Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Nowhere has this old mantra ever been more relevant and important than in the context of making that first dizzying leap onto the property ladder. By far the most significant weapon in the armoury of any first time buyer is their knowledge of both what is currently going on in the property market and the home buying process itself. A significant amount of savings is a must, as is a full and detailed knowledge of all the financial aspects of what, for most people, is the most expensive purchase of their lifetime.
As a commitment, buying a house can be time-consuming and frustrating as well as financially and emotionally draining. There are enough horror stories out there to make even the most confident person think more than twice about what they are doing. In addition to these standard worries, the current property slump and general state of the global economy has thrown all manner of extra complications into the mix.
Despite this, few of life's feelings are as satisfying as that of owning your first home and ensuring you know all of the right and relevant information can make the whole process noticeably smoother.
How much you are able to spend is dependent on the amount you are able to borrow, and the answer to both should essentially boil down to what you can afford. Typically, you are able to borrow up to three and a half times the amount the main earner is paid before tax, plus one times the income of any second earner. Alternatively, you can borrow two and a half times the joint income if this amount is larger. The amount offered can also be affected by personal circumstances. Childless couples, for example, are likely to be offered more, as are those who are deemed to have greater earning potential.
It is important to remember that interest rates can, and certainly will go up, so it's best to avoid pushing the limits from the off. Even opting for the security of a fixed rate may not be enough as rates could well be higher when this initial deal comes to an end and you may find remortgaging a complex affair. Fixed rate mortgages are, however, highly advisable for first time buyers as they ensure no unwanted extra costs while you find your property feet.
It is inevitable that buying a home will cost more than you initially estimated, often significantly so. Of course, it is likely to be easier for couples or groups who are able to pool their resources but even then, there are ways of making your money go further. Using online savings accounts for all the funds will enable the amount to grow with as much interest as possible. When getting into the property market, every little helps.
Important financial questions to consider when viewing the house include finding out the council tax band and any extra service charges that may be applied to the sale (remember to factor in VAT as well).
Also, don't let excitement get the best of you and ensure that your opening offer is some way below the limit of what you can afford. In the current housing market, prices are relatively low and even falling, so make sure you do not overpay in your haste to become a homeowner.
If the bid is knocked back, increase your offer buy £1,000 at a time until an agreed price is reached. On the other hand, if the house is undervalued or several people are after the building, act quickly and decisively.
The property ladder is a great adventure. Make sure you do all you can to prepare for it and make your ascent a smooth and affordable one.