We moved into our new house in early December 2019. It truly does feel like home and we are really happy here, but I don’t miss the stressful process of selling and buying property! In this post I will cover the starting points of selling and buying a house in the UK. You can see the post from moving day here: We Bought a House!
As a first time buyer, and a Canadian resident in the UK, I found the housing market and process of buying in the UK (specifically England) totally baffling. The process differs considerably to Canada’s (e.g. stamp duty, gazumping, and the point at which you can withdraw without penalty), and I spent plenty of time perusing advice pages and forums.
I thought it would be useful to document our experience in case any of my readers are in the same situation, or are just curious! This will be a series of posts which will serve as my basic guide for the crazy process of buying and selling property.
Every person’s situation will be different, so this advice is only general and obviously not legal in any way. I also can’t give specifics for privacy reasons. However you tackle the buying and selling process, do your research and approach the situation with an open mind and heart. Much of it is out of your control, so trust your instincts, ask questions, and let fate guide you. Happy home hunting! ?
We’d been inching our way into this process for years, driving around neighbourhoods and looking on websites. We knew going in to 2019 that, despite the turmoil of Brexit, this was the year we would try to buy a house. Although I was a first time buyer, Lucy owned the flat so we were not classified as first time buyers and couldn’t benefit from government schemes/mortgage deals. Hence why I am a first time buyer who is also selling.
Our criteria and priorities changed along the way. We went from wanting a suburban house in a large town close to amenities to an older house in a village with more space and a larger back garden. Reducing my commute became a main priority so we focused on villages near Oxford and close to Lucy’s family. We never wanted a new build, and we were open to a renovation project so long as we could live in it in the meantime.
I had to come to terms with the fact that the UK is not Canada and the houses are smaller. The smallest on average in Europe, in fact! But, I’ve spent most of my adult life in student accommodation or a flat, and managed just fine. For sustainability reasons, a smaller house makes sense, but it needed to be a space where we could have a garden and grow as a family.
Lucy did a lot of DIY work on the flat leading up to putting it on the market. Some of the upgrades were for our comfort and energy efficiency (like new storage heaters and windows), while others were cosmetic like new tiles in the kitchen and bathroom. Over the last year, every repair was done with the intention to sell.
Step 1: Save money
This is such a tricky subject because the reality is that most millennials cannot afford to save enough to buy a property on their own, so I know I’m in a position of privilege. Regardless of your age, everyone’s financial circumstances and obligations are different, and it might not be so easy to just “save money”. The reality is that cost of living is high, and the process of buying a house is so much more expensive than just a 10% deposit. I guess what I’m trying to say is, be mindful and realistic of your finances so that you don’t end up in a difficult situation. I recommend speaking to a financial advisor or mortgage broker.
If you’re able to finance a purchase, be mindful that you will need a whole lot more disposable cash than you might think (I’m talking tens of thousands for fees, stamp duty, moving costs, and set up costs). Start saving early. I kept my spending to a minimum for years just to pay fees. Switching to a low waste lifestyle sure did help!
You’re also probably going to want to decorate or buy furniture when you move (hello BBQ and lawn mower!), but be realistic that you probably won’t be able to kit your house out instantly. It will likely be a slow process where you spruce up one room at a time.
Step 2: Create a criteria list
We had three categories 1) must haves 2) desirable 3) dream house. The house needed to have (or potential to have) all of the first criteria and anything else was a bonus. We also re-visited this list to evaluate whether our priorities had changed, or if we were willing to compromise on more attributes. Everyone’s criteria will be different!
Step 3: Location Location Location
Figure out where you want to live generally and what type of place you want to live in. Don’t look for a specific place. We started by narrowing down location and then type of house. E.g. we decided a bungalow wouldn’t be right for us.
Step 4: Manage your time
I work a full time office job and I simply can’t take phone calls constantly and pop into the estate agents/solicitors offices as and when. It made more sense for Lucy to be the main point of contact. If it is just yourself, be realistic about when you can take calls and attend appointments. Buying and selling can become an all-consuming process, so you need to be mentally prepared for it and try not to schedule other major life events simultaneously (though life happens!).
Stay tuned for part 2 of this series on houses, and feel free to leave questions!