A guide to being a first time buyer

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).

Really Moving is an online service that can help you find solicitors in your area and offer reviews. Rated Solicitors does much the same.

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.

Stay calm

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!

Sometimes things go wrong and it’s just what you need 


The past three months have been a rollercoaster ride of very grown-up feeling stuff going wrong, getting better and repeating. We started 2017 with plans to move away to an entirely new place. We had the house, had the ideas and had it sort of mapped out. I thought it was right and that it was time and I built it up to be something it never would have been. 

Then it all went wrong, turned into a giant mess and eventually the whole thing got scrapped. 

I can’t explain how delightfully thrilled I am about that. 

It’s amazing how much you realise you didn’t want something until it’s called off and cancelled.

I know now I’m not doing it that my choice to wave goodbye to London and buy a quaint little house by a river big enough for a family I don’t yet have was because it felt like that’s what other people were doing. I felt like I should do it because it was responsible. It was sensible. It was something to grow into and decorate and change and get used to and just to learn to fit in.

When it all fell apart we took serious stock of what was happening with our lives and I realised that I just did not want it. I wanted to live near people I know. I wanted to be in London (well, the outskirts cos y’know, I’m not a billionaire) and I wanted to live somewhere I actually liked. 

All I really want right now is to able to commute quickly, feel comfortable, have space to myself and get a grip on the next big challenge – and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

I don’t know why I felt the need to press fast forward a hundred times like my life depended on it, but it did not do me any favours. 

I had this feeling that I’d be judged or deemed behind the masses or some other strange, unrealistic emotion that I can’t quite explain. I don’t even know who I felt like I had to answer to. There’s no person, no group of people, no conversation that I can blame. I think it was just the curse of seeing so much of other people’s lives online and getting blinded by it all on top of being a bit of a bully to myself. 

The whole situation worked out way better than I could ever have imagined. Something that felt like a disaster turned into a saviour. 

I’m fully excited for the rest of 2017 and what we’ve decided to do. I certainly now appreciate that spending a year working bloody hard and saving harder wasn’t done to feel unsure and anxious, it was to make life better. 

So here’s to not going through with stuff that doesn’t come from the heart and to an exciting next few months. 

The first time buyer journey- choosing somewhere new to live

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We’ve spent the last ten months pretty set on areas we want to move to. We thought we really had it all locked down, but as with every part of this process, we were wrong. We looked up the areas, tried the train journeys out, looked at schools, looked at crime rates, even sampled the local pub in one case. We looked at all the sensible things you get told to look at when choosing somewhere new to live, but it turns out there’s so much more to it. There’s so much more to everything, it seems.

I’ve also done some rambling about questions to ask when viewing houses

This area we were focusing on is now not even remotely part of our search. We have completely changed our minds and now we’ve settled on a really different place, but also it’s 100% the home we’re looking for. We don’t have the house or flat yet, but we know this is the place for us.

It’s a big choice to make. A big whopping, very adult choice, especially if you’re buying, because you have an added level of ‘you are stuck here for a while now you should have thought about this more’. It’s scary.  When we first started scoping out places to live we thought of the stuff that came to mind when you think of a Sunday- places to get breakfast, shops in walking distance, a nice park just around corner, basically just little comforts. It wasn’t until we actually started going in houses and the whole thing suddenly got real that we realised there was so much more to it.

As nice as it is to be able to stroll out of your front door and fall into a nice café where you can become a regular and have the staff know your coffee order without opening your mouth, there is a bigger picture. The hard part is making these Sunday comforts fit with that bigger picture.

In the hope of this being helpful to just one person, these are the things we realised we should have thought about earlier:

Sewage– Yes really! Look up if there is a sewage plant near and look up the wind direction. You can work out how affected you’re likely to be by smell, particularly in the summer.

How busy do the roads really get– We’ve been stuck in some truly awful traffic some weekends while house hunting, and it’s definitely worth looking into how busy roads you might live on can be- not just for noise reasons but also safety. If you can, go and look at the road in the evenings, in the week and at the weekend. Sounds like a lot of work, but it’s better to know these things.

