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I’ve had dealings with estate agents in the past – I’ve rented in London for almost a decade and I’ve been faced with most nightmare situations – everything from putting down a deposit for a house that was ~literally~ a building site, only for the man who showed it to us to vanish into thin air, to walking around a rank hovel our budget would just about stretch to and the woman from the lettings agency telling us they were thinking of putting the rent up. Amazing!
So I was prepared for the bad stuff, but nobody told me about how weird it would all be. Here are just a few of the unexpected things that actually happened to us, and might even happen to you. Thank me later.
We barely saw any estate agents.
When you’re a renter you pretty much always get shown round by a professional unless you’re joining an existing houseshare. The tenant you’re replacing in a rental property isn’t exactly bothered who gets the flat after them, and why should they be? But in our viewings more than half of them were hosted by the homeowners themselves.
A lot of the houses we looked at were on the market with online estate agents like Purplebricks, YOPA or Tepilo, and the packages homeowners sign up for don’t necessarily include someone to show you around.
This has upsides and downsides – they really know their house and can tell you extra tidbits of info that can be helpful in your decision – like commuting costs, how much council tax they pay, or exactly how old the boiler is. An estate agent might not have an answer for you (or let’s face it, they’ll make something up on the spot). However, if the house is not what you were looking for, you pretty much have to be nice about it – you can’t say “we’d need to replace that disgusting wallpaper” or “it needs a completely new kitchen” when the person who chose it is in the room with you. They also can’t tell you if they have a similar property that might suit you better like an estate agent could.
Everyone and their mum wants to sell you a mortgage.
I think most people’s house buying journey starts off in the same way – a good old fashioned Rightmove browse. So when we wanted to kick off our property search (I feel so Phil and Kirstie writing that), I clicked through to enquire on a few houses and book some viewings.
But it isn’t that simple – prepare for an absolute barrage of personal questions, acronyms and phone calls. Why? Because you’re fresh meat, and everybody wants a piece of that sweet sweet mortgage commission.
Some of the questions we were asked were fair enough, it makes sense for an estate agent to want to know how many bedrooms you’re looking for, or if you’ll need to be close to the station. However, I wasn’t prepared to be asked how big my deposit is, who my mortgage provider was and be badgered into taking a meeting with their financial advisor.
Perhaps we should have a got mortgage in principle before we started to look at houses – but if you want to work out your maximum budget, you don’t need a professional to do it.
How to work out what you can afford:
In general this equation should give you a loose answer:
4.5 x (your salary + your partner’s salary if relevant) + (your deposit – fees) = your maximum budget
We wanted to know what we could get with our money in the area before we met with a broker. Having a mortgage in principle isn’t a requirement to view a house – don’t let estate agents pressure you into getting a mortgage through them, it’s not going to stop your offer being accepted.
Want to join a community of other people trying to buy their first home? Join my free Facebook group First Time Buyer Wannabes.
In the end we lied, and just said we had a mortgage waiting for us with Nationwide – just to stop the pushy upselling. It really makes no difference who your mortgage in principle is with – we weren’t looking at places that were crazily out of our budget, and we weren’t intending on wasting anyone’s time.
If you’re a young-ish couple the baby questions will never stop.
It’s worse than your broody grandmother at Christmas.
Everything looks different in photos.
Now, I don’t know what Photoshop jiggery pokery is used on property websites, but some really ramshackle houses looked great online, and one of our favourites in the flesh looked nothing like it did in pictures.
Size is also really difficult to gauge, the difference between 850 & 1000 square feet can feel MASSIVE, and even two similarly sized properties can feel really different once you’re inside.
They’ll google you.
Shout out to the man showing us around his house who said “so, I hear you’re a money saving expert” – kind of WTF, but whatever. Having great SEO is a curse sometimes.
Estate agents don’t care about GDPR.
We went to see ONE 3 bed Victorian terrace with a certain estate agent, it wasn’t for us, but, whatever. But now I’m getting never-ending emails, texts and phone calls about new build 1 bed flats 20 miles away from where we were looking. Helpful. When I emailed you one time I don’t think I signed up for all that, so hmmm?
It’s well worth getting an estate agent SIM, and using an alias email address. A £10 topup has saved me from literally hundreds of spam texts and cold calls.
Open houses are not the same as on TV.
You’ve probably seen American “realtors” hosting open houses in films or on telly. But if you’re told a property you’re interested in is having an open house, do not expect a Californian experience.
- Firstly, you still need an appointment – which kind of defeats the “open” part of the name, tbqh.
- There are no snacks.
- It’s awkward AF walking around a poky terraced house at the same time as a family of four (complete with kids) and you have to queue to ask the estate agent a question.
They’re a tactic to trick you about how popular the property is. The open house is only available for an hour, and they won’t let you see the house on that weekend at any other time, so the open house seems really busy, and when the estate agent inevitably lies about the owners being snowed under with offers, it’s a bit more believable.
The sexism is real.
From directing all questions to my boyfriend, despite it being me who booked every single viewing, to only taking price negotiations seriously when a male family friend emails on my behalf, buying a house as a woman is tough.
I have literally zero advice to combat this – assume a male name? Wear a fake beard? Hope that these dinosaurs die out?
Have you got any similar tales from your own house viewings? Or something worse? Leave me a comment!4