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Extension post #7 – weeks 6 & 7

Not entirely sure where to start on this one as about 6,911 things have happened since my last post. There are only a couple more weeks of the builder/electrician/plumber being around so the focus is now moving to us for stuff like fitting the kitchen, decorating, getting the flooring laid etc. so it’s time to roll our sleeves up.


Crack, crack, crack city

Week 6 started with a worrying discovery. After living away from home for a few days whilst the back wall was knocked through and steels were added, we found that some pretty confident looking cracks had appeared in the two upstairs walls that sat on the 2 walls that had been knocked through.

We’d read about it being common for small cracks to appear as the walls settle between being supported by acrows and sitting on the steel joists. But our cracks aren’t exactly hairline and at their worst are 3mm wide. Needless to say, we were pretty worried about this so had a natter with the builder. He seemed very casual about them and said that they’d just need to be skimmed over.

We were still worried so I shared images of the cracks on a forum to get a second opinion and the consensus was that the cracks are larger than should be expected and that they’d need to be properly assessed. This could have brought the build to a standstill and ended up costing a lot of money. However, fortunately, Jim from building control came round early this week and after having a look said that it’s not a major concern, phew. For a belt and braces approach, he’s recommended that metals straps are inserted into the cracks and fixed in place with resin before being plastered over. It was such a relief to hear this!

Progress

With crack-gate out of the way, I can focus on all the awesome things that have happened in the last 2 weeks. First up, the floor of the extension has now been built up to the level of the existing floor so there’s no longer a massive drop when we walk into the extension.

First fix plumbing and electrics are sorted ahead of plastering. We spent a good half hour with the electrician, working out where to put spot lights, sockets and the kitchen pendants. We may have gone a bit overboard with sockets but it’s far better to have too many than too few, as we found when we moved into this place which only had one double socket per room.

The most exciting day was probably bi-fold day. Being the old man that I am, I’ve wanted to live somewhere with bi-fold doors out into the garden for quite a while so it was pretty great when they went in.

On the side of the house, the old back door has been blocked up and a new door fitted to the right of it, where the kitchen window was, which will lead into out mini utility.

To fill in the door left by taking the back door out, the builders used bricks they saved from knocking out the back wall. The blocked in door blends in really well so we’re chuffed with the job they’ve done on that. It’s a shame to lose the wee arched porch but to get a decent sized kitchen in it’s something we had to do.

ALSO, the stud wall that separates the utility from the kitchen has been put up, and the door opening has been prepared for a door that we picked up on FB marketplace for £20 which ties in perfectly with our other interior doors.

Soon after the guys had started in the stud wall, I took them a brew and it’s a good job I did. I suggested that we check the positioning of it and after measuring the space, there was too little space left for the kitchen units so they had to start again. Far better that way than having to rip it out once it was plastered or having to lose a kitchen unit!

The last couple of days of this week have totally transformed the space. On Thursday, all the plasterboard went up and on Friday, the walls were plastered. Quite an impressive operation with 5 blokes here on both days just cracking on with it.

If ever there was a time for an image slider, it’s now. The before photo was taken on Wednesday and the after on Friday! Mental.

Extension life

It seems only right to mention the joys of life with only one downstairs room in action. Food-wise, we’ve been making the most of the slow cooker and microwave which has required some innovative thinking. We’ve been using paper plates wherever possible, but inevitably there’s still a fair amount of stuff to wash up so our bathroom is now washing up HQ.

On top of the house being a mess, despite Haz’ best efforts to put dust sheets up theres still brick dust and general dirt covering every surface. Outside, our front garden is an absolute state and the back garden is worse. Stopping Basil from trapsing dirt throughout the house and picking up things in his mouth that he shouldn’t is currently our main past time activity.

Some good, however, has come from all of this. Our downstairs doors haven’t closed properly since we moved in so to help prevent Basil running wild I planed the doors last weekend so they’d close properly. The hallway to dining room door also needed a new door knob so I made what I think is quite a fetching industrial-chic door knob out of wood but Haz isn’t a fan. We’ll see who gets the last word.


So all-in-all, a bloody decent couple of weeks. The extension is unrecognisable vs just a few days together end the end is in sight. Next week, our kitchen is due to arrive so I’ve got some time off work to get it fitted which I’m really looking forward to. Once the plaster is dry we can also start painting so we really are moving towards having an actual functioning space – this is how excited we are.

Maybe a bit more deranged-looking than excited, but you get the idea.

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Extension post #5 – weeks 3 & 4

Four weeks in and we now have what looks very much like an extension. The walls are up, roof is finished, and now all that’s left to do before they knock a great big hole in our house is to fit the window and bi-folds.


Veluxes

During the first fortnight of the build, there were a few issues that cropped up. The last couple of weeks, however, have been spot on. There have been pretty much zero issues and the guys have got far better at keeping us posted and asking us questions.

A couple of days before the veluxes went in, Gavin (main man) asked us to have a think about where to put them. We’d planned to just have 2, but after thinking about the position of the island and 3 pendants above it, we realised that 2 wouldn’t work unless we wanted a light dangling from the Velux… Haz pointed out that 3 veluxes would work better so we asked Gavin if that was possible and how much extra it would be. He gave it the thumbs up and said it would be an extra £365 so we went for it. In hindsight, I have no idea why we originally had only 2 veluxes in the design as we want maximum natural light and 3 just looks better than 2. It’s a good job Gavin spoke to us rather than just following the plan or we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to add another Velux.

Padstones

Okay so there was one issue in the last couple of weeks. We grabbed Gavin one day for a natter before ordering our kitchen. It’s a good job we did as whilst looking through the structural engineer’s calculations, he noticed that the padstone required to support the steels above the opening at the back of our house is a lot bigger than expected… Initially he said the pillar supporting the steel would come into the room by 66cm on either side. SIXTY SIX CENTIMETRES!!!! Haz and I both passed out but when we came to, he corrected himself that the pillar would be 66cm wide and protrude out of the wall by 12cm. That’s far more reasonable than coming into the room by 66cm, but the original assumption was a 30cm wide pillar coming 15cm into the room. So slightly less deep, but 36cm wider than expected. Pretty disappointing than we weren’t told earlier about this and a bloody good job we checked before ordering our kitchen.

