Guest post from Betty and the Bumps
After my initial panic attack about our house being put on the market and having to actually sell it (you can see the video tour of our house here), I enlisted the help of Beth from Betty and the Bumps. She’s recently moved – successfully selling her old house and moving into a new one! So I asked if she’d be willing to do us a guide to how to buy a house (and sell the old one) – she is, to me, meticulous so I had a good feeling about this one. I wasn’t disappointed!
How to buy a house (and sell the old one!)
by Betty and the Bumps Blogger, Beth.
We (by which I mean me, husband Andrew, and baby Gwenn) have just moved house. Although technically we moved from a flat to a house so it’s more accurate to say we have moved home!
Hannah has just embarked on her own moving journey and she asked me if I had any tips I could share with her and all of you about how to buy a house. I don’t claim to be an expert (although my best friend once said whenever she sees Kirstie Allsopp she thinks of me – best compliment EVER!) but having recently gone through the process, I’d like to think I could offer a bit of insight into the whole business!
So here goes …
How to SELL a House
Be organised – I consider myself to be a very organised person but since having a baby and especially since going back to work, I have let the admin side of running a house seriously slide. Most of the time letters, receipts, etc. got shoved in a never-ending “in” pile that I hid behind some photo albums! However, when selling/buying a house – from organising a mortgage to solicitors’ money laundering checks – you need to be able to lay your hands on all the relevant paperwork really quickly. As an example, when we applied for our new mortgage I could not for the life of me find our most recent annual mortgage statement. Luckily, we went with the same lender as last time so I omitted the document when I sent the rest of the paperwork and hoped for the best. Obviously they had the info at their end, so it wasn’t an issue (and I subsequently found said statement folded up like an origami swan at the bottom of a box, two days before we moved). But sometimes you will really need to provide a document and having to get a copy will add loads of time and worry to the process.
Get on the grid – Despite being a 31 year old married mother with a mortgage, I can provide very little in terms of proof of identity. My marriage certificate is one of the few things with my married name on; I’m not named on any utility bills; I refuse to change my passport until the end of its natural life; the child benefit, which is solely in my name, is spelled incorrectly; I’ve gone paperless with bank statements; you get the idea! In fact, the council tax is the only proof of ID I could use when we were moving house (a Red magazine subscription isn’t on the list apparently!). Loads of people opt to go paperless and companies actively encourage you to do so when you sign up with them, resulting in mild panic when you make an appointment with your mortgage adviser and realise you have nothing to prove you are who you say you are! So, have a think about what you need, what you have and make sure that is less than 3 months old.
Do your research – Estate agents fees are horrifically expensive. I was genuinely shocked at how much we had to pay when we bought and sold. Not all agents charge the same so do compare fees before you sign up. When Andrew sold his first flat, we had to pay some money upfront which shouldn’t have to be the case. Try to find an agent that doesn’t take any money until completion and who works on a no sale no fee basis. Ask friends who have recently bought/sold, which agent they used and what they thought. I have to say our agents this time around were brilliant and very pro-active but the last time, Jesus, I felt like I’d walked into Miss Havisham’s mansion every time we called round.
Don’t take it personally – Dealing with other humans via solicitors does make the whole thing seem very impersonal. We had a few wrangles when we were selling and it was hard not to think “We’re good people, can’t we just talk about it?” But I suppose it’s like not being able to read the tone of someone’s voice in a text; what could be a simple throwaway question can come across as really serious when put down in writing by a solicitor. Also, try not to get pissed off when somebody makes a “cheeky” offer on your beloved home. We had one investor tell our agent “I wouldn’t pay more than £XXX for it” and my first reaction was “Who on Earth do you think you are?” but remember, it is a financial transaction. A prospective buyer is not purchasing your lovingly curated photo wall or mid-century coffee table thrifted at a Paris flea market. They are buying the bricks and mortar.
Don’t get rid of “you” – When I was on pre-Gwenn maternity leave I watched a lot of Phil Spencer: Secret Agent in which he tried to shift seemingly unsellable properties. He was always trying to get people to clear away signs of their family life (toys, bikes, photo frames on sills, etc etc) and saying that what you want to present is more or less blank canvas. After all, you are selling a space not the contents within. He is an expert; I’m not, so what follows in a personal opinion and I do agree that some people cannot see through mess and clutter. BUT, a few people who viewed our flat commented on how it was not just a house but a “home” and one woman said how it was so much easier to visualise herself living there because we had decorated it the way she would have herself. Nobody walked around saying, “Well, it was that wedding photo on the mantelpiece that ruined it for me”. I’m not saying you should leave it the Hoarder from Next Door – give it a dust first – but it’s not necessary to erase all signs of life from the place. Don’t get me wrong, when the agent was taking photos to go on their website, our car was practically bursting at the seams with assorted crap and my mam took Gwenn out for a walk. But did I hide my shampoo & conditioner when we had viewings? Er, no.
How to BUY a house
Everybody has to compromise – Unless you own Chelsea FC or you are a steel magnate, chances are you will have to make some compromises along the way. We don’t have a front garden or even a drive/walkway. We literally step onto the street. This is not an ideal situation when you have a young child and it means prettying up the front of the house isn’t easy. However, we live 4 minutes from two sets of grandparents; it takes me 30 minutes door to door to get to work; and there is a really good primary school just around the corner. So, we have compromised. Buying a house is a huge commitment and obviously you want to be really sure you are in love with it when you sign on the dotted line but remember, it is entirely possible that the “perfect house” does not exist.
Does this house suit your lifestyle? – The people who bought our flat are perfect for it. We were not. If I were a 26 year old young professional with loads of disposable income and free time, I would have been in Tynemouth every Friday and Saturday, eating out, going to bars, having a whale of a time as I suspect the new owners will, and I hope they love it. We couldn’t fit a table & chairs in the living room because of the play pen so ate off our knees every night and our second pushchair lived in our bedroom while the first one was permanent resident in the very narrow hallway. I think first viewings are all about gut reactions and heart over head. I fell in love with our first flat in seconds and I was blinded by the location to the obvious pitfalls of raising a child in a small place. Really think about how you will live in the space and how your day-to-day will be affected.
Can you really afford it? – “Oh, we’ll just do it up as we go along, when we have the money.” No, just no. Unless you are moving into a brand new build, it’s likely that you will want to change at least something about your new house. And even if you don’t at first, in time little things will start to annoy you. You will become one a of those people who spend their entire lives apologising for somebody else’s carpets. Your dining room will fester unloved and unlived in for years to the point you won’t even go in it and mentally fence it off until it no longer exists to you (I did this with our old bathroom!). When you are viewing, if there is something you just know that you will not be able to live with, spend a bit of time researching how long it will take and how much it will cost to put it right. Moving house with zero contingency fund is not fun.
I hope that’s helped, Hannah! Good luck.
Thanks Beth, some amazing tips. I’d been so focused on tidying our house, I hadn’t even thought about paperwork! I’m so disorganised. Thank god for Mike. I do, however, have my married name on my passport. A very small mercy…now to tackle the rest! xxx