Guess what? About 8 months ago my boyfriend and I bought our first house.
It still doesn’t feel real to be quite honest. We actually own a home!? It’s scary in a way. Knowing you are committing to paying a mortgage is a real responsibility but it’s also super rewarding to know that the money you pay out each month now is contributing to something that’s yours.
We lived in the city centre for almost two years and we loved every second of it. Being able to stroll into Leeds city centre for a cheeky wine on a weeknight whenever we wanted, walking home after a night out, and best of all, having all the shops within a stones throw away for when our friends and family came to visit. All things I do sometimes miss. However, at the same time, there are lots of things I do not miss about our tiny apartment:
- Feeling claustrophobic
- Drying washing inside
- Sharing a wardrobe
- Having no seating if more than 1 friend came around
- Using a blow up airbed as our guest bed
- Nearly being blown over daily because of the wind tunnels
The list goes on. But of course we wouldn’t be where we are now without that lovely little Clarence Dock apartment. Plus all my memories of Leeds started there, so I’ll always look back fondly on my time there.
So now that we have the house we are in full swing decoration-and-renovation mode, painting, decorating, home interior shopping and we even have a pet cat, Misty.
But it took almost 10 months to get to this point. So after learning a lot along the way, I thought I would share some of the things I wish I’d known before hand, for anyone else looking to buy their first house in the Leeds area.
My first piece of advice is simple (and probably obvious) but get out there and start looking. Download the Rightmove app, have a gander and then actually book viewings. It’s the only way you can actually get a realistic feel for what you can and can’t afford. Also seeing houses in the flesh is very different. Some online property photos are very deceiving – either not doing the property justice or cleverly using fish lens photography to make the rooms look five times bigger than they actually are.
2. Decide what you want
By viewing as many houses as you can you will soon get a feel for what’s important to you. For me it was having some outside space, parking, a spacious living room and the location! The more houses you see, the more you get to know if the asking price is realistic for the area, so you can then decide on a budget. I remember at first being really confused by how the same sort of house was £18k more at one side of Chapel Allerton than the other. But I soon came to realise this was down to the top part of Chapel Allerton being more desirable as it was closer to the shops and bars etc. So decide what and where is important and shortlist these properties to view first.
3. Finding the perfect house takes time
Yes, this is what everyone tells you, but if you’re anything like me you’ll get really obsessed and inpatient. After the first two or three house viewings I suddenly decided that I NEEDED to get a house before Christmas, which put unnecessary stress on the search. I’d feel frustrated that only six properties had been uploaded in a few days for the area I liked and I’d be trying to arrange viewings for pretty much every house ever uploaded to Rightmove, but then feeling disappointed that they weren’t quite right.
4. Leeds ain’t cheap!
This is something you will soon discover for yourself when you look at the house prices in Leeds. And the prices are rising. Since I started looking (September 2015) houses in the same area have increased by £5-10k already! We looked at houses in our budget on the market in my hometown of Scunthorpe and it is truly unbelievable how different the market is. We knew Leeds would be pricey – it’s an amazing, competitive thriving city, but when you see the poky little house you can afford compared to what seems like a mansion elsewhere it can be a hard pill to swallow. But remember a house is an investment and Leeds is only going to get better and better!
5. Get to know the area
Don’t just drive through areas, if you don’t know them well then get out of the car. Go for walks, drink in bars, drop in coffee shops and speak to people like local shop owners to get a realistic feel of the area. Drive by the area late at night and at different times of the day too. We really liked a house in Horsforth that was near a school, we viewed it on an evening and thought the location was fairly quiet. We just happened to spontaneously drive past it a few days later in the morning (around the school run time) and discovered that the street was used as a through road for parents and buses dropping children off and we even spotted a car wing mirror being clipped – which made us completely rethink the property.
6. Be realistic
With cost in mind, being realistic is key. I arranged viewings for some stunning properties that were £25k+ out of our budget – why? The truth is because that is ‘the dream’, but I had to remind myself that we are not rich and there’s no way the owners would drop the price anywhere near our budget. So don’t tease yourself with houses you will never be able to get a mortgage for it will only leave you disappointed and it’s honestly a waste of time and energy.
7. Be flexible
I was adamant that I wanted a pretty character property steeped with history – I ended up with a new(ish) build! Sometimes what you think you want changes when you realise what really matters to you. I also had to remind myself a lot that this is our FIRST home not our FOREVER home. So when we viewed the house we ended up buying I came to the realisation that the only character property that had come as close to ticking as many boxes as this was £20k more!
8. Get a mortgage promise early on
Once you start to arrange to view properties make sure you get an idea of what you can afford and get a mortgage promise from a lender. Estate agents don’t always ask and if they did I said ‘yes, yes’ because I knew from looking online what lenders were willing to lend. But without a promise in writing if you come to putting an offer in, the estate agent will ask to see this right away. And if you are battling it out against another buyer this could be the difference between the seller choosing you or another buyer who got everything in place there and then.
