Venturing into the property market as a first-time buyer can be a challenging ordeal – especially if you run into one of the common pitfalls that await aspiring homeowners.
All hope isn’t lost, though, and with a bit of planning and preparation, buying your first home can be much less stressful and expensive.
Here, we explain 11 common mistakes that first-time buyers make and how to avoid them.
1) Not getting an agreement in principle
While it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of looking for a home, it’s important to work out your mortgage options first.
Before you start viewing properties, it’s a good idea to get an agreement in principle from your lender.
An agreement in principle – also referred to as a ‘mortgage promise’ or ‘decision in principle’ – is a certificate from your mortgage provider which shows how much they’re likely to let you borrow. These are valid for between 30 and 90 days.
While it’s not an official offer from your lender, it gives you an accurate idea of your budget, and can also reassure sellers and estate agents that you’re serious about buying and can realistically afford the property.
Failing to get an agreement in principle could lead to disappointment, especially if you find a property you want but can’t get a big enough loan to purchase it.
- Find out more: how to buy a house
2) Underestimating how long it takes to get a mortgage
When it comes to getting a mortgage, unfortunately, there is no definitive timeframe for your application to be approved.
Although most borrowers can expect to wait around 18 to 40 days between submitting an application and getting a mortgage offer, it could take much longer.
It’s important to get your mortgage application process started as soon possible before rushing into making an offer on a home.
- Find out more: improving your mortgage chances
3) Not checking your credit score
Your credit score is essentially a financial CV that lenders will assess before deciding whether to lend to you.
If your credit is poor, you run the risk of having your application rejected. This could cause more damage to your credit score, as rejected applications will count against you.
It’s vital that you check your credit score before applying so that you have the chance to correct any errors on your record and get your credit rating in the best shape possible.
But even if you have a poor credit history with defaults or County Court Judgments (CCJ) on your file, it may still be possible to get a loan. You can find out how in our guide to bad credit mortgages.
- Find out more: how to check your credit score for free
4) Not being registered on the electoral roll
One of the easiest ways for a lender to verify your identity is check the electoral roll, so make sure you register.
Failing to do so may result in your application taking longer to process. On top of that, it may cause your credit score to take a hit too.
Registering for the electoral roll couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is fill out a short application on GOV.UK.
- Find out more: how to improve your credit score
5) Underestimating how much it costs to buy a home
Although your property will be the biggest expense, the cost of buying a house includes so much more.
It’s important to calculate how much you’ll need to have saved to cover these costs so that you aren’t caught out financially.
6) Using the wrong solicitor
The vast majority of mortgage lenders have a panel of solicitors who they are prepared to instruct.
If you decide to use a solicitor who is not on their panel, they may not be able to work on behalf of your lender, meaning you’ll have to pay extra for one of the approved solicitors to be instructed by them.
If you’re trying to keep costs down, check your lender’s approved list before hiring a solicitor so that you don’t end up paying more than you need to.
- Find out more: how does conveyancing work?
7) Not understanding the difference between leasehold and freehold
Depending on whether you buy a leasehold or freehold property, there may be limits on what you’ll be able to do with your home. You may also face extra fees.
When you buy a leasehold property, you have the right to live in the home for a certain amount of years (specified on the lease) but you won’t own the land it stands on. You’ll have to get permission from the freeholder – the person who owns the land – before any alterations can be made to the property.
Leaseholders also have to pay rent each year, which is known as ‘ground rent’ as well as other service charges. For some properties, these charges can be extortionate. You can read more in Which’s exclusive investigation Inside the new home lease scandal.
If you buy a freehold property, you’ll be the sole owner of both the building and the land it sits on. As a freeholder, you won’t have to pay things like ground rent, service charges or permission fees and you will be responsible for the maintenance of the building.
It’s really important to know the difference between these property types so that you aren’t caught out by unexpected costs and restrictions later down the line.
- Find out more: leasehold vs freehold
8) Doing no research into the area
Before registering with an estate agent or starting to look online, it’s a good idea to work out your priorities for the area you’d like to live in.
For example, do you need good transport links, lots of green space, good schools or range of amenities such as shops, restaurants and gyms?
Having an idea of what you need will help make selecting an area easier. Where possible, try spending a day or so in areas you like, that you might not be familiar with, to get a real feel for the atmosphere and how good things link transport links are.
Our area comparison tool can help you compare a number of factors in different areas including average house prices, happiness ratings and Ofsted school ratings.
9) Buying a ‘non-standard’ property
When you’re looking for a home, there are certain properties to avoid if you want to easily get a mortgage.
For example, some lenders may be reluctant to grant a loan for flats above a shop or commercial premise.
This is because they’re at greater risk of being affected by things like noise, smells and security issues which are beyond the owners’ control and could negatively affect the value of the property.
The same goes for new-build homes – lenders are often stricter with the amount they’ll lend, so that they can protect themselves against the property losing value in the early years of ownership.
If you are considering buying a non-standard property, be sure to get as much information about it as possible that could help your mortgage application and seek expert mortgage advice too.
10) Not asking enough questions
Viewing properties can be an overwhelming process, so you’d be forgiven for wanting to make an offer on the first home that seems to tick all your boxes.
Rushing into making an offer, however, could leave you stuck in a home that requires expensive renovations and could cost you more in the long run.
So, before you start going to viewings, it might be helpful to draw up a list of questions that you’d like to ask.
In every property, test out things such as windows, doors and lights, as well as water pressure. Where possible look behind furniture and upholstery that may be concealing any defects.
Do ask questions about the sellers too, for example, how long they’ve lived at the property and their motivation for moving.
Finding out how long a property has been on the market is also really useful. If the seller has been struggling to shift their property, for example, they may be open to accepting lower offers to make a quick sale.
Read our house-viewing checklist for a detailed list things to check whenever you view a house or flat.