Welcome to a special miniseries of How I Bought It, where we hear from first-time home buyers about how exactly they bought their place. Each of our buyers in this series used a government home ownership scheme to help with the purchase.
Next up: A 29-year-old civil trade marketing coordinator and her long-term partner, who both earn £28,000 a year and used the Help to Buy: Equity Loan. The Help to Buy: Equity Loan aims to help first-time homebuyers who don’t have a sufficient deposit to access a loan-to-value (LTV) mortgage. Under the scheme, the government will lend you up to 20% of the value of a new-build home and up to 40% in London, and you only need to come up with a 5% deposit.
Location: Aldershot, Hampshire
The home: It’s a new-build flat with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and two parking spaces. It was only finished the week we moved in, so we’re the first ones to live there.
When we bought: We put an offer in at the end of January 2021 and it was taken off the market a few days later. We moved in on 30th July.
What we bought it for: We bought it off-plan for £270,000. [Ed. note: Buying a house or flat off-plan means buying it before it's been built.]
How we bought it: We put down a 5% deposit of £13,000 (60% of which was mine and 40% my partner’s) and used the Help to Buy: Equity Loan.
Lender, survey and conveyancing fees: Our lender fee was £999 and our conveyancing fees, which included the survey, were £2,500.
Stamp duty: We didn't pay stamp duty as we’re first-time buyers and our property was under the £300,000 threshold.
Monthly mortgage payment: The total mortgage is £202,000 and our monthly payment is £950. When our mortgage was approved I was in a different job on a lower salary (£23,000).
Ground rent and/or service charge: Our yearly service charge is £950, which goes towards maintaining the shared areas in the apartment block.
Why we wanted to buy: My partner and I have been together for 12 years but we only started living together at the end of 2020 when we moved in with my mum before lockdown, which enabled us to save money.
Buying a property had been on my mind for the last few years but I always thought it was unattainable because I don’t have a massive salary. I looked into schemes like Shared Ownership but as I did more research I found I could use the Help to Buy: Equity Loan to boost my deposit. Living with my mum during lockdown and wishing we had our own space was a driving force as well. If we wanted to do our own thing, we’d just have to sit in a bedroom watching TV, which felt quite juvenile as two 28-year-olds. We wanted privacy and our own space.
Once we knew there was a chance we could afford to buy somewhere with the Help to Buy: Equity Loan, we saved everything we could.
Seeing my parents own their own home, and the financial security it gave them, was also a motivating factor. It was the same for my partner as well. With renting, there's an element of instability in that you’re living in someone else's property and could be asked to leave at any time.
We chose Aldershot because it’s a lot more affordable than where I was living before, Camberley in Surrey. It's still quite local to my friends and family, though. I would’ve loved to have stayed in Camberley because I know the area inside out but we had to move to ensure we could afford somewhere. My partner and I both earn £28,000 and I knew our salaries wouldn’t stretch far enough to buy our first property in Camberley.
In terms of affordability, we knew it would have to be a flat rather than a house. It was important to me to have a ground-floor flat because from a resale perspective they tend to generate more interest and we didn’t want the nuisance of carrying shopping and furniture upstairs. Our other non-negotiable was two parking spaces. Our budget was never going to go far in the area so we didn't have many non-negotiables – it was more about finding a place in a suitable location that we could afford.
Lockdown definitely helped us save money. My partner still commuted because he’s a key worker but I didn't have commuting costs and obviously we couldn’t go anywhere. Once we knew there was a chance we could afford to buy somewhere with the Help to Buy: Equity Loan, we saved everything we could.
It feels amazing being a homeowner after it being a pipe dream for so many years. Watching friends, relatives and colleagues go through the process and moving forward with their lives, I’d felt left behind. I didn’t have the option to move somewhere cheaper than the South East, where I work, so I thought buying a home would always be out of reach.
The process: We started looking at properties in mid January of this year. We saw a couple of places around the area, including another property on our estate and one in another part of Hampshire. We decided we wanted this place at the end of January and made an offer straightaway.
I was on furlough, earning 80% of my £23,000 salary, when we started viewing properties, which complicated the process. We had to view new-build properties, which would be covered by the Help to Buy: Equity Loan, and we had to prove to the developer that we’d be able to afford each property before being able to view it. We missed out on several properties as a result.
The first property we saw was on the estate where we now live. It was amazing and really cosy but it was the first place we'd seen so we knew we needed to look elsewhere. We saw another place in a completely different area of Hampshire but the location wasn’t right so we went back to the original estate.
Another developer was building a similar apartment block on the estate and the flats were about £10,000 cheaper than the first flat we saw. We viewed one and as well as being cheaper, it was similar to the first flat in terms of size and layout, so it was a no-brainer. We knew that once we found somewhere we could picture ourselves living that we had to snap it up, even though it was off-plan and not yet finished.
Making an offer was straightforward; with new builds you often just have to pay the asking price. We wanted it so badly and we knew others were interested. We had to put down a £500 reservation fee and a few days later it was taken off the market. It was lockdown so we had a tipple at home to celebrate.
There were some unforeseen difficulties on my partner’s side when it came to the mortgage. When we were going through the mortgage in principle process and passing on our credit reports to our mortgage broker, our mortgage broker flagged that on my partner’s credit report there were payday loans which had been fraudulently taken out under his name. They were only about £50-100 but because they’d been taken out less than a year ago, it was tricky for us to find a lender that would lend to us.
We were panicking. We’d put the reservation fee down and then we were getting declined for mortgages. This happened on a Thursday so we spent the whole weekend worrying if anyone would lend to us. We contacted the fraud hotline and credit agencies to say it was fraudulent but it can take up to three months to get something taken off a credit report. It was really stressful and by far the most challenging part of the process. The moral of the story? Check your credit report.
We carried on the mortgage process with a specialist lender but compared to a high street lender the interest rate is much worse so we chose the shortest fixed term of two years. Getting the Help to Buy: Equity Loan was straightforward. We just filled in our personal details online and our solicitor took it from there. Our solicitor was recommended by our property developer so they did the survey and conveyancing for the whole block, which sped things up.
We waited seven months for it to be completed and when we could finally visit, it felt much more real.
My highlight of the whole process was stepping into the flat for the first time. We waited seven months for it to be completed and when we could finally visit, it felt much more real.
Best piece of advice: Keep an open mind. Owning a home can feel unattainable at times – I used to be such a pessimist about it – but persevere. Mortgage brokers, property developers and solicitors can offer you advice, so ask questions and take all the support you can get if you’re not 100% sure about something. The end result is worth it.
Now we’re in: We have to wait at least 18 months to do any decorating to prevent cracking. When we can, we’ll paint the walls in warm, neutral colours to make it cosier. In the meantime we’ve added pictures to the walls and other decorative bits to make it feel like home. We also received loads of plants as gifts from those closest to us when we moved in, along with food, flowers and champagne. You really feel the love as a new homeowner.