After getting this news we needed to make changes to our kitchen units as the pillar would eat into them more than expected. We switched the fridge freezer position with the pantry unit and took out the fancy pull-out drawers. In the end this wasn’t really a compromise and removing the fancy drawers saved us £360 so could have been a lot worse and paid for the extra velux, but having clarity on the pillar size earlier would have been far better.

Next Steps

We’ve got a week or so without the lads on site until the window & bi-folds have arrived. After that we’re likely to move out for a couple of weeks as apparently the knock through and stages afterwards are well messy. We had a proper catch-up with Gavin on Thursday and they’re ahead of schedule which is great but it also means we need to crack on with ordering appliances which tbh I’m quite excited about. How life has changed.


After a dodgy first couple of weeks, we have renewed faith in our builders. Of course, there’s a lot that could still go wrong but at least the trust is back!

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DIY driveway gate

Within about 12 minutes of bringing Basil home (our cocker spaniel pup), it became clear that a wooden plank across the drive wasn’t going to stop him running onto the road. I spent the next couple of nights watching every DIY wood gate build on YouTube and took the best bits of each one to build ours. She still needs a lick of paint (we’re thinking dark grey) but here’s how I put it together.


Planning

I bloody love cracking out a pad to plan things like this. The gap between the side of our house and hedge after accounting for gate posts is around 2.3 metres. I decided to go for one smaller gate for everyday use (90cm) and another larger one in case we needed to get anything chunky through (1.4metres). As for the height, we wanted a bit of privacy without it looking like a prison so 1.75 metres seemed sensible as it would only allow tall men to see over.

After deciding on gate dimensions I worked out what post sizes I’d need, the framework design, what cladding to finish the gate in and the hardware (including hinges) that would suit the gate best. So there was actually a fair amount of planning involved given the gate itself was a relatively quick build.

Gate posts

Good old Google told me that I would need a 75mm x 75mm post for the smaller gate and that 125mm x 125mm would be a safe bet for the big boy. The smaller one would be fixed to the house so I just went for a 1.8metre post but the hedge side would need to be concreted into the ground. I bought a 2.4metre long post so that around 60cm could be concreted into the ground to make sure it was sturdy.

Before securing the posts I had to make sure that they would be positioned so the gate would be perpendicular to the wall. I went old school to work this out and used the 3, 4, 5 method. I cut 3 lengths of scrap wood to 1.5m, 2m and 2.5m (the 3, 4 and 5) and then laid the 1.5m length against the house. The point at which the other two lengths meet gives a perfectly perpendicular line to the wall. Good old GCSE maths.

To secure the wee post to the house I leveled it up and fixed it in place using four 12cm frame fixings. Turns out that our exterior wall is miles off straight up (mildly concerning) so I had to pack out the bottom. At some point I’ll get round to hiding the gap.

The larger post was in a bit of a state so I gave it a good sand and used a chamfer bit on my router to give it a clean edge.

Digging for the big post would have taken hours if it wasn’t for the post auger I borrowed from my Dad. It looks far too silly to be any good but actually it tore up the ground with ease.

Once the hole was ready I plonked in the gate post which I’d soaked the bottom of in creocote to make it last longer. I sat the post on a layer of gravel to aid drainage.

Two or three bags of postmix would have done the job but I had leftover ballast and cement from the garage concrete pad build. So out came my trusty £100 cement mixer and after a couple of mixes the concrete was in.

Whilst the concrete was still wet I attached a couple of stakes and levelled the post up.

I tapered off the concrete at the top to make sure water runs away from the post.

The posts were level across the top and so it was onto making the actual gate.

Framework

I went for a belt and braces approach to the framework to reduce the chance of sagging. It’s made from 45mm x 95mm pressure treated wood and is glued & screwed using a half lap technique so it’s ultra strong and as square as possible.

To create the half lap joints, I used a mitre saw set to cut to the depth of exactly 22.5mm so that when two half laps are combined, they sit flush with the rest of the frame. First, I made several ‘kerf’ cuts spaced 5-10mm apart.

Then I hammered out the remaining wood which left a rough finish.

The final step was to run the wood through the mitre saw again to give a smooth finish.

To allow the mitre saw to cut these half laps to a consistent depth, a piece of sacrificial wood needs to be used as per the below image.

After really carefully measuring, marking and cutting all the half lap joints, the framework slotted together perfectly which was a joyous moment.

If you’ve measured up properly then the added benefit of half lap joints is that the frame should be perfectly square. The last thing you want is a gate frame that’s not square so this needs to be checked and adjusted if required.

After checking for square, I glued and screwed the frame together through the half lap joints. As the front of the gate will be hidden with cladding, I screwed through the front.

After glueing & screwing the outer frame and middle support I moved onto the diagonal braces. Rather than fannying around with measuring these, I placed a length of timber below the frame and marked on where to cut.

Then it was simply a case of cutting, tapping the diagonals into place, lining them up and screwing in place. Ideally I’d have used pocket holes but I ain’t got a pocket hole jig (yet) so just screwed in from an angle.

After doing this process for both gates, I propped up both gate frames in place to check that I’d allowed enough space for them (ideally 1cm to either side and the middle) and all good. Framework done, onto cladding.

Cladding

I should point out that I got a little excited after making the framework and went straight ahead with adding the hinges and other hardware before cladding. This worked out fine but if I did it again I would have clad the gate first, mainly because the added weight of the feather edge can make the gates hang differently. I’ve written the below based on the better method of cladding the gate before adding hardware, but some images will show hardware without cladding.

There are few cladding options including tongue & groove which is very popular. I went for feather edge as I love the look and it’s cheap compared to other cladding options. Plus I’ve clad our garage in feather edge and plan to make a bin store out of leftover feather edge.

I used 125mm wide boards and overlapped them by 25mm so each board covered 100mm. I cut the feather edge lengths to size and did a dry lay on the frame. This is a really important step as otherwise you may end up accidentally getting a repeated pattern of knots on the gate which would look naff.

The drawback of feather edge is that it’s typically made from fairly crap quality timber. Nothing that a quick sand won’t sort, though.

Before fixing the cladding in place, it’s worth doing 2 things to make alignment of the feather edge as accurate and consistent as possible. The first is to screw a piece of scrap wood against the top of the gate to butt the feather edge up to. This ensures perfect vertical alignment.