*Note a mortgage promise is just to prove a bank will lend you money you don’t have to choose this bank once you apply for a mortgage.
9. Estate agents can be annoying
I’m sure this is perhaps an unfair statement but I had some bad experiences with some estate agents. Some aren’t very helpful, I once viewed a house in Headingley and the estate agent sales guy literally couldn’t care less, he was indifferent and quite frankly didn’t speak which was so off putting when I was asking questions. Others are too pushy following you around every room and making excuses for obvious issues.
However, the estate agents we bought our house with, Cornerstone, were amazing! My contact was Zoe and she was literally the most helpful and lovely estate agent, calling me most days with an update and giving me so much advice as a first time buyer. So for those of you selling houses I would genuinely recommend Cornerstone!
10. The golden triangle
For those of you local to Leeds and aware of the desirable areas you may know all about the ‘golden triangle’ but for those of you like me who didn’t grow up in Yorkshire, I’ll tell you. The golden triangle is basically a term, which covers the vast majority of affluent and extremely pricey areas of Yorkshire and living in these areas is considered to be desirable to many. It’s the triangle of land between North Leeds, Harrogate and York. I must admit many of the areas are beautiful, Boston Spa, Knaresborough and Wetherby – but for me a lot of the places that fall into this area are not first house destinations due to the price tags and family population. Also I quite like communities that are a bit more mixed, plus I wanted to be within a five-mile radius of the city centre.
11. Think long term
Even if you don’t plan to be in your house for the next decade definitely think ahead anyway and question things you would consider if you had to live there for 20 years to come. A great tip I got told was to look into the plans for restoration or regeneration in the areas you’re interested in, as you may discover there is an opportunity to make money with your purchase. There are a lot of up and coming areas of Leeds so you might be able to grab a bargain before future plans drive the house prices up. Also look at the schools (even if you’re not planning for kids anytime soon) as this has a major factor for how desirable an area is and therefore the value of your property. For example you will pay a premium to live in Horsforth due to the good schools so buying a house that needs a bit of work would probably be smarter than one that’s perfect as you will pay the top dollar!
12. You need to move fast once you find ‘the one’
This is a hard one as how can you move fast on such a big decision? It’s probably one of the scariest and most important choices you’ll ever make and you have to rush it?! Well I put three different offers in on houses I thought I loved at the time and it really seems heart-breaking at the time when you miss out on it because it has already sold. But this is a vital stage to house hunting. It toughens you up and makes you realise what is really important to you with future houses. We were nervous and unprepared for how wildly competitive open house viewings were and how brutal it was to get caught up in a bidding war with people who have much more money than you. So my advice is if you like a house, like really like a house, tell your estate agent early on. I waited two days as I wanted to see another property in the meantime and it sold – funny story for another time, but it actually sold to a couple via Kirsty and Phil (from Channel 4’s Location, Location, Location) who were shooting an episode in Leeds at the time – what are the chances!
13. Don’t be disheartened
This leads on very nicely from my last tip. As I mentioned I lost out on various occasions to houses that I thought were ‘the one’ and I actually almost shed a tear on the Chapel A one that Kirsty and Phil stole from me. At the time it seems like the end of the world. House hunting is exhausting so when you think you’ve found your house and it’s pulled from under you it’s hard to get up and start looking again as nothing seems to match up. But it will! In fact, often you then start to think things like, ‘actually the garden was quite small’ or ‘there was no parking’ or ‘I’m kind of glad we didn’t get it now’. These experiences also help you rationalise what you really want. For me I wanted a character cottage, but like I said we ended up buying a new build house. I would not have believed anyone if they told me this when I started my search. But the journey made me realise how important the location was, security, parking and that I did actually want a garden I could sit out in over the summer.
14. Don’t feel silly – ask lots of questions!
One thing I was rubbish at was asking any sort of practical questions or voicing my opinion at all. I’d walk into a home and be like, ‘ahh this is nice’ then I’d look around and think ‘what’s with the floor board that’s missing’, ‘it’s near a busy road, I wonder if it’s noisy’, ‘I can’t see a bus stop, how would I get to work’ etc. but I’d feel daft or annoying to say them out loud. As my confidence grew I learnt to be more inquisitive in our search and it really helped. At the end of the day no one can tell you more about what it’s like to live in a house than it’s current owners. A brief chat can tell you all sorts like how much it costs to heat, what the council tax is, where the nearest shop is or bus stop or even the local pub for that matter! So I would really encourage you to ask questions on each viewing – be nosey 🙂
I really hope this helps in someway if you are thinking or have started looking for a house in Leeds. If you have any questions at all just let me know in the comments or on social as I could talk about this subject all day. I’ll be sharing updates more regularly now that I am settled in and the stress is over so keep checking in to see before and after posts of my home and to meet my gorgeous cat.