5 Tips for Buying Your First Home from Someone who's done it Twice
“How can anyone buy their first house twice?” I hear you asking. Well, you’re right, technically you can’t, but when you relocate from the North to the South like we did (where the property market is completely bonkers), it sort of felt like we were first time buyers all over again. We were able to use a few of the lessons (and hindsight!) that we’d learnt when buying our first home (bought with the heart) to help when buying our second (bought with the head).
Let me start from the beginning and take you all the way back to 2012 when my boyfriend Jim and I decided it was time we took the plunge and moved in together. We decided that Saltaire (a World Heritage village with listed workers cottages, nice bars and shops and excellent transport links) was the place for us. It didn't take long before we found what would be our first home - a tiny 1 bedroom terraced cottage on Fanny Street. Being so in love with the idea of living on Fanny Steet, we were blind to how much work the house needed, so put our offer in immediately after our first viewing and moved in 8 weeks later.
Fast forward 18 months and we were both offered jobs in London - Jim as a trainee lighting technician for an events company, and me on a buying and merchandising graduate scheme. We managed to rent the house out quite easily and found ourselves a flat to rent in North London.
Finally, after 18 months I persuaded Jim the time was right and we should get ourselves on the ladder down south before prices became any more ridiculous. We decided on Watford because it was within budget and was easy for us both to get to work from. The first time I saw our flat on Right Move (see pics below) I thought it looked awful! I actually remember thinking "who would want to live in a place like that?!" but a month or so after first seeing it and hating it the flat was re-listed with another estate agent at a lower price and with better pictures. With not many other options in our budget I decided it was worth a view. 12 weeks later we were moving in!
Here are a few of the lessons I took from our experience of buying and living in our first home in Saltaire which led to us buying our flat in Watford:
1. We Accepted that it was our first home and not our forever home
Learning from our Fanny Street naivety, we aired on the side of caution when we began our search down south. In a perfect world, we would not be living in Watford. Instead, we'd be living in St Albans or Rickmansworth or Bushey, but sadly your money doesn't go as far in the south as it does in the north! Our flat is not the prettiest and it is not in a location that we want to live forever, but it was in budget, met our logistical needs and is in an area that's set to see properties go up in value as London expands. We have a rough idea of where we want to live eventually and know that in order to be able to afford it we will need to buy and sell a few places and make some money to get there. You will love your first house no matter what even if it isn't the most Instagram worthy house you've ever seen!
2. We Understood that our budget didn’t just cover buying the house
When we bought our first house in Saltaire, we put down a 25% deposit rather than the standard 10%. We thought this was a sensible idea as it would mean a lower mortgage but overlooked the amount of work a 125 year old house needed and the amount of money it would cost. The original sash windows had slipped and needed realigning, the boiler was temperamental (and eventually broke), the outhouses needed new doors, the chimney needed work doing and there was damp. In hindsight, we should have put less of a deposit down, paid slightly more on our mortgage each month and been able to do the work to make the house more comfortable to live in. When we began our search down here, we knew that there wouldn't be any money left over once we'd paid the 10% deposit and all the other costs involved so looked for something that didn't need any major work. Being 5 years old, the flat that we live in now and all of its fixtures and fittings (including the boiler!) are still in warranty. I appreciate this sounds boring, but the peace of mind this gives you is wonderful.
3. It doesn’t have to be perfect the minute you move in
Jim and I were the first of our friends to move in together and I thought it had to be perfect the second we moved in. We were able to beg, borrow and steal furniture from our family and luckily shabby chic was the look of the moment, so the fact everything was a little bit rough around the edges added to the charm however I remember always feeling down about how unfinished and hotch potch it all looked together.
So when we were waiting to move into our flat, I planned to have the whole flat decorated before we moved in, thinking I wanted a clean pale grey Scandi colour scheme throughout the flat. I thought I had planned it perfectly, giving notice on our rented flat with enough time to get the decorators in, however it didn't go to plan (of course!) and we ended up moving in with a day to spare before our lease ran out. I am SO relieved this happened! If you told me when we first moved in that we'd be painting half the walls in Farrow and Ball Railings I would have laughed in your face! Living in the flat and understanding how we use the space and what kind of vibe we wanted to create helped us make more informed decisions and make the place feel more like a home. It’s been so great to see how the flat is decorated evolve over time and with each update the flat feels more and more like ours.
4. Freecycle, Gumtree, eBay, Ikea and your parents are your best friends!
Again, in a perfect world, you'd be filling your first home with a luxurious sofa from Loaf, installing a Smeg fridge in your kitchen and you'd be restoring a roll top bath and laying Bert & May tiles in your bathroom. In reality, you've probably not budgeted enough for those boring things like solicitors fees and stamp duty so you’re only left with enough money for 2 camping chairs, a cool box and a paddling pool for a bath. Do Not Fear!! You might not be able to afford a brand new Loaf sofa, but someone else can and they're selling their old one on eBay for a quarter of the price. Someone on Freecycle will be giving away a kitchen table that a few coats of Farrow & Ball later will be Pinterest worthy. Ikea will do a version of that West Elm rug you think you need for under £100.
We were very fortunate in that Jim's step mum is a very talented furniture upcycler so she helped us source the majority of our furniture via Freecycle, local auctions and eBay at bargain prices. Our TV cabinet was a family friend's which we spotted in a skip outside their house and our sofa was from eBay. We still have all these mismatched pieces of furniture 6 years on and I can't imagine our home without them.
5. Know when to invest our money, and when to hold onto it
I have a list as long as my arm of things I'd like to do to our flat (well, maybe my forearm, the flat is tiny!) but I've realised that there's not much point. Referring back to tip number 1 - this is our (second) first home, not our forever home so there's no point doing all this stuff when we'll be moving again in a year or so. Of course if you're planning to be in your first home for longer than 3 years then you may be more willing to part with your money but we've chosen to spend money decorating the flat and on pieces of furniture that we can take with us once we move.
So there you have it, some lessons we learnt when buying both of our first homes. Anyone else who’s bought their first home, have I missed anything?!