Categories
Getting on the ladder Uncategorized

How much should I offer?

Finding a property that you fall in love with is incredibly exciting. However, the feeling is short-lived when you realise the serious business of actually making an offer looms. Working out exactly how much to offer is really tricky, particularly at the moment where factors like the stamp duty holiday and reintroduction of 95% LTV mortgages are fuelling a really frantic market. According to Nationwide, house price growth hit a 17 year high in April 2021 so the market really is very hot.

When you do come across a place that you want to make yours, this post will help you decide how much to offer and increase your chance of being successful.

I’ll caveat that I’m not qualified to advise on financial and mortgage matters, so this post is just a summary of how I’d go about the process of working out how much to offer. When it comes to making mortgage-related decisions, speak to a qualified mortgage adviser or broker.

How much can I borrow?

It’s a really good idea to address this before anything else. Otherwise, the risk is you’ll spend loads of time on Rightmove gushing over dreamy houses, maybe even do some viewings, only to later find out that you can’t get a mortgage anywhere near big enough to buy these homes. Finding out how big a mortgage you can get is incredibly quick and easy.

(In case you don’t feel overly comfortable with what a mortgage is, I did a post summarising the main stuff you should know.)

As a general rule, banks and building societies will offer a mortgage of up to around 4.5 times your gross annual pay. This will vary depending on the lender and your circumstances, but it’s a good indication. So, for example, if you’re earning £30K a year, you’ll probably be able to get a mortgage for around £135K. If you had a £15K deposit, your rough budget would be £150K. Of course, if you’re buying with somebody else who’s in work, these figures quickly multiply out.

While these estimates are helpful, the best thing you can do is get an approval in principle (sometimes called decision in principle or mortgage in principle or AIP or DIP!) This is basically an informal indication of how much a bank is willing to lend you, based on a few quick income & expenditure questions.

While this isn’t a binding agreement to give you a mortgage, it’s usually pretty close to the amount that you could borrow if you went through a full mortgage application. The main differences are that it’s super quick and easy to get an AIP and there’s no hard credit search so your credit rating won’t be impacted.

You can get an AIP by going direct onto a lender’s website or by speaking with a broker. You’ll then normally get the AIP in the form of an email which outlines how much you’ll be able to borrow based on how you’ve answered the questions. It’s a good idea to get multiple AIPs to see if there’s any variance between lenders as criteria and policies vary from bank to bank.

When budgeting, it’s reeeally important to factor in all the extra costs involved in buying a house and the fact that once you’ve moved in, you’ll probably want some cash leftover to make it your own. For this reason, it’s a good idea to set aside some cash and reflect this in the max house price you can afford.

Once you’ve worked out your final budget, you shouldn’t necessarily use this as the max house price figure to use when searching for properties online. That’s because, as in our case, you may be able to nab a house for less than the asking price and so opening up your search for houses that are listed for a few grand over your budget may be wise.

At this point, you should have a really good idea of what the maximum amount you’ll be able able borrow is. By adding this to your deposit, that’s your max house budget. A really important caveat here is that just because you can borrow that amount doesn’t mean you should borrow that amount. If you can fulfil your needs with a property that costs less than your max budget, this may be your best bet but it’s entirely down to personal preference.

What are the risks of paying more for a property than it’s worth?

Objectively working out how much a property is worth is tricky, but crucial. Here’s why.

Let’s imagine you’ve got an AIP and have done a few viewings which have been fine but unexciting. And then, it happens, you come across your dream home in your favourite area and it’s within budget – HALLELUJAH. You’ve fallen in love and the idea of another person setting foot in your home makes you physically sick. I know this feeling.

At this point, it’s tempting to just think that you’re happy to spend up to your max budget to make sure you get it. There are a few reasons why this is rarely a good idea.

Most obviously, the more you buy the house for the more your mortgage payments will be and/or the longer you’ll have a mortgage for. This can be easy to overlook as it’s ultimately ‘future you’ that has to deal with this, but do you really want to saddle yourself with extra debt that may mean working later in life? Is the worry about making ends meet at the end of the month worth it? Not questions I can answer, but certainly things that you should be considering.

Less obvious is the fact that if your offer gets accepted and then at a later date the survey you need to get a mortgage finds it’s not worth what you’re paying, this puts you in all sorts of bother. The mortgage lender is likely to reduce the amount they’re willing to lend to you, and so offering over the odds could screw your chances of getting your name on the deeds.

Another consideration is that if you put down a small deposit eg: 5% and property values slump after you move in, it may be that your home is worth less than the size of your mortgage. This is called ‘negative equity’ and effectively means that you won’t be able to sell your home until values come back up again. This could take years, as we saw after the 2008 financial crash. The market really would have to crash hard for this to happen again, but anything’s possible and the sharp rice in house prices over the last few months makes it more likely.

This has hopefully painted a picture of how important it is that you have a good idea of how much the property you’re considering offering on is worth before making a move.

How can I work out how much a property is worth?

