Welcome to our blog series First Home Stories, where we chat to recent first-time buyers on the lessons they learnt whilst going through their home buying journey – so you don’t have to repeat the same mistakes they made!
This week we talk to Em Allen, a 22 year-old from Sheffield who recently bought her first house with her boyfriend. Check out her lifestyle blog house number 3 where she shares more stories, tips and general advice for those trying to get on the ladder.
What were the main obstacles you faced as a first-time buyer?
Saving was an obvious obstacle. Living in the north of England, house prices were a bit more reasonable compared to the south, but it still took us about 2 years to save our deposit. Being only young when we started saving, we had to make smart decisions – i.e don’t buy the latest designer clothes, cars or waste money. There were times when we had to turn down social events with our friends, but we still had a good balance between social life and saving. We knew that in the long run we would appreciate having our own house more than a hangover the day after a night out.
What was the most stressful part of your home-buying journey?
Waiting for all the paperwork to go through. No one really tells you how long that part can take. The couple that we were buying from made a few mistakes on the paperwork and our solicitors had to keep sending it back to them, which delayed the process. We hadn’t dealt with solicitors or estate agents before, so we didn’t know how long the process would fully take or whether what was happening was normal. It became very stressful waiting to hear any news, whether it was good or bad, as we just wanted to move in.
What did you most enjoy about your home buying journey?
The feeling that we had when we first hit our deposit target and we knew we could start our search. It all happened so quick… When we first started looking at houses it was so exciting to think that we were so close to having one of our own. Also, when we first picked up the keys and went inside. On the day that we collected our keys, we both had to work a full shift before going to our new home. Excitement is an understatement of how I felt when we finally walked in!
Do you have a funny story to share from your home buying journey?
There was one thing that we noticed a lot when dealing with estate agents. We took my mum on some of the house viewings, due to it being our first time, because we didn’t want to miss anything important that she might pick up on. The majority of the estate agents would aim their speech and questions at my mum as they thought she was the one buying and there was no way it could be us, the young couple, who were actually buying! It did make us feel a bit uncomfortable and question ‘should we be doing this?’.
What would you have done differently?
Even though I love my house, I would’ve gone to see it at different times – on different days – to get a real picture of it. As we were working full time and started viewing properties in autumn, we viewed the house after work when it was starting to get dark and in the week. Therefore, when we bought it we didn’t realise how busy the road would be on a Saturday morning due to the dance studio across the road! Of course we’ve dealt with that now as just a minor problem that we can work around, but I would always suggest viewing at different times on different days.
What was the main lesson you learnt during the process?
Be patient and things will work out. For the majority of the time it will be a long process with a lot of stress but just keep thinking about the end result. Having to deal with many different people (estate agents, solicitors and companies for services) has made us grow up a lot. We’ve learnt so much about real ‘adult’ things such as bills and managing money, that you aren’t taught in school. Luckily, we are sensible people anyway and so knew how to handle our money and to shop around for bill comparisons, etc.
Could you talk specifically about any of these examples of lessons learnt?
– How to negotiate
Have a price in your mind that you do not want to go over. Then offer lower than this figure so there is room to negotiate with the vendor. We originally offered £3,000 less than our figure and negotiated to £1,000 less – a win win for us as we knew they wouldn’t accept our first offer but still accepted below the maximum we were prepared to pay.
– How to manage expectations
When viewing houses never have too high expectations. The housing market is so up and down that one day you have your heart set on a house and the next it is sold to someone else. There was one occasion when we fell in love with a house, were thinking of putting an offer in and by the time we phoned up to do so it had gone! It can be heartbreaking at times, so just take one day at a time. We went by the motto ‘what will be, will be’ and so obviously that house wasn’t meant to be for us.
– The importance of planning and researching
Write down exactly what you want in a house – our list included good transport links, decent sized garden, at least 3 bedrooms and a drive. We got all of these things as we had a clear plan in our head of what we required. Research things such as council tax bands as different areas/sized houses will be higher or lower, so it’s important to take them into consideration. Whilst in the saving period of our deposit all I would do is research everything there was to know about buying a house and what we needed to do, so it worked in our favour when we did start looking.
– Understanding affordability before shopping around
Putting in the time to research costs and compare prices for mortgages, bills and even food shopping will go a very long way. Know exactly what you can afford by writing down your monthly incomings and outgoings so that you know what you need to aim for. We do this for everything regarding the house so that we don’t live beyond our means and can get by comfortably without having to worry about money.
– The importance of getting a pre-approval for a mortgage
Speaking to a mortgage adviser before looking for a house allowed us to see what we could afford and the repayments that we would have to make each month. Luckily, the mortgage adviser we had was very helpful and talked us through everything to do with the money side. He broke everything down into little chunks, so that we could plan exactly the house price we could afford. Knowing these figures helped us to stay on track and not view anything out of our budget. Before we viewed any houses, he set up a mortgage in principle for us so that when we did find a house it was a quicker process on our side to get the mortgage all in place and show the sellers that we were serious about buying.
Is there anything you wish you’d known beforehand?
How expensive buying a house is! And everything else that goes with a house (bills, furniture and repairs). The majority of first-time buyers buy new homes that have recently been built so there’s not much work to do to them. We, however, bought a house that is 50 years old. Obviously we knew that there was going to be work to do and we wanted to decorate it to our taste, but we didn’t realise just how much it was going to cost.
Buying a house is a long process, not just to get the keys but to renovate and decorate as well. My mum keeps saying to me “The work is never complete when you have a house”, and I totally agree.
What one piece of advice would you give to first-time buyers?
Think about what you want in your life. Will that new flashy car still be around in 10 years? Will you wake up in 5 years time and think about that hangover you had? Having a house of your own will provide you with security for the rest of your life.
I would also say make sure you will be financially ok. It is one thing that you have saved for a deposit but you need to be able to pay the mortgage and bills comfortably. Having a house but surviving on beans on toast is probably not the way you should be living.
Was it all worth it?
Definitely. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Knowing that we have worked so hard to buy our first house at 22 years-old is an incredible feeling. Also, being able to live together, after 4 years of living between our parents, is the best. It allows us to enjoy our time with each other more. To have someone by your side and supporting you throughout the whole process has been amazing. The sacrifices that we made have been totally worth it, and to be honest it doesn’t even feel like we missed out on anything!
If you would like to join our Recent Buyer Community and help others avoid making the same mistakes you made, please get in touch with us via social media, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You too could be featured in our First Home Stories blog series!