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Fiona Creedon

Tales of a first-time buyer

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Six weeks ago, after years of renting, I received the keys to my first home.

For sale signs

Buying your first property can be a stressful, confusing and frustrating process but I have learned a lot.

Here are my tips to help you if you are about to become a first-time buyer.

Your finances

It may seem like an obvious place to start but make sure you can afford to buy before you begin house-hunting. And think about the best type of mortgage based on your circumstances.

I personally knew that I wanted a fixed-rate mortgage as I liked the idea of knowing what my monthly payments would be for the next three years.

Be realistic about what you can afford. It helps to make of a list of all your monthly bills making sure you account for all household expenses and insurance.

And make sure you have accounted for the following extra expenses as these can add up to many thousands of pounds on top of the deposit you need for your mortgage:

  • Solicitor's fees

  • Survey fees

  • Stamp duty

  • Removal costs

  • Furniture

'They took the curtain poles!'

As a long-term renter I owned no furniture. So make sure you account for a fridge, washing machine and other goods.

The sellers may offer these as part of the sale but don't count on it as mine didn't.

In fact, my sellers were so frugal they took the curtain poles off the walls and the batteries out of the carbon monoxide monitor before they left!

Looking for your first home

Do not rely on estate agents being proactive and calling you when a house comes on to the market.

I registered my details with eight estate agents but not once did I get a call about a house in my price range coming on the market.

I found out about any new houses on the market thanks to daily emails from property comparison sites such as Rightmove and Zoopla, and by actively trawling the internet every day.

If you are buying on your own, take a friend or family member with you on viewings so you can talk through the pros and cons.

Multiple viewings

Measure the rooms, windows and areas where your white goods would go, and look at light fixtures and plugs throughout the house.

Work out how much, if any, work you may need to do on the house and if you can afford it.

Do you be afraid to go for multiple viewings of the property. I saw mine three times at different times of the day and on different days of the week.

Estate agents can have a knack of making you feel uncomfortable but if you want to go back to measure rooms or take a tradesperson with you then make sure you do it.

I received a great tip about how to visualise where your furniture would go in your new home – take sheets of newspaper and lay them out on the floor to mark where your sofa and bed, for example, would go.  

It sounds a bit odd, but trust me it really helps.

The offer

Piggy bank

When it comes to making an offer, make sure you really emphasise the benefit of you being a first-time buyer. You are flexible, you don't have a chain and can move fast.

You need to strike a balance between selling yourself and making sure you get the best deal.

In most parts of the UK at the moment, it is a buyer's market and as a first-time buyer you hold all the cards.

The survey

Once your offer has been accepted, the survey is the next step. Make sure you read through it very thoroughly.

The surveyor will make recommendations but it is up to you to act on them.

I had the electrics and the boiler checked out as a result of my survey, and I managed to agree a reduction on my original offer due to the age of the boiler.

Your solicitor

Make sure you use a solicitor that ideally has been recommended to you by someone you trust. They are the most important factor (other than your bank manager!) in buying your home.

Think long and hard before signing up with a solicitor, or mortgage broker for that matter, who has been recommended by the estate agent.

Don't forget that the agent works for the seller, not you, however friendly or helpful they may appear.

The searches

The solicitor will carry out a series of searches of official information for you on your prospective home and associate tenure.

This should include checking where the boundaries of the property are, as well as any planning issues and whether the area is liable to flooding.

The solicitor should also check who actually owns the property and whether any service charges apply or are outstanding.

Chancel search

What's more, if you live in England or Wales, make sure your solicitor has done the chancel search. 

As luck would have it, it did so happen that my house was in an area where I could, under some arcane law, be liable for the upkeep of the local church. 

I bought a one-off chancel indemnity policy for £60 to make sure I was covered against any future charges.

Other things that will appear on your solicitor's bill are their fees (mine were £500), stamp duty (which depends on the value of the house), registration fees and VAT.

Once all parties are happy you will work towards your exchange date when you need to pay your deposit and sign contracts.

You should also have buildings insurance in place at this point as if anything goes wrong with the property from this point, it will be your problem.

Completion

keys in estate agents hand

Once you are confident that your completion date is set in stone – it should be agreed when you exchange – you need to do some keys things like redirecting your mail and registering with utilities companies.

Six weeks in I have now ordered most of my furniture and am taking my time settling into my new home. It was well worth the wait.

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