‘Asking’ prices ain’t much use in helping assess how much a house is worth because they’re exactly what they suggest – the price that is being asked for. While estate agents give sellers their view of how much to list their house for, it’s ultimately down to the sellers to set the asking price. For the purpose of objectively valuing a property, you need to ignore this figure and spend some time in Rightmove and Zoopla’s ‘sold prices’ section of the websites.

Alternatively, on Rightmove there’s a ‘Market Information’ section towards the bottom of each listing which shows you various bits of insight, including how much houses nearby have recently sold for which is super helpful. The goal is to work out how much the property you’re interested in is objectively worth, based on how much similar places have recently sold for.

You’re looking for properties as similar as possible to the one you’re assessing ie: same road, number of bedrooms, condition, square footage, garden etc. If you’re in luck, there’ll be multiple very similar houses on the same street that have sold in the last 6 or so months. However, it’s likely that it won’t be as clear cut as this, so you may have to consider nearby streets, slightly different properties (eg: with another bedroom, in worse condition), and looking back a little further in time.

It can seem a little overwhelming at first, but you’ll soon find yourself thinking ‘ahh okay, this one’s got a much bigger garden and so is probably worth around £20K more’. As you’ll have gathered, this isn’t an exact science, but it really is the best way to work out how much a property is worth and therefore the max you should aim to spend on a specific property.

How much should I offer?

By this point, you should know A) how much you can afford (mortgage + deposit) and B) roughly how much the property you’re interested in is actually worth. Simply put, your offer shouldn’t be more than either what you can afford or what it’s worth.

The one caveat I’d add here is that when demand is greater than supply, as we’re seeing at the moment, ‘bidding wars’ are fairly common and can lead to houses going for well over what they’re really worth. If you’re prepared to go down this route then do be aware of the risks I mentioned earlier.

If you’ve ever watched an episode of Location, Location, Location you’ll know that it’s very rare for a first offer to be expected – there’s usually some back and forth. This is why it’s often a good idea to go in with an initial offer that’s slightly below the max that you’d be prepared to pay. Bear in mind that putting in an offer much lower than the asking price is not likely to go down well and so unless you have a solid justification for this (eg: you know there’s significant structural work required), it’s best avoided.

One good tip is to put yourself in the shoes of the seller. If you’d listed your house for £200K and some anonymous human puts forward an offer of £175K, chances are you’re going to pretty miffed at the cheek of them and annoyed that they’re wasting your time. However, if you received this same offer of £175K along with some justification of why it’s £25K lower than the asking price, you’d probably view it in a different light. This approach doesn’t guarantee you getting a steal, but it does set the scene for a negotiation in which the seller is more likely to come down from their asking price.

How do I actually make an offer?

When it comes to making an offer, you’ll go through the estate agent. The simplest and easiest thing to do is to give them a quick call with your offer and see what happens. There’s nothing wrong with this and I’m sure it’s the most common way to make an offer. However, to my mind, there’s a far better way of approaching this that will increase your chances of being successful.

I won’t go into detail on the stuff I’ve written about in a post about how to make your offer irresistible, but it’s all about selling yourself and building rapport. So when you get in touch with the estate agent, make sure to reinforce why you’re a dream buyer eg: first time buyer so no property to sell, already have mortgage AIP in place, flexible date-wise. As mentioned above, if your offer is below the asking price, make sure you justify why this is.

Follow-up the phone call with an email to reiterate the key points of your offer and situation – this serves as a helpful reminder to the estate agent when they pass your offer onto the seller. It also means you’ll come across as a serious buyer which the estate agent will notice.

The only other thing I’d mention is that if you’re able to visit the estate agent in person to make the offer, do it. It may sound a little formal and old-fashioned, but any opportunity to make a good impression should be taken and there’s no substitute to speaking with people face-to-face.

What happens next?

The period of silence after you make an offer can be quite unnerving. It could be minutes, hours or days until you hear back from the estate agent and there’s nothing you can do but wait.

We were very fortunate in that our first offer was accepted. I’m convinced that this was largely down to the tips I mentioned above, especially as we got the house for £20K less than we were prepared to pay and well below the asking price. However, there will have been some luck in there too, and to have a first offer accepted is quite rare.

I’ve never been involved in a negotiation process so I don’t think I’m best-placed to give tips on how to deal with this. What I will say, however, is that you should stick to your guns and not go over either your max budget or how much you think the property is worth.


You may get the first place you offer on, you may get the 20th place you offer on, so there really is a decent chunk of luck involved. Once you do get that incredibly exciting call to say your offer has been accepted, the process of actually buying the house begins. To give you an idea of what this looks like, here’s a post about our house buying journey.

Good luck!

If you found this post helpful, you might enjoy top 10 tips for buying your first home and deciding what your ‘dream home’ looks like.

Categories
Getting on the ladder

Make your offer irresistible

It’s pretty bloody scary coming away from a house viewing of a place that you know you want. The combination of the excitement of potentially living there + the idea of some other absolute arsehole outbidding you is enough to make anyone feel mildly nauseous.

