Sunday, 21 August 2016

Everything I learnt through buying a house | The Small Desk

Firstly, I want to say that I am very fortunate and was able to put down a deposit on a house because of inheritance money that was gifted to me. I am also very lucky to have been able to have had a good education and be in a job where I am able to afford mortgage repayments. Finally, I am again incredibly lucky to have an amazing fiancé who is also able to pay the mortgage repayments. I know that I am in a very privileged position, and for that I am very thankful.

This blog post is intended to help those who are in the process of buying, about to buy, or thinking about buying and want to know what it's like. I found that there was a lot of general information out there but there was a lot that I didn't know and that I wish someone had told me.

Let's start with the first step... establishing your budget
The difference it makes between having a 10% deposit to a 15% deposit to your monthly payments is very significant. If at all possible, it is much better to have a 15% deposit than a 10%. That said it is better to be putting your money towards a mortgage than rent whatever you can afford. I had no idea the difference it makes going from 10% to 15%. I wish someone had told me that earlier.

Finding a mortgage advisor
Many people think that all mortgage advisors will charge you. This is not true. You have to have clarity as to what the benefits are for the mortgage advisor if they are not charging you, but generally it is that the bank will pay them a bonus instead. This is more likely to happen with big mortgage providers. I used London and Country and was lucky to get a very good mortgage advisor there who helped us get a really good deal. He also guided us through the entire process, set us up with a solicitor, insurance and surveys.

Looking for a property
This sounds like the fun bit, but I can tell you it quickly gets very tiring and quite depressing. We started looking in August 2015 and didn't end up getting an offer accepted on a property until March 2016. In this time the house prices grew steadily and the market become incredibly competitive. It was also during this time that the stamp duty tax was going to change for those owning two properties. We were unsure of how much difference this was going to make to the price of property, but this is one thing you have to accept: there is no guaranteed good time to buy a property. You never know when the property market is going to fall or rise. Therefore you have to buy a house that you want to live in for a long time, and can see yourself in for many years, as there are no guarantees you will be able to afford the cost of moving or have made enough money on your property to move in a couple of years time.

We started by looking in the area we were renting in, which we quickly realised was unaffordable. We could have bought a studio flat but it is not ideal. In five years time myself and my fiancé will be 33, and we may want to start a family by then, so that would be really impractical. (Side note – starting a family terrifies me, I'm just thinking I might not be quite so terrified aged 33... maybe...)

So we broadened our search to other areas of London. We couldn't see anything that we would be happy living in for the next five to ten years. Also, a really important point that no-one tells you is: it is so common for a property in London to go over the asking price by tens of thousands of pounds. An example of how competitive the market: my friends wanted to book a viewing for a property and in one day the estate agents had already booked 100 viewings, and wouldn't take any more viewing appointments...

Eventually, by December we had decided to look outside of London and into Surrey. We both work in London and need to commute every day so we still needed to look for properties close to a train station, but by looking out of London we were able to find properties that were far more affordable and you got a lot more for your money.

The train prices are more expensive, but what you get for your money in terms of property makes it worth it. You also have to decide what is important to you. Is it the house or the proximity to work? We both decided that we actually quite like long train journeys as you can get a lot done. I've been reading more and listening to podcasts. Also, the commute is a lot less busy and less stressful. I was finding the London commute incredibly tiring and depressing.

Finally, you have to think – will I be happy here at the weekends and in my spare time? I'm really looking forward to going on long country walks at the weekend and even rowing in the river nearby.

Other things you need to think about are your neighbours. How much does it matter to you if you have thin walls or are sharing a front door with someone else?

Finally, when looking for a property – if it looks too good to be true it probably is. If someone is super keen to sell up at a very low price – ask why?

What you only find out once you start trying to get a mortgage
  • Some mortgage lenders won't lend to properties above commercial properties. Only two mortgage lenders will lend to properties made of concrete, not brick.
  • Some mortgage lenders won't offer you a mortgage unless you've been in your job for more than six months.
  • Don't gamble in your overdraft.
  • Make sure your bank balances look great three months before you apply for a mortgage because the bank will go through them with a fine tooth comb.
  • Don't have any loans. Got a loan for a bike? Pay it off. It will affect how much you can borrow.
  • Factor in your travel costs, the mortgage company will!
  • Be prepared to answer a lot of questions.
  • Some mortgage lenders will only lend if you get out building insurance.

Making your offer
If you want somewhere desperately and you know it is a 'blind bid' situation then make sure you offer over the asking price. It is surprising how much some properties will go over the asking price. We were outbid on multiple properties. Once we were outbid by £30k! That wasn't even in London!

Equally if you see that somewhere has been on the market for a month or more, don't be afraid to make a cheeky offer. We got our house for £15k under the asking price. People will try and push estate agents to put their house on the market for more than it is worth.

