Monday, 16 May 2011

How To Buy a House

So far, we are nowhere near being experts at this. In fact, none of us have ever bought one, and although it feels like we've been close, there are no doubt an enormous number of other doomful things which we will encounter next time. Still, in the spirit of encouraging, informing and inspiring the formation of other housing co-ops, we thought we'd share the Golem Guide to How To Buy a House - or at least, How To Get a Bit Closer To Buying a House Than You Probably Are Now.

Snappy titles are not my thing :)

1. Try to give yourself more than three weeks for the process. We can honestly tell you, from our highly-frazzled experience, that house-buying is a lengthy endeavour. Everything will take longer than you expect, even if you over-exagerate your expectations. The universe knows, and will alter the amount of time things take. That's how timey-wimey works.

2. All situations are open to change, often at short notice. In fact, situations WILL change. Accept it, and try to remain flexible.

3. Make friends with any trades people that you can. Find builders, glaziers, plumbers, electricians and gas engineers (you might be surprised to find that you already know people who fit the bill - we were) who are happy to come and look at things for free, and if you find a house you like, take them along. We were really lucky to form some good contacts during the Mould Mansion saga, and will be revisiting these relationships when we next find somewhere we like. All of this free advice is still not as awesome/legally important/project-nixing as a survey, but it will give you a better idea of the property before deciding whether to fork out for one.

4. Temper your enthusiasm, yet be enthusiastic. We wouldn't pretend that we have got the balance right within our co-op, but there is clearly a balance to be sought. Downright pessimism does no-one any favours (after all, you have to have a bit of optimism to be a group of low-income people trying to buy a house in an over-inflated property market) but neither does raging optimism, fun though it is.

5. Surveys are worth the money. Also, they're fascinating. We learnt so much about MM from the survey, and most of it is applicable to all the Victorian housing stock in Swansea. There isn't much over-estimating how useful a survey is to a group of people without a huge reserve of cash sitting in the bank. If we had bought MM, we would have at least known all the major flaws of the property. No big surprises can only be a good thing, although still expect lots of little ones.

6. Get a valuation before doing your survey if you can. Basically these two things both cost hundreds of pounds each. The valuation was what thwarted our hopes of buying MM, and because of time restraints, we'd done it after all the other stuff, including the survey. If your mortgage company won't lend you anywhere near the asking price for the house, move on to pastures new. Or haggle.

7. Once you've discovered that you can actually purloin the funds for the house, get a survey and write a proper business plan. We have worked out a basic budget for what we can afford, knowing in advance what the maximum rent is that we can charge. There's a lot of fine tuning to be done in business plans, but if you can't get an appropriately sized mortgage in the first place, save yourself some time. This is also where your awesome survey comes in. There might be some surprises that need to be accomodated in the business plan, but you can get quotes and include them before submitting everything to your mortgage company. This should hopefully lead to annoying them less and saving you a lot of work. That's what we're hoping for next time, anyway.

8. Look after each other. Primarily we failed on this front by letting individuals take on major jobs with no back up. One person was responsible for all the mortgage company contact, another for all the number-crunching, another for getting all the quotes. Although we did a brilliant job of comunicating with each other, this did mean that if, for instance, the business plan person was ill, or knackered and unable to eloquently explain the finer points of day one work and it's effects on rents, we were all scuppered. Having a second person involved in each task means no one is carrying the entire weight of something. Since we're a co-operative, we're meant to be co-operating, but it's easy to forget when there's so much to be done.

9. Eat cake. Socialise with each other even when there's lots of work to do. Insert lots of innuendo into your meetings (hurrr!). Feel free to stop the entire process at any point if it's all becoming too much. Eat more cake. Look after yourselves and each other, and no matter whether you have a house or not, you will still be improving the net amount of co-operation on the planet, and that can only be a good thing.

So there we are, How To Buy a House from the beleagered mind of someone who has never bought one. This might all be tosh, but our hope when starting this blog was to provide something so that other fledgling co-ops and interested parties can see what a daft, frustrating, awesome experience being a housing co-op can be. We're taking you along for the ride, and that includes all the bits we know nothing about. Everyone has to start somewhere, after all.

If you're interested in doing similar, or are already doing it, or like the idea, or have any good cake recipes to share, then please get in touch.



  1. As a bunch of total novices, you did well from MM. Sure, you spent some money, but at least you didnt waste a whole lot more and end up with Crumbleville. Now that would have been a disaster. Why now have a chat with a nice friendly local housebuilder next time, and start from the ground up?

  2. The finance faff of building a house is a lot more complex. For some time we'd have to be paying a mortgage on an unfinished property while paying rent to live elsewhere. It would also require a planning application, and a lot more risk. New-builds can spiral in cost enormously.

    Its not a terrible plan. I'm all for self-build in general, but for this project I'm not sure we want to countenance it based on our collective levels of experience.