When it comes to giving yourself the best chance of making a house yours, of course your actual offer is key but there’s so much more to it than money. We had our first offer accepted which was £20K under the asking price and £40K under the Zoopla estimate. On top of this, the seller stuck with us despite an attempted ‘gazumping’ so we must have done something right! It’s all about making yourself as appealing as possible to the people who have the power to make the house yours ie: the seller and estate agent.


#1 | If you’re chain-free, scream about it

If you’re a first time buyer, the biggie is being chain-free ie: not having to sell a property to fund your purchase. Estate agents and sellers bloody love a chain-free buyer so make it impossible for them to forget. To illustrate the power of this, we were almost ‘gazumped’ (when another buyer makes a higher offer after house being taken off the market which is accepted) but our position as first time buyers was so appealing that the seller went ahead with us and didn’t even ask us to up our offer.

#2 | Do everything in person and build rapport

Second best tip sounds daft but I’m convinced it made a big difference for us. Rather than calling/emailing the estate agent to make the offer, we went into the office in person. I guess if we were total knobs this would go against us, but we’re relatively friendly people and figured that humans are emotional beings so meeting us in person and building some sort of rapport could only be a good thing. Making our offer in person also gave us plenty of time to hammer home why we were such good buyers eg: no chain, deposit ready and waiting, approval-in-principle in place, very flexible with regards to move-in date.

This logic is the same for when you view the property, whether it’s with the estate agent or seller. You want to be as memorable as possible, for good reasons! There’s a number of ways to do this but we found that just having a good old natter and demonstrating an interest in not only the house but the person showing us round was pretty effective. Ultimately, people love talking about themselves so spending 5 mins listening to the estate agent tell you about their passion for live action role-play can only be a good thing.

#3 | Be relentlessly reliable and constantly on it

From the point of making your offer onwards you need to come across as well-prepared, serious buyers. Whether through highlighting that you have proof of your decision in principle and deposit ready, responding to contact immediately or being prepared with a counter-offer should your first offer not be accepted – this stuff is crucial. The key is to come across like you know what you’re doing – whether you actually know what you’re doing is irrelevant 🙂


If you do only one of these things, make it #2. Getting in the good books of the people that make the decisions is key.

Categories
Getting on the ladder

Our house buying journey

There’s no doubt that every house buying journey is different but I reckon ours was fairly standard in that it consumed us. 3 months after our offer accepted, we got the keys and all the stress was forgotten. Here’s when all the main stuff happened.


First viewing – 23rd May

Our first viewing was the day after the house came on Rightmove. Weirdly, we were actually a bit disappointed by the viewing because in real life the quality of the finish was very different to the impression we got from the photos. Did a cheeky debrief after though and realised that the work required would likely put a lot of people off whereas we weren’t against doing a place up. The house had a shed load of character and ticked off pretty much everything on our list.

Made offer – 25th May

After a couple of days discussing nothing but the house, we knew it was exactly what we were after. We went into the estate agents and put in a formal offer, nestled into a 10 minute monologue about why we would be great buyers (here are some tips on how to make an offer). Then it was just a matter of waiting for a call, which we were absolutely expecting to be a no as our offer was £20K under the already-reduced asking price.

Offer accepted – 28th May

When the estate agent called to say that our first offer had been accepted I initially didn’t believe her. Who accepts a first offer when it’s that much below what the seller has listed for?! Especially as the Zoopla house value estimate was £40K above our offer… ANYWAY, I tried to play it cool and rang Haz to tell her the good news. She absolutely was not able to play it cool.

Solicitor arranged – 30th May

After a lot of research and quotes, we chose the solicitor that we wanted to represent us. They were fairly expensive but heard a lot of good things about them and didn’t think a solicitor was worth scrimping on.

Potential ‘gazumping’ – 30th May

The estate agent called to say that there’s been a higher offer made, despite the house having come off the market… Naturally, I wet my pants. Turns out the call was just to check that we were committed as seller still wanted to go with us!

Mortgage application appointment – 4th June

As we’d already had a sesh with our mortgage adviser, this was to provide details of the house and put our formal mortgage application in.

Electrics check – 13th June

As we knew the electrics hadn’t been looked at since before the seller moved in (12 years), we decided it’d be wise to get a bloke to check all was in order. We found a man on Checkatrade who did an EICR (Electrical Installation Condition Report) and gave everything the thumbs up.

Boiler service – 18th June

Same logic as EICR. All good.

Homebuyer survey – 18th June

We opted for a Homebuyers survey (the middle one where they do a general check of the condition of the house) which we arranged through our mortgage lender. First major problem – they found a crack on side of house which our mortgage lender said they needed more details on before they’d lend us the money. First thing they requested was a structural survey.

Structural survey – 24th June

Arranged for a local structural surveying firm to investigate the crack. Bad news again as the report suggested that it could be a progressive problem 😦 The main recommendations were to get another bloody survey done (drainage) but more horrifyingly, that we would have to reinforce the crack before the house would be stable. This basically meant we wouldn’t be able to get a mortgage offer until the crack was fixed, potentially derailing the purchase.

Builder quotes for crack – late June

Some people would probably have dropped out at this point but we decided to press on, given we didn’t think a house we like as much would come up again for a long time. So we got 3 builders round to the house to see how much fixing the crack would cost, with a view to asking the seller to pay for it.