To get the horizontal alignment spot on you’ll need a spacer so that the overlap is consistently 25mm. I made a spacer by putting 3 screws into a scrap piece of the 95mm x 45mm framework. The screws protruded by 5mm, giving the 100mm that each board would be on show for. The beauty of making a spacer with screws like this is that when I got about 2/3 of the way to end of the gate cladding, I could measure the remaining space and adjust the screws slightly to make sure the feather edge boards ended exactly where I wanted them to.

Onto fixing the boards in place. I opted for 40mm galvanised ring shank nails as screws just don’t look right in feather board. It’s really important to give the nails a tap with a hammer to blunt the end before hammering on you’ll probably split the feather edge boards.

The position of the nails is key as you want them to only go through one board and effectively clamp down the previous board. Some people suggest that each nail should go through 2 boards but most advice online suggests that this can split the wood when it contracts/expands with the weather. I positioned the nails 30mm in from the thick edge, allowing a 5mm space between the thin edge of the board below. These photos makes what I’m on about much more clear.

Before cladding to the end of the large gate I fixed in place a length of wood for the small gate to close against and to hide the gap between the middle of the gates. I gave it a quick chamfer with my router to make it look pretty.

I then added the final boards and voila, cladding done.

Hardware

There are a fair few options when it comes to hardware but the hinges are what you really need to get right. Nobody likes a saggy gate. I opted for hook and pin hinges that span about 1/3 of the gate. Fixing the hook part in place was just a case of marking out the position on the top and bottom parts of the frame and screwing them.

The next step is to get your gates positioned between the posts so you can align and fix your pins to the gate posts. You’ll definitely need a helper for this step as getting the gates level is takes a lot of adjustment. Something that made this adjusting way easier was to use wedges to support the gate. The height that the gate is lifted off the ground can easily be adjusted by moving the wedges closer together or further apart until the alignment and levels is spot on.

With the gates propped in place, I fixes the pin part of the hinges onto the gate posts and hung the gates. This was an exciting moment. The last step was to fix in place the coach bolts that go all the way through the gates frame and cladding. I used a spade bit to create this opening and was careful to drill through both sides to prevent causing a mess.

With the hinges on, I decided to fit the opening/closing mechanism next. I went for a Suffolk thumb latch cos I think they look great and are easier to use than the ring latches that are on most gates. First, I fixed a block in place to mount the inside element of the latch.

Then I stitch drilled an opening for the lever that lifts the bar over the catch (struggling for correct terminology here) and did a little routing to make sure the thumb side of the latch could mount flush to the frame.

Finally, I screwed the thumb latch in place. When it came to cladding this section I used a jigsaw to cut out around the thumb latch and routed the cut edge with a chamfered bit.

The final bits of hardware I added were a monkey tail bolt to anchor the larger gate to the ground and a Brenton bolt so that we can padlock the gates shut. These were simply screwed onto the gate with the opening for the monkey tail bolt fixed into the concrete ground.

Finishing touches

To prevent rain from getting into the cut ends of the feather edge and rotting the wood, I fixed a top cap in place.

The final touch was to screw in some post caps to, again, protect the end grain. I cut these using my mitre saw and finished off the edges with my trusty chamfered router bit.


We’re really chuffed with how the gate turned out. Main thing is that Basilly lad can’t now (easily) escape! Altogether it cost £220 which is a hell of a lot cheaper than getting it made and fitted, and a lot more rewarding. If you fancy giving something similar a go I’ve put the equipment and materials at the bottom of the post.

If you fancy checking out some of the other DIY we’ve got up to, here’s how we built my workshop, how we made our scaffold board dining table, and how we laid our porcelain patio.

Equipment

  • Mitre saw
  • Router
  • Spirit level
  • Post auger
  • Cement mixer
  • Tape measure
  • Combination square
  • Hammer
  • Combi drill
  • Impact driver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Pencil
  • Clamps
  • Power sander

Materials

  • Gate posts
  • Scrap wood for stakes
  • Frame fixings
  • Galvanised ring shank nails
  • Decking screws
  • Feather edge cladding
  • 95mm x 45mm C16 timber for framework
  • 2 sets of hook and pin hinges
  • Suffolk thumb latch
  • Brenton gate bolt
  • Ballast
  • Cement
  • Gravel
  • Exterior wood glue
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Extension post #4 – week 2

Week two has been a 7/10. Like a phoenix from the ashes, the build is now well and truly out of the ground and we’re motoring along. No sign of any excrement this week which is always a plus and I was chuffed to see the guys enjoying our new decking seats. Although positives aside, there has been a need for some mild confrontation after some attempted wool pulling.


‘Brick Gate’

By the end of Tuesday, the brickwork had been laid up to the damp proof course and the concreting subfloor was curing away. In preparation for the walls going up, Mark showed us a sample of the exterior bricks that they planned on using. We had a good think and compared vs both our existing house and the neighbours’ extension.

It was an OK match but not great. There were a lot of darker bricks in the existing house which the ‘weathered red’ we were shown would not include. So we politely asked if the bricks could be a closer match to our neighbours extension (almost impossible to get them to match our 1930s house) which Mark said would be fine. The neighbours’ extension is made of civic bricks so when the bricks arrived on Wednesday morning we were expecting civics…

Low and behold, over 1,000 weathered red were plonked on our drive first thing Wednesday. The huge ‘WEATHERED RED’ lettering down the side of them was the key giveaway that these were, in fact, weathered red bricks rather than the civics we had agreed on. Initially I guessed it was an error on the supplier’s part but when I went for a chat with Mark he spun an impressively articulate story about how civic bricks are the same as weathered red. Not according to the chat we had 2 days earlier.

Anyway, we were miffed and said we weren’t happy with the extension being built with the bricks that had been delivered. After a small amount of huffing and puffing, Mark agreed that a selection of slightly darker civic bricks would be picked up to dot throughout the build. It’s worked out well in the end as the brickwork looks great but some more transparency would be great, ya know.

Window positioning

Realistically, we’re expecting bigger dramas than the brick one. Another small drama was around window positioning. Without going into too much detail, the windpost that supports the wall between our bifolds and the kitchen window was put up without us being asked about where we’d like the window. This has meant that we aren’t going to be able to have the window quite where we want it which is annoying as it won’t line up with the kitchen sink as sexily as we had planned. It’s a matter of centimetres so not worth asking them to take the wall down to adjust it, but frustrating nonetheless.

