This article was first published on TheJournal.ie as part of the Home Truths series in partnership with Bank of Ireland. Publication of this article is not seen as an endorsement of the content by Bank of Ireland.
Know what your ‘must-haves’ are, but be willing to compromise too
Being a first-time buyer is scary. We want to make it less so. We've spoken to experts at the heart of the house-buying process, to give you the vital information you'll need to take that first confident step on the property ladder. Here, first-time buyer and homeowner Ruaidhri McCabe, 29, shares his experience of jumping on the property ladder for the first time.
First up, what's your place like?
I moved into my own home in Louth towards the end of 2016, and I'm living there with my partner. It's an end-of-terrace place on an estate with around 60 other houses, with three bedrooms and a pretty spacious attic. There's a large kitchen/dining area which opens into the main sitting room. Out front, there's parking for two cars, and out the back there's a garden that's half-paved, half-lawn. We're close to the motorway and around 30 minutes from Dublin airport. I wouldn't rule out trading up one day, but right now, it's totally adequate for our needs, space-wise.
When did you decide to get on the property ladder?
I made the call when I was around 25. I know some might see that as quite young, but I had a good job so I reckoned it was as good a time as any. From there, it took three years of groundwork before I finally had the keys to my own place in my hand.
Saving for a deposit must have been tough as a solo buyer. How did you find it?
One thing that worked was completely avoiding cash day-to-day, in favour of card. It's much easier to track card purchases, and when you look at your statement, you can spot those times when you're overspending. The biggest piece of advice the bank gave me early on in the process – and one I would pass on to others – was to use a standing order for saving money. Banks want to see that you can stick to a set saving schedule, and that's more important than how much you're saving. You can still dip into those savings if needed, but it looks better than saving bits here and there with no set schedule.
How long did you spend viewing houses?
Overall, I only viewed four houses, and all of them were in the same 10 – 12 mile radius. The first two viewings were very quick, in-and-out, almost as if it was a rental viewing. Before the third and fourth houses I did a lot of research on the area, the estate they were in, management company fees and all of that. With a few hours work I was able to pull up things like management company accounts and planning applications for the housing estate, which was important because that information wasn't always readily available during viewings.
What's one thing you wish you'd known before you started house-hunting?
I had a list of 'needs' in mind for the property, like the type of house, transport links nearby, all of that. You can get very obsessed with ticking off all of the things on your wishlist, but you have to make compromises along the way. My advice would be to aim for maybe 60 per cent of the 'must-haves'. That might sound very low, but it means you won't get fixated. For example, my end-of-terrace house isn't semi-detached like I had originally envisioned, but it fulfils plenty of other 'must-haves' from my list.
What drew you to the house you bought?
I was actually quite set on another property first, but after doing some research on the management company and the fees I’d be paying, I pulled out of the sale. For the house I eventually went with, I waited around two weeks after viewing it before putting in my bid. During that time I did all my homework, which included paying a surveyor to check the whole place out. I didn’t want any hidden surprises so I had everything checked: the ventilation, the attic space, the quality of the block work, the fittings. Luckily the survey confirmed that the house was in good shape.
Did you face any challenges along the way?
It took nine months before the keys were in my hand because there was a problem with misaligned boundaries. I was so ready to go and wanted to close quickly, but the whole thing was out of my control and there was no option but to wait. Around the seven month mark, I did strongly consider pulling out, because I was spending money on rent with every month that passed. Luckily it got sorted fairly soon after that.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other first-time-buyers?
Two things. Firstly, don’t over-rely on the many experts and professionals who will guide you through the process. Their advice is extremely helpful, but it’s you who’ll have to pay for, own and maintain the house long term, so don’t be afraid to double-check items you may have concerns about. Secondly, when you move in, take a breather and don’t rush into decorating. Just do enough to make it liveable. That way, you’ll learn which parts of the house you can adapt, which things need changing and what you need to buy.