The intricacies of buying my first flat in London

This part 2 of my guide to buying a home through the UK government’s Shared Ownership scheme and what you’ll need to know.

As you’ll know I am currently buying my first place and documenting the process. My journey as well as an overview of how Shared Ownership works starts here.

If you’re thinking of buying via Shared Ownership, the website for finding & applying for S.O. properties is www.sharetobuy.com

You can filter for your desired area, price and number of bedrooms as with any other property comparison website. You can set up alerts to find places that come up within your search criteria.

I began looking in December and was allocated a place in January, and got my mortgage approved in early February. 

Spoiler alert: I was extremely lucky to get this in place so quickly.

Either lucky or incredibly hasty. My personality type is fairly impulsive and there were definitely people in my life questioning the speed at which I made the decision. 

However I love love love where I live now (8 min walk from Hackney Central station) and have a great community near me, I go to the local church and have friends living nearby, as well as work in the borough of Hackney (Dalston). So I was keen to stay in the area I am already renting in. Had I gone further out I would have got more for my money, but with a busy work and social life and living alone I did not want to be schlepping out on trains all the time but living in a place I really love. Location location location right?

The trouble is, within Hackney, I was only able to afford places under £500k and was also limiting my search to 2 bedroom properties, knowing that I’d need to rent the spare room to make ends meet each month. I’m currently in a single room paying £570 per month on rent so the outgoings would be a huge stretch and shock to my bank balance.

I viewed one place in Homerton, applied and but was too slow and missed out.

I viewed another place in Hackney Central (more expensive overall and for a smaller share) but fell in love.

Told that I had 5 days to register my interest following the viewing else risk not getting the place, I had to think quickly. I went along for a second viewing, had many phone calls with wise friends and relatives and a meeting with a bank advisor then decided to register my interest. (If I changed my mind after this point after being allocated the property I would lose £500 deposit, so I had to be pretty sure.) The sellers told me they’d had 11 viewings in the last two weeks so I felt my chances were slim of being ‘the chosen one’.

A week after registering my interest I heard the news: I had been allocated.

I had to confirm I still wanted to go ahead (YES) and pay the deposit.

Then the wheels were in motion.


Then Came The Admin


Everyone knows that buying a home is stressful, and whilst I was not ignorant of this fact, I did sort of operate on the assumption that I could avoid a fair amount of this stress through sheer organisational force.

Not typically being one for small print (is anyone?) I tried as best as possible to review everything, was timely in my responses to emails, and supplied all the documents asked of me in a short time period.

Being honest, it helped that I could do a lot of the admin during work hours and using my company printers etc. without fear of retribution, but would not envy anyone who has to do the admin after a long day of work, or during precious weekends.

Some of the key admin areas to expect if you’re going through a home buying process are as follows:

  • Viewings! Whilst I only went to 2, generally you can expect to do a lot more
  • Registering your interest on a home (for me this was via the housing association but in private buying it would be via estate agents)
  • Price negotiations. Although this wasn’t available in S.O. I did my fair bit of market analysis on Zoopla to make sure I was getting the right price 
  • Sending over proof of identity — the last 3 years of your life? You better have traces of it. Bank statements, utilities bills, P45s, payslips, credit score confirmation… all needed in troves.
  • Choosing a solicitors — reviewing options, calling them, and figuring out WTF all of their costs mean
  • Meeting with bank(s) to find out your financial status / affordability
  • Booking valuations / surveyors 

Some handy tips / tricks I used 

i ) Cost Comparison

Using Google Sheets to track all the costs across different solicitors quotes in a way that you can compare what all the terms mean — they don’t make it easy to see what the totals come to, and some hide certain things in legal jargon. I created this below to help me decide (don’t try to replicate this exactly as it will change on every quote you receive)

ii) Labelling documents

You’ll have more sheets of paper than you know what to do with, so label them clearly for ease of finding again during your multiple appointments, and keep them all safely together in folders.

iii) Create a timeline
You’ll be told about various milestones from each party (solicitors, mortage lendor, sellers etc) and the order of completing tasks on your side can impact the speed at which they move forward e.g. you can only instruct a mortgage valuation once your offer has been approved.

Keep a tab on what you’re expected to do at what stage to keep on top of the process. Helps to put in diary reminders to check in on the various stages depending on where you think you’re at. You can put estimated dates against each part so you know when to expect to do when.


Not So Plain Sailing

Being super organised made me feel invincible.

What was everyone so caught up about, this stuff is eassssy right?

Wrong.

I assumed my organisation and proactivity would protect me from any stressors and make the whole processes seamless. How wrong I was.

