Are you one of the people currently house hunting in London? Whether you’re a first time buyer or already firmly on the ladder check out the sage advice below. Oh, and good luck!
I’m not here to be a grouch (great opening line) and most people will tell you that buying your first home is meant to be a happy, exciting time. But those people are lying. They probably bought a house decades ago when prices were well below 100k and you had the pick of the bunch. These days in London you’ll be lucky if you can find a 2 bed house in a nice spot of the suburbs for less than 500k. Don’t even get me started about prices in central! You’ll also be up against those horrible, money grabbing, buy-to-let landlords who waltz around with 50%+ deposits in their back pocket. (EUGH!) Think I’m exaggerating? Think again.
Ok, so it’s all doom and gloom so far. Sorry about that! But for the last 3 years I’ve been watching the property market in London slowly move further and further out of reach. At the start of this year we officially started our house hunt. I got a new job that finally opened up the door to a mortgage offer large enough to buy a two bed home – but only if we moved quickly enough. We only have a 5% deposit and despite saving a good 30%-50% of our income each month, house prices are increasing so quickly that the 5% we’ve managed to save will soon only be 4%, then 3%, then 2%…you get the idea. We are almost halfway through the year and so far, no new home.
If you are about to start your London based house-hunt then here are a couple of home truths which will hopefully help prepare you for the next few months. Good luck!
No-one likes a first time buyer
Once upon a time, being a first time buyer was a good thing. There are plenty of articles out there (pre-crash) that will tell you being a first time buyer is good because you can move fast on a chain free basis.
The problem is, buy-to-let landlords and developers can move even faster. We constantly found ourselves up against investor-types when we put in offers. We even lost a massive 3 bed house in our dream location (a.k.a. a unicorn) not because we were out bid, but because someone else was offering 50% cash and could move so much quicker than us. We just couldn’t compete.
Yes, being a first time buyer is better than being in the middle of a chain, and some people will find this attractive. But, in reality there’s always going to be someone out there who can buy faster than you.
Sellers just don’t care any more
In a seller’s market they don’t have to get out of their pajamas, they don’t have to tidy up, they don’t have to get rid of the smell of weed/cigarettes, and they definitely don’t bake brownies or bread to make their house smell homely. Some of them might leave dirty nappies on the kitchen counter. Others will still be in bed while you’re looking around – a little bit awkward when you’re checking out the spare bedroom…
On the plus side, they’ll also leave the mould untreated, and cracks in the walls and ceilings will be visible for all to see. Of course I’d much rather find out about these things upfront, it would be worse if they’d try covering it up, but it would be nice if they at least put some clothes on themselves…I don’t want to see that kind of crack…
Oh, and Estate Agents don’t care either
If you thought seller’s had gotten lazy then wait ’til you hear about estate agents.
Once you start your search expect to tell estate agents your criteria over and over again. Roughly 80% of emails I have received over the course of our house hunt were TOTALLY irrelevant. I received property details for homes as far north as Newcastle and as far south as Portsmouth. I also had emails about new build flats in central London worth over £2million.
Sometimes, the estate agent won’t show up and you’ll have to be shown round by the owners. Other times, you’ll turn up and there will be a sold sign outside and no estate agent in sight. You’d think it would be quite quick and easy to call or email to cancel a viewing but apparently not.
If you don’t laugh you will cry
I remember one Saturday when we were at a real low. We had already viewed 4 properties in the space of about 2 hours and none of them had been close to what we were looking for. Floor space equivalent to a large shed, swathes of black mould, police tape on the corner of the street… But as we were sat outside the fifth and final house of the day, we were starting to feel somewhat optimistic. The location was perfect – less than half a mile to the tube – it was leafy green in a quiet residential location and the outside of the house looked good. Just as we got out of the car, that’s when we heard it – the mechanical rush of a freight train just behind the trees to the left of the house.
The pavement literally shook. You’d be forgiven for thinking there had been an earthquake. We looked at each other, eyes wide, in disbelief. Yes we’d done our research; we knew it was close to the line but SERIOUSLY?! 30 seconds later a second train went past. We couldn’t help it. We burst out laughing. It was that or tears. You won’t be surprised to hear we didn’t put an offer in on that one.
The right one is out there …it’s just not the one you thought
After we lost out on the unicorn we started to despair pretty hard. We had started with a long list of postcodes in which we were willing to live but over the course of our search we were priced out of many of them. We’ve recently put an offer in (and had it accepted) on a house in my least favourite postcode, over 2 miles from a tube (but on a train line instead) and it looks nothing like I expected. That doesn’t mean I don’t love it. Sometimes you fall in love when you least expect it and with the housing market the way it is, you’d be wise to open up your options. You never know what you might find!
See it’s not all negative!
If I was to give advice to anyone house hunting in London it would be to have perseverance, see as many properties in as many locations as you can, and to keep smiling. They say that only 1 in 10 under 30s is going to be able to buy a home in their lifetime so quite frankly the odds are stacked against you. You can see that as a negative, or you can use it to become even more determined to get yourself on to the housing ladder. The choice is yours.
We have had fun house hunting, and we are super excited about the prospect of owning a home. Being able to have a BBQ, hang washing up outside, put up a shelf…these are all things that as renters we aren’t allowed to do. And I’m sure they will all be worth the wait.
Although everything could still go wrong yet…we’re no where close to exchanging contracts I’m trying to stay positive!
If you are searching for the one, or if you’re further down the line then we are I’d love to hear your thoughts! Anecdotes about awful properties are always welcome as are stories about estate agents from hell in the comments below (but no names please!) What advice would you give to those currently house hunting in London?