What with both brick gate and the windpost issue both happening due to a lack of communication, I managed to grab Gavin, the main man, for a chat on Friday. I mentioned both the brick issue and window positioning and he took more of a story-spinning approach than apologetic. Once the stories had been spun, I made it clear that we need to talk more often to make sure we’re on the same wavelength. He seemed to take that well as he spent the next 10mins taking me through the decisions we had coming up so fingers crossed we’ll have a better dialogue from now.

When somebody that you get along well with is at your house 5 days a week it’s easy to forget that we’re a customer and that this is the most expensive thing we’ll ever buy. Loads of decisions coming up soon so we need to be careful to keep a sensible balance (although I do think I’ll keep on making bacon sarnies for them on Monday mornings, I’ve never seen happiness like it).


Another post with a lot of moaning, but that’s just cos it’s easier to write about things that go badly than those that go well. We’re chuffed with the progress and well excited that the roof should be well underway by the end of next week.

I’ll end on a question. There’s a gap down the side of the extension, about 35cm, that absolutely needs to be used for something. I was thinking scrap wood storage or maybe a small hammock? If you have any bright ideas do let me know as I can’t not use this space for something.

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Extension post # 2 – choosing an architect & builder

Tomorrow is day one of the build but we’ve actually done a fair amount of planning and prep to this point. Two of the main jobs have been deciding which architect to use and choosing a builder.


To architect or not to architect?

The very first step in sorting out our extension was to work out whether forking out for an architect was worth it. There’s nothing fancy about what we want to do so agreeing the plans with the builder was an option which would have saved us a few hundred quid. However, after several days of fannying around, we agreed that using an architect would mean we’d have A) a really well thought out design and B) a proper set of plans for builders to quote & build to. Too early to say whether it was worth it but it’s certainly given us peace of mind so far.

Alrighty, so once we’d decided to go down the architect route, we got a couple round for quotes. One of them we found online and came with good reviews, whilst the other was recommended by a colleague. We really should have got 3 quotes at least but the second chap who came round came across very well and from our research we found it was unlikely that we’d pay less. So that was it, architect chosen at a cost of £750.

We’re well chuffed we went for that bloke as he was really patient with us and drew up multiple versions of the plans. If you need an architect are near the York area let me know and I’ll pass on his details.

Choosing a builder

Once the plans were finalised we started contacting builders. Searching online is a tad overwhelming as there’s so much choice so we got in touch with a couple that we found through Google and 3 more that friends/fam/colleagues recommended. Five may seem a little OTT but the quotes varied by £17K so it was well worth it!

For each builder, we sent them the plans so they could have a look before they came round for a natter. You wouldn’t believe how different each of the builders were. A couple were very professional, another two were pleasant but didn’t come across well, whereas the last one cancelled twice and when he did finally come was really rude and actually a bit aggressive! So we went with the last bloke. Lol na we didn’t, he got a no straight away but that didn’t stop him pursuing us…

Anyway, we narrowed it down to 3. They each sent over a quote including a summary of all the work required. There was some back and forth to make sure that everything was included in each quote. The final quotes varied between £34K and £51K, bloody ridiculous. Although a colleague if mine recently had quotes for some building work that varied by £49K so what’s £17K between pals?

We based the final decision of who to use on the price, how we got along with them and the reviews/recommendations they came with. Initially we were focusing on how long until they could start but then realised that was daft – a long wait is probably a good sign. The frontrunner wasn’t the cheapest but we really wanted to use him so got in touch and proposed a slightly lower price. After a couple of days’ thought he came back saying that was fine and just like that, we had a builder.

We also had to find a structural engineer to calculate the steel required stop the house falling over. Not very exciting so in summary:

  • got a couple of quotes online and one from an engineer the builder recommended
  • quotes were pretty much all the same £700-£800
  • went with the bloke our builder recommended cos that was easy

Lockdown delayed things a little so it wasn’t until June that we were able to sign contracts with the builder and agree the payment schedule. But now it’s all in writing and tomorrow morning there’ll be a group of blokes (or perhaps ladies #2020) tearing up our garden. No idea what next week’s post will look like – perhaps a few photos of concrete-filled hols and a pie chart summarising our builders’ favourite biscuits, who knows.

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Extension post #1 – the plans

The next 3 months are going to be incredibly noisy, dirty and expensive. BUT, it will (hopefully) all be worth it. I’m not really sure what to expect so thought I’d keep a track of the different stages on here for your enjoyment but also for us to look back on in the future and laugh about how naive we were.

Before making an offer on our house we agreed that if we got it we’d add an extension. Like a lot of 1930s semis, it’s perfect for a rear extension and the fact that almost all our neighbours have extended makes it a no brainer.

It’s 10 months since we moved in and the build starts a week today so we’re well excited but equally pooping our pants. We’re happy with the plans, our builder seems sound, and the neighbours are on board so all is well, right…?


As you can probs imagine, we were planning the extension before we even moved in. It’s not so much that the house needed it, more that an extension seemed like it would make a huge improvement. Here’s the floor plan pre-extension.

It’s a very standard 1930s semi layout, nothing exciting going on except maybe the funky diagonal doors off the hall. Here’s what we plan on having done.

The extension will be single storey with a pitched roof and go back 3 metres across the width of the house (around 6 metres).

We spent a while working out how we could include a utility space and decided that by moving the side door along slightly (on images below), we could squeeze one in without impacting the kitchen space too much. It’ll be perfect for cleaning up a muddy Basil.

One of the doors is being replaced by a small window. This is currently and outside store which will be an understairs loo. No cat swinging will be going on in here but it’ll be great not to have to leg it upstairs every time we need a waz.

The kitchen will be L-shaped, running along the same wall as today with the sink facing out to the garden. There’ll be a cheeky island to fulfil Haz’ lifelong dream but tbh we’re most excited about having a dishwasher.

The other side of the extension will be a chill out area with a sofa and coffee table. It’ll hopefully be really bright and have a lovely view through the bifold doors (my lifelong dream). The dining area will be set back in front of the fireplace.

The only other change is that at some point we’re going to add some internal doors between the living room and dining area. This is so we’ve got at least a bit of separation downstairs.


