So, you have finally found the perfect house for you after trawling Rightmove for months on end and viewing more properties than you care to remember. You have made an offer, it has been accepted, and now you ache for the day when you actually receive those elusive keys and can call the house your home. The fact of the matter is that despite how hard it may have been to find you perfect house, and despite how disillusioned you may have felt when yet another viewing left you less than inspired, finding your property was the easy part of the whole process. Buying your property on the other hand is the hard part.
I am not a financial adviser nor a property expert, and therefore I am not here to recommend the best routes to obtaining finance for your purchase, nor can I comment on legal proceedings and necessaries for house purchase in your area. However, what I can do is provide recent and timely advice having just completed my own house purchase this month. The memories of the process have not yet faded into the distant past, tinged with a rose-tinted hue as I recollect with fondness that time when I bought my first family home.
The house we bought this month was not my first house purchase, but it was only my second. I got my first home about 7 years ago, a gorgeous traditional tenement flat in the South Side of Glasgow, which I bought on my own as a single girl, full of the excitement of youth, sleeping on an inflatable camping mattress and sitting on an inflatable waterproof lilo until my bedroom furniture and sofas arrived. After living there for a few years I rented it out to move in with my then partner, but that chapter of my life quickly came to a close, which is when I moved to England. Initially I had a bachelorette pad again, a lovely modern rental apartment in a little Cheshire market town, but eventually moved from there into a nearby rented family home because by then I had my wonderful fiance and baby girl. I reckon that for 7 years of my life that’s a lot of homes, but none has felt as special and meaningful to me as that first one that I owned, that had my name on it, and that I could make any way I wanted.
The two rental homes were enough to make me and my fiance fall in love with the local area and, although we both hope that one day the future will afford us an opportunity to move back to Scotland, in the time being we wanted to begin to build roots with a permanent family home that we could call our own. Hence the purchase of number 28. This is what I learned from going through a house purchase process.
Number 1: Communicate with your seller’s estate agent
I think estate agents get a hard time. Like any other profession there are those who are simply better at what they do, and therefore every estate agent should not be tarred with the same brush. Our seller’s estate agent was a worrier, but it was easy to understand why. Our sellers had already sold their property. Twice. And twice it had fallen through at the last minute. In fact, by the time we offered on the house it had already been on the market for a total of about 20 months, which for a standard-sized family home with a lower than average price tag is pretty significant.
We were trustworthy buyers, but our sellers didn’t know that, and neither did their agent. Plus, because we were selling a property in Scotland where the system is so wildly different, there was the potential for lots of confusion over what was happening at any given time. Therefore, I made a conscious decision to keep the estate agent for Number 28 in the loop all the time. I sent an email every couple of weeks with an FYI message, because after all even if there was no update, its better to hear something than nothing right?! I also placed calls in as soon as significant milestones were reached….an offer received, a mortgage approved, dates for exchange set. I understand that the solicitor’s office could arguably do all this for us buyers, but I don’t believe that should replace the personal touch of dealing with an estate agent directly where possible. It increases trust, proves reliability, and builds a rapport that solicitors simply can’t do on your behalf.
Which leads me to my second top tip…
Number 2: Choose your solicitor wisely
Like most of us, in order to buy Number 28, we needed to sell the property we already owned. However, unlike most of us, the sale of my flat was in an entirely different geography with a completely different property law process than the house we were buying. It was because of this that we needed to use two separate solicitors to manage the conveyancing of the two properties. This does make the process more complex, but it highlighted clearly for me the importance of choosing your solicitor wisely as when dealing with two solicitors at exactly the same time I had the rare opportunity to directly compare and contrast.
With buying only my second property ever, it is safe to say I am not an expert in property law: I did not know the processes, system, rules, regulations or expectations of me with regards to the sale of the flat or the purchase of the house. And, like our friend the estate agent, solicitors too get a hard time, but once again we should not tar them all with the same brush. When looking for a Glasgow based solicitor to manage the sale of my flat I turned to social media and on recommendation used a local practice that I was advised “get the job done”. This sounded good enough to me, especially alongside their fairly competitive pricing. However, it became clear to me eventually that I had made a mistake as the closer we got to sale date, the more I realised I had literally no idea what was going on. In fact, in the final week before completion I had no confirmation my signed paperwork had been received, I didn’t know if the sale was to be completed with fixtures fitting and furniture included or if I was liable to remove all of those things first, I didn’t know my mortgage redemption figure and final fees, and most worryingly, I had no idea if my contracts had been exchanged. All because the solicitor wouldn’t take my calls…”away from her desk” the poor secretary kept telling me.