Drainage survey – 12th July

Probably on the less glamorous side of surveys. They basically lob a camera down the drain. Fortunately, no leaks found in drain. By this point we’d spent 6 weeks and hundreds of pounds on a house that we were nowhere near owning…

Mortgage offer – 22nd July

A while after confirming with our lender that the drainage survey came back all good and sharing the quotes for the structural work required with them, we finally got confirmation that we would be able to get a mortgage on the house – WAAHOO. On top of this, we managed to negotiate the cost of the structural work off the purchase price so after a lot of stress/cost, it all worked out.

Exchange of contracts – 27th August

After the mortgage offer, there wasn’t a lot to do other than copious amounts of paperwork, mainly from our solicitors. And then, after several delays for missing paperwork further down the chain, we FINALLY exchanged contracts (ie: the no turning back point) which was a bloody awesome feeling as we could finally believe that it was actually going to be our home.

Completion ie: keys day – 29th August

Sitting in a pub and waiting for the call to say the keys to your house are ready to be collected is a very odd feeling. 3 months and one day after our offer was accepted, we were in and eating the obligatory first night Chinese takeaway 🙂

Categories
Doing it up

Before & after | Bedroom #1

The work on our bedroom started on move in day. After carrying Haz over the threshold, I legged it upstairs to rip up the carpet and begun prodding around. From a distance it looked in decent condition, but close-up it was really tired and unloved. Pretty much everything needed stripping bare before we could make it our own.

Anyway, you’re probably not here for all these words so without further ado, here’s what we did with it.

Before

After


The middle bit

We’re bloody well-chuffed with how it turned out after what felt like a bit of a slog. We spent all free evenings and weekends on it for 4 months which I guess isn’t that bad but the first 3 months were the shitty prep jobs – the last month was great! Here’s the main bits of work that we did.

Stripping, sanding, stripping, sanding, sanding, stripping… And more sanding.

Under the grimey carpet we found original pine floorboards and a hearth where the fireplace used to be. To get the floorboards back into shape we had to use industrial sanders which wasn’t overly fun but as with pretty much all this stuff, it was worth it in the end.

Pre-sanded floor

On top of floor sanding, we stripped the paint off the skirting, windowsill and door architrave then sanded and painted these. The radiator needed stripping and repainting too.


Finishing floorboards

Before we could varnish the floor, there were some humongous gaps between floorboards that had to be filled. To do this we glued some pine slivers in place and then chiselled & sanded them down to be flush with the floorboards.

After this it was just a case of lobbing 3 coats of varnish on and voila, floor finished.


Door dipping

One job that we couldn’t DIY was stripping the paint off the doors. It was so thick and stuck on that even with Wilkos paint/varnish stripper and a go on the heat gun we couldn’t get it off.

We got all our interior and cupboard doors picked up and dipped by a local firm. This was actually really good value and we’re so pleased with our stripped, zebra-esque doors.

Fitted wardrobe

Planning and building the wardrobe was definitely my favourite job. Don’t get me wrong, it was insanely frustrating at times but felt awesome to have made it myself and saved probably over a grand in the process.


Fireplace

We weren’t bothered about having a working fireplace in the bedroom, but the old hearth was asking for a mock cast iron fireplace to be put back in. We found one on Facebook marketplace which fit the bill. After re-tiling the hearth, we knocked back the bricked up fireplace and put her in place

Painting

The last stage before filling the room with our stuff was to give the walls, ceiling and wardrobe a lick of paint.

Finishing touches

Finally came the fun part – filling the room with stuff, including ‘smart’ hanging bedside lights and a picture ledge which you can read about and make yourself if you fancy.

Next up on the list is spare room #1 – more to follow.

Categories
Getting on the ladder

Costs of buying a house

No doubt the biggest obstacle to getting on the ladder is a deposit. It feels awesome when you’ve finally got together enough dollar to get your own place. That’s why it’s such a kick in the teeth when you start looking at the additional upfront costs of buying a house, and a massive wallop in the groin when you realise you’ve underestimated this (if you do like we did…)

From my casual Googling, I estimated that we’d end up spending £2,000 – £2,500 on stuff like solicitors’ fees and stamp duty – WRONG. It’s gonna vary depending on the place your buying and how many things go wrong in the process, but from our experience, content online significantly understates the added costs of buying a house. So, to help you prepare better than we did, here are all the costs that we had to fork out for when we bought our place.


Homebuyer’s survey – £245

This is the mid-level survey which involves a surveyor having a good nosey around the property to check for things like damp, structural issues and ultimately give you an overview of the property’s condition. It cost us £245 which is actually very reasonable as we went through our mortgage provider – it’d normally closer to £400/£500 for a house like ours. If you’re getting a mortgage you’ll need to get at least a basic survey done as your mortgage lender will want proof that the property they’re lending you money to buy is in good condition and worth the amount that you’re buying it for.