So that’s it. All very exciting and we can’t wait to see the progress. I don’t think any building project has ever gone fully to plan so we’re just keeping our fingers crossed that any issues aren’t too horrendous. Next week I’ll add a post on how we went about choosing our architect and builder.

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Our life relocation: London to York

Most of the posts I’ve written on here about buying a first home assume that you’re already settled in the area that you’re looking to buy in. Of course, that’s not always the case and certainly wasn’t for us. Before getting on the ladder up in York we had to relocate from London which meant a load of change, including new jobs.

It was a fair amount of hassle, but has proven so worth it. It’s allowed us to buy a lovely house in a great neighbourhood with a sensibly-sized mortgage. If we’d stayed in London, it would have been a studio flat in the stabby part of town with a humongous mortgage.

I reckon a lot of people find themselves in our position in their 20s/30s so hopefully our story will help some of you guys with your life moves.


London life

After uni, Haz and I both moved to North London for work. They were no doubt some of the best years of our lives. However, it got to the point that we were spending more time playing Scrabble than going out and making the most of what London has to offer and spent most weekends driving far away to see family and friends. On top of this the rent was a killer, annual flat move a ball ache, and we never really saw ourselves settling there. Cue some adult conversations about what to do with our lives.

Absolute tourists

Where to relocate

Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh – there are loads of areas of the UK where we’d love to live. But York was where the pin landed. I’m from York so have family there and know how lovely it is. Haz is from Ipswich which is a good 4 hour drive away but she’s always been a big fan of York and somehow I persuaded her to make the transition from southerner to northerner.

York is a pretty expensive place to live so it may seem like an odd choice, given that being able to afford a better home was top of our list of wants. Yep, it is certainly expensive for the north, but is nothing compared to London. Trust me, I spent about 2 years constantly on Rightmove.

Work

Neither of us had jobs that could be transferred up north so finding new work was definitely the biggest challenge we had in our life relocation. We couldn’t move without jobs so this was our top priority.

Haz has worked in universities for several years which she really enjoys so it made sense for her to apply for jobs at unis in and around York. I was a bit more awkward as I worked at the head office of a car manufacturer and none of these are based anywhere near York. So I spent several months pondering what to do with myself.

I was going to have to change industry but didn’t want to go back down to the first rung of the career ladder. I half-heartedly applied to a couple of jobs and became frustrated with how few jobs were coming up in and around York that A) appealed and B) I thought I had a chance of getting.

Then, one day, a job alert came up on LinkedIn for a product manager job at a building society. This job really appealed as I was already working as a product manager and am a complete nerd who’s really interested in the housing market. When I got the call to offer me the job I tried to play it cool but as soon as I put the phone down I went mental.

Haz is apparently the most employable person on earth as she’s got pretty much every job she’s ever interviewed for. A few weeks after I was offered my job she got an interview for a role at a university and sure enough, got the job so we cracked open the bubbly. We were really lucky to have got jobs with start dates just 2 weeks apart. Time to start planing the move.

The move

We were living in an unfurnished flat which meant that we had a hell of a lot of gear to take north. After shedding some of our stuff on Gumtree, we hired the biggest van we could and prepared ourselves for one of the least enjoyable days of our lives. We’d considered paying for a removal firm to do the job but assumed it would cost hundreds of pounds given that we were moving 4 hours away. The van hire only cost £50 for 24 hours so we must have saved a shed load by doing it ourselves.

The move took 16 hours and was absolutely knackering. A personal highlight was getting the sofa down the fire escape from our 2nd floor flat… But it all worked out in the end. A few goodbyes with friends and colleagues and that was it, see ya London.

Buying our first place

Having moved up and started our jobs, the final piece of the puzzle was to get on the ladder. Being able to stay with my family whilst we house-hunted was a massive help. If you have the option to do this then I’d definitely recommend it as it gave us flexibility for the move-in date of our place and meant that we could save really hard for a few months before moving in. Having some cash left in the bank when you move into your first home is a huge help

I won’t go into much detail here as I’ve written about our house buying journey already so have a browse if you’re interested in the ups and downs of the 3 months we spent buying our place.


We’ve been up in York for a year now and we bloody love it. The process of getting new jobs, moving up and buying our house was pretty intense but we’re so glad to have done it. We’ve settled into jobs that we enjoy, got ourselves a lovely little house and welcomed a furry fella to the family. It won’t be right for everyone, but if you’re thinking of relocating to settle down then I can’t recommend it enough.

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Most satisfying DIY jobs

Before we moved into our house we definitely viewed the refurb project ahead of us through rose-tinted glasses. A lick of paint here, maybe knock down the odd wall, frolicking in the garden after a strenuous half hour of weed killing. How wrong we were. To do it properly takes time and unfortunately, it’s typically the crap jobs that take the longest. There are, however, the odd jobs that are genuinely very rewarding and things that you may actually choose to do with your spare time, maybe.


Caulking

Generally speaking, we have got into a flow of splitting DIY jobs between ourselves based on what we’re best at/what’s least enjoyable. Caulking is an exception to this as it’s even more satisfying than spot squeezing so we squabble over who gets to do it. Just a couple of squeezes of caulk gun trigger and that tiny crack that’s been niggling you for weeks has gone forever. A cheeky sweep of the finger (this is starting to sound a bit dodge) and you’re left with a gloriously smooth finish over what was previously a horrid eyesore. Honestly, if you’ve never caulked before you haven’t lived.

Pre-caulk
Post-caulk
End product

Hole filling

Clearly it’s difficult to avoid innuendo in this post so I’m just going to embrace it. There wasn’t a smooth surface in our entire house when we moved in. Walls, skirting, architrave and even ceilings had dents/holes ranging from millimetres to a good few centimetres wide so we’ve become experts in knowing how to deal with this problem.

More dents than wall

There’s nowt more pleasing than scraping some wood filler over a dent in the stairs or prodding some Polyfilla into holey wall. Wait for it to dry, a quick hand sand, lick of paint and you would never know it had existed. Such a pleasing job.

Heat gunning

Despite having burnt my hand quite badly with a heat gun, I still think it’s a great job. Seeing loads of layers of old paint peel away in one long strip is glorious. At first I was pretty shit at it, but after an hour or two I was approaching Olympic standard heat gunning, taking off approx. 2 miles of paint with every scrape.

