Buying your first home is pretty scary, and one of the things that made me reluctant to start house hunting is that I thought it was going to be an almost impossible process. I’d heard many horror stories about how difficult finding the perfect home can be, and how the whole mortgage application process can be a nightmare. There’s also the risk of things falling through, gazumping, and losing money on all the fees you’ve paid out to solicitors etc. Scary.
I thought I’d share with you my story on how I purchased my first home as it’s something I spent a lot of time researching when I first started my search. I wanted to see a timeline of exactly where I should start looking first, and steps on how things should go.
What I found most helpful was the First Time Buyers Guide on the Money Saving Expert website. You can view it online or you can also order a free copy to be posted to you.. it makes good bedtime reading! Although to be honest, there is no exact timeline. Things happen at different stages for everyone, but I thought I’d share my version!
Luckily for me, the whole process was relatively smooth. Don’t get me wrong.. I was very anxious for the weeks leading up to the completion date and whilst trying to get my mortgage application completed, but compared to some people, I had it pretty easy. There was no chain on either side; I was a first time buyer, and the seller was actually the landlord of the property. He had a tenant in the flat but needed to sell up as he was getting a divorce and the court ordered that it was sold.
So.. here’s my story!
So.. it all started when I decided I didn’t want to live at home anymore and over the years I had saved enough cash for a deposit on my own place. Although living in the South East and being on a fairly low wage, I realised I could only afford a 1 bedroom apartment. I spent hours looking on RightMove but couldn’t really find anything I liked. I wanted something modern and in a nice area. I then found this property on Zoopla and contacted the estate agents to arrange a viewing.
I went for my first viewing of the property, and it would also be my last and only viewing of a property! I decided there and then that I loved it and that it was perfect. It was in a lovely central area with good local amenities and a clean modern interior in good condition with no serious work required. It was everything I needed for my first place and I was excited, although I hadn’t even looked at getting a mortgage yet, so I didn’t think it would ever be mine in reality. It was also for sale at a lower than average price, so I was sure someone else would snap it up.
After spending a lot of time researching different mortgages etc, I called L&C to get free mortgage advice as well as a Mortgage Decision in Principle. Their service is totally free, and I completely recommend it! Their staff were so knowledgeable and helpful, and I didn’t have to pay them a penny. They took my all my information and details to get the Mortgage Decision in Principle, which basically gives you a rough idea of how much you can borrow.
As I was told that I could (most likely) get the amount I needed to afford the property, I made my first offer! It was a bit of a cheeky offer to be fair, as it was quite a lot lower than the asking price, but I knew that the seller was in a hurry to sell due to the impending divorce.
25th May – A couple of days later I heard back; my first offer had been declined. But it was to be expected, so I didn’t hesitate in making a second offer, although this was also declined!
By this point I was a bit concerned about costs and wasn’t sure about offering the full asking price, as I knew I would have to put aside quite a bit for stamp duty and solicitors fees etc on top. So I made my third and final offer, and it was accepted! In the end I saved about 3% on the asking price, which seemed a fair deal for both of us as it meant I could still afford it, and he got almost the full amount and there was no chain involved which meant a reasonably quick sale.
1st June – The paperwork begins…
Next up I had to provide the estate agents with photo ID, bank statements, proof of mortgage in principle, and wage slips. This is just so that they can see that the offer is genuine and affordable for the buyer, and that I wasn’t just a time waster!
2nd June – Finding a Solicitor
Next up, I had to find a solicitor. This is literally the only part of the whole process I had an issue with. I didn’t want to pick the cheapest solicitor, so I though it would be a good idea to go with a solicitor that was local to me. That way I felt like I ‘knew’ them and I could just pop over if I had any issues. Well all I can say is make sure you do your research! Check out reviews, ask your friends and family who they used, and try and get genuine recommendations.
The solicitor I picked ended up being generally a pain in the backside and I’m pretty sure that they overcharged me and dragged everything out. I also had to chase them up for absolutely everything and they weren’t very forthcoming with any useful information which was pretty stressful. Admittedly they weren’t totally awful and they got the job done (eventually) but I was charged much more than I was expecting for a rather shoddy service. E.g. on my exchange date I emailed my solicitor for an update and received an out of office reply to say he was on holiday but hadn’t bothered to tell me. Oh. Brill.
