all the research you have done beforehand on what you want and don’t want. Make a list of things that you will not compromise on and a list that would be nice but could be forgoed. This list will help you instantly make a shortlist of properties that are worth seeing and will save you a lot of time.
6. Don’t be afraid to be nosy
When looking at a property, make sure you look at EVERYTHING, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Look in all the cupboards in the kitchen to see how much space you have. Is there enough counter space, where is the boiler, is there enough storage throughout the property. Make sure you look in every cupboard to see that the space is workable for your life.
In addition try and visit the property at different times of the day. If you first visited it at 11am when the neighbours were at work it likely seemed like a quiet area. Go back at 7pm when most families are home. Are there noisy children? Is the road louder in the evening? Try and talk to the neighbours and see what they like and dislike about the area - this will give you more insight than asking your estate agent.
7. Do not be afraid to negotiate
You have finally found the property you want and it is time to make an offer - do not be afraid to negotiate! Buying a property is a huge financial commitment, and whilst it is so tempting (to me anyway!) to just offer the asking price to ensure you get the property, you have got to negotiate. Many people do not expect their home to sell for the asking price, so speak to the estate agent to try to get an insight into the willingness of the buyer to be flexible.
8. Enjoy it!
Finally, enjoy it! It is a huge achievement buying your first property and something you should be proud of! Whilst the process can be very overwhelming and draining, it will all be worth it when you get handed the keys and can enjoy your new home.