To be expected, I hit some hurdles along the way. Sharing these in detail, to help you avoid the same thing happening to you:

Hurdle 1: My Poor Credit Score 

Never checked my credit score before this process, but wasn’t expecting any issues as I’ve had enough credit cards with direct monthly debits paid off, and bills in my name paid monthly to think I would be covered.

Checking Equifax however was shocked to find my score on the LOW scale.

This was because of their inability to trace me on the electoral register. After some panicked phone calls to the council and Equifax themselves (this had the potential to rock my entire mortgage application and lose me £500) I learnt the issue.

I had been registered to vote (I knew it) but my home address has a ‘House Excluding Basement’ on the electoral roll, but that is not a valid address according to Equifax. The result? I don’t exist.

Frustated by this ‘computer says no’ moment, I tried as I might to get the council to change my address (they wouldn’t) or Equifax to update my score (they wouldn’t).

This factor meant going into my mortgage meeting with a low credit score, just hoping for the best.

Whether because I brought my mortgage advisor a birthday doughnut in time for my meeting (sweet/manipulative, I know) or simply that the credit score didn’t matter so much, I don’t know. But I was still approved for my mortgage with Nationwide.

A lot of stress for nothing there.

My advice? Check ahead of time that you ‘exist’. Do you have plenty of evidence of living in addresses and paying bills for the past 3 years? If not, you may struggle to get the evidence you need of being a reliable citizen.

Hurdle 2: Solicitors Ghosting Me

I was told that after weeks of intense meetings and paperwork, that the hard work would be in the hands of my solicitors, and I should just sit back and wait.

After everything went through this is what I did.

By the end of February however, I began to find their silence suspicious so sent some inquiries. Met with little answer, I got in touch with the sellers in case they had any idea. 

They were shocked at the fact I knew nothing regarding timelines as they assumed it was all going ahead smoothly.

I then receive a text to say their solicitors have been chasing my solicitors to hear nothing back, and that they believed there was a lot of staff turnoever.

The result? Whilst not confirmed to this date, it looked like there was no one at my solicitors working on my case.

After 5 weeks of waiting, I had been waiting in vain.

It was like time had stood still.

Frustated, I now had to reconcile myself with the fact that my end of March move in date looked unlikely, and face the facts that I could be waiting another 8 weeks from this date.

After some arsey emails and phone calls to the solicitor later, I finally get a response.

At the time of writing, March 28th, I still do not know when the searches will be finalised, nor have a date for completion.

I did however recieve an email from them basically saying ‘sometimes the banks don’t honour their commitment to give you a mortgage, but can still keep your deposit”.

WTF.

Trying to see a silver lining (still looking for that) I am resigning myself to the fact that my move in date will be closer to Summer.

And we wait. 

I finish writing this piece sitting in the sun outside my favorite cafe, hoping I do not have to come back to this piece and write up a hurdle 3. Wish me luck!

Hurdle 3: Who Even Understands This Stuff?

I wasn’t sure whether this should count as a hurdle per se, but given it sucked up about 7 hours of my time over the course of a few days, maybe black hole would be a more accurate descriptor.

Following on from being ghosted, I give my solicitors a nudge regarding the searches. They tell me they’ve sent me the summary by post when I realise the missed delivery card in the hallway was meant for me, gone unnoticed for a week having assumed it belonged to a housemate.

Finding time to pick it up from the local delivery office am shocked to find how heavy this thing is.

I get home open it up and see the biggest wedge (pictured) of documents to go through and after some googling and chatting to family learn this is normal as part of a searches proceedure. There’s information on the property, local area, buildings, environment etc as well as the lengthy lease detailing everything I’m expected to do/ not do under shared ownership. It’s fairly restrictive so for anyone thinking about major home improvements, do not bother!

Here’s the documents. And me looking thrilled to be spending an evening with them.

Initially tempted to close my eyes and sign and hope for the best, my judgement overrides laziness and choose to go through it.

A good friend tells me ‘you got this’ as I complain about not understanding and having to do it alone… but painstakingly, over the course of 2 long sessions plied with multiple chocolate bars, I get through it all.

I do got this.

About 6 back and forth emails with my solicitors later to get clarification, I am done.

This feels like the biggest feat of them all.

I sign the final pages and send them off. There is no going back now.

My colleague who witnessed the signature took this as I went off my way to post the final documents and be be on my way.

To be clear, there was a lot in there I never did really understand, but at least I tried, right?

This feels like deserving of some background music to Destiny’s Child Independent Woman.

No more hurdles I hope thank you please.


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