Structural survey – £372

Off the back of our homebuyer’s survey, a crack was found which our mortgage lender wanted us to investigate further with a detailed structural survey. Not a cost we were excited about paying but it needed to be done before we could borrow any money. If you want to know more about this saga you can read about it here.

Drainage survey – £210 

Our lender wasn’t happy with the structural survey results which meant they wanted a drainage survey doing to check the condition of our drains. Certainly not a cost we were expecting but again, we were keen to press on as the house was exactly what we were after and at a good price. Thankfully, the drainage survey came back with no issues and so we could crack on (excuse the hilarious pun) with getting our formal mortgage offer.

EICR (electric condition report) – £168

We learnt from the estate agent that the electrics hadn’t been looked at in over a decade so we thought it’d be wise to shell out for a condition report. If no work needed doing then great, if it did then we could ask for it to be taken off the price of the house.

Boiler service – £55

Same logic as the EICR – it came back all good.

Solicitor fees – £1,595

Solicitor/conveyancing fees will vary depending on the cost of the house and any additional work the solicitor has to do eg: £100 ‘processing fee’ for our lifetime ISAs. We ended up going for a fairly expensive solicitor as they came very well recommended so it doesn’t have to cost this much.

Mortgage fees – £35

The mortgage that we opted for had a £495 fee which we opted to add to our mortgage payment (worked out about £2 a month over 35 years!) so the only mortgage-related cost we had to pay upfront was the £35 CHAPS transfer fee.

Stamp duty – £750

When we bought, Boris and his cronies were all about giving first time buyer a leg up onto the ladder so luckily, the first £300K of the cost of our house was ‘stamp-duty free’. Our place cost £315K so we had to pay 5% stamp duty on the £15K over the threshold = £750. If this incentive wasn’t in place we’d have had to fork out £5,750 in stamp duty alone!


Total cost excluding deposit

Without factoring in our deposit, the total upfront cost of buying our place (a pretty modest 3-bed semi) was an eye-watering £3,430. It could certainly be cheaper than this, but equally if more things go wrong then it could well be more.

Total costs including deposit

As we both had lifetime ISAs, we got a 25% bonus on our deposit funds which meant that our savings of £25,200 + bonus equated to a total deposit of £31,500. This was a 10% deposit against the £315K purchase price. We feel very lucky to have bought during a period that the government has getting first time buyers on the ladder high on their priority list as it ended up saving us a shed load.

So the total upfront cost including the money that we contributed to the deposit came to £28,630. There’s a breakdown of all the costs at the bottom of this post to help you prepare financially, mentally, and emotionally.


So there you have it, a very large number of pounds. I wish I’d read something like this before launching into our property buying journey as the unexpected costs would have hit me less hard. The non-deposit upfront costs equated to 12% of our total cost including deposit so it really is worth taking into account!

ItemCost
Homebuyers survey£245
Structural survey£372
Drainage survey£210
EICR (electric report)£168
Boiler service£55
Solicitor fees£1,595
Stamp duty£750
CHAPS fee£35
House deposit (excluding LISA bonus)£25,200
Total upfront cost£28,630
Categories
Getting on the ladder

Top 10 tips for buying your first home

Buying a house is no walk in the park. From being on it with your finances to choosing a mortgage to whipping your solicitor into shape – there are so many decisions to make and things that can go wrong. The tips below should help make your house-buying experience a whole lot smoother and give you the best chance of getting the house you want.


#1 | Get your $$$ in order

Saving for a deposit is obviously a massive blocker for most people but Boris and co. currently love first time buyers so absolutely take advantage of it. For example, lifetime ISAs (LISAs) allow you to save up to £4,000 a year and have 25% added providing you use the money for a house deposit. We got over £6,000 of free money towards our deposit from saving in LISAs so if you haven’t got one yet, crack on!

When you start thinking about actually buying, it’s time to stop your standing order to William Hill and limit your borrowing. To get a mortgage, lenders will look at your recent bank statements and take into account outgoings when working out how much you can afford so it’s worth being stingy for at least a few months before applying.

#2 | Set your expectations early on

Once you’ve started thinking about buying your first place, you’ll find there’s not many things more enjoyable than having a big old Rightmove sesh. The temptation is to spend weeks gushing over glorious houses, only to find out at a later date that what you can’t afford more than a grotty bedsit in the stabby part of town. To avoid this disappointment, it’s well worth visiting a mortgage broker or bank/building society relatively early so they can advise you on what the maximum mortgage you can get is. This way, you can spend your Rightmove hours productively browsing properties that you’re in a realistic position to buy and avoid wasting time.

#3 | Be decisive

Buying a house can be summarised as an endless string of decisions that happen to almost all be important and expensive. If you dilly-dally when making up your mind during this process, chances are that you’ll never get a house, or certainly not the house that you want.

If you’re not naturally good at making up your mind, this can be helped by working out what you want before you start searching for it. For example, something that we found really helpful was to do shed load of location reccies and house viewings before we were even in a position to buy. It just meant that when we found ourselves in a position to buy, we knew what we wanted. Here are some helpful tips on how to choose where to live & deciding what your ‘dream’ home is.