Tiling

Okay so tiling isn’t always great. It can be ridiculously frustrating but when you nail it, you nail it.

The best bit is pushing the grout into the gaps. It’s insanely messy (especially with white tiles and black grout) but seeing the finished result once you’ve sponged off all the excess grout is summat else.

Woodwork projects

It took me 28 years to find out that I love working with wood. It started with our fitted wardrobes and now I find excuses to make stuff wherever possible including shelving, decking, gates etc. The feeling of creating something from scratch is so rewarding.

The great thing about wood is that it’s pretty forgiving if you cock-up and relatively cheap as long as you’re not buying some wildly exotic hardwood. If I could turn the clock back I wish I’d trained as a carpenter.

Decking seats in progress

Concreting

A day of concreting is pretty knackering but the satisfaction of laying a level and square pad for our garage move was glorious.

It ended up being cheaper to buy a cement mixer rather than hire one so plenty more concrete projects on the cards until I get forced to sell the bugger.

Chiselling

I’ve not done a great deal of chiselling but my little experience of it has left me wanting more. Our bedroom floorboards looked great but had some sizeable gaps between them which we decided to fill with pine slivers. After gluing and tapping them down into place, out came the chisel to gradually strip away at the sliver until flush with the floorboard. This may not sound particularly enjoyable but there’s something about removing those curly, translucent strips of pine that is irrationally pleasing.


Reading this back makes it very clear that I need to get out more. I guess that recognising these satisfying jobs within all the crappy, unrewarding jobs is what keeps us motivated

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Mortgages 101

You may not be surprised to hear that the word mortgage comes from the old French for ‘death pledge’. It’s hardly everyone’s favourite dinner table topic, but it’s worth knowing the fundamentals as, barring a yacht, it’s by far the biggest cost you’re ever likely to have. Here’s an attempt at describing the key things to consider when it comes to getting a mortgage without putting you to sleep (no guarantees).

I should add a cheeky disclaimer to say that I’m not qualified to advise on mortgages and am simply aiming to help answer some common questions about mortgages. When it comes to making mortgage-related decisions, speak to a qualified mortgage adviser or broker.


What is a mortgage…?

In case you have no idea what a mortgage is, it’s essentially a humongous loan which banks and building societies* will give you towards buying a property. Very few people are in a position to buy their first place in cash given that the average house price in UK is over £200,000, so a mortgage makes up the balance after you’ve paid a deposit.

Because mortgages are such large loans, they’re typically paid back over many years but a fairly standard mortgage term for a first time buyer would be between 25 and 35 years. In addition to repaying the money you’ve borrowed, there’ll be an interest rate charged on top. The lower the interest rate, the lower your monthly repayments.

There’s a lot of mortgage jargon but one term you definitely need to be aware of is ‘loan-to-value’ or ‘LTV’. All this means is the percentage of the property that you’re borrowing money for. So, if you were buying a £100,000 home with a 5% deposit of £5,000, your LTV would be 95% and your mortgage would be £95,000.

*From a mortgage point-of-view, it really doesn’t make a difference whether you borrow from a bank or building society. The key difference is that banks have external shareholders whereas building societies do not – whether this affects your decision is up to you.

How can I prepare for getting a mortgage?

Banks won’t just lob mortgages out willy nilly. Lenders have a responsibility to minimise the chance of you struggling to repay your mortgage (and of them not getting their money back) and so your ‘financial wellbeing’ will undergo a pretty thorough examination. As such, the best thing you can do to prepare for a mortgage application is minimise other borrowing (it’s sensible to maintain a small amount of credit to prove you can reliably repay it) and to make sure that you repay any loans on time and in full. This is important not only for your credit score (which needs to be as high as possible to boost you chances of getting a mortgage), but also because both your income and outgoings are taken into account when calculating how much you can borrow.

Your bank statements from the last 3 months are likely to be looked at so cut out standing orders to bookies and politely ask your friends to refrain from using hilarious references to pay you back for takeaways.

What’s the difference between going directly through a bank/building society vs a mortgage broker?

Your circumstances will determine which is best for you. As a general rule, if your personal finances are relatively standard (eg: employed, reliable income) and you feel comfortable comparing different lenders’ mortgage products online, going direct to a bank/building society is an option to consider. Bear in mind that if you go down this route you’ll be speaking to mortgage advisers** within specific banks/building societies who obviously won’t be comparing their products vs other lenders’ so the responsibility of checking this would be on yours.

If your finances are a bit more complex (eg: self-employed, poor credit history) or you’re buying a property with a non-standard construction then a mortgage broker may be your best bet as they’ll be able to search the whole market for a product to suit your specific needs. That’s not to say brokers should only be considered if you’re circumstances are a bit niche – brokers are ideal if you don’t feel comfortable comparing mortgage products between lenders as they’ll do this for you.

In terms of the rates you can get, you may think that brokers will always win as they have a wide view of the market. However, that’s not always the case once you’ve factored in the broker’s fee which you may have to pay. If the broker doesn’t charge you a fee, they’ll be getting commission from the mortgage lender which can mean the rate isn’t as attractive as if you went direct to a bank or building society. So the short answer is that neither route is guaranteed to get you the best deal. If you want to be really thorough, make an appointment with a broker AND a couple of mortgage advisers.

It’s sensible to arrange a meeting with a mortgage adviser from your chosen bank/building society or your mortgage broker before you’ve found a house that you want to make an offer on. This will allow you to learn more about how much you could borrow and which mortgage products might be best-suited to you. At this stage you will be able to get an approval in principle (AIP) which is an informal agreement of how much you can borrow. A meeting early on like this would also mean that when you do find the house of your dreams, it’s a much quicker process to get the mortgage application sorted as most of the paperwork is already done.

If this all sounds complicated and very adult-like, remember that you won’t be the first first time buyer that mortgage advisers/brokers have dealt with and it’s their job to advise you properly.

**’Mortgage adviser’ is usually used to refer to a person who works for a bank/building society who can discuss their own mortgage products with you whereas a ‘mortgage broker’ has a broad view of the market and has visibility over various lenders’ products. Both will aim to recommend the most appropriate mortgage product given your needs and will help you through the process.

How big a deposit should I put down?

As a minimum you’ll usually need to put a 5% deposit down (the current economic climate means this is likely to be more). How much you put down beyond this should be dictated by how much cash you have spare and whether you have any plans for it or not.

