Two things dawned on me in quick succession after I completed on my first flat (‘completion’ being jargon for the date on which the property you’ve been agonising over for months finally becomes yours).
The first was that it’s entirely feasible to spend more time deliberating over a pair of shoes than it is the place you’ll call home for the next while. The second was that my new abode, which had seemed so retro and iconic as a first-time buyer, was actually in a state of repair that was both horribly dated and going to cost me a fortune to fix. For a couple of weeks I lived miserably between my crumbling new pad and my comfortingly familiar shared house, one foot on the property ladder, the other firmly planted in Rentsville. I only left because the new tenant was hovering politely, wanting to unpack in her (my!) room (I came to love said flat, of course, although it took me a while).
“This is a classic case of buyer’s remorse,” says psychologist and CBT specialist Anna Hamer. “It’s something that is particularly powerful when the purchase item requires high levels of commitment, in terms of either finances or time (or both). It’s often brought on when our behaviours or purchasing decisions are inconsistent with our beliefs about ourselves. For example, if I think of myself as someone who is frugal or who makes considered, well thought-out decisions and I then buy a house (an expensive item which often requires relatively quick decision making to beat the competition) there will be a discrepancy between my actions and my self beliefs. This is called ‘cognitive dissonance’ and it creates great discomfort, most commonly manifesting in anxiety and despondency.”
Mark Hayward, CEO of NAEA Propertymark, the professional body for UK estate agents, sees this all the time. “Buying a first home is a huge financial commitment and most first-time buyers have been renting, or are used to low-cost, low-risk living,” he says. “It’s normal for panic to set in when they purchase their first home as it’s likely the most expensive thing they’ve ever bought. But they should rest assured that if it felt right when they made the offer, chances are they’ve done the smart thing.”
I’m scared I’ve made the wrong decision
Although there’s no crystal ball, take comfort from the fact that although it may not seem like it when you’ve paid one paltry month on your five-year fixed rate mortgage, you do always have options. “Once the sale has gone through we feel we no longer have a choice, which leads to feeling trapped or a loss of control,” says Anna. “However, you can always rent out a property, live in it for a few years and then sell, or make a project of it and renovate for either yourself or to trade up. Reducing cognitive dissonance will help reduce buyer’s remorse—remind yourself that the purchase is actually saving you money, for example, because you’re no longer paying rent.”
What if I’ve overstretched myself?
This won’t happen if you’re completely honest and open about all your outgoings, both with yourself and your financial advisor, says Holly Andrews, managing director of KIS Finance. “So often people don’t account for things like social events, food shopping or monthly subscriptions. They all add up to a substantial amount every month and they can easily be overlooked when you’re allocating funds towards a mortgage. Look at where you can save money. You may have three different TV subscription services, or a monthly gym membership that you don’t use. When it comes to buying a property, there will always be more costs involved than you think, so any savings you can make now will pay dividends in the future.”
I’m worried I won’t be able to afford maintenance costs or repairs
Lots of first-time buyers are scared about unknown or unplanned costs popping up which they haven’t budgeted for, says Mark Homer, co-founder of Progressive Property, a property education company. “The best way to get around this is to do your homework, ideally before you buy and certainly when you’re committed to the purchase,” he continues. “There’s a comprehensive list of such costs on the HomeOwners Alliance website and I would also interrogate your solicitor to get estimates of ground rent and any service charges due on the property. I would also take a trusted builder to the property to give you an idea of any initial and ongoing maintenance costs.
“People also have worries about the neighbours or what the area is like. The best thing to do here is to knock on neighbour’s doors and see for yourself! You’ll be surprised at how much many of them will offer up helpful information.
“Finally, I would meet the surveyor valuing the property for the lender in person, and ask them for their opinion on the condition of or issues with the property. Ask whether it’s ‘non-standard construction’, which can affect insurance costs. Then get insurance quotes from the likes of Moneysupermarket.com and Confused.com so you have everything you need at your fingertips.”