If you’ve even clicked on this, I congratulate you. You are one of the lucky few that can even remotely consider owning a house in the current economic climate and for that I commend you. It’s not just the financial aspect though, it’s the entire gravity of it that is overwhelming to even think about. And if you’re not aware just how daunting it is, you will be after this article.
Owning a home sounds like the dream escape from the hell of renting, but actually the often years long process can be its own form of torture. While you may think that all you need is a good credit score for that mortgage and a Pinterest board of great bathrooms, the reality is a lot bleaker. Luckily, we’re here to help you consider all of those forgotten questions that you only realise you should’ve asked when you’re shunned by your neighbours for hanging up you’re washing on a Sunday and breaking the all-important covenants…
1. Should you even buy a house?
An obvious question, but with the opportunity coming to so few you may find yourself inheriting some money and assuming it’s the most ideal way to invest. According to Money Saving Expert’s Jenny Keefe, the UK’s ‘must-own’ mentality means that we can panic over house prices and jump into buying without considering the long-term affordability.
‘Few people accurately predicted the end of the house-price boom in 2007 and no-one really knows what is going to happen to house prices over the next few years,’ says Jenny, lead writer at MoneySavingExpert.com, ‘It is better to concentrate on bigger-picture of financial security than risk financial ruin in a desperate attempt to get on the housing ladder.’
2. Forget the deposit, have you saved for the valuation survey?
According to first-time buyer, Leonard Ihenacho, whose Twitter thread about buying a home went viral earlier this year, you should ‘forget the price of the house’ and consider all of the extras. First ‘you have stamp duty’, he says, ‘if your house is between £301,000 - £500,000 you get a discount. You pay no stamp duty on the first 300k and on the remaining 200k you pay 5%’
However, ‘if your house is above 500k,’ he continued, ‘you have earned yourself some juicy stamp duty.’ Calculating your stamp duty costs is imperative, he says, which you can do by clicking here.
But it doesn’t end there, then there’s the valuation survey to see if your house is ‘structurally sound’ which can cost up to £2000, the solicitor fees which can get to another £1500 and banks can even charge you a fee for taking out a mortgage with them. All of this means budgeting for at least another £5000 on top of your housing deposit. Overwhelmed yet? Don’t blame you.
There is one savvy trick however, according to Leonard, that can be awkward but are often expected by the house builder if you're buying a new build like he was. ‘Tell the house builder you don't want to pay [the extra fees] because a development down the road is offering to pay those for you. You want the house builder to pay them,’ he advises, ‘That's right. You want the house builder to pay your £25000 fees. New build houses also come bare. With no flooring which can be expensive to buy. You also don't want to pay for that. You want the house builder to give you free flooring of your choosing.’
Essentially, if the extra costs already have your eyes watering, it’s time to put your hard-ball hat on and get negotiating with your house builder.
Are you prepared to not to miss credit card or store card payment for at least a year?
For the entire time that you’re buying a house, which can take years, your finances must be in tip top shape. Because, if you get your mortgage approved and then it expires before the contract is completed (don't forget, the mortgage offers can expire after 4-6 months) you have to reapply, and if you’re then not approved you forfeit any money you've spent on surveys and legal fees.
That monthly sore card bill you sort of try and ignore? You can no longer forget about it until payday and hope the interest isn’t too much. All of your debts need to be paid in time, for the entire time you’re buying a house. No more waking up after a night out to an accidental £200 missing from your account, according to Leonard you need to ‘keep your spending in check.’
Are you good at dating? Because finding a good mortgage offer is like Tinder for banks
Just like those first few dates with the partner your most likely moving in with (unless you’re buying alone, in which case, I can only ask HOW?), you’ll spend a lot of your time assessing how this loan will work for you. Are the bank giving you their best possible mortgage offer or could you find better elsewhere? Just like all of our first times on Tinder, you’ll probably get excited by your first real prospect but after a few choice questions discover that in reality they take every Tinder date to the same Nando’s and forget their wallet each time…
According to Money Saving Expert, it's important to know exactly what type of mortgage you want, what you can roughly expect to get and then find a broker to get it for you. So basically, you can't go out expecting a Brad Pitt mortgage if you only have a Ian Beale credit rating, and you'll need you're very own George Clooney to introduce you to said Brad Pitt mortgage.
'[Mortgage brokers] scour the market to find you a good mortgage deal,' writes Lesley Tallis, ' by using one, you swiftly cover a huge slew of lenders, and get added clout with them to ease your acceptance as well as an extra layer of protection if things go wrong.**
'Brokers will also be able to advise you on Help to Buy mortgages and other Government mortgage schemes including shared ownership,' she continued, 'if you're eligible – tell your broker upfront if that's what you're looking for.'
Have you prepared everything you need to ask the house builder?
Yes, we are telling you to ask yourself if you’ve asked enough questions. Because, according to Leonard, forgetting these questions means you could easily be stitched up and end up in a house with a bunch of random community rules you didn’t realise you were obliged to follow. Leonard was coming at this as someone buying a new build directly from a builder, but if you're buying a leasehold, no matter how old it is, make sure you go through every condition of the lease with a magnifying glass.
