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'We couldn't wait another year': Three couples who bought first homes in 2020 share their journeys

This year was anything but normal – so how did first-time buyers get on?

THIS YEAR WAS a tough one in all directions, so it may be hard to imagine making the biggest investment possible during such a tumultuous time. But many people did manage to buy their first homes in 2020, despite all the obstacles it set in their paths.

Buying your first home can feel like a daunting task, with a huge learning curve attached. That’s why we’ve touched base with three couples who managed to buy homes this year, to glean as many tips from their experience as possible.

From utilising a financial advisor to being persistent with estate agents, here’s how some brand new homeowners made their decisions.

Back to the Drawing Board when Covid Hit

When Leah and Eanna Rutherford started their house hunt in November 2019, they had their sights set on a new build. Little did they know, Covid would scupper those plans. But luckily, it pushed them into their current home, which they say feels like a perfect fit.

“The main thing was that we went the financial advisor route. We started back in September 2019 and their advice was to get all our finances in order in order to apply for a mortgage come January,” explained Leah. Applying for a mortgage at the start of the new year would allow them to take advantage of the ability to apply for more than three-and-a-half times their combined salary, which is the standard for a mortgage loan.

On the financial advisor’s advice, they opened a mortgage savings account with their bank, and combined savings from different accounts, like credit unions. “The one big thing they advised us to put all our savings in one place,” Leah said, “We weren’t saving a lot each month, but we had very expensive rent, which showed we were able to save, and we did have a deposit saved.”

Shutterstock / kolo5 Shutterstock / kolo5 / kolo5

The couple first put a deposit on a new build that was close to family and an easy commute into their jobs in the city centre. “Covid hit and then even though we had approval in principle, banks weren’t drawing down on mortgages that were exemptions at the time,” said Eanna, “We realised we actually had a much lower mortgage [amount approved in principle] because they weren’t giving exemptions.”

So their house hunt started from scratch, this time with a different bottom line. “We looked every day online, to the point that we were considering going out to the countryside,” said Leah, “and we were already commuting for our jobs, we didn’t want to be commuting to see our family.”

After viewing quite a few houses, they spotted what looked like it could be the one. “It was put up online on a Friday, we booked a viewing first thing Monday,” Eanna said. “But there were 40 people going to view it.” By the time they got to the viewing, the asking price had already been offered. While they didn’t enter the initial bidding war that ensued, they asked the agent to keep them in the loop. “We went back in, and, in fairness, we had enough in the end,” said Leah.

It was a quick turnaround from sale agreed to move-in day for the couple, and they credit the knowledge they gleaned from their initial meeting with the financial advisor, as well a good recommendation for a solicitor. “You really have to trust that person,” Eanna said.

Nostalgia Tipped the Scales

In December of 2019, Ciara Tunstead and her partner Alan Dixon began their house hunt, after they had been living with family for more than two years. And the first house they viewed was the one they fell in love with.

“It was actually our first bid on the road I grew up on as a kid,” Ciara said. While the couple viewed more than fifteen other houses, Tunstead couldn’t let go of the idea of living in a spot with such fond memories. While they had competition for the home amongst other potential buyers, she had a feeling this house was the one, “I just stuck to my gut. I knew I was going to live in this house.”

They later viewed approximately fifteen more houses, but each one reassured them that the first one was the one they hoped would become theirs.

File photo Shutterstock / SpeedKingz Shutterstock / SpeedKingz / SpeedKingz

Tunstead said she was surprised at how invested she was in the property from early on, “We sat outside the house every night after we put a bid in on it.” She recalled, “I could tell you every plant in the garden.” The fact that they had an estate agent to lean on through the process was helpful, “Working with someone who was very reassuring got us through the process.”

“Right before we went sale agreed, the buyer had one last viewing, and that’s when I realised you just don’t know what the other person has in their pocket. That scared the hell out of me as a first time buyer.”

But the couple prevailed, despite the restrictions of the first lockdown that held up valuations and surveyors visits. They got the keys on July 1, and were allowed to have family around to visit. However, Tunstead explained that the house needed considerable work thereafter, “The house needed a lot of renovations, so it was only this week that I was able to show off the finished piece.”

Persistence is Key

After living separately with family for two years, Avril Nevins and her partner were finally ready to start the home-buying process in April of this year. “Obviously, the world fell apart for a little while, so we held off,” she explained. “We started to pick up the process when things started to reopen in June.”

Their priorities were location and proximity to family, “We very much love living by the sea and living close to family, so we decided location was very imperative for us.”

Shutterstock / Paul O'Connell Shutterstock / Paul O'Connell / Paul O'Connell

The viewing process during the first pandemic lockdown was challenging, she said. “Between masks, gloves, and all timed appointments, it was a very strange, surreal experience. We did that for a couple of weeks. The house we ended up buying, it was the third house we saw on the first day we started to look.” Two weeks later, the couple put in an offer and despite a bidding war, it was eventually accepted and the property was sale agreed in August.

Nevins credits their success with the home-buying process to their persistence. “That poor estate agent, we were so persistent,” she said, “They must have gotten two to three calls from us a day in those last few weeks.”

Throughout the process, the couple was advised by various family and friends to consider waiting to see what the market would do in the coming years, “People were kind of saying to us, would you not wait and see? It could crash again and you could get an amazing deal next year.” But Nevins and her partner knew they were ready to make the move, “We were ready to go, and really, we had put extra pressure on ourselves to get everything over the line before anything was to happen to our employment. We’d gotten so far, we couldn’t do another year of sitting at home and waiting again.”

Ultimately, the decision Nevins and her partner made to move back home in order to save was enough to get their pandemic home-purchase over the line, and they’re thrilled with the result. “We just knew we wanted this house,” she said, “That was the priority, something we were happy with in a location that we both love.”

At Glenveagh Homes, our vision is that everyone should have the opportunity to access great-value, high-quality homes in flourishing communities across Ireland. We understand that buying a home is possibly the biggest decision you will ever make in your life – but we want to make it your easiest. Click here to find out more about Glenveagh developments.  

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