Expert advice on how to buy a house
I’m in my second (bought) home and I worked in estate agency for seven years. I now sell new builds for a living and I…
I’m in my second (bought) home and I worked in estate agency for seven years. I now sell new builds for a living and I really love my job but there are so many questions people need to ask and so many things that you should know before buying a house. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first home or your fourth, things change constantly and people will always need advice on how to buy a house.
First things first – mortgages
Please speak with a mortgage advisor before you start browsing rightmove.co.uk.
It’s not like ordering a takeaway. You can’t just look at the list of houses and say ‘I want that one’. You have to know exactly what you can and can’t afford. There are so many people you can speak to. Go direct to your bank or building society, find an independent mortgage advisor or go and speak to an estate agent/new build company. Chances are, they have mortgage advisors working with them.
Shop around as well. Don’t go to one mortgage advisor and think that must be the best deal. Go to a couple of different people and get as far as you can with them without a credit check being done. You can see what your affordability is, the best deals that are out there and best of all, if they don’t credit check, it won’t affect you.
TOP TIP If you don’t already know, the more credit checks you have done, the worse your credit score will be. Try and have just one or two done.
Also, try and find a mortgage advisor that won’t charge you. A lot of them do charge for their services but some don’t. Buying a house is expensive enough without extra fees that you don’t need to pay.
Speaking of fees – solicitors
Please be careful who you pick. You get what you pay for (with estate agents too) and sometimes, going for the cheaper option, is not the best option. I am speaking from experience with both buying and dealing with them at work.
A lot of the solicitors I actually got on really well with so please don’t think I’m about to slate them all. When I bought my house, my solicitor was amazing. She was so patient with me as well. She was also the solicitor for my parents and my cousin when they moved. However, the solicitor I had when I bought my apartment five years ago was not so great. I won’t go into detail, but I paid very little and there was a reason for it.
I remember looking after one sale at work and the particular solicitor the buyers were using refused point blank to talk to estate agents or clients until after 2pm on any given day. This was utterly ridiculous. I couldn’t do my job and my buyers couldn’t get hold of her as they worked full time and lunchtime was way before 2pm.
Also, call centre/internet solicitors. You’re a number to them. They do the job (and they do it right to be honest) but sometimes it takes a bit longer because you literally are a number, not a person. Cheap and cheerful is not always the best option. Sometimes it works! If it didn’t, they wouldn’t be in business. All I’m saying is; be careful who you pick.
And on a similar note – estate agents
Again, you get what you pay for. Some are more expensive than others but generally if they charge more, you get more. Internet agents aren’t always the best option.
As a buyer, you don’t really have a choice which agent you go through. If the house is on the market with any particular agent, you have to use them whether you like it or not. You cannot go behind their backs and ask the vendors to sell privately because trust me; the agent WILL find out and are well within their rights to ask for payment.
As a vendor (seller) you are able to choose whichever estate agent you like best. Again, please don’t pick them based on how much they want to charge you. Think about what they have said to you. Does it make sense? Did you feel comfortable with the valuer? Did you like the sales negotiator that booked the appointment? Will they care about you as a person or are you just a number? Try to negotiate as well. Don’t take the quote as their ‘final answer’. If they want/need your business, they’ll reduce the fee if asked.
Please be sensible when it comes to the price of your house as well. Generally, an agent should have got together a few comparables from the area and should be able to come to a sensible starting price. If they ask you to reduce after a month or so and you haven’t had any viewings, listen to them. They honestly do know what they’re talking about. They’re not there to try and make you lose money. Their charges are probably based on a percentage of whatever your house sells for so the lower you price your house, the less money they’ll receive. They’re asking you to reduce to help you sell, not just to be an annoyance in your day.
Boring stuff – paperwork
Once you’ve found a buyer or your perfect house (or both) you will be sent lots of paperwork from the solicitors. It’s awful when it first arrives and you immediately start to drown.
