Buying your first home (part three)

So, you’ve saved? You’ve visited a mortgage advisor? Well then, you’re ready to start visiting some properties!

Photo by Evelyn Paris on Unsplash

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been browsing Rightmove and Zoopla for years. Maybe you’ve even set up new property alerts for your favourite areas (and if you don’t, set them up right now – they’re really helpful).

Your mortgage advisor will let you know what price-point to look for (I was told to look for properties between £150–170K) – just remember it’s worth looking a little higher that your maximum budget too because you can always haggle the price down a bit. And damnit, you should.

Here are some things to consider when you look for your future home:

  • If you’re buying a flat, how long’s left on the lease? Aim for 99+ years. Don’t go under 90. CHECK THIS. TWICE. And find out the ground rent and service charges. It’s worth finding this out before you fall in love with the spacious kitchen or darling balcony.
  • Does it get good light? Which direction does it face?
  • What’s the street like? Consider visiting in the daytime and evening to see whether it’s noisy.
  • Does it give you a good vibe?
  • Do you have pets? Are they allowed? Do you need a ground floor?
  • What are the size of the rooms? Once you’ve got the measurements, get out a tape measure and see what that space feels like compared to your current rooms.
  • Ceilings. Are they high? Low? Slopey? Do they have a gross stucco pattern? How much does that cost to fix?
  • Run the taps, even though you might look mad. Forget looking sane, you’re a property buyer now. (You’re checking water pressure here, by the way. Not running taps for fun.)
  • What’s the boiler like?
  • Hey, how’s the internet speed? Check your phone.
  • What’s the parking situation like?
  • Which council tax band is it in?
  • Is there an extractor fan in the bathroom? And the kitchen?
  • If it’s a flat, who owns the roof? (I know, it’s a weird question. Just trust me.)
  • Do the walls/windows have any damp? Sorry – you’ll need to touch them for this one.
  • Do the windows open properly? How thick are the windows?
  • Are there enough radiators? What’s the heating like?
  • How thin are the walls? Give them a quick tap.
  • What’s the hob like? Is there enough oven space for those roasts you like to whip up twice a month?
  • Is there a washing machine and a tumble dryer (if you use one)?
  • Is there an airing cupboard? Or a place to hang your laundry?
  • What are the neighbours like?

My friend gave me some great advice: Before you start your visits, make a list of what’s important to you. For example: I really want somewhere with a bath. I need somewhere my cats can happily live. I need the rooms to feel spacious, with decent wardrobe space. I want to live within walking distance of some nice cafes and restaurants. I don’t want to be too far from work. I’d like an outside space, even if that’s just a balcony.

Perhaps you won’t get every single thing on your list, but it will help you rank and rate the places you visit.

Finding my flat

It was a warm, sunny Saturday. And I was going to my first ever flat viewing. I’d booked to see two places, both in a similar location – my favourite place in all the world.

We pulled up outside the first place. We were on a nice, quiet road, full of big, old-fashioned houses. Not far from the beach. ‘This is a nice area,’ I thought.

The flat itself was unusual, split over three floors so it didn’t really feel like a flat at all. It was more of a little house (albeit with only one or two rooms per floor). It seemed pretty light and airy. Spacious, even though two of the rooms were in the attic and had sloped ceilings.

I wasn’t sure what to think when I got back to the car. ‘It seems… nice?’ I said. ‘Yes, it was nice,’ my family agreed.

Then we made our way to the second flat. I was curious to see it, as it was slightly more expensive. Surely, that meant slightly better?

Wrong.

Even though it was less than a mile from the first flat, the area seemed more industrial. Grey and brown. The Edwardian houses had been replaced by 1960s concrete blocks. And it felt … oppressive? As I walked into the ground floor flat, I had a grey feeling to match the outside space. ‘Instant depression’ was how I described it. It was darker, bleak, dreary. It made me realise how bright and calming the first flat was. And I realised I didn’t particularly want to live in a block of flats. The converted house had felt more, well, homely.

via GIPHY

After I came home from the horror of flat #2, I searched for more properties online. ‘Well, that’s smaller,’ I thought, closing that browser tab. ‘That location sucks compared to the first place,’ I sighed, closing another.

In the end, there wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to visit.

So I went back to flat #1 a few days later, slightly nervous someone would bid at any second, taking it off the market and away from me forever. I also felt nervous about whether I’d be the one to snap it up. It was nice but was it ‘buy it’ nice?

Here’s the honest truth: I set myself high expectations here. I’d heard people say: ‘you’ll know when it’s the one’. The One. I’d expected to walk back into flat #1 and feel a sense of comfort and joy and belonging. I expected a Lorelai Gilmore moment of certainty and clarity. I wanted a clear sign. Something that said: THIS IS IT. This is your future home. This is where you’ll be happy.

That’s a lot to pin on a flat really, isn’t it?

via GIPHY

I left feeling uneasy. Sure of nothing more than: ‘Yeah, it seems nice, I think’. Viewing properties feels a lot like internet dating, so making an offer must be the equivalent of propositioning marriage. I wanted it to be The One.

I spiralled for two or three days, sending the link to my friends (near and far), spelling out the arguments (big rooms, a great location and an airy atmosphere versus sloped ceilings and my lack of Lorelai gumption).

In the end I decided I didn’t mind the sloped ceilings much. I just wanted to feel sure about the decision.

That’s when I realised I don’t feel sure about anything, ever. I am a chronic over-thinker. I will twist something over and over in my brain until I’ve sucked any form of joy out of it. And I still won’t have made a decision. I’ll have just made myself miserable. That’s exactly what I was doing here.

So, I did what any sensible person would do.

I made an offer.

Coming soon, Part Four: Making an Offer They Can’t Refuse.

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