Since my last post, a number of stressful things have happened:
- I successfully bought a house with my partner
- I project-managed 6 different tradesmen to get most of the work we'd planned done before the contract at our flat expired
- We gave a home to two cute but vicious kittens.
Each of these has taught me things which I may or may not remember next time I find myself in a similar situation.
When you first start house-hunting, people will tell you how long the process takes. This does not mean you have time to methodically achieve everything - the slow parts of the process are not the parts you have control over. Before you start looking at houses, go and shop around for mortgages and work out with the advisors what you budget should be, then start subtracting. You will be helpless to resist spending on your new home. Make sure your chosen mortgage company's advisor is friendly, contactable and prompt.
Plan some time off work to go and see houses, then go and see every reputable estate agent who advertises in your chosen area. Schedule all the houses into a relatively short period of time as the first nice house you saw may have already had an offer accepted on it by the time you finish viewings and set your heart on it. Don't ask for weekend viewings as they book up very quickly and travelling between appointments takes longer. Arrange for someone older and wiser to accompany you on a second viewing within a few days of your first to make sure you're not being overwhelmed by the occasion and are buying a lemon.
Build a shortlist and decide how much you would be willing to spend to buy each and how much you'd need to spend on each to make it a home you enjoy living in. A house in need of work may be an opportunity, but the list of works is likely to grow as the opportunities to make additional changes become too convenient to skip. Likewise a house you could happily see yourself living in without any immediate changes may start prompting you for changes once you start living in it. Don't forget furniture - your old furniture may have been good enough in rented property but will your new home seem a bit too studenty when it's full of the same cheap things you've always had?
Plan your offer and what you'll do if the vendor says no. Bear in mind some may be less willing to negotiate than others. The less ground you give, the more you'll have left for the unforeseen. If the vendor seems to be overvaluing the property, let them stew. They will either come to their senses or still be trying to sell in a year's time. Work your way down your shortlist but remember time is of the essence as others will be working down similar lists. When an offer is finally accepted the hard work begins...
Confirm the details of the property with your mortgage company and decide whether you'd prefer to arrange your own surveyor or to allow the mortgage company to make the arrangements. They will need "one of theirs" to carry our a valuation survey at least. We went for "the works", as surveys go, and arranged to meet our surveyor to discuss the contents of the report after reading it. Some problems will scare you yet have relatively cheap solutions. Other tiny cracks may be hiding a tortured structure. Your surveyor may recommend other specialists whose opinions it would be foolish not to seek. When you have a final list of works, consider whether you'd be better off swallowing your pride and the cost of another survey, and backing out. If the list doesn't scare you, find reliable tradesmen and arrange with the estate agent for them each to visit the property the assess and draw up quotes. Do this quickly as a vendor who has been left in the dark too long may become restless and favour withdrawing rather than negotiating. You may not get reductions in price equal to the cost of necessary works, so don't push your luck and put matters of taste on the table. The kitchen may be awful, but you knew it you wanted to replace it before you made your offer.
By now, the mortgage company should have asked you for details of your solicitor and should have almost everything they need to do done. Let them know about any reduction in the price as soon as it's agreed. A large company's internal operations are likely to have Service Level Agreements applied at each stage and department and you don't want to be at the mercy of a gentleman in Bangalore who hasn't had the best of mornings.
Communicate with the estate agent and your solicitors as you go about crossing off the to-do list. This will help them reassure the vendors that everything is still on track. The house will be harder for them to sell if it becomes available again after having being labelled "Sold (S.T.C)" and they may have other pressures such as chains or employment changes which are time-sensitive. Soon you will reach the point where all you need to do is turn up with the right paperwork and put pen to paper.
I've probably missed a few things and they probably weren't the same things I missed when I actually went through the process. I'll post later on how to go about project managing the work once you actually have the keys...