Flooding mapsGov.uk have a system that allows you to input an address and get the flooding risk for the property. If you’re anywhere near a river this is 100% worth the five minutes it takes.

Train developments- If there’s planned work on train tracks or work on extending lines due to start up in the future, and you need the trains for work, consider how it might affect your commute.

Scope to extend and do work on a house- When you visit houses, look to see if the neighbours have dropped curbs for driveways, loft extensions or porches. If they have, there’s a pretty good chance you can do the same, as the council is unlikely to say yes to one home but not another, particularly neighbours.

Road closures in the area- Look up how many times roads have been closed off in the past two years in the local area. By doing this we found a town we had been pinning hopes on had a continuous problem with water pipes bursting, causing flooding, road chaos and issues with water supply to some properties.

What’s on the local high street?- This is a pretty good indication at how far you’ll need to travel to get to the shops you want. If you want to have coffee shops and cafes nearby, but there’s none on your local high street, look at how far you’ll have to go. Will you need to drive just to buy bread and milk? Will you be able to get whatever seasonal coffee Starbucks are serving up without paying to park? This might seem like it’s unimportant, until the day comes when all you want is some convenience but there is none.

Would you want to walk from the station at night?- There’s a lot to be said about looking at places at night as well as the day. If you’re going to be walking around in the dark in the winter after work, how comfortable would you feel?

Noise complaints- Vendors have to legally tell you if they have lodged a complaint against the neighbours, so ask!

The first time buyer journey- viewing houses: questions, estate agents and staying calm

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Just FYI, I’m putting photos of houses I would love to own but never will in these posts, because we have to dream don’t we? 

So- viewing houses. It struck me really quickly how little we knew about property, house buying and estate agents the moment we walked into the first flat we viewed. We’ve been to about eight now and dealt with 20 or so estate agents, and my confidence and knowledge feels like it’s grown tenfold because it’s had to.

I’m starting to feel more like my inner Kirsty and Phil is blossoming  more and more every day. That being said though, take in as much help as you possibly can and research EVERYTHING. 

You can also read my ramblings on lifestyle changes that helped while saving a deposit and about the general experience of deciding to buy.

We researched and wrote down loads of questions to ask the estate agents and owners and of course spoke to friends and family, but I feel like I could have used a quick masterclass to tell me what to expect from estate agents, how to maximise time and what to do under pressure. So this is essentially my attempt at making a masterclass in a blog post in the hope it’ll be helpful to other first time buyers with viewings. Buckle up, this is quite a long one.

Booking viewings and open houses

I thought getting booked in would be the easy bit, but we’ve come across all sorts of issues that have meant we haven’t made it to places we like the look of, or there’s been a catch that you don’t expect. We realised early on we needed to be on the property search websites every single day, as early as possible- like 7am early. We’re in the south so the market is very fast and full on. 

It’s also worth looking on the actual estate agents website as well as the big sites like Right Move. Also like their Facebook pages. Sometimes they leave a property up on Facebook for a few hours before it gets a listing on a property site.

When you see something you like, don’t dally. Make the call and ask if they can do a time convenient for you- you may as well ask. If they can’t, just ask for the first possible slot and take it, especially if you’re really keen. We lost out on somewhere I was so excited to see because we booked a viewing a week away, and someone else got in, made an offer and got accepted. Things are fast and competitive- more so than I ever imagined.

We’ve also learnt that if you’re making a day of it, it is worth filling any gaps with any other stuff in the area that you wouldn’t normally consider seeing. I did this on Saturday and out of the whole day, the only place I’m following up on was one we booked to kill some time.

Also, keep a diary- things get hectic. Not all agents will send you any kind of confirmation, so you need to keep track of your bookings. Agents will also offer to book you in to other properties that fit your bill, and if they don’t, ask them to. They might have something else they can show you on the same day and save you some time.