#4 | Build rapport with everyone you deal with

One thing that shocked us about buying our place was how many people are involved in the house buying process – the seller, estate agents, solicitors, mortgage lenders, surveyors, tradesmen etc. It’s key to keep these people on side as they all have more important things to worry about. I’m not condoning bribery or flirting – just being a pleasant person to deal with who’s bothered about other people is enough. We found this to be a massive help and probably wouldn’t have had our offer accepted if we hadn’t been friendly humans.

#5 | Package your offer well

It’s easy to assume that your offer is all about the number but I don’t reckon that’s the case. When considering an offer, the seller isn’t thinking only about the money, but also things like how flexible the buyer is and the chances of things falling through. It’s therefore crucial to ‘package’ your offer in a way that gives it the best chance of being accepted. For us, this meant going to make the offer in person and stressing that we were chain free, totally flexible on move date, had our deposit ready to go, and had a decision in principle. The more reasons you can give to choose you, the more likely you’ll get the house you want at a great price so here’s how to make your offer irresistible.

#6 | Understand the house buying process

To avoid any nasty shocks and come across as if you know what you’re on about, it’s well worth reading up on what buying a house entails. It’s not particularly exciting, but spending an hour or two familiarising yourself with things like how to arrange a mortgage and what solicitors do will pay off. I’ve written about our house buying journey which should be a good starting place but I’d recommend reading more widely.

#7 | Expect unexpected costs

When people talk about the difficulty of getting on the ladder they focus on saving up a deposit. Sure, this is the biggest cost, but we were flabbergasted by the extra costs we had when buying our place. On top of our deposit, we spent £3,430 before we even stepped through the door! Don’t get caught out like us by making sure you know about all the costs that could crop up whilst buying your first home. Imagine moving in and not being able to afford the ceremonial first night takeaway, nightmare.

#8 | Be reliable/punctual/organised

Other than chasing people up, you can do little to control how other people behave whilst you’re buying your home, but you can certainly set the standard and hope this influences others. Making a point of things like swiftly replying to calls/emails and returning paperwork promptly sounds basic but it’ll get you in estate agents’ & solicitors’ good books and makes them more likely to want to help you. Plus, if you don’t get on top of this stuff it’ll get on top of you as there’s a shed load of admin involved in house buying.

#9 | Get multiple quotes

It can be tempting when choosing a solicitor or surveyor to go with the first one that comes up in your searches but this is a bit daft. It’s always worth getting at least 3 quotes so you can A) have a strong idea of what price you should be paying and B) choose people based on how they come across rather than just online reviews. I don’t mean to sound like a knob, but if somebody replies to an email enquiry in text talk and puts xoxox at the end it’s an instant no for me. Nothing beats a personal recommendation so ask friends, family and colleagues where possible. The same logic goes for plumbers, electricians and any other tradesmen you may need to use.

#10 | Meet the seller #controversial

Meeting the seller may not be possible and admittedly may not be wise in certain cases. However, based on our experience, we found this to be really beneficial. Rather than relying on solicitors and estate agents for updates, we kept in touch with the seller throughout the process and were totally transparent with each other which made the whole thing far easier. There can be a fair amount of tension and frustration between different parties involved in buying and selling houses so to have a direct line to the seller was brilliant. We still have the occasional natter on WhatsApp!


Of course, there’s a load more to buying a house well than just these 10 tips, but if you can do this this stuff right I guarantee you’ll be on course to nail life.

Categories
Doing it up

Varnishing & finishing floorboards

If you’re reading this you may well have successfully sanded a floor. If so, congratulations. It’s one of the proudest achievements of my life and features fairly high on my CV. Compared with sanding, finishing the floor is a doddle. There’s various ways you can treat the wood but we opted to varnish our pine floorboards as it offers the best combination of finish and durability.


Prep

If you have gaps between your floorboards, get a flat-head screwdriver or stripping knife and scrape out all the gunk. This was a gross but undeniably rewarding job. A bit like squeezing a spot.

Decades of grim stuff

Once the room to be varnished is totally clear of dust and you’re ready to varnish, grab a bottle of white spirit and a clean rag and give the floor a good wipe down. This will remove any remaining dust and grime, ready for varnishing. The white spirit should have dried after a couple of hours, at which point you’re ready to varnish.

Varnishing

There’s not much to varnishing, just slap it on with a varnish brush as if you were painting a wall. Our varnish advised 3 layers and we left 24hrs between recoating which was plenty. Remember to varnish the floorboards by the door last or you’ll varnish yourself in.

After a fresh coat

Pine floorboards have a tendency to turn orange when varnished and we wanted to avoid this so opted for Ronseal clear matt floorboard varnish which gave a lovely, natural finish and seems to have protected fairly well so far.

Upstairs finished product
Downstairs before and after

Covering floor to skirting gap

Depending on the size of this gap and your preference, you could choose to leave this gap. However, our gaps were uneven and up to 11mm wide so we popped down to B&Q to buy some primed scotia moulding.

Before fixing in place, Haz painted the moulding with the same paint we used for skirting boards. The next step was to cut the lengths to size and press down into place with some grab adhesive applied to the bottom and back of the moulding. It’s worth getting somebody to help out with applying pressure to long lengths of moulding to make sure they’re evenly glued down.

