This appeared on The Debrief June 2015
So I’m 24 years old and along with my fiancé, Aaron, we have just bought our first home. As first-time buyers we’re really quite excited about the whole thing, especially as it seems like nothing but doom and gloom for our millennial generation with a lifetime of renting ahead of us. But we made it, hurrah!
Now I feel a disclaimer is needed here: we do not live in London. Yes, in our quaint little village in Staffordshire, house prices are much lower than in big cities but they’re still bloody expensive. I’m a journalist and Aaron is a furniture designer, so we both have pretty good jobs with good salaries and it took us 14 months before we reached somewhere around the £20,000 mark we had in mind to have enough to do it ‘the old fashioned way’ and put down 10% on a house with a little left over for legal fees, etc. Saving for this wasn’t easy and you can bet it was boring – we certainly skipped on plenty of the fun occasions our friends were all enjoying in favour of another night in – but it’s when you’ve bought the place and you’re in this limbo of waiting to move in that’s the toughest. I was sure we were equipped to be real-life proper grown-ups: teeth-flossing, red wine-drinking, house-owning grown-ups.
Well, I’m now going to tell you all the things that everybody fails to mention. It’s like childbirth. People tell you all the stuff you already know: the pain, the epidurals… the stitches. But they neglect to tell you that you might do a shit on the bed. Here’s the reality of buying a house.
Yes, you do need financial advice
It might seem like an additional cost at the time, but getting proper financial advice is so important. We opted to take out our mortgage with our bank as they will sometimes waiver fees, seeing as you’re an existing customer.
A mortgage adviser will ‘investigate’ your circumstances, which is basically like being interviewed and draw you up your own report of what you can actually afford. This was really helpful as a starting point, as we had no idea what sort of properties we should even be looking at or what sort of price point we could realistically afford.
Make your mortgage as short as possible
Think of a mortgage like any other loan. The quicker you pay it off, the less you’ll owe (because INTEREST!) I know we toyed with the idea of going for a 30-year mortgage to ease us gently into domesticated life, with lower repayments stretched over a longer time, but it’s amazing how much you can shave off by borrowing the same amount over 25 years. FYI, you can save something like £18,000 by cutting five years off your mortgage of around £130,000.
Prepare for a lot of guilt while shopping
As soon as you know you have a house to furnish (even with your designer fiancé having access to cheap sofas), you’ll never be able to justify a splurge again. ‘Oh, this Whistles top is beautiful *checks price tag* £75. Hmm that could buy us our bedside lamps. Do I want a blouse or lamps?’
The struggle is real. It ruins all your fun when shopping. But on the plus side…
…You will get really good at maths
Dealing in percentages and interest rates throughout the process of buying a house will soon become second nature.
If it’s not advertised, then presume the worst
To cut down on awkward encounters with home-owners desperate to par you off with their ‘three-bedroom’ semi (yeah, because I normally sleep standing up in a cupboard), try to narrow down where you’re actually going to view.
When you’re perusing RightMove, take note if any property neglects to show pictures of every room in the house. If there’s a room missing, they’re hiding something. No piccie of the bathroom? It’s because you can’t close the door without lifting up the toilet seat first.
You’ll be scrutinised for switching jobs
My fiancé got a brilliant new job with a salary to match, and this was the final push for us to realise that we were finally ‘there’, we were ready to buy a house.
When you apply for a mortgage you typically need to show your last three payslips to show you have a steady income, so off we went to the bank with all the paperwork you could imagine (he’s a Virgo, so we’re organised like that), but they flagged up my fiancé’s job switch.
Even though his job was in the same field (a furniture designer – score for us furnishing our house), a lender can be dubious about a new job.
It all worked out OK for us, but this is worth noting as it can play as a red flag, especially if you’re changing your field of work. This can appear as a bigger gamble to a lender. So if you’re a dentist dreaming of a life on the stage and on the cusp of buying your first property, maybe hold off on the career change until you’ve got the keys.
You’ll need to know how much you will spend in the future. Er, yeah.
Basically, the mortgage provider will need to know exactly how much it will cost to run the house you’re looking to buy, before you’ve actually lived in the house and paid any bills. And not just roughly – they’ll want to know exactly (I’m talking to the pence) how much it will cost for you to live there.
Household bills, council tax, your Netflix subscription. It all adds up. Even account for how much you spend on leisure ie drinking/dining out/trips to Topshop in an average month. Once you’ve tallied up your monthly expenditure, they’ll add this to your mortgage amount and that total sum should look to be about 70% of your combined monthly income.
Of course, you’re going to lie on this a little. ‘Our monthly leisure allowance? Oh around £50 between us. Yes that sounds about right…’
Your mortgage provider will see every last detail of your bank account, and judge you
If you’re planning to go in for a mortgage meeting any time soon, now’s a good time to quit your Thirsty Thursday habit. Also, probs make your other half aware of your Thirsty Thursday habit to avoid any double-judgement.
