Back when I first started looking at places to buy, I spent ages on Google searching for advice and answers to the many questions I had. The longer the process went on, the more I struggled to find the information I needed and although I did find a lot of useful stuff online, I couldn’t find anything tailored to me – a fairly clueless first time buyer with a massive amount of anxiety about the whole thing.
We had a bit of a roller coaster time with our first attempt. After about six weeks of searching we found a place and went for it, got an offer accepted, got the ball rolling, paid for searches and did a lot of paperwork only for it to stall. After that, problem after problem started to crop up and we realised why it’s said that buying a home is one of the most stressful things you’ll ever do. As frustrating, upsetting and irritating as it all was, waving goodbye to four months commitment on a place to start over taught us some valuable lessons about the world of buying. it also turned out to be a good thing, as we’re much happier in a different area and feel much more settled.
I kept wishing I could find a place online that had more than a few snippets of information, so this is my effort at making that happen. I noted down all of the things that we struggled to understand and the things surprised us or made us want to shout “WHAT EVEN IS THIS???” to put together the below in the hope it might help a few others. This is all based on my experience so of course it doesn’t have everything you might need, but I hope it contains at least one useful explanation!
First things first – getting the mortgage sorted
We went through London and Country for our mortgage advice, which is a completely free service and I couldn’t recommend them enough. They took all of our financial information, talked through exactly what we wanted to do and spend and came back with mortgage offers from four different banks. Alongside this we did our own enquiries to compare, and once we had chosen a mortgage product, they guided us through the whole process.
If you don’t want to use a broker you can make appointments at banks to apply for a mortgage in principle (online calculators exist for basically all of them so I’d suggest finding the best couple of offers online and making appointments with those) but be prepared for a wait. Banks seems to have very long waiting lists for appointments in-branch so get organised in advance. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to make offers on places without a mortgage in principle/decision in principle, so this should be your first port of call.
You can get some information on the cost of buying a house from upfront fees to leaseholding costs from The Money Advice Service.
viewings, estate agents and questions
We used the classic combination of Right Move and Zoopla to search for places to view. It’s also worth signing up to mailing lists of estate agents in the areas you are looking at. It can be easier to get yourself on open day lists for popular places if they can contact you directly. We also had trouble getting booked in for viewings at first as we weren’t quick enough, so I’d strongly recommend doing your searching and phoning in the morning as the best places get snapped up FAST.
When we were at viewings I used to forget all of the diligent and sensible questions I should have been asking and just made awkward small talk instead –so take a list on paper and make sure you use it!
I wrote a post on questions to ask estate agents and things to consider that might not be obvious. There are little things you can do like running taps and flushing loos to check water pressure, as well as asking to look inside lofts or basements (which can hide all kinds of issues and secrets).
Also, this is an important one, if you’re buying a flat, make sure you check the number of years left on the lease. The EA should have this information and if they don’t ask them to try and get it. We learnt that when leases slip below 80 years, a property price starts to fall until it is renewed. Renewing a lease can be very costly (upwards of £6000) so consider this very carefully. You can get more information from the Lease Advice Service.
Easy research to do online when choosing a home
There’s plenty of stuff you can look up online to help you decide if you want to live somewhere. Since we were initially looking at moving to a completely new county, we used a few different websites to do research:
Crime stats by postcode – not much fun but worth knowing.
House price data from the Land Registry – you can look up what other places nearby have recently sold for.
Find our if a property is at risk of flooding – if you’re anywhere near water it’s worth paying the small amount for the proper report. You can also get flood maps through this link.
Street Check – you simply enter a postcode and get a load of information on the area from housing and culture to employment and the all important broadband speeds.
Ask the local authority – we did some digging around with one local authority to ask about road planning and flood defences and got a lot of information for free. We simply looked up with LA we needed and googled for contact details, gave them a call and followed instructions. We also asked the local council if any building work applications has ever been submitted for one property we liked that was very old.
Putting in offers
This post looks at the questions you can expect to be asked – particularly when putting in an offer. I thought it would be as simple as calling the EA and naming a price, but of course it isn’t.
If other people are bidding too, you might end up in a bidding war, so calculate how high you can afford to go and think about stamp duty and deposit too –and stay by the phone! In some cases if multiple bids are put forward, you’ll be asked to give your best and final offer. We also learnt the hard way that it’s best to get your offer in as early as you can. We lost a house we really liked because two bidders had offered the same amount and since we were second to get it in, we weren’t successful.
During the bidding process we were asked for copies of our mortgage in principle and proof of deposit from all three EAs that we went through, which we did not expect and initially weren’t prepared for.
As much as I resented doing this, it’s worth getting savings account statements prepared or proof of deposit from a third party if you’re being gifted it. A bank statement with a date stamp suffices. Our mortgage advisor told us that EAs have no right to see these things, but they’ll ask anyway to make sure they aren’t taking bids from people who aren’t truly in a position to buy. The Home owners alliance offer tips on haggling over a price and the sealed bids process.
If your deposit is coming from a third party and not your own savings, you might also need a letter from that person confirming the money is a gift. If its a loan, you’ll need to fill out a form saying so, as all of this gets considered by your lender. You should get advice on all of this from your broker or mortgage advisor at the bank.
Picking a solicitor
Once you get an offer accepted on a home, you’ll likely be asked to move quickly on appointing a solicitor. You don’t need to wait until you’ve had an offer accepted to start getting quotes. We did this simply by asking people we knew for recommendations and good old Googling.
Often, EAs will offer you a quote from their solicitors, or a firm they’re in partnership with. There’s nothing wrong with having a look but don’t feel you have to use them because you don’t. When it comes to choosing one, read reviews, compare quotes and think about location. If you feel you’d be happier having an office to pop into (you can save money on postage by taking forms directly into offices) then look for one based close to home, though it doesn’t matter if you never meet your rep face-to-face. We never met ours as he was based in Manchester but we were in regular contact and had no issues on the communication front (though you should get a feel for this in reviews).
What will you need to pay them for? Well in short, every single thing they do. Ask for a purchase estimate before you appoint, which should offer a total on legal fees, searches, checks and stamp duty, calculated on the property price -this won’t be the final price but should give you a good idea of where you stand.
Exchange, completion and moving day
There isn’t much to say on this as (hopefully) it’s pretty straight forward. Once you’ve finished the paperwork and got all queries back you can look at dates for exchange and completion. You might face an extra charge if you complete within one week of exchange, so if you can space them out you could save money. You don’t have to do much on either of these days, but we were told to check in regularly with our solicitor for updates on completion day especially.
It is stressful, but it also doesn’t have to be. Our second attempt was smooth, relatively easy and straight forward. My best pieces of advice would be to stay in contact with your solicitor and the EA as much as possible. Ask for regular updates from your solicitor (you’re paying them after all) and stick to your guns. If something feels wrong, it probably is. It’s a big deal to buy your first home, so don’t rush your decisions and it really is true that if you don’t feel 100% happy with a property then tread carefully. Oh and good luck!