The media will have everyone believing the world is at a standstill, but life is moving on and certain parts of the housing market are flourishing. As a first time buyer trying to navigate the new normal, it’s been an experience.

I am purchasing a house with my sister – it was decided upon quickly and we realised we had a very limited window to find and secure a property. So the first thing we did was ask advice from homeowners we knew and, on the back of those conversations, we had recommended solicitors and mortgage advisor.

The concept of buying a house seemed simple enough when broken down:

  • Talk to a mortgage advisor (or your bank) to see what your budget is
  • Look and find a property you wish to purchase
  • Obtain a mortgage in principle
  • Put an offer in and get accepted
  • Secure Mortgage and hire solicitors
  • Checks/Queries/Documentation
  • Exchange of Contracts
  • Completion

However, one change was introduced to the above procedure, which no homeowner could have warned us about – estate agents were asking for us to show proof of our mortgage in principle before we could view properties – this was not an issue for us, but if you are looking and they are still asking to do the same, be aware that putting in multiple requests potentially can be harmful to your rating so I’d recommend booking as many viewings as possible on the back of acquiring one to make the most of it.

Thanks to private renting for nearly a decade, I am no stranger to viewing properties but even that was a whole new experience during a pandemic. Almost every estate agent had different rules to follow: one asked us to cover our faces and wear gloves, another stood outside the property after unlocking it, we even had one that cleaned every door handle and told us not to touch anything! The only real consistency was no one knew what they were doing and we were all just muddling through.

Unsurprisingly, most of the houses we viewed were empty and those that did have residence tried their best to follow the 2m rule. Majority of the time we gained more insight about the house from the residents tour than we did from estate agent ones.

What surprised us most was how quickly houses were being taken from the market. Not even a week in and ones we’d be hoping to view at the weekend were already settled on offers – we just couldn’t compete!

So when we found the one we’re now in the process of buying, you can imagine our panic at the thought of losing it. We’d been told at the viewing an offer had already been put in and at what price (although I’ve since learnt they’re not supposed to do that) so we put in an offer at asking price before the day was out.

The estate agents said they needed proof of our deposit (which is understandable and normal), but also asked for our mortgage illustration and, although that did confuse me, I managed to work it out through my banking app and sent it across. However, I emailed our mortgage advisor after doing so because it seemed odd.

Before my mortgage advisor could respond the estate agents contacted us to let us know that the other possible buyers had increased their offer to beat ours by a certain amount. Instantly my sister and I thought we must increase ours also so we quickly agreed how much and phoned them back to confirm. The estate agents had us in a bidding war and were content in continuing to increase the price above the market value. Thankfully before they could respond again (which they did) our mortgage advisor got in touch and told us that they had done 3 questionable things: 1) told us the initial offer value of the other buyer 2) asked for a mortgage illustration (it’s nothing to do with them) and 3) telling both parties the others offer and buying situation.

That being said, he suggested that if we like the house that much and they call us back, we were to respond with “Are you not going to go to best and final offers?” (that question immediately stopped the bidding war and it’s worth remembering if you end up caught in a similar situation).

We then spent a few days wondering if we’d get it, almost convincing ourselves we wouldn’t so as not to get disappointed. When the phone call came I quickly answered and was pleasantly surprised to learn our offer had been accepted.

It’s been six weeks since we put the offer in and we are very close to exchanging contracts and settling a completion date – we hope to update you with good news and our renovation as time goes on.