When it comes to an open house, be prepared to see loads of people crammed in. Listen to their questions, watch what they’re doing- you might gain some extra knowledge. 

What do you need to ask estate agents when you’re in the property?

We used the Home Owners Alliance website to get together a list of general questions. Most are fairly obvious and include the condition of the boiler, roof, windows, age of the house, structural issues etc. 

We’re lucky that we have a property contractor in the family who pointed out things we would never imagine asking or even consider. A few extra questions worth adding:

  • Can you see a guarantee for the boiler and all the certificates that come with it?
  • Is there a loft/basement? Is the loft boarded and can you look in it?
  • How recently has the house been painted? (Why so recent if not just to spruce it up?)
  • Do night buses/train lines run near the house and how loud are they if so?
  • Is there a sewage plant near? What direction does the wind carry the smell?
  • How old is the guttering?
  • What’s the drainage like in the surrounding area? 
  • Have neighbours had extensions? (Scopes out if you likely to get permission to build on)
  • Is there a specific month the sellers are aiming to move?

I’ve also felt quite rushed by agents who aren’t keen to spend more than seven or eight minutes (literally, that fast) in a house, but just stand your ground. If you might be handing over tens of thousands in a deposit for a place, you want to know as much about it as possible. If an agent can’t answer your questions, say you want to speak to the owner, or give them a list of stuff to find out. We had a really helpful agent recently who went away and got answers to a whole load of questions we put to her within two hours. 

Also, be brave and just outright ask if there have been offers. I felt too intimidated by the whole thing to do that at first, but if it’s not sealed bids, you can ask and you should get an answer. Also ask how many other people have viewed and if there are other viewings booked and also if you can arrange a second viewing.

Questions you can expect from estate agents

I spent so long fretting over what I should ask agents and owners that it never much occurred to me that they would ask us for stuff too. I’ve found during my extensive questioning of colleagues and family members that these vary hugely. Some agents will ask, some won’t- but we didn’t expect some of the questions we’ve had, which caused unneccsary stress and aggressive emailing.

  • Some agents will ask for your final offer and highest price by a set time. No negotiating, no extra 24 hours to deliberate- if the interest is high so are the stakes.
  • You might be asked to send estate agents your mortgage in principle, your bank statements to prove you have a deposit, and a bank statement with a signature of anyone who’s giving you money towards the sale- I was taken back by this, but when I spoke to a broker I was assured it’s normal and we should expect agents to ask. I’ve been told this more a London thing.
  • When do you want to move by? You might just feel like this is obivous- as soon as possible, duh. BUT- it can apparently be helpful to name a month and find out if the seller can work with you to achieve it. If you got with what they need they’ll be keen to seal the deal, so we’ve been told.
  • You can also expect follow-up calls, Sundays included, to ask if you want to bid on Monday, how much you were thinking and if you want to remain on the ‘interest list.’

Stuff to remember among the madness

I keep reminding myself that this is not anyone else’s money or home, it’s going to be mine and Dan’s, so we need to choose wisely. Pressure might be put on you from all angles- the seller pressures the agent, the agent pressures you, other buyers are chomping at the bit and will outbid you- just keep cool.

I’ve also been told by about a hundred people who I’ve pestered into giving me insight and tips that when you find the home for you, you’ll just know. It sounds cliched but I think it’s right. I’ve been to places these past few weeks which have felt okay, I could probably live in them, I could probably make it a home, but if you aren’t in a giant rush, it’s worth waiting right? Patience is your best friend in the process I think, so I hope I have lots of it to get me through. I’m expecting things to take a long time, so anything that feels quick will be a pleasant surprise.

Oh and don’t forget to enjoy it. Easy for me to say a few weeks in (you can probs tune in for some crying and stress meltdowns before Christmas) but it is exciting. It’s also so far quite exhausting, it takes over, there’s so much to learn and so much to consider, but you’re choosing your first home, so y’know- YAY. WELL DONE YOU.

If this interests you- come back for me banging on about area scouting, bidding and poker faces.