They say that two of the most stressful things in life are having a baby and moving house. This is hugely daunting and I'm happy to report that it's not true. I recently bought my first home and I wish I hadn't been so intimidated by it. The first port of call is, of course, budget and this is intrinsically linked with the mortgage offer.
1) Which leads me to my first tip; find a friendly, efficient mortgage broker. It will make all the difference. The first two I worked with required vexingly detailed paperwork (I hate forms), before they had even started to look for a mortgage and they took days to reply to even the simplest request. My patience soon wore out and, on the advice of a local estate agent, I switched to a smaller, nearby company and immediately the pace sped up and, at first, only the basic details of my financial situation were required, in one simple email. Having a broker that responds quickly, within a few hours of you sending an email or a text (text is the dream) could potentially save you weeks of what is already quite a laborious process. An efficient broker is worth their weight in gold and if you are both pushing the pace forward, together, then you really will be cooking on gas.
2) My next nugget is to be kind to your future self. Because my last three years of work have been solid, I was offered a larger mortgage than I was expecting and, predictably, I did a little tapdance and started looking for properties with that in mind. Thank God, I came to my senses and remembered that, as a freelancer, there is no way of knowing what my income will be like in a month, let alone a year. It was a lucky escape as the thought of being lumbered with a huge monthly mortgage makes me feel sweaty. Yes moving is expensive and it's a good idea to get as much space as possible so you won't have to do it again in a hurry but, at the same time, do not stretch yourself so much that you risk loosing your home or sanity.
3) My third piece of advice is to not take 'No' as an answer. The first three mortgage companies I approached (before I commissioned the broker) turned me down as I was freelance but thankfully some companies recognize the increasing trend in freelancing and aren't scared of you (Virgin Money being one of them).
4) To people who have already bought a home this will sound obvious but it was news to me. The list of 'hidden' costs can be long and depends on so many different factors so it really is worth sitting down and going through every detail with the estate agent or mortgage advisor, or, if like me where the more reassurance the better, both. The king of hidden costs is Stamp Duty. I had no idea what a large whack that would be. Thankfully it's easy to work out as there are tons of online calculators to do it for you but it's essential to work it out before even starting to view properties. Other exciting surprise costs come in the form of lawyers and surveyors so it's really worth shopping around. And finally, once you've secured your love nest, council tax can be a hefty whack depending on where you are so again, it's essential you take that into consideration for your monthly outgoings.
5) My last property pointer is to be bold and ask as many questions as possible. Whilst it's not in the mortgage advisor's, the estate agent's or the surveyor's direct remit they really do know the ropes and I found most are kind enough to give their time to explain the process. I was nervous about how each part connected so my wonderful mortgage advisor helped create a time-line of when to expect certain activities, such as the property survey, the completion and finally the exchange of keys (all new terms to me back then) and also when to have certain payments ready, so there were fewer nasty surprises.
So, having said it wasn't as intimidating as everyone says, I can admit that it was quite tough. But with research, realistic financial expectations and enlisting the help of experts around you (bribing with cake works), it certainly doesn't have to be up there with the stress of having a baby...!