Even once you've made an offer it can still all fall through. You can really only celebrate once you have the keys.

There are so many surveys to be done! There is the building survey, where there are a few different options, then there is the mortgage survey where they check that they think your house is worth the price you are paying for it, and then there are the surveys carried out by the solicitor.

I advise you to read all 30 odd pages of a building survey very carefully and ask questions if you don't understand anything.

Regarding the mortgage survey – I had no idea they even did this, but when I think about it it makes total sense. There is no way a mortgage company should give you a mortgage for a house that is massively over valued. Say, for example, you are paying £250k for a house and you need a £220k mortgage, if the mortgage survey values it at £220k, then you have a problem. However, you can always contest it or find another mortgage company.

Legal stuff and searches
We were quoted around £1,100 for fees but in total it ended up being more like £1,700. You must keep an eye on what solicitors are charging you – we accidentally got charged an extra £175 for something, but we spotted it on the bill and challenged it. You have to be so careful!

Try and find a solicitor who uses an online portal. A lot of scamming can go on via email and post is very slow! The house buying process is slow enough as it is!

For most mortgages you will need to take out building insurance. Your mortgage advisor can often help with finding you insurance.

You will also probably be advised to take out income protection insurance and/or life insurance.

If you're buying with someone else make sure they are around to confirm that they are happy to exchange. You both have to answer some security questions over the phone in order to exchange. I had not realised this and had to get my partner dragged away from a company-wide meeting by telling his work it was an emergency! We ended up having a very tight turnaround from having to leave our rented flat and move in. We literally had no spare days, it was crazy tight. I thought I was stressed before but oh my... that exchange process was RIDICULOUS. Basically if you want it easy then live somewhere where you don't need to give notice, i.e. at a family member's or friend's house!

You get the keys from any time on the day up until the estate agents closes. Make sure all your money is with the solicitors before completion so that it all goes smoothly.

Whatever you do – try and hire professionals. Even if people say they're happy to help you move they will regret it. Everyone gets very tired, it will be a physically and emotionally draining experience for you and there will no doubt be arguments. Professionals take the hassle out of it and ensure that everyone has an easier life!

Post completion
After completion a few weeks later your solicitor should be in contact to tell you that everything is now sorted with the land registry and that your property is registered under your name.

Also – top tip – make sure you have as much savings as you can before you move in as even if you think nothing looks wrong you never know! We just found out we need a new boiler... that's about £2,500...

All in all I must say that our experience was relatively smooth and easy, and I don't have experience of things going drastically wrong. I must also say that I am not a trained professional, or qualified in any way when it comes to house buying so please don't treat any of what I have said here as gospel.

If you are buying soon, good luck!


Thursday, 4 August 2016

July Favourites 2016 | The Small Desk

Hooray! It's time for another favourites post! These have become somewhat of a ritual for me and as I've said before I find them pretty therapeutic. It's easy to think you've done nothing with your life but regularly looking back over what you've done in a month is a nice reminder of the fact that you haven't actually sat on your bum all the time.

This month I've managed to enforce 20 minute walks for everyone at work. It can't be underestimated how much exercise can help with one's mental health. Sitting in an office all day looking at a computer can become quite oppressive, but by making sure you go for a brisk walk can lift the heavy weight off your shoulders. I urge everyone to try and get exercise breaks mandatory at work. There is lots of information online about the dangers of sitting down all day. I shared this with my boss and thankfully he listened.

I've had a pretty busy month socialising and as much as I've enjoyed it I've also wanted to spend more time in my new house and get on with some DIY jobs. I think my goal for August will be to do more on the house and also to visit more art exhibitions. I also haven't been to the cinema in ages, I need to change that too! Anyway, here are July's favourites...

1. New table
We got a dining table for our house! Yey! I can now eat sloppy meals on a plate again!

2. RA Summer show
I went to the Summer show with my Mum and that was the best thing about it – spending one on one time with my Mum. The show itself was pretty disappointing. I wanted to buy a print but really there was nothing that stood out for me. There was a serious lack of portraiture.

3. Leaving drinks
One of my best friends from work left, and it was really sad to see her go. I've worked with her for over five years and she's been an amazing support. This is not my favourite because she left but because we had a nice time at her leaving drinks. We'll stay friends for sure!

4. Girls over
I had my school friends over to my new house for dinner. I cooked the most awful food including a cheesecake with no sugar, but hey, we laughed.

5. Tate Modern
I went to the new Tate extension with my Uni pal. We went to the top floor and saw the most amazing views of London. There wasn't really that much art in there, which was weird, so we went to Wahaca and did a bit of shopping! It was a fun day though!

6. Meeting up with ex-colleague
After Tate I met up with the girl who left last month from work. It was so so nice to see her and to catch up. She has two of the most beautiful babies you've seen and her stories about them make me cry with laughter. Again, another ex-colleague who I know I will stay friends with forever.

