Kitting out a new home takes time and lots more money

 

A survey of first-time buyers shows people spend an average of €13,000furnishing a home, with a quarter of people borrowing to cover the cost,writes Laura Slattery

First-time buyers spend so much time worrying about mortgage approvals, legal fees, valuations and deposits that when all the contracts have been signed and counter-signed, all they want to do is collapse on the couch in their brand new home and raise a glass to having the whole tense, draining process over.

But the chances are that a three-seater sofa with fully plumped up, colour co-ordinated cushions won't be waiting to give them some respite.

Instead, many will make do with sitting on cardboard boxes, drinking out of paper cups and staring at a floor-level television for a few weeks before they summon up the energy for round two: furniture.

A new survey of first-time buyers shows that people spend an average of €13,000 furnishing a home, with a quarter of people borrowing to cover the cost.

As most people wring every last drop of mortgage finance from lenders in order to cover 92 per cent of the purchase price, then scrimp together savings and other borrowings for a deposit, there often isn't much left over for the finer details.

A quarter of people who bought their first home using a Bank of Ireland mortgage in the past two years described their financial well-being when signing for a house as "a little stretched", with one in 20 admitting to being "very stretched".

Unsurprisingly, then, fitting out a new home is not something that will be completed over the weekend.

Almost half of the 100 people interviewed by market researchers Behaviour & Attitudes on behalf of Bank of Ireland said they had not yet finished furnishing their home, with new homebuyers estimating that it would take them, on average, 9½ months to get their homes fitted out.

Potential first-time buyers in the middle of compiling an inventory of essentials may balk at the fact that the €13,000 average cost of furniture, high though it might seem, was actually dragged down by those who had yet to make the finishing touches.

For these buyers, the average spent so far was €9,000, while those who had completed their home found they had spent an average of €16,000. But buyers who can all too easily imagine themselves fitting into the "stretched" categories will be relieved to know that a five-figure financial outlay on furniture is far from universal.

Some first-time buyers are apparently more dedicated bargain hunters than others, the survey found. A quarter of people claimed to spend less than €5,000 on making their house a home. At the other extreme, a fifth quoted furniture costs of €20,000 or more. For houses under the value of €150,000, the average spent was €11,900, compared with €15,200 for houses valued above €150,000.

When Bernice McDonnell moved into her first home last year, the south Dublin apartment came complete with curtains, a cooker, a built-in wardrobe and little else.

"I was sleeping on a blow-up bed on the floor for a couple of weeks, but the bedroom furniture was probably the easiest and cheapest to get," says Ms McDonnell. "A bed, chest of drawers and two lockers cost me €500, I paid a €200 cash deposit on that and put the rest on my credit card."

White goods caused the biggest headaches. "They're very expensive - I paid around €3,000 for a microwave, washing machine, fridge-freezer, dishwasher and tumble-dryer, this time using a loan - and the shop just delivered them, dumped them in the flat and left me wondering what to do with them."

By the time Ms McDonnell got around to furnishing her living room, she had exhausted her credit options.

"I really shopped around because I had quite specific ideas about what I wanted, but I was also broke," she says. She ended up getting dining and living room suites for under €2,000. "It's all really nice stuff - cheap but sturdy. You have to order your couch and it takes forever to come - about eight weeks - so I was sitting on the floor for ages."

The items first-time buyers tend to buy first are a fridge-freezer, a suite, a bed and a cooker, the Bank of Ireland survey found. Four in 10 people, presumably bored with surveying their minimalist room design, include a television among their initial purchases.

"I already had a little portable television so I contented myself with that until I had all the important stuff bought," says Ms McDonnell. "Then I got myself a 28-inch widescreen beauty on HP [hire purchase] from the ESB."

"The thing that caught me out most was all the little bits and pieces for the kitchen - things like knives, tin openers, bowls, scales," she adds.

"You don't really factor things like that into your budget, but they're not long adding up and it can be a bit of a shock when you realise how much it all costs."

A separate survey released earlier this year by EBS Building Society found 61 per cent of people spent more than they had expected on items for their new home, with 7 per cent of those overspending by a massive €10,000.

"People say, 'the plaster is coming off the wall, we might as well wire it for a sound system while we're at it'," says Mr Simon Ensor of estate agents Sherry FitzGerald.

First-time buyers who add to their mortgage burden by overspending on furniture may rationalise their splurging by arguing that proper fittings and quality decoration will add value to their starter home when they go to sell it. "If money is spent prudently, in many cases they will get it back with interest because the money they have put in will have helped the property appreciate," says Mr Ensor.

But homeowners need to be careful when they use their property as an outlet for their creative urges. "If you are in a mind to sell the property in the short term, do not go to extremes or do anything too dramatic," Mr Ensor warns.

"You get people who will paint their bedroom black or silver or gold: it may fulfil their dream, but it won't improve the marketability of the house."