When you arrive at a corner, fret not. It’s easy to make a smart join by cutting the moulding at 45 degrees with a mitre box and hacksaw. A mitre box basically holds the wood in place as you make the diagonal cut and costs as little as a fiver.

Once the adhesive has dried, you may find there are small gaps between the wall and moulding. Haz, AKA the caulk queen, applied a thin bead of caulk to conceal the gap. It took 10 mins and left a really neat finish so it’s worth doing.


And that’s it – time to sit back and admire your glorious floor. If there’s one key tip I’d give it’d be to varnish the floor as soon as possible after sanding as they’ll damage very easily with no protection, particularly if they’re a soft wood.

Equipment

  • Clean rag
  • Varnish brush
  • Flat-head screwdriver/stripping knife
  • Kneepads
  • Hacksaw
  • Small paintbrush
  • Applicator gun
  • Mitre box

Materials

  • White spirit
  • Clear, matt varnish
  • Paint for moulding
  • Moulding – we chose scotia-style
  • Grab adhesive
Categories
Getting on the ladder

Choosing where to live

Once you’ve bought a house there’s endless things you can change about it, but location ain’t one of them. Some people are lucky enough to know exactly where they want to be which is great. For Haz and I, this wasn’t a luxury that we had as all we knew was that we wanted to be in/near York. After that, it was pretty much a process of elimination which actually worked really well.


#1 | Decide how far you’re willing to commute

If you commute to the same place most days, the first thing to do is decide how far is too far. For me, I was willing to commute up to an hour for the right job whereas Haz was fed up of her long London commute so wanted a sub 30min drive. There’s loads of commute calculators online that will help rule out places that are too far from work like Zoopla’s.

#2 | Decide what you want to be close to/far from

Now you’ve got a rough perimeter based on your commute, it’s a good idea to jot down stuff that you want to have easy access to. Being the geriatric 20-somethings that we are, the key stuff to us wasn’t so much bars and clubs but village life. On our list was a pub, corner shop, and good schools nearby for our future offspring. Of course, a generally nice vibe was on the list too, ideally with plenty of semi-detached houses for us to choose from. Once we’d marked off all the areas that didn’t meet these criteria, there was about 8-10 villages within 5 miles of York on the list.

#3 | Reccy time

Once you’ve got down to a relatively sensible number of options it’s time to get out and about. Comparing multiple places on the same day is massively helpful. We spent 3 or 4 hours driving around to get a feel for different areas. For some, it was immediately obvious that the chance of getting shanked was too high a risk. For others, there were pleasant streets but nothing to write home about. And then, there were 2 or 3 gems that we could absolutely see ourselves living in.

#4 | What’s affordable

Now you have a shortlist of favourite areas, hop onto Rightmove/Zoopla to check whether you can afford your dream house in these areas. In our case, the top 3 villages turned out to be amongst the most expensive in York – woo! We lobbed the main criteria for what we wanted in a home into Rightmove (3 bed semi, garden, off-street parking) and it looked as though we could just about afford this in the areas that we wanted but it’d be tight. If this hadn’t been the case we’d have looked a little further down the list to see what we could afford.


Once you’ve got to this stage, you’ll have a shortlist of 3 or 4 areas that A) you’d be happy to live in and B) you’d be able to afford your ideal home in. Whilst it’s worth doing some decent online research on things like crime rates, it’s easy to go overboard and end up being put off everywhere. Just because janet_1977 posted something negative about one of your favourite areas on mumsnet.com doesn’t mean you should discount it.

Next steps are to make pals with a few local estate agents and get viewings booked in!

Categories
DIY projects

DIY fitted wardrobe

I was very mediocre at DT at school so the idea of designing and building a fitted wardrobe for our bedroom was borne purely out of being a tight Yorkshireman. However, during the process I found that I bloody love working with wood and it’s definitely the most rewarding thing I’ve done in the house. Paying for custom-built wardrobes would cost upwards of £2K, so you’ll be saving a heap of cash even if you have to buy all the equipment.

There are quite a lot of steps so for those who just want to dip their toe in, here’s a relatively brief summary. For the hard-core, follow the links for full details.

#1 | Planning

Who knew that designing a wardrobe could be enjoyable? Being able to fully customise the design is such a massive plus of DIYing it. For us, we wanted to fulfil our storage needs whilst matching the finish to the style of our 1930s interior doors. I spent ages sketching out different designs (unexpectedly fun) and once this was done, planned out the materials we’d need (also unexpectedly fun). I’d strongly recommend doing some market research at furniture shops so you can take measurements and get some inspo.

#2 | Framework

This is when shit got real. It’s all well-and-good sketching out the ideal wardrobe, but actually putting it together is a totally different kettle of fish. The trickiest part of fixing the framework in place was getting the shape ‘square’ because the height of the space varied by 2cm from one end to the other and the walls weren’t level either. Otherwise, this is a pretty easy stage and it’s really cool to see the space transforming.

