A full six weeks after going sale agreed I set foot in my new home for the first time

Being a first-time buyer and a single applicant is a battle, it’s important to make a plan and stick to it

‘It was a bittersweet moment collecting the keys to my first-ever home.’

‘It was a bittersweet moment collecting the keys to my first-ever home.’

 

After viewing a series of properties in which I found myself outbid 11 times, finally going gone sale agreed on a house in Bray, Co Wicklow, I felt more exhausted than elated.

As a first-time buyer and single applicant who had experienced scores of disappointments over the course of a six month search, I wasn’t expecting my offer to be accepted. One month later, and with inflation on an upward trajectory, I still can barely grasp that I’ve made it past the finish line by myself.

The relief in my mortgage manager’s emails was evident once I informed him that after months of searching for ‘the one’ during a pandemic I finally had an offer on a property accepted. Although I had bid on the house virtually, I was comforted by the fact that once sale agreed, I could go along and view it and avail of a full refund of my deposit should it all go south.

I made it a condition of sale that the property be taken off the market to deter other house-hungry prospects. My bold ask of the estate agent paid off and my soon-to-be house was moved to sale agreed minutes after my 2 per cent deposit was paid.

The tsunamis of anxiety that haunt every first-time buyer didn’t end there. It wasn’t just that I hadn’t physically viewed the property that put me on edge, but its location was also a cause for concern. “Oh, you may have a problem insuring that as it’s on a floodplain,” my solicitor advised.

Rebecca Lee is a freelance writer and broadcaster. Photograph: Paul Sherwood
Rebecca Lee is a freelance writer and broadcaster. Photograph: Paul Sherwood

Hours of googling ensued, followed by calls to every insurance company in Ireland. Despite my dream home being located near a €46 million flood defence scheme and Bray not experiencing any issues since Hurricane Charlie in 1986, I was refused flood protection cover by all but one insurer.

I contacted local Labour Councillor Anne Ferris and wrote to Wicklow County Council who provided me with an email of reassurance. Presenting it to two brokers, I finally achieved three offers of insurance from two UK based companies.

Due to purchasing at the height of a pandemic, it was a full six weeks after going sale agreed before I was allowed set foot in my new home for the first time. Fortunately for me, all was as it appeared in the images, albeit slightly smaller.

My next port of call was a visit from the valuer recruited by the bank who assured me I was getting a good deal, and a surveyor who couldn’t find many faults. Mortgage protection followed, as did Covid-related questions and a grilling over every other serious illness known to man. Everything was going swimmingly until the process of obtaining the property titles almost scuppered my solo buy completely.

Flintstones-era stuff

Property deeds which detail ownership,rights, obligations and mortgages are required by banks in order to draw down any mortgage. Unfortunately locating them in Ireland is Flintstones-era stuff, where paper versions (not digital) tend to be stored in a vault somewhere and can take weeks to obtain.

A call from my solicitor days later revealed the deeds had gone to a third party, namely Pepper, most likely due to previous failed mortgage repayments. Assured I was “one of the unlucky ones” by my legal aid, eight weeks after going sale agreed the race was on to locate them before my birthday which was now just 14 days away. Should I not drawdown before then, my mortgage term would be reduced and I would be €4,000 out of pocket.

A solo buyer whose candles were blown out a long time ago, I chased the estate agent with emails and texts every second day over a three week period. Eventually, just five days before my birthday, my solicitor received the deeds and swift contract signing on both sides followed. It was official, I had made it through the house hunting process alive.

It was a bittersweet moment collecting the keys to my first-ever home. I felt like Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart, the unkillable British soldier who survived the wars with just one eye. Usually a bricks and mortar process, being both a first-time buyer and a single applicant almost was a battle.

I accumulated a wealth of knowledge over my three and a half year journey. With figures from MyHome.ie revealing house price inflation is now 4.2 per cent higher than during the same period last year, I would advise solo buyers to make a plan and stick to it.

There is never a right time to buy. Should I have waited for a potential market collapse, I never would have achieved homeowner status. A rigid savings plan is essential for any single mortgage applicant and I would advise against any online gambling.

Due diligence is key when inspecting properties and a second pair of eyes, whether it be a family member or friend can prove invaluable. Being organised, determined and open to changing my lifestyle and career paid off in the long run. Compromises on location, facilities and overall makeup of the property may need to be made. But once across the finish line, you won’t have to go halfway on anything, not even the colour of your walls.

Rebecca Lee is a freelance writer and broadcaster

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