My First Home: "I Was Over The Moon When I Collected The Keys"

From saving up a deposit to finding the perfect home in South East London, we follow a recent first-time buyer in our My First Home series.

Brean Horne Published on 06 January 2022.
My First Home: "I Was Over The Moon When I Collected The Keys"

Sophie, a 28-year-old recruitment consultant, from London, always knew that she wanted to own her own home.

After graduating from university, she decided to move back in with her mum, on a mission to save a house deposit and get onto the property ladder.

In this My First Home feature, we follow Sophie’s journey as a first-time buyer, and share some tips she picked up along the way.

“I wanted a place to call my own”

Homeownership was an important life goal for Sophie and she set her sights on buying a property after graduating in 2016.

“I really wanted a place to call my own,’ says Sophie. “For me, it felt better to buy a place rather than rent as I knew that my mortgage payments would be going towards homeownership.”

As well as gaining independence, securing her first home was a stepping stone to buying a bigger house in the future.

Sophie continues: “I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a return on my investment, which could help me move up the property ladder and to a bigger home when I eventually sell.”

Sophie saved up for a mortgage deposit by setting money aside each month into a savings account. With a savings boost from her parents, and inheritance, she built up a comfortable deposit in three years.

» MORE: Is it better to rent or buy?

Using a mortgage adviser

Before applying for a mortgage Sophie reached out to friends and colleagues who had recently purchased properties for advice.

“I’d encourage anyone that was thinking about buying to reach out to friends, family or even colleagues for support,” Sophie says.

She decided to use a mortgage adviser recommended by a friend to help with the mortgage process.

“Using a mortgage adviser was incredibly helpful and saved so much time. I earn a commission at work, which can make my salary difficult to estimate but they were able to help me get an accurate view of my finances and find suitable lenders,” Sophie says.

Her mortgage adviser explained the important stages of buying a house, such as applying for a mortgage in principle before starting her property search.

They also highlighted additional costs she’d have to cover, such as house surveys or service charges if she decided to purchase a leasehold property.

“It was great having extra support and the process felt much less overwhelming,” Sophie says.

» MORE: Do you need a mortgage adviser?

Finding the perfect home

Sophie scoured online property portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla to find her ideal home in South East London. She eventually viewed a beautiful one-bedroom flat in a Victorian conversion.

The property was reduced by £25,000 and fell within her budget. Since the flat was a leasehold property she also had to factor in an annual service charge of £1,850.

“I loved the flat and knew it was the right place for me as soon as I stepped through the door,” says Sophie

The only issue was that she wasn’t familiar with the local area. “I didn’t know the area that well so I came back to explore at different times of day and get a feel for what it would be like to live there.”

Visiting the area on multiple occasions helped Sophie get a sense of the local amenities, community and transport links. It gave her a better impression of what daily life would be like and made her confident that it was the right place to buy a home.

After her second viewing, Sophie decided to take the plunge and make an offer.

“I offered at the reduced asking price. It was really good value when I compared it to similar properties in the area, even with the service charge. I really wanted to put my best foot forward and show that I was serious about buying,” says Sophie.

The sellers accepted Sophie’s offer the very same day. And with the help of her mortgage adviser, she secured a 2-year fixed-rate mortgage deal at an 87% loan-to-value ratio.

» MORE: Compare first-time buyer mortgages

“I was over the moon when I collected the keys”

Sophie's flat was a chain-free property, which meant that the sellers weren’t relying on other homeowners to sell before they could move out. It took around two months to exchange and complete.

“I was over the moon when I collected the keys to my new home. It felt so satisfying to have a place to call my own,” says Sophie.

She decided to delay moving to give her time to redecorate and add her own personal touches to the flat.

“I wanted to spruce up the walls and ceilings before getting settled and ordering furniture. It felt incredible once I officially moved in and was ready to start a new chapter in my life,” she says.

» MORE: Moving house checklist: 10 things to remember

My top tip for first-time buyers

Sophie’s top first-time buyer tip is making sure you understand the difference between freehold and leasehold properties.

“It’s quite important to find out whether a property is a leasehold or freehold. Leasehold properties usually come with ground rent and other service charges, which may make a place less affordable,” Sophie advises.

“Try to get as much information from the estate agent or seller as possible before arranging a viewing. I ended up viewing a flat that had a service charge of over £3,000 a year. I only found out during the viewing but probably wouldn’t have gone to view the place if I’d known beforehand!” she says.

» MORE: What’s the difference between freehold and leasehold?

Have you recently bought your first home?

If you've recently bought your first home, we'd love to hear from you! Get in touch via email to find out how to share your experience and get featured in our My First Home series.

Image source: Getty Images

About the author:

Brean is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet. She covers a range of financial topics and has written for consumer titles including Which?, Moneywise and The Motley Fool. Read more

If you have any feedback on this article please contact us at [email protected]