Save your arse off.
You may think you’re shit-hot for managing to save £20k in a year, but the bank will only turn around and ask if you have any ‘reserves’, because £20k is pittance, apparently. Oh, and they’ll advise you to have six months’ worth of living costs saved to one side. You know, as a ‘just in case’.
And we store this money in the same place as we keep our pet unicorn.
There are surveys, you’ll (probably) pay Stamp Duty and a fee to take out your mortgage and you’ll pay your mortgage lender a small transaction fee when everything goes through and the money changes hands. And all this comes before the property is even yours.
I won’t lie to you and say that we found saving the money really hard, but that’s only because a) our parents kindly let us live board-free at home so all the money we earned wasn’t blown on expensive rent and b) we lived together in our final year of university and loved it, so having had that taste of domestic life together really spurred us on to save hard to live together again, permanently.
If you really want it, sacrifice on non-necessities and be really strict with what you spend. We saved anywhere between £600-£800 a month each, so our banks soon totted up. This was almost half my monthly income, so sometimes my partner would top up our savings as he earns more than me, but we’ve definitely come 50/50 with everything as it’s only fair that way, I think.
Get an ISA
To help you along with the saving, I would highly recommend getting an ISA. Now what the eff is an ISA? It’s basically a savings account where you don’t pay tax on the interest you’ve gained. So every month we got a nice little tenner or so on top of our savings. It’s hardly going to make you rich but who’s going to say no to free money each month?
We also managed to get an Advanced account with our joint bank account (so grown up) as we earn over a certain threshold, so as long as you save at least £300 in the year, you’ll automatically get another £10 each month added onto your balance. Thanks, Mr Bank Man!
They will ask you how much you weigh
When you take out life insurance (standard for when you buy a house), they will ask you how much you weigh as part of your application. Like they will just ask you outright in your meeting, in front of your partner. Now I love my fiancé and I share everything with him – my Facebook password, PIN numbers – but there is no way he is finding out those digits.
You will write up a will
Say what?! We don’t even have 50 years of age between us and you want us to plan for the event of one of our deaths? And who gets our possessions? Well, I have a Diptyque candle with my sister’s name on it now, that’s for sure.
You must choose a solicitor to act on your behalf, or pay your mortgage provider to use theirs
The likelihood is that your chosen mortgage lender has their own solicitor and you can opt to have them act on your behalf too for all the legal side of things, but you will have to pay your mortgage provider for the pleasure. Or you can go about looking for your own solicitor to act on your behalf (like we did).
Just be sure to check that they are CQS accredited as they could then act on behalf of yourself and your mortgage lender. If they’re not CQS accredited, they won’t be able to act on your lender’s behalf and you’ll still be looking at a bill from your lender for their legal representative.
Look for the big names when hunting for a solicitor – it might cost you a premium but it will save you a surprise bill later on if your lender won’t be represented by them. We went with a local independent solicitor (after we got the OK with our lender) and we found this to be the better route for us as being first-time buyers we were obviously clueless about the whole process and we liked having a name and a face to talk to when we had any questions.
I’m not advocating you go and badger your solicitor, but we felt so much more informed with our personal solicitor. Margaret, you babe!
There is a real possibility you will split up with your partner
The commitment to buy something as big and permanent as a house together says a lot for your relationship. It’s saying you’re in it for the long run. But from the day you get your offer accepted to the day you get the keys it feels like the longest time and you have.
My partner and I have been together for almost 10 years and we are that couple – high school sweethearts, all those good clichés. But in the past two months with all this house-buying malarkey going on it has really tested us. It emotionally drains you and the idea of staying at home living with your parents starts to look really appealing again.
Yes, you will argue in IKEA over paying £10 for one light bulb and yes, you will have a screaming fit when the paint swatch you picked out in B&Q looks different painted on your wall.
People will try and gazzump you
If you bought an apple at a market for 40p and somebody came along and said, ‘Hey, that looks like a cracking little apple you’ve got there – I’ll give you 45p for it’ to the stallowner who took them up on the offer, taking back your apple, you would first feel sad and hungry, but quite frankly you’d tell the apple-coveter to sod off and find their own apple.
It just wouldn’t happen. That’s because there are plenty of apples to go around, but with houses it does. Because unlike with apples, houses literally don’t grow on trees.
Trust your gut
We only viewed three houses before we found The One on house visit number four. It was a house I really wasn’t that bothered about, having viewed another a few streets down the day before and hating it, so I’d already written off house number four in my mind.
However, as soon as we stepped inside the house, it just felt right. We rang to make an offer straight away (nothing like passing another potential buyer in the doorway to convince you to hop to it), but the estate agent wasn’t picking up. Determined we drove to them instead, and made an offer face to face and got accepted. When you know, you know.
So there we have it, the truth about buying your first home. And like having a baby, you forget the pain and it is all totally worth it in the end. You’re just skint for the rest of your life now.