Buying your first home, what you should know and what to expect

Buying a house should be exciting, why do they make it so complicated? I actually think it is better that I am buying a home in my mid-30’s and not younger. After years of saving and listening to everyone’s ‘ house buying horror stories’, I felt ready and prepared when we started looking earlier this year.

The process has made me feel stupid. I do not consider myself an intellect by any means but the jargon, amount of paperwork and ‘rules’ have left me feeling lost, confused and absolutely befuddled on many occasions.


The road to buying a house has not been easy, we have had to live apart; I’m living with mum and dad, and Mike was with his friend until recently. He moved in with his dad in January as the friend was buying a house of his own, with his girlfriend. I often call myself bag lady as I always leave through the front door with an overnight bag, and getting in the car after a day in work I have to think about which route I need to take. We had to live at home to save for the deposit, solicitor fees and all the other things that you have no clue about because you are not in the industry. With us living at home, we also have to consider buying things for the house including sofa, washing machine, tumble dryer to the smaller objects including oven gloves, cleaning products and plates, mugs, glasses.

Set your budget.  It needs to be realistic and stick to it

Before you jump on your local estate agents website and start looking at houses, take a detailed look at your finances.  Use your bank statements to help you figure out how much you are spending each month so you can get a realistic picture of what kind of mortgage payment you can afford.  Factor in additional expenses too like insurance, utilities, maintenance, weekly food shop, petrol or cost to commute, etc.

For us, buying a house in Cardiff meant that I needed to change my job.  I had to leave a job and company that I loved, to increase my salary to be able to afford the house of the size that we wanted in a more sort after area.  With Michael working shifts, including weeknights and weekends, it also meant that it could not need a lot of work doing to it.  This is also something you need to consider within your budget.

In a lot of cases, lenders will pre-approve your mortgage for more than you need, so setting yourself a realistic figure and sticking to it will help you throughout the home-buying process.  The last thing you want to be is house poor.  Unexpected expenses will pop up, and you are less likely to panic if you are living within your means.  Plus, you should be able to build up an emergency fund or savings account alongside your lifestyle and mortgage payments more quickly.

Getting an Agreement in Principle (AIP)

You can do this stage with your chosen mortgage advisor.  As I did not know how long the house search would take, I got ours online.  (Note, if you do this with Natwest they will not email it to you so you will need to print it out.)  It is a pre-approved credit search and will give you a rough idea if you can get a mortgage for your budget.  It does not cost you anything, does not obligate you to take out a mortgage with that lender and does not affect your credit score unless you do too many in a short space of time.

House hunting and estate agent mortgage brokers

I enjoyed the process of sitting down and discussing the (realistic) things we wanted in our house and then making a list of what you wanted to see.  Here’s where the first annoying things start to happen.  The homes are very likely to be with different estate agents.  Each agent will want to talk about your situation before making an appointment to see the property.  These conversations take a good 15 minutes and can become tedious – I hate repeating myself too!  The main questions are about your budget, what you are looking for and in what areas.

Then the biggest annoyance, they will try and make you see their mortgage advisor and can be quite pushy about it.  Estate agents are very keen for you to use their in-house mortgage broker because they have sales targets to introduce a minimum number of customers to them each month. They also earn a fee if you choose to use them.  It is entirely up to you if you want to use them, they will give you the best advice based on your personal needs, but I prefer to work with independents.

Viewing all the houses is also very time-consuming.  If you go after work, considering you are working office hours, you can only squeeze in one or two.  Weekend viewings fill up quickly too, so can end up spread throughout the day, especially if they are with different agents.  At some of our viewings, we were with the same estate agent but met different employees at the properties.  I also found it very awkward looking around someone else’s home.  I can see past their décor and furniture placements, but it is weird looking in their cupboards and nooks and crannies (can’t believe I was able to shoehorn that phrase into a blog!).

When you have found the ‘dream’ home

Ok, it’s not my dream home, I can’t show it off on Cribs, but it had everything on our wish list – even a pub in the garden.  That’s right if everything goes to plan I will have a pub in my garden! Finding the one took a lot of our spare time.  The next tricky bit was trying to ‘negotiate’ the right price.  Trying to play it cool while also trying to play hardball is a tough one to juggle.  We had to go over our desired budget, but it was still within our affordability.  For us, it meant having to consider we would have to put down a bigger deposit, taking away from our decor fund.

During this process, you also have to consider what you want to be left in the house.  These things sound so simple, but apparently, you need to get it in writing.  The couple we are buying from has said they are unable to leave their white goods but are willing to leave the cooker.  On the advice of my mum, I have asked them to leave the light fittings and fixtures, light bulbs (yes really!), curtain poles and blinds, and laminate flooring and carpets ‘as seen’.

Sorting out your full mortgage application and finding a solicitor

Another part of the tedious process.  This bit is a lot of gathering of information.  You have to gather a lot of documents together, your passport, driving license, proof of savings, bank statements from the last 3 months and P60.  It can feel quite personal, but you have to consider they see this information every day.

Our mortgage advisor was also able to link us to a solicitor, and we gave them permission to share this documentation.  If we had done this separately, the literature would have had to be resupplied.  The solicitor forms are confusing, lengthy and frustrating.  I made a few mistakes and had to resend some forms and information – trust me!

The house survey

Again this is a minefield, you can go for simple, intermediate or intense.  We have chosen to go down the middle.  It should pick up if there are any issues and should stop us being landed with expensive repairs or structural problems.  It is also known as a property valuation which is undertaken by a qualified surveyor.  It also confirms whether the property is worth what you are proposing to pay for it and if it is suitable security for lending purposes.

This is where we are

We had our offer accepted on 18th April, and it has taken this long to get to this point.  We are waiting for the survey to come back and be assessed so the mortgage application can be issued.  Then I think we will just be waiting for the exchange date.

I will keep you updated…


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