Don’t panic! It’s not that bad.
Grab yourself a glass of wine or a cuppa and just sit down one evening and go through it all. Some people choose to do it alone while others prefer to have someone there helping them. Some will go in and see the estate agent and ask for guidance. Once you get started, it’s fine. A lot of it is duplicated so that you can sign a copy and send back to the solicitors but keep a copy for yourself. Trust me; you can get it all done in one evening. It’s just really boring!
TOP TIP When you do go through the paperwork, keep an eye out for anything that could be a ‘hidden fee’. If there is anything at all that you’re unsure of, call the solicitors and double check. You don’t want to get caught out before completion and not have enough money to be able to pay them.
Money money money
TOP TIP Save as much as possible before you buy
Again, ladies and gents, I am speaking from experience. It’s not just buying a house, sorting a mortgage and paying for solicitors. Once you have the house, it WILL need work. Maybe not right away, but all houses will need work. It might need decorating, it might need structural work, or your fridge might pack in so you suddenly need a new one. Be careful.
Set some money aside for general decorating and essentials like a sofa, fridge/freezer or bed. When I bought my first home I didn’t have a holiday for four years. I couldn’t afford one. I was living by myself, paying all the bills etc. and I just couldn’t afford to go. If you save a bit for a ‘rainy day’ BEFORE you have a mortgage to pay for, it will make things so much easier.
Try to have your full deposit there, ready and waiting, before you buy a house. If you don’t have the full amount and something ‘crops up’ so you can’t save enough before exchange and completion, you’ll be in trouble.
Exchange and completion
If you know what you’re talking about then this is easy, but to first time buyers who’ve never done this before, the difference between exchange and completion can seem a bit complicated.
Exchange is quite simply; exchange of contracts. It means the whole process is legally binding and you’re a hop, skip and a jump away from being a homeowner. You can’t pull out after exchange without incurring A LOT of charges. You can be taken to court in extreme circumstances. Your solicitor should always 100% confirm you’re happy to go ahead before they do the exchange.
Completion is the best bit. It’s when you officially become homeowners. You get the keys and suddenly have a mortgage to pay. It’s the best thing ever handing over keys to smiling clients. I love that day!
Buying a new build vs an older house
There are pros and cons to both and I can speak honestly because I live in a really old house, but I sell new builds.
- Older homes can be more affordable. How many new builds can you find for less than £100,000 these days? However, first-time buyers can use the help to buy on a new build and that can’t be used on an older property.
- Buying a new build generally means that you will be living on a building site for potentially a year or more. But, if something goes wrong with the house or the estate, the builders on site will be able to help out at no extra charge to you.
- Please always bear in mind that no house is perfect. Even with a new build, there will always be snagging to be done. The difference is, with a new build, the builders do the work for you even after you’ve moved in (within an allotted time). In an older property, any work that is needed has to be done at your own expense and if it is structural or damp etc it can cost an absolute fortune.
- All new build estates now come with an annual fee for keeping the state looking nice, neat and tidy. The council won’t adopt them anymore and somebody has to do it.
- With a new build, you are generally buying ‘off plan’ which means you have no idea what you’re buying/what size the rooms are/what your garden will be like. To me, that’s part of the process. It’s exciting, its nerve-wracking. It’s scary, but it’s so much fun.
- It’s more personable to buy a new build. You deal with one person throughout rather than speaking to 4 or 5 different people in an office. I find it’s the best part of my job, seeing how excited people are getting and watching their new homes being built.
If I was buying now, what type of house would I pick?
My honest answer… as long as it’s got a bay window in the living room, I don’t care! I’ve always loved bay windows and I’m yet to own a house with one. I know of a few new builds that come with bay windows.
I’m very content with my little house and I don’t plan on moving anytime soon. Moving house is stressful. Nothing will ever change that. Hopefully, you’ll have the right people around you to help you along the process and try to keep you sane.
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