Getting ahead of the game - top tips for first-time buyers

How you can be at the head of the queue when it comes to snapping up your first home

At Harrison James & Hardie, there is no better feeling for me than handing the keys over to a happy, smiling new homeowner, so our tips are designed to help you achieve this with the least amount of stress and to make sure you start off on the right foot. Whilst there will be plenty of well-intentioned people prepared to help, what you really need is expert advice from a few trustworthy professionals who have demonstrable experience in the local marketplace. Providing you choose those experts wisely, no one is going to ‘do one over on you’ as so many parents fear! 

Organise your finances before you start looking

Knowing your spending limit will help you narrow down what size, style and location you can achieve.  It’s great to be aspirational but be informed. There’s no point in champagne tastes and beer pockets, looking at potential properties that turn out to be beyond your price range. Conversely, you might be surprised how better options present, if you make proper use of all the help available.

An independent financial adviser is a must

A financial adviser will calculate your finances and ensure that you have an agreement in principle (AIP for short, of which more later) but will also assist you in working through all the serious amounts of paperwork you will encounter right to the end of the transaction. Many lenders offer direct deals but having your hand held by someone who can sift through the market for you and give you guidance on the right thing to say and do is particularly helpful at stressful points in the buying process - attempting to do so alone might result in losing your mortgage offer or worse, your property.  

Buying a home can be a costly affair but there is proper help for first-time buyers in particular

Government schemes are extremely beneficial. There are two different ‘Help To Buy’ options: the first is effectively an interest-free loan of 20% on a new build property and the second is a mortgage guarantee scheme that only requires a 5% deposit. These should be discussed further with your financial adviser who will be best placed to help you decide, based on your particular needs and situation.

There are also various property schemes that offer a fantastic way to step onto the first rung of the property ladder

The most common is the Shared Ownership Scheme, an option that allows you to purchase a property at specific percentage of the full price. For example, with a shared ownership you might buy at 50% of the property’s worth, with the other 50% funded by a local authority for which you pay a monthly rent. This is such a brilliant way to get started - you can borrow less but still get the perfect first property and, as most schemes are now stair-cased to 100%, secure a greater share of the property as your finances improve.  It’s also often significantly cheaper than letting the same property type on the open market - but without the fear that the landlord may want it back at some point.  As long as you keep up your regular monthly payments (an absolute must with any mortgage) and look after the house as required by the detail of the shared ownership agreement, then you have complete security of tenure.

Rather than endlessly trawling property websites, register with your local estate agency

The best properties will be under offer by the time they show up online but you can rely and trust a good independent agent will look after you, will genuinely care about your needs and even protect you from your own inexperience, knowing just how it feels to be a first time buyer. Contrary to what your parents suspect we are here to help, not itching to push you into something unsuitable!

Try not to fall back on your parents to make your choice for you

Your loved ones will feel duty bound to point out all the disadvantages of your potential purchase because they care about you and have often contributed significantly to your purchase, however I have seen too many first-time buyers lose out on the perfect property simply because they were made to feel insecure about their ability to make a sensible choice.  Owning a house is about being a proper grown-up and taking full responsibility for your decisions, so start now and stand on your own two feet.  

Keep in touch regularly

Demonstrate you are serious by coming out to view at a moment’s notice, be prepared to listen to the agent’s advice and don’t be overly suspicious. If you are reliable, open, polite and communicative then a proactive, friendly local agent (like me!) will not only have an ear to ground but will let you know as quickly as possible about any new opportunities, putting you in the best possible position to secure the house of your dreams.

Don’t view too many properties and identify your needs

At any one time, the current stock of properties in your price range will be reasonably representative of what you will find no matter how long you look - if you have viewed four or five properties, you have seen quite enough to make a comparison. You will only confuse your sense of what is truly achievable by making a wish list of the best parts of a dozen houses rather than sticking to what you cannot do without …“If it had the same garden / sitting room as the first one and / or the same location as the last one we looked at it would be perfect”… It might be perfect but it would also be in a different price bracket! 

If you like something, be swift and rational

The first-time buyer market in the North Cotswolds is extremely competitive - there are many cash-rich professional landlord investors looking for the same thing as you - but it is still rare to find a typical first home priced significantly above its natural market so don’t come in with a silly offer. Whether you can avoid paying the full asking price depends on how quickly you act – yes, it is your knockout blow if there are several viewers lined up behind you but negotiate with your other strengths in mind first. You are not in a chain, you can be flexible on timescales and you have your finances in place, backed up with an AIP. This last point is vital - It places you in a strong position as a serious buyer and gives your offer a lot more weight than simply blurting out the asking price at the first hurdle.

With service industries, cheap does not mean good value for money, it means trouble 

Agreeing your purchase is only the start of it. Up to 30% of transactions fall through before exchange of contracts, often through lack of effective communication. Don’t go for a bargain basement online conveyance service when you really need a proactive, kind, reputable, established local solicitor to fight your corner, not only to guide you through the process and remain regularly in contact but because they will have a good working relationship with your estate agency, too, therefore best placed to ensure the exchange happens as soon as possible.

And lastly… the good bit

It can be a daunting prospect taking those first steps to owning your first home.  It's a large financial investment and a weighty responsibility but ultimately it will pay off.  Just imagine the feeling of freedom and achievement when we finally hand over those keys to you! 

Contact one of the team at Harrison James & Hardie in Bourton or Moreton and we're always happy to help with further advice!