This is not acceptable behaviour. “That’s normal of solicitors” people told me. And I may have believed them, if it hadn’t been for the polar opposite service I received from the solicitors managing my purchase. Always at the end of the phone, this firm explained everything to me, they kept in touch with me via email, telephone and even the occasional text message and voicemail if they couldn’t reach me. Ironically I probably spent less time overall communicating with them than I did with my Glasgow solicitor, simply because they were open, honest and communicative and gave me less reason to be in touch with them all the time. By ignoring your clients you do not make your life easier. That’s my top tip for crappy solicitors anyway.
Number 3: Always know what’s included
During our house search we went to view a new build estate in Nantwich. The show home was spectacular but slightly outwith our budget so we enquired about a smaller alternative for which the advertised sale price was manageable for us. I look back on this experience with such a bad taste in my mouth because the attitude of the sales manager was really poor. I get the feeling she looked at me in my pigtails and trainers, trying to juggle a toddler who insisted on spitting chewed up banana out of her mouth after every bite, while maintaining a ‘grown up’ conversation about Ts&Cs, and just thought to herself “oh please, honey, we both know you belong on the council estate round the corner and not here”. Despite my very direct questions about what plots were available and when, what was included and what was not, I really struggled to get any answers from her until eventually she told me to come back and talk to her when my flat sale was concluded and I had the money to put a deposit down and secure a plot…only then could we discuss my options. I’m not kidding. Goodbye Mrs Sales Manager, you can f*ck right off.
So, a new build wasn’t right for us, and not just because of an obnoxious sales manager. But it can be the most amazing opportunity for the right buyer. My only watch out for first timers, is that even if your new build includes all the seemingly obvious items…tiles, flooring, turf, fencing, white goods, etc…trust me when I say you will not just move in and find the house all ready for you. You will still spend the same amount of money all the rest of us buying second hand homes do: on paint, wallpaper, furnishings…on changing this appliance, or upgrading those internal doors. My mum bought a new build about 10 years ago and it was surprising to me how much was not included in the sale price, and how much money she continued to spend on getting the house the way she wanted it.
Number 4: Look beyond the obvious
Similar to top tip number 3 is this one aimed at buyers of ‘preloved’ homes. Ok, so strictly speaking it does not meet the aims of the blog post which is to offer 5 top tips for managing the purchase of the property you’ve already chosen. However, it is still a nice piece of advice for house buyers so I’m cheekily slotting it in here anyway. Where top tip number 3 asks you to consider what is included in the house sale, top tip number 4 advises to try to look beyond what is included. Look beyond those chintz curtains at the windows that lie behind them. Look beyond the peach bathroom tiles and avocado suite and assess the size and quality of the walls that support them. It can be so hard to see the house beyond the chaos, but more often than not the aesthetics of a home are easily fixed and can be done on a bargain budget.
Number 5: Please don’t be hasty
I’m speaking from raw experience here…please never act in haste and do not offer on a property you do not intend on buying. Despite what people may tell you, the Scottish property system is not infallible and it does not protect all and sundry from the selfish people of this world, as I sadly discovered when my flat sale fell through only a couple of weeks before completion. The buyer did not have a reason for pulling out, she just “changed her mind” and there was nothing I could do to save it. More upsetting was the prospect of losing Number 28, however, staying true to top tip number 1, I involved the estate agent for my purchase in the process and let her know what had happened. I truly believe she felt my devastation and really trusted that I would do my utmost to secure another buyer as soon as possible and proceed with buying the family home of our dreams. I am grateful for her faith in us and proud of my resolve. Things change, and I understand that, but our decisions can affect others in ways we can’t imagine and selling and buying property is stressful enough without the added burden of flaky buyers.