When Emily Seymour, 30, started looking for a property to buy in September 2019, a cool location was top of her wish list.
She wanted somewhere close to nice restaurants and bars and a bit more central than her home in South Norwood.
However, with a budget of £380,000, she soon realised she was going to struggle to find anything suitable. ‘I wanted a two-bedroom period property with a garden, which is really hard to find in London on a limited budget,’ she says.
Emily was looking in Zone 2 and 3 areas when Covid-19 hit and her office job switched to full-time working from home.
‘My priorities quickly changed. I realised that being close to my friends and being able to walk to and from each other’s houses was more important to me than I had previously thought,’ she says.
‘Moving to a completely different area where I didn’t know anybody quickly lost its appeal, especially as I knew I was going to be living and working on my own.’
In September 2020, Emily changed tack. She began searching in South Norwood, which is where she came across the flat she now calls home.
‘I saw it advertised for £365,000 on a local Facebook group and set up a viewing straight away.’
Interestingly, this was the only property that Emily saw in person. Properties were selling fast due to the stamp duty tax holiday, so there was little on the market within her budget.
‘It was a much higher spec than anywhere else that I had seen. As soon as I saw it I knew it was the one.
‘I had been viewing homes online for a year, so it didn’t feel like a rash decision,’ she says.
Emily let the estate agent know that she was interested and explained that she had more than a 50% deposit, which made her an attractive buyer. She spent the next week getting her finances in order, and a mortgage-in-principle agreed with NatWest, before making an offer.
She appreciates that she was in a very fortunate position, as her parents were able to help out. Many first time buyers – around 49% – rely to some extent on the Bank of Mum and Dad to help them take their first step onto the property ladder, according to Savills.
Emily counts herself as being very lucky to be among those whose parents were in a position to help.
‘My parents gifted me £150,000 which they themselves had inherited from their parents.
‘I also inherited £15,000 from my grandmother, who passed away in May 2020, and had £10,000 in a childhood savings account.’
However, she was also very shrewd when it came to the remaining £20,000, which she managed to save herself within four years. ‘In 2017 I got a new job with a pay rise and was finally earning enough to start saving,’ she says.
Emily opened up a Hargreaves Lansdown Lifetime Isa (Lisa) account which allowed her to contribute up to £4,000 each tax year — with the government adding a further 25% on top.
‘I put £300 in each month and then topped it up at the end of the year with work bonuses. I would recommend it to any first-time buyer as it was an easy way to make an extra £4,000.’
In September last year, Emily viewed the property for a second time and immediately offered the full asking price — another buyer had put in a lower offer and Emily wanted to ensure that her offer was the one that was accepted.
Thankfully, three days later, after a nerve-racking wait, her offer was agreed and she got the ball rolling, finding a solicitor.
Because of the stamp duty holiday, there were some delays with the surveys and both the seller’s and Emily’s solicitors were swamped dealing with other property sales.
‘We didn’t exchange until the middle of January and then completed a week later on January 29, 2021.’
‘It was a strange day,’ Emily adds. ‘I had to go to the solicitors’ in person to sign everything and, because it was peak lockdown, I wasn’t allowed to go into their offices — so I had to sign all the paperwork on the street.’ Emily spent the next few weeks moving in her belongings, with her cats Mimi and Atlas being the last ones to arrive.
She then spent the next six months decorating and filling her house with furniture that she either bought brand new or second-hand via Facebook Marketplace.
Emily explains: ‘My dad gave me a really good piece of advice: he told me that every room in your home should have one really nice thing that you have carefully chosen and spent money on, and everything else can be scavenged and restored and/or bought second hand.’
Taking his advice on board, Emily invested in a decent mattress for her bedroom, a sustainable desk for her work space, a comfortable sofa bed for when her parents or friends stay over in the spare bedroom, and a stylish occasional chair in the lounge.
Everything else was hand-me-downs or bought second-hand.
Now that she’s settled in, Emily can finally reflect on her experience.
‘Living in lockdown helped change my perspective on what was really important when searching for a first home,’ says Emily.
‘Before, I was out socialising a lot. But when faced with the prospect of spending an awful lot of time here on my own, factors such as needing outside space, living near friends, and having a home flooded with natural light were so much more important to me than being within walking distance of cool restaurants.’
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