The bit that worried me the most.. it was time to start my official mortgage application through L&C! L&C are a mortgage broker so they are able to access almost all of the banks and lenders systems and work out how much you can borrow. You are then given the choice as to which one you would like to apply for. I was given a Case Manager who was so helpful and kept me up to date, and I could also track my application online. In the end I went with Natwest as they offered the best deal for me, but everyone’s circumstances are different so L&C will always find the best deal for you. And they’re totally free!
After providing lots more paperwork, bank statements, and wage slips, my mortgage was officially approved! I was offered the full amount that I needed so along with my deposit I was able to afford the property I wanted. The whole mortgage application process was actually much easier than I thought and because I used a broker, it meant that they did all the hard work for me!
As I was buying the flat from the landlord it meant that he had to get rid of his tenant. This was a bit of a worry for me as I watch far too much Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away and I was worried that the tenant would never leave, or would trash the place or something! Luckily he left once his two months notice was up without any issues, and he even left the place spick and span!
I went along for a second viewing at this stage even though I was well on the way to finalising my purchase. I just wanted to look again to be totally sure it was everything I needed and remind myself of the size and shape of the rooms. For some reason the tenant wanted to be there for all the viewings so it was a little bit awkward with my parents, the estate agent and I all walking around this little flat with the tenant watching me probably hating me for getting him evicted!
I had told my solicitor that I wanted to move in at the beginning of September as then I was going on holiday for a week, and then my parents were going away for 3 weeks and I needed them to help me with moving etc. Trying to get my solicitor to actually sort this out was an ongoing nightmare and lots of back and forth between them, the estate agent, and the sellers solicitor. So long!
I was pretty pleased to hear that the tenant left without any fuss and I went for another viewing just to make sure it was all still in good condition. Bless him, the tenant had freshly painted all the walls and thoroughly cleaned the kitchen and carpets and everything, which made life so much easier when it came to move in day!30th August – Contracts Exchanged
Until you exchange contracts, neither side has any legal obligation to buy or sell the property, and both can pull out without any penalty. So by this stage after being so far into the process, the last thing I wanted was for anything to go wrong. I wanted the keys by 1st September but because the solicitors took so long pissing about, the contracts were only exchanged 2 days before the completion date. This wasn’t necessarily a big problem, but usually there’s 14-28 days before completion and because it was all so close together, it made me a bit more nervous. It was also at this stage that I had to pay a 10% contract deposit to secure the contract.31st August – Paid the Deposit
Once the contracts had been exchanged I had to straight away sort out paying the rest of the actual deposit. Again, because of the huge rush and the solicitors incompetence, I had to suddenly leave work and drive to the bank to spend an hour trying to make a CHAPS payment (when you transfer a large amount they have to do extra checks etc and charge you for the privilege) as I needed to pay the deposit only one day before the completion date.
Unfortunately I was left to deal with the most useless woman in the entire bank who had absolutely no idea what she was doing, spelt everything incorrectly (she couldn’t spell Avenue), and quite frankly I didn’t really trust her moving my entire life’s savings. Anyway, it got done in the end (and Natwest sent me a crappy little ‘food hamper’ to apologise) and the full deposit was paid. It’s pretty scary seeing your bank account go from thousands to almost nothing! The only issue now was that CHAPS payments don’t go through the same day…
1st September – Completion Date!
So.. it’s finally completion day! After hardly sleeping due to fear/nerves/excitement I was happy that today was the day I would become a homeowner! I went to work in the morning as I was told that it wouldn’t be sorted and I couldn’t get the keys until the afternoon and I wanted to keep myself occupied. I was a bit fretful because my solicitor was still waiting for the CHAPS deposit that I had paid the day before to come through. I was worried that the daft bank woman had made some terrible mistake and that all my money had vanished into thin air! After waiting all morning I had still heard nothing. I was fretting.
I also for some reason thought that it would be a good idea to arrange to collect my new sofa on completion day. So that also added to the excitement! I finally heard from my solicitor at about 3pm by which time felt like I had been waiting an eternity. So that was it.. all done! I drove to the estate agents, picked up my keys, and moved my brand new sofa in! Hurray!
Phew.. that was a pretty long post (sorry!) but I hope that some of you find it useful or at least interesting! Reliving it all just reminded me how stressful it all was, and I was lucky to have quite a straightforward purchase. I can’t imagine how it must be when things are more complicated or a chain is involved!
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or tweet me.