#3 | Shelving

If you get the wood for your shelves accurately cut where you buy it from (B&Q do this for free), this can be seriously quick. It’s just a case of screwing in some shelf supports, plopping your shelves on top and voila!

#4 | Doors

It was all pretty plain sailing until this point… I decided to make some panel doors out of MDF and used concealed hinges for a neat finish. The end result was worth the effort, but getting the doors to fit tightly and look good whilst getting the hinges right took a looooong time. It’s possible to make this step a lot easier by buying the doors but that’s not proper DIY, is it? Also, taking the DIY route means you have 100% control over the finished look.

#5 | Hinges

Yeah, that’s right, a whole post about hinges. Settle down for an exhilarating read. Seriously though, doors aren’t much good without hinges so choosing the right ones and fitting them correctly is key. We went for concealed hinges and would strongly recommend them as they’re, well, concealed, so leave the doors looking really smart. There’s a few other reasons to choose concealed hinges that you can read about in the post.

#6 | Finishing touches

The final bits to finish included gluing the moulding around the framework to hide gaps, fixing some knobs on and a lick of paint. And just like that, many hours and £300 later, we had a fully-functioning and pretty handsome fitted wardrobe.


It was a really rewarding project which saved us a heap of cash and meant we could have exactly what we wanted. You don’t have to be a woodwork pro – the last thing I made was a shoe rack a couple of years ago and Haz doesn’t let me bring it into the house! If you fancy giving it a go, here are the links again. I’d love to see your DIY wardrobes so send pics to jack_pnn@outlook.com.

#1 | Planning

#2 | Framework

#3 | Shelving

#4 | Doors

#5 | Hinges

#6 | Finishing touches

If you fancy reading about some other furniture projects, here’s a post about our DIY scaffold board dining table and another about how I made our decking with integrated storage seats.

Categories
Getting on the ladder

Deciding what your ‘dream home’ looks like

I’d love an indoor pool, tennis courts and dedicated mancave but it’s not going to happen. So by dream home, I mean a place that fulfils all genuine needs and as many wants as possible. It took us bloody ages to decide what we were after but from this convoluted and misguided process, we learnt that the right way to do it would be as follows.


#1 | What might the future hold?

Pretty big question to start off with but it’s so important to confront it as it will define what you need from your home. If you’re single and just want to get on the ladder, it might be that you just want a place to crash every night that’s within a 20 min walk of work with a living room big enough for a ring of fire sesh. If you’re looking to settle down and start a family, then today’s needs are very different from those of 5-years-older you so you may want to factor in number of bedrooms, outdoor space and even being near good schools. It’s obvious stuff but easily overlooked so don’t forget to think about future you. We agreed that our first place needed to be at least 5-year-proof, which meant having min. 3 bedrooms and some outdoor space were musts.

#2 | View loads of places, even before you’re in a position to buy

Some people think it’s cheeky, estate agents definitely hate it, but viewing houses to work out what’s important to you before you’re actually in a position to buy a house is MASSIVELY helpful. There’s no substitute for getting out there and seeing places. It may sound daft but we started viewing houses about 18 months before we could buy! Other than it being quite a fun hobby, it allowed us to be specific about what we needed, wanted, didn’t want, and definitely wanted to avoid. For example, the first place we viewed had very little natural light and no off-street parking, both of which we realised were really important to us. Then the next house had a big ol’ open plan living/kitchen area which we loved, so that became a big want.

Over the next few months, we viewed a dozen or so properties and ended up with 4 different lists which described 1) must haves, 2) likes, 3) dislikes, and 4) must not haves. It’s a very simple thing to do but it saved us a massive amount of time when it came to the real search and made being indecisive pretty much impossible. Put as few things possible on the ‘must have’ and ‘must not have’ lists as the more sensible compromises you can make, the quicker you’ll find the place you’re after. Don’t be putting stuff on your must haves like ‘medieval moat surrounding property’ and things on your must not have such as ‘neighbours within 12 mile radius’.

Our ‘must haves’ and ‘likes’
Our ‘must not haves’ and ‘dislikes’

#3 | Spend hours on Rightmove & Zoopla

Rather than defaulting to Candy Crush or mindless Insta scrolling, make Rightmove searches your go-to boredom quencher. Scanning through photos and floorplans gives you a good feel for what’s important to have/not have. By doing this we realised that for some unjustified reason we have a deep-seated hatred of conservatories which meant that this went onto the ‘would like to not have’ list. Online browsing is no replacement for seeing places in person, but it’s far better than doing bugger all.


None of it’s rocket science, but asking yourself questions & doing these things will really help you focus on exactly what you’re after. It worked well for us as 2 weeks after Haz and I moved up to York, a house came up on Rightmove in our number 1 area that, on paper, seemed like our dream home (other than the price…) We viewed it the next day, and exactly 3 months later we moved in 🙂 No doubt there was some luck involved, but knowing what we were looking was massively helpful so I can’t recommend using the 4 list thing enough.

If you want to know what happened in the 3 months between having our offer accepted and crossing the threshold, you can have a nosey here.

For help with deciding where to live, I’ve done some tips here.