Here is my experience of buying my own home.
Maybe it will be amusing, maybe it will help someone, maybe it will just help me to write it down.

There are definitely phases to buying a gaff, and I liken them to a growing tree. You aim to survive that season. Your goals change. You stand strong despite conditions. Next season you grow again and you gain another line across your face.

The seed

You want to own your own home, somewhere you like. You should have an idea of what you want, but don’t worry, you’ll totally challenge every preconception, so you may as well go in clueless and just see what works.

Your goal is finding nice areas you like, and working out what sort of thing you’d like to buy.

The sprout

You have a deposit. Getting a mortgage in principal seems like the thing to do, but given they typically last just 6 months, it can be worth holding off while you get a feel for the market.

I’m glad I did that, it took at least 6 months just to get confident with what I was doing and work out what I really wanted and what I’d compromise on. I was surprised at how important silly things were. Laughing gas canisters in the stairwell turned out to unsurprisingly be a thing I didn’t want. But things like slightly squishy floors, wobbly lifts that smelled of lowest bidder, and the windows facing square into a flat across the way were also things I realised I just couldn’t live with. I could totally live without a balcony in the right place, but having a second bedroom turned out to be a must. I had to readjust my expectations and indeed budget a couple of times. Your definition of certain areas change wildly – suddenly the fringes of your preferred area become considerations, or the opposite and only very specific areas will do. It changes a lot as you get a feel for the market.

You click about on Rightmove trying to find a place that looks reasonable through the carefully taken and artistically angled photos, all of which have the brightness blown up and the tables set out with dinnerware. These tactics are presumably to hide the bad parts that you’ll inevitably end up seeing anyway on the viewing.

Sometimes the estate agent will actually show up to the viewing you woke up early for, other times you’ll wait, admit defeat and go home. Sometimes the property goes off the market before you can view it. If you do set foot inside, often the heart just isn’t there. A couple of times one of the tenants was actually alseep, but the estate agent just threw the doors open while asking us to be a bit quiet. Sometimes you get beaten to an offer before you can think about what to do. You begin to expect just to go in, have a wander around, consider “do people really live like this?”, compare furnishings, add another thing to your criteria, not feel it and go home.

Other times you notice many flats being sold in the same building. It stinks of something bad – could it be the cladding that needs removing? Is there a structural issue and people are trying to get out? One block in Manchester had to have walking patrols – meaning paying someone 24/7 to walk around and make sure there isn’t fire, the cost of course coming from the leaseholder. And don’t even consider leasehold houses.

Your goal is finding a place you love.

The seedling

You find a place you love. You need to decide what to do.

Mortgage in principal is a wise thing to have once you’re in the swing of things. It’s the first nod from the bank that they will lend you money (in exchange for getting vastly more money back, but over time). Your credit is good, your deposit is solid, you’re ready to get going. But maybe you aren’t quite prepared to jump. That slight hesitation is a reality check that you aren’t quite ready yet.

Assume in this phase that you will at one point want to (or actually) cry, scream into a pillow, be snippy to a really good friend or possibly decide to just live in a cave.

Like me, you may miss out on a property or two. It’s gutting. But you have to have lost one or two to really be ready for when the one you love comes by. I should take my own advice and apply it to finding a man.

Your goal is getting ready to jump. This is a really uncomfortable stage.

The gatling (not a tree phase, but it rhymes…)

You’re serious now.

Mortgage in principal in hand, you furiously view properties, rapid fire like a Gatling gun. Often I had three to five on weekends and a couple in the evenings after work. Each place had oddities – windows that are translucent, windows that faced a brick wall, windows from the lounge that opened into the bedroom (yes, seriously) – usually always to do with windows.

You see the same people viewing the same places and you try to be nice to your competition while they prance round like they’ve already bought the place (then don’t, and remark at each subsequent viewing how they thought you’d have gone for it). You act casual to the agent and point out the mould, dodgy cladding and then recall a news article about this block having a full on fire three months before and maybe the squishy floors have something to do with that.

You try to visualise yourself there. If you have to try – it just isn’t right. Even if it ticks all the boxes. Turns out people are complicated, even if that person is yourself. It’s like recording yourself talk and then not recognising the voice. I always tried to visualise myself in five years living there. That ruled out a couple of “IKEA flats” that looked pretty with their long windows and bright lights but wouldn’t be suitable for a thirty year old.

Your goal is to never have to see your competition again, by buying a place or pushing them in the canal *.

* I cannot recommend one of these.

The sapling

You find a place you love love love. You excitedly talk your parents’ heads off about it after the viewing and put in a slightly insulting offer. It’s obviously rejected.

Get an idea of what that place is worth to you. Be realistic. Set a hard maximum and don’t dare go a penny above it.

You up the offer, to less insulting and within budget. If this isn’t possible, increase budget or decrease expectations. Or wait for the economy to collapse if that’s your viewpoint and you don’t mind waiting.

The estate agent phones the next day, saying the buyer isn’t sure, stating that there are other people, asking why should they accept your price, and sweetly suggests you may want to “revise your offer”. You remind them of your position – you’re a first time buyer, renting (read: chain free), can move fast, and basically tell them take it or leave it. You have to be ready to lose the place. I had accepted I may lose it. I was ready to cry if I did. But I wouldn’t go above my budget, and it wasn’t worth a huge amount more to me, even though I loved it.

But the offer was accepted. There was a human on the other side of the sale, and they appreciated my position and that I wanted to live in there, not rent it out.

Your goal is to get an offer accepted, and then when you do, not know what to do or who to call.

The small tree

You’ll find yourself saying quotes such as:

  • “Oh my fuck I need a solicitor”
  • “Hello, one mortgage please”
  • “‘Ow much?!”

The estate agent wants details of your solicitor, certified ID, proof of deposit and blood of a mountain goat before they will take the property off the market. You try to get everything sorted while at work without colleagues noticing.

You should probably go to a mortgage broker. Or just find a really good mortgage and just go with it.
Either way, definitely compare the market. Look for leaving fees, early repayment fees, overpayment fees, booking fees. A cheap rate doesn’t necessarily mean a cheap mortgage. And find one that works for you. The cheapest may not be the best. You have to be super confident in what you’re getting in to – this is a long relationship with a company and you need to be comfortable with that.

Your goal is not to fuck everything up royally, and pretend to know what you’re doing.

The Treenage years

After a slightly scary mortgage appointment (mine was on the phone and so I was in my pyjamas with a plate of biscuits), the bank has said yes. The mortgage is booked, the survey is instructed. Oh, and the seller is pushing.

You’re keeping pressure on the bank, solicitor and associated companies to not forget about you. You keep communication sweet.

It’s exhausting. But you have to keep going. You love this place, and even though there’s no legal agreement between anyone, they want to sell and you want to buy. You can only do so much and hope for the best.


To Be Continued

Categories: Manchester