If the absolute max deposit you can afford is 5% then that’s fine. However, interest rates at 95 LTV (ie: with a deposit of just 5%) are a lot higher than for lower LTVs. If you’re able to put a 10% deposit down or more it may be a good idea as the interest rate you’ll pay will be much lower. As you move down the LTV bands the rate will drop down further but the most dramatic drop is from 95 LTV to 90 LTV.

When deciding what deposit to put down, don’t forget that there are several other costs of buying a house to consider and that once you’ve moved in you’ll probably want some cash in the bank otherwise you’ll be sitting on the floor until you can afford a sofa.

What mortgage term should I take?

As house prices and the age at which people buy their first home have increased, the maximum mortgage term has gone up to accommodate this. Most lenders will now offer mortgage terms of 40 years which is great from an affordability point-of-view (lower monthly payments than if you went with a shorter term meaning you can get a larger mortgage), but not ideal when 74 year old you is still working 9-5 to pay off the mortgage.

Longer mortgage terms are, overall, a good thing because they provide flexibility. Just because you’ve taken out a longer term mortgage doesn’t mean you’re committed to a mortgage for this whole period – a lot can happen in 40 years! You’ll hopefully be in a position at some point to overpay the mortgage to reduce the term.

If you’re disciplined with your money, taking out a 30+ year mortgage could be a good idea as you’ll have a lower committed monthly payment but will have the option to overpay to reduce your term if you’re in a position to do so. If you take out a 25 year mortgage and you’re stretching yourself to meet the payments there’s no flexibility as you’ve committed to paying this amount monthly as a minimum. As with all these decisions, it’s a matter of personal preference which your mortgage adviser or broker will be able to guide you through.

What does the mortgage process look like?

Whilst the process of getting a mortgage can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months (years in extreme cases), the average time from applying to getting the money and moving in is between 2 and 3 months. This may sound like quite a while and that’s because A) there a lot of steps involved and B) there a lot of humans involved and many humans = many delays. Here are the key steps that take place between applying for a mortgage and moving into your crib and if you want to know about our experience, have a gander here.

#1 | Mortgage application

Once you’ve had an offer accepted, the size of your mortgage is known so you can make a formal mortgage application either through your lender or your broker. This involves providing a load of paperwork and details of the property you’re buying so that your application can be thoroughly assessed.

#2 | Mortgage offer

You’ll receive a mortgage offer once your lender is happy that A) you’ll be able to afford your mortgage repayments and B) the property you’re buying is worth the amount you’re paying for it. To check the latter, your lender will likely require a surveyor to value the place you’re buying which is something that may be included for free with your mortgage, or may be an additional cost. Getting your mortgage offer is a big moment as theoretically it means that there’s nothing from your side that’s stopping you from making the property yours. However, there are often multiple buyers/sellers involved in a ‘property chain’ and so unfortunately you’re likely to be heavily reliant on other property sales.

#3 | Exchange

After you receive your mortgage offer there’ll typically be a period of several weeks’ paperwork and toing/froing between solicitors. Towards the end of this period, your solicitor will confirm an ‘exchange’ date with you which is ultimately the date from which you’re legally-bound to buy the property. There’ll be BIG financial penalties if you or the seller pull out at this stage. You can confidently pop open a bottle of bubbly on exchange day because you’ve effectively bought your first house 🙂

#4 | Completion

Completion day is keys day! This is a very surreal day as it involves waiting around for a call from the estate agent to say that you can pick up the keys to your new home. It’s the day that the humongous loan you’ve taken is actually released by your mortgage lender but you don’t need to worry about this – your solicitor will make sure it gets to the owner. For us, there were only 2 days between our exchange and completion dates but this period is typically longer to help people get organised eg: booking a removal firm.

Waiting for the call

What features of a mortgage are there?

There are various features to mortgages that are designed to cater to your needs and circumstances – these different features combine to create individual mortgage products. Your mortgage adviser or broker will be great at explaining these details but if you want to go in clued up, here are the key features that distinguish mortgage products.

Interest rate – this defines what your monthly mortgage payment will be. The higher the % interest rate, the higher your monthly payment.

Product fee/completion fee – some mortgages have a fee included (typically between £200 and £1,500) which you can choose to either pay up front or roll into you mortgage. We opted to roll our £495 fee into the mortgage as we could do without this cost at the time but this will end up costing more in the long run as interest will be charged on top.

Incentives – there are loads of ways that lenders try to attract your business with stuff like cashback or a free valuation.

Product type ie: fix vs tracker – the majority of people choose mortgage products which fix their mortgage payments for a period of time, but this hasn’t always been the case.

The less popular ‘tracker’ products have variable interest rates which move with the base rate that is set by the Bank of England or the lender’s standard variable rate (SVR) which is decided by mortgage lenders and typically moves up and down alongside the Bank of England base rate.

If you want to comfort of a constant payment for a certain period of time, a fixed product is likely to be right for you. If you’re happy to take the risk of interest rates rising with the hope that they’ll decrease, a variable product may be worth considering.

Product term – not to be confused with your mortgage term, product term is the period over which you’re committing to a certain mortgage product. Most people opt for a period of 2 or 5 years but longer mortgage terms are increasingly popular. After this, you can decide to take out another product with the same lender or remortgage elsewhere if you find a better deal.

Mortgage term – simply the total period of your mortgage. You can take anything up to a 40 year term.

Early repayment charges (ERCs) – if for some reason you need to back out of your mortgage before the end of the product term that you’ve committed to, you’ll likely have to pay early repayment charges as a penalty unless there are exceptional circumstances. ERCs are charged as a percentage of your outstanding loan and typically decrease for each year of the mortgage product term that you’ve committed to. For example, if you owe £100,000 on your mortgage and have to pay the 3% ERC charge for coming out of your mortgage early, you’ll be penalised £3,000.

Loan-to-value (LTV) – as mentioned above, this is the percentage of the property you’ll be borrowing. The higher your LTV, the higher the interest rate you’ll pay because you’ll be deemed a greater risk to the lender.

Overpayment allowance – most mortgage products will allow you to make overpayments on your mortgage to allow you to either reduce the mortgage term or decrease your future repayments. This allowance is typically 10% per year, meaning that on top of your monthly payments you could contribute up to 10% of the outstanding mortgage balance.

