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I bought my house on a pandemic

I just want to start by saying that I never set out to buy a house on social media. I also certainly didn’t intend to buy one during a pandemic. But here we are. And what a ride.

I decided to jump onto the property ladder at possibly the worst time. It was more or less a clamber onto the first step, a slip off, and a couple of skinned knees. Basically, it wasn’t smooth sailing.

House prices in Southland were skyrocketing, and there had been a huge demand for homes in the first home buyer bracket. I was also buying on my own, so I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of or to tell me if I was making the right decision.

Still, as I sit in a house that I now own, I know that the entire process was worth it – even if it led to 4,545,490 sleepless nights to get to the finish line. And a new house that I didn't have any furniture for.

But even though I eventually did get that ‘sold’ sign put up, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things I wouldn’t have done differently, and that’s what I’d like to share with you. If I could offer any advice for people buying property today, it’s the following.

Don’t Underestimate the Value of Experts

The first time I tried to buy a house (yes, I tried more than once), I went directly to my bank through their online loan preapproval process. It was easy. I could fill out my information, and then someone would get in touch.

The truth is, though, going through an online platform doesn’t always put you in contact with the best person to guide you. I was connected with a “multi-channel specialist” in the contact centre, who seemed to know as much about the home loan process as he did about any other part of the banking world. As the saying goes – jack of all trades, master of none.

I don’t want to say that he wasn’t helpful, but… well, that’s exactly what I’m saying. As a first-time buyer, I was bursting with questions but didn’t feel he was providing me the answers or endeavouring to get them for me.

So, by the time I placed my first offer on a house after becoming preapproved, I was a nervous wreck with no direction. Google became my question answerer, and I relied more on than I like to admit.

After an unsatisfactory building report made me withdraw my offer, I was depleted of energy and money. No one really tells you how expensive house buying can be – even before you buy the house. I had to save more money, which meant I was out of the market and back to the drawing board.

As it turns out, that delay would create a whole new problem. My bank wouldn’t renew my preapproval.

Which is what leads me to my point of, don’t underestimate the value of experts. I decided that this time, I was going to connect with a mortgage broker. It was the best decision I ever made, and one that saved many headaches.

Using a Mortgage Broker

I saw a business card on the wall of the building I worked in and thought it was spooky that I would spot that right when I needed it. The business card was for Mortgage Field’s James Tufui, so I made an appointment.

James was excellent, and I told him what I wanted and the trouble I was having. He immediately shopped around to find me a lender who would offer me preapproval, and it was easy as that. Once I had preapproval, he told me I could go shopping. I didn’t realise how easy it could be, and I’m so thankful I ended up getting in touch with Mortgage Field to make that happen.

I was also able to connect with a lawyer who could assist with the whole buying and selling process. Emma Stanley Law, too, was a valuable resource.

Going Shopping

But that’s when a new problem arose. The competition was fierce. Every single open home I attended had dozens of potential new owners. I was continuously faced with the daunting prospect of putting my best offer forward in multi-offer situations. What if I offered too much? What if I offered too little?

Trying to secure a property was like hunting a zebra with a pack of lions. All of us first-time buyers were all after the same scrap of meat, and only one of us would get it. My top dollar didn’t seem to be enough, so I had to think smarter.

Social media ended up being the answer.

House Buying on Social Media

Let me start by saying that I value the work that real estate agents do. If the competition weren’t so intense, I would have been more than happy to let a real estate agency guide the way.

The ones I worked with to find potential properties were fantastic, and they were helpful throughout the entire sales and purchase agreement process. So, if it were to come down to buying with a real estate agent’s help or not, I would always choose the agent.

But these were not ordinary times. They still aren’t. Houses were and are selling in as little as 24 hours, and social media was an avenue that I felt was worth tapping into at that point.

I joined some Facebook noticeboards and put the word out. “Is anyone selling a house in this area?”

Surprisingly, within a day, I had one man offer me two houses in one transaction. Then, another woman contacted me with her rental property she had been thinking of selling. My request made her realise the timing was right.

I arranged a visit, did my due diligence, visited again, and made an offer. We negotiated, agreed, then got the ball rolling with our lawyers.

A Few Hurdles

What many people come across when buying privately is that the market value of a house may not be what the seller is asking for. Real estate agents can tap into a myriad of resources to access that information and list a property. Private sellers may not always get it right.

As part of my mortgage process, I had to get a registered valuation. This came in lower than the asking price, which meant my lender would not offer me finance. Once again, through social media, I got back in touch with the seller, and we talked a little more.

I also got back in touch with my mortgage broker who offered some out-of-the-box thinking to secure the mortgage. I had to put a bit more skin in the game, adjust my deposit, and work with the seller to meet in the middle. These things take time.

…And Then the Pandemic Hit

Once I finally got my ducks in a row, the pandemic hit. Tenants couldn’t move out, I couldn’t sign any documents in person, and things ground to a halt. The finance date was pushed out to allow for all the madness, and then the settlement was pushed out as a result. It seemed like I would never put the keys in my new front door.

I was also mindful of how much inconvenience I was causing the owner. As a first-home buyer, I faced delays with KiwiSaver, the Kāinga Ora First Home Grant, and changing banks. These delays were not what the vendor was expecting but, to be honest, neither was I. I’m thankful she was as patient as she was.

James from Mortgage Field was also an excellent source of information, long after he had done all he had to do. He alerted me to what the banks were doing, arranged for me to open my accounts once lockdown restrictions were lifted, and then met with me to discuss rates. He even made sure I could access the best rates.

He was also extremely patient with all my nonsense questions. Nothing was ever a problem. Eventually, on June 15, I settled. It had taken months of stress, sleepless nights, and paperwork I didn’t understand, but I finally bought a house.

On Facebook. In a pandemic.

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