7. Sister over 
My sister came over one weekend and we went for a little walk in the countryside near my house and had a Chinese takeaway. It was great to hang out and chat away for hours like we always do!

8. Work summer party
I always have mixed feelings about the work summer party but I saw an ex-colleague who is very ill and I didn't know how she was doing so it was really great to catch up with her.

9. Friends over for lunch
A couple who we used to live around the corner from came over to our new house for lunch. I made a buffet lunch, which was a million times better than my poor excuse for a dinner for my school friends! We went and explored my local town and had a Pimms in a local pub.

10. Parents and sister over
One Sunday my parents and sister came over. My parents did a bit of gardening and me and my sister went and walked aimlessly around Homebase looking for plants that I wouldn't kill.

11. 100 miler
Last Sunday the fiancé completed the Prudential 100 bike ride. To say I was proud is an understatement.

12. Friend's engagement
Finally at the end of the month one of my best friends from school got engaged! They've been going out for a really long time and they are such a lovely couple, I'm so so happy for them and I cannot wait to go to the wedding.

I hope you've all had a good July. I'm sorry I'm not posting as regularly as I used to, I'm feeling a bit lost with this blog but I'm happiest doing favourites posts.


Sunday, 17 July 2016

Five powerful pieces of content I found on the Internet this week | The Small Desk

I'll keep this blog post brief as there is a lot of content to consume through these links, but I wanted to share them with you as I thought all of them were very powerful and pieces of content that made me think. The most important thing about all these pieces of content are that they are human: they put faces to masses and voices to big issues.

The first piece challenges our idea of home, and questions why home has to be a permanent structure that you aspire to own. It looks at the ways in which people are challenging this norm set by society. The second piece is a piece you may have already read as it has been discussed widely on social media this week. It looks at what society defines as a 'complete' woman and who has the right to decide these choices for another.

The third piece is a piece that I found through Facebook and hangs on an idea I've been reminding people of myself for years. Every since I finished my Anthropology degree I've hated the word race, as it really is a social construct and this woman in the video I'm sharing with you reminds us of that.

The fourth piece puts a face to the mass of refugees that get portrayed in the media, it reminds the public that these are real people just like me or you and it could happen to us. Behind the 'mass' there is always the individual.

The final piece is just devastating, and is the story of one of the worst incidents of trolling I've ever seen. Please, if you have the time, read all of these pieces and share.

1. How we live now: inside the revolution in urban living

2. For the record

3. Why do we hate?

4. Exodus: Our Journey to Exodus

5. After Nice attack, internet trolls try to frame Sikh man as a terrorist, again


Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Muse: Book Review | The Small Desk

I was lucky enough to be able to get my hands on a proof of Jessie Burton of The Miniaturist fame's new book, The Muse. Having loved The Miniaturist, I was very excited for this release. I am only posting this now as it is now available for general sale, but I actually wrote this review mid-April.

The novel is set is two separate years with two separate sets of characters. It switches between Odelle from the Caribean in 1967 and Olive from London in 1936. Both of the main characters are around the same age and both have moved from their country of origin. Odelle is now living in London and Olive in Spain.

It all begins when Odelle meets a man named Lawrie who brings a painting to her work place in order to work out who painted it. There is romance but this is a minor plot line in comparison to everything else that happens to Odelle. Her boss Marjorie Quick plays a lead role in Odelle's life and offering her a job was only the beginning of the journey she would take Odelle on.

Later in the novel we go back in time to learn about the lives of Olive, her parents and their maid and companion, Teresa and Isaac. Having recently fled to Spain, to their horror they slowly realise they are now living in the middle of a revolution.

Painting is at the centre of this novel and it is clear that Burton has done her research in terms of the art history canon. Referencing Picasso and Peggy Guggenheim, is clever of Burton as it makes the whole story that much more believable, and as a master of Art History it made the book even more appealing to me.

The beginning of the book took a while to get started but by the end I was literally reading and walking home. It got pretty racy in parts, actually a bit like The Miniaturist, and there were so many twists and turns and unexpected events. Sometimes you thought you could guess things and other times you were completely shocked by the turn of events.

The descriptions of the paintings were brilliant, and the descriptions of the events that unfolded were gripping. The ending is absolute genius. It is haunting and brilliant and insanely moving.

But again, as in The Miniaturist, I found it difficult to picture the characters. I could picture the scenery and the events, but not the characters. You could understand their emotions and feel for them, but not picture them, perhaps this is intentional, or reflects how little importance Burton puts on looks in real life, which is commendable.

With both of Burton's books there are no romantic endings, and no positive male character. The women always suffer because of the men's whimsical and often reckless behaviours and decisions. I'm interested to see what Burton has to offer next and whether this will change. To be honest though, it's a nice change to the norm and she just writes so well!

You may also be interested in reading my review of her debut novel, The Miniaturist.

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