Offset mortgages – offset mortgages are useful for people who have a decent chunk of savings that they don’t want to be tied up in their home. These savings can be put into an offset savings account which reduces the interest to be paid on the mortgage.

For example, if you were in the very fortunate position of having £50K sat in the bank that you didn’t want to put into your deposit, this could be put into an offset savings account linked to your mortgage which would effectively reduce the mortgage balance that you pay interest on by £50K. The downsides are that you typically wouldn’t earn interest in the savings account and the interest rate of the offset mortgage product is likely to be higher than a standard non-offset account.


If you’ve arrived here then fair play – there are many more exciting things that you could have been doing with your time! Hopefully this has helped answer a lot of questions about mortgages and has demonstrated that they’re really not that complicated. There’s no need to worry if it doesn’t all make sense as that’s what mortgage advisers and brokers are for.

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Lockdown: preparing to buy your first home

At the time of writing (26th April 2020), coronavirus has effectively shut down the housing market. If you were hoping to buy a home this spring/summer, it looks likely that you’ll have to wait a while longer than you’d hoped. BUT, there’s plenty you can do to make sure you’re in a strong position which is particularly important as there’ll inevitably be a huge amount of pent up demand when we come out the other side. Plus, government initiatives designed to get people into their first home may well be reviewed in the coming months, so being prepared to act quickly could save you a few grand.


Get an approval in principle/decision in principle

Whilst you may struggle to find a bank or building society willing to give you a mortgage at the moment, you can certainly find out how much you’re likely to be able to borrow. An AIP (sometimes called DIP) is an informal confirmation from a mortgage lender that indicates how big a mortgage that you’ll be able to get.

It’s really simple to get hold of – you just input a few details including income and outgoings and the max amount that you’re likely to be able to get a mortgage for is calculated. This is helpful for providing A) an understanding what you can afford and B) proof to an estate agent that you can afford what you’re offering (not useful right now, but will be once the market reopens).

AIPs can be gotten hold of either directly from banks/building societies or through a broker – a quick Google will bring up loads of options. They’re not a commitment at all and you can get multiple AIPs through different mortgage lenders if you want to compare how much you can borrow. Most will involve a soft credit check which won’t leave a mark on your credit history so there’s nothing to lose.

The validity period of an AIP will vary but it’s typically between 30 and 90 days so with a bit of luck, your AIP may still be valid when the housing market reopens. And if not, an AIP can very easily be extended.

For now, the main benefit of getting an AIP is so that you can start putting a realistic filter on your Rightmove searches rather than spending your time noseying at the mansions in your local area. Here are some tips on how to decide what you need from your first home.

Get your money in order

It’s so easy to put your head in the sand with this stuff but sorting out your finances may not only save you a wad of cash, but it could also be the difference between waiting 6 months and 3 years before you’re in a position to buy. Here are a few pointers to get you started.

  • ‘Pay yourself first’ – something that massively helped me save for a deposit was to have a standing order from my current account into my savings account on payday. If you give this a go, you’ll find that after a few months you’ve accidentally saved a big ol’ chunk of cash towards your deposit and probably have bought a lot less stuff that you don’t need. Setting yourself a monthly savings goal is really helpful too.
  • Make your savings go further – interest rates are rock bottom at the moment so you’ll likely be earning diddly squat in your bog standard current or savings account. One way to boost your savings towards buying your first place is to open a lifetime ISA (LISA). It’s won’t be for everyone so make sure you do your research but by saving in our LISAs we got a £6,300 bonus towards our deposit which obviously made a huge difference.
  • Reduce your borrowing – if you’ve borrowed money it’s a good idea to reduce this where possible, particularly if you’re paying a high rate of interest on it eg: payday loan, rent-to-own products, credit cards with big APRs. The more money you owe, the smaller mortgage that you’ll be able to get as your existing borrowing will be seen as a commitment.
  • Keep an eye on your credit score – if your credit score is crap then you’ll have a very limited choice of mortgages and will likely be required to pay a premium. Download one of the thousands of apps that allows you to check your credit score and if it comes out poor, take the measures that it suggests to ramp it back up.
  • Prepare for other costs – when the time comes to buy, your deposit will be your biggest cost. However, there are several other costs involved in buying a house that it’s important to be aware of as they can add a few grand. You can read about these costs here.

Educate yourself!

There’s no need to spend years studying what buying a house involves; however, it’s well worth at least familiarising yourself with the process. The main benefits of this are to avoid any nasty surprises and give yourself the best possible chance of securing the house you want. Here are some ideas as a starting point.

  • The stages of buying a house – from viewings all the way through to moving in day. You can read about the process of buying our house here.
  • Direct through bank/building society or mortgage broker – you can arrange a mortgage through a high street bank/building society or through a broker. Which is more appropriate for you will depend on your financial circumstances and how confident you are with searching for mortgages yourself.
  • Basic mortgage principles – a lot of people seem to think mortgages are scary but they’re really not. Realistically, you’re likely to have a mortgage for around half of your life so spending an hour or two understanding what they are and how they work is worth it!
  • Read the first time buyer advice on this blog 🙂

Keep an eye on what’s available

Just because you can’t buy right now doesn’t mean you can’t window shop. Having a big ol’ browse of what’s available on Rightmove is not only a fantastic hobby, it will also help you work out what’s available in your preferred area and what you’re able to afford. We came across our place through a Rightmove alert so whilst you won’t get many alerts at the mo, it’s worth setting-up alerts now so that when the market does come back you’ll be (one of) the first to know.

Remember that the listing prices on Rightmove are purely what the seller thinks their house is worth and not what it’s actually worth. To build a picture of what houses in your preferred area are objectively worth, the Zoopla ‘sold prices’ feature allows you to see, well, sold prices, for pretty much every house in the UK going back years. If nothing else, it’s a great way to be nosey.

If you’re still not sure where you want to live, you might want to read this post to help narrow down your favourite areas.


Nobody knows when the housing market will return to relative normality, but all of these tips are valid regardless. If you are hoping to get your first house soon then bear in mind that there’ll be a shed loads of people wanting to buy at the same time so make sure you’re on it!

When it does come to buying your first place, here are my top 10 tips for giving yourself the best chance of making your dream home yours.