‘I asked things like, “Who is responsible for maintaining the communal grass areas around the plot”, “can you mark off how much of the land I am directly responsible for on the site plan?”,” which direction is my garden facing?”’, he said, ‘and “am I overlooked by neighbours?”, “if there is a grounds maintenance charge, how does it increase?”, “Can you show me the entrances and exits to the development on the site plan? I want to ensure all cars do not have to pass by my house.”’
Essentially, you need to sit down and consider every little thing you want from this house and the surrounding area and make sure the house - and the lease - can give you this.
Can you afford to go full Pinterest interior porn or will you be stealing your uncle’s old toaster?
You may have a dream of what your house will look like, and an entire Pinterest board inspired by it, but how realistic is it price wise? Are you more likely to end up with all of your family’s castoffs, and if so would it be better to wait until you have enough money to kit out your first home?
‘I moved into my flat four months ago and I’m still sitting on crappy folding chairs that I nabbed from my parent’s house,’ says Lucy Morris, a new home owner, ‘It’s not just that I am picky (although I am), but no one ever told me how expensive dining room chairs are. Sure I could pick something up from Ikea, but if you want something with character and quality that isn't identical to what's on everyone else's Instagram feed, then they're not just hard to find but also pricey when you do.’
However, for those of you that are sticking to a budget, Lucy does have some stellar advice…
‘I’m particularly obsessed with 70s furnishing, call it a reaction to all the G-plan and mid-century modern furnishings that occupy every hipster café and boutique hotel, but this is hard to source and usually in dreadful nick. I’ve become a whiz with vintage shops and suggest skipping eBay and Etsy for more select dealers, like Selency, 1st Dibbs and Vinteriors.’
Interior Pastel Porn: Click through to see how you can make the hottest new interior trend work for you...
pastel living room interiors inspiration
We're never sure exactly which colours the old adage refers to, but this set up proves that pink and green should definitely be seen together.
Why are the current owners moving and how long has the house been on the market?
One of the first questions to ask when you find a house you’re interested in, is why the hell the current owners would want to leave. It may seem nosy, but its common sense to find out if there are property problems forcing people out or if they just want a change.
Once you know this, it’s important to establish just how desirable the house is to others. If the house has been on the market for more than six months, ask your estate agent why (and hope to God they tell you the truth). It could be that the asking price is simply too high and you have wiggle room to negotiate, or there could be a ton of structural problems that have sent other buyers running.
It’s also an idea to ask whether the seller has found a new property to gage how quickly they want to move and therefore whether they might accept a lower offer. If they’re not ready to move you can be stuck in a long chain and with that expiry date on your mortgage creeping up.
Do you fall in love easy?
If you’re prone to romanticizing your life and leaving all logic at the door, you might find yourself falling in love with a house that actually has a ton of problems. Buying a house is very much a head over heart situation, because as much as you can plan your future in the beautifully located, high-ceiling and well-lit 2 bedroom in Hampstead, that future won’t come true if you miss your first mortgage repayment because you got swept up and decided the asking price was only 10% more than you can afford.
‘I remember distinctly the feeling of “this is my future!” that cascaded upon me when I first walked into my current house,’ writes Cynthia Ramnarace for Daily Worth, ‘It had everything we needed, a backyard, a garage and tons of natural light. I swooned. By the time we started talking money I was so intoxicated by the idea of me in that house that I glossed over facts, such as that the down payment required might exceed how much we’d earn on the sale of our current home.
Are you okay with not hanging up your washing in the garden on a Sunday?
This is the weirder part of buying a house - especially when it' s a leasehold or a new build. Your lease will be full of covenants that you'll be legally obliged to stick to once you've agreed and signed them and completed on the purchase. You receive all of them before buying the house, and must go through them to make sure they’re not absolutely absurd.
‘You cannot put up a fence in front of your house, you cannot own any exotic pets, you cannot have a sky dish on the front of your house,’ Leonard said, giving various examples from simple to unbelievable, ‘you cannot park a van with a company logo on it out on the estate, you cannot change your front door for 5 years, you cannot change the colour of your house for 10 years.’
Our personal favourite example? ‘You can't hang washing up in the garden on a Sunday’. Yes, your laundry schedule may be dictated by your new neighbours.
Are you prepared to spend 800 years debating whether the colour of your wooden floors clash?
Decorating your first home brings out the obsessive in everyone, and for most it means realizing you care about things you once couldn’t have been paid to spend more than a second considering.
‘I never knew how much I cared about colour coordinating wood,’ says Lucy, ‘Sure, some people like to colour coordinate their books, but I’m just desperate to make sure the wood’s in my flat aren’t clashing. My one-bed flat is mostly covered with a faux wood flooring, which isn’t wholly offensive, but it really limits any wooden shelves, cupboards dining room tables I pick as it’s very difficult to match real and fake wood.
‘I’ve discovered that real maple is several shades deeper and richer than any mimicking plastic version and that pale oak can mean one of a hundred different shades in the faux world. I may be the only person that will notice it, but one thing's for sure - I will never be able to unsee any clashes.