This time three years ago, I picked up a set of keys from an estate agent’s office and let myself in to my first home. After over three months of back and forth and up and down with a rather unhelpful solicitor (on the seller’s side, not ours), we were finally in and the property officially belonged to us, but dare I say it felt… underwhelming.
That’s the first thing I learned about buying your first home. When you officially exchange and complete and the keys are all yours, there’s no fanfare, no huge sigh of relief, no major shift as you officially become a ‘homeowner’ – or at least there wasn’t for us. It felt almost underwhelming, and the day I’d been counting down for and keeping my fingers crossed about for over twelve weeks came and went and didn’t feel all that different. We spent our first day as homeowners sat on the floor, drinking countless cups of tea and deciding which local chippy we were going to try out first (perhaps one of the best things about this property was that the chippy we chose was and still is one of the best in Liverpool – nobody can tell me otherwise). I went back to work the next day, and remember feeling pleasantly surprised at how ‘normal’ my new normal felt. I’d gone from strolling to my office in less than ten minutes to an hour long commute on the bus and still, it felt like something I’d been doing for years.
Rewind to five months prior – in the May of 2018 – Guy (my fiancé at the time, he’s now my husband) and I had lived in our city centre apartment for three or four years. We loved it very much, but countless summers spent cooped up on one 4ftx1ft balcony and a dire lack of natural light meant we were itching to make a move. Being in the city centre, we’d always loved spending our weekends out and about but on the occasions we decided to stay in, we soon realised our neighbours were actually some of the worst people on the planet and sharing cardboard walls with them became something of a living nightmare. On our other side were a group of students, who’d thought nothing of partying until 5am on a Wednesday and keeping us up until two hours before our alarms went off for work and we’d collectively decided that that was it, we’d had enough.
We pooled together the small amount of savings we did have (and credit where credit’s due, about 95% of those were Guy’s) and realised that actually, we probably didn’t have anywhere near enough cash to consider putting a deposit down on a property. Never one to be deterred by logistics, I insisted we start looking into other options.
At the time, Guy was working for a housing association so knew a fair bit more about the market and the options available to us than I did. First things first, we explored Shared Ownership, which you can read more about here. We viewed about eight properties through the scheme and none were quite right – most were a touch too small and city centre based (which defeated our main objective of moving outwards away from the noise) and made us reassess what we really wanted in a property. Initially, we thought it’d be fun to have a flat in the hustle and bustle of it all but decided between the two of us that we really, really wanted some outdoor space of our own – whether it was a huge garden (wishful thinking!) or a small yard.
With that one out of the window, we looked into the Help to Buy scheme, which you can read more about here. This scheme is only applicable to new build homes, and whilst I’ve always been a period property enthusiast at heart, I knew it would be only right to see what was available with the budget we had in mind. To put the scheme simply, you provide towards the deposit (a minimum of 5%), and you can then borrow an equity loan (to cover from 5% and up to 20% of the property purchase price), meaning you could end up with a 25% deposit with only contributing 5% of your own funds. This loan is interest free for the first five years, and you can pay back part or all of your equity loan at any time before being charged interest from the sixth year onwards. It’s a little bit trickier than it sounds on paper, so I’d recommend reading into the scheme thoroughly. Ultimately, we decided against it – we didn’t want to start our property purchase journey with the additional debt (and worry) of an equity loan, and besides – I couldn’t resist the allure of those high ceilings and alcoves in a good old-fashioned home.
Ever the optimist, my next idea was to move out of the flat and back in with my parents for a year or two whilst we saved. Guy pondered this idea for all of six seconds before letting me know, in no uncertain terms, that that would not be happening. *Side note, both Guy and I will be the first to tell you that my parents are absolutely wonderful, spending time with them is always a joy but the thought of us all living under one roof… in hindsight, I don’t think it could ever have been smooth sailing.
We’d decided that even though we might not be climbing onto the property ladder just yet, it’d be a good idea to view some houses in a few different areas we liked to get an idea of rough costs when the time came. We learned a lot about what we liked and what we didn’t, what we were willing to take on and what we weren’t (in terms of a renovation) and what we thought was a fair price for the kind of property we wanted. We also decided on an area (which is the one we live in now), and had all of our findings buried away in the back of our minds to be revisited at a later date. However, there was one property though that just stuck out – and yes, you guessed it, it was this one we’re living in now. It was a lovely house, needed very little urgent work and was extremely well priced considering what else we’d been viewing.
My dreams of home ownership had been dashed for now – I thought we’d have a good few years more of saving before we could revisit the conversation, and we let it lie and forgot about it for a week or two. One day, Guy was chatting to his friend about it all and he’d suggested speaking to a mortgage broker, even if only to find out how much we’d potentially have to save and realistically, when we could have the conversations again. Roll on the following week when we met Tony, who asked us questions about our financial situations including our salaries, outgoings, current savings, any debts or credit cards and what we’d be hoping to spend on a property. He told us that not all banks would be willing to lend to us based on our financial circumstances, but there’d definitely be one that would – even with just a 5% deposit. He asked us if he’d like us to see what he can find, and the rest is history.
We went away and he trawled through everything. Every bank statement, every account summary – the lot. I spent days in sheer panic that I’d be judged for the insane amount of cash I was spending per month in Zara, the fact that all bank transfers to my friends had ridiculous references such as ‘U R A BELLEND‘ and that my card was used more frequently in the BrewDog below our flat than in all of the supermarkets combined. Rest assured, when we met him again a few days later he explained that they’re not looking to catch you out based on how much you’ve spent on ASOS, but to get an idea of what goes in vs what goes out each month, and to make sure your money isn’t being laundered or coming from some other unsavoury cash cow. My number one takeaway from this whole blog is that Mortgage Brokers are a god send – Tony, if you’re reading this, we owe you a pint, and you were well worth the couple of hundred quid it cost to get your advice.
Long story short, we put an offer on this property (£2,000 less than the asking price) in line with our conversations with Tony, our offer was accepted and we got approved for a mortgage (!) all in the space of about a week. We were approved with a 5% deposit (which worked out at just over £6,000) and more importantly, our monthly repayments were affordable (and cost less than our rent did at the time).
If you’re wondering, we mortgaged with The Nottingham (who I’ve worked with on a few campaigns since) and decided to remortgage with them last year when our two-year fixed term was up. Our Mortgage Broker found them for us, and helped us to make decisions such as how long a mortgage term we wanted, plus he helped us to process all of the paperwork and everything that comes with it.
By the September, it was time to collect our keys and we moved in to our lovely little house.