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16 things you need to know about buying a house as a single woman

Buying a house is not for everyone – especially in this economy. But personally, if it's a choice between paying off my landlord's mortgage or my own? I'd rather opt for the latter. As a single woman, it feels like I'm at a disadvantage to all my coupled-up friends, especially when it comes to the not-so-small matter of stumping up a deposit.

Thanks to the gender pay gap, it takes millennial women an extra eight months to save a deposit for their first home compared to their male counterparts, according to research by Compare My Move. And joint applicants (usually couples) still constitute the majority of first-time buyers. So far? It feels like the odds are stacked against me.

Here's the thing… Even if I were in a relationship, I'm not convinced I'd like to buy a house with another person. To me, the appeal of home ownership is the financial independence and security. So, regardless of my relationship status, I'd still have ~questions~ about how to purchase my first home as a sole buyer.

I asked around GLAMOUR HQ to find out the most common questions about buying a house as a single woman, from facing potential gender discrimination to the technicalities of completing a purchase. Next up, I shared our concerns with Davinia Tomlinson, a financial educator and author, who answered all our questions and identified 16 things all single women need to know before buying a house…

1. It's YOUR decision – nobody else's

“For some of us, getting on the property ladder is a long-held aspiration,” explains Davinia. "Perhaps you’ve been a long-term renter and want a space to call your own, free from worry that your landlord might increase the rent or sell. Or maybe you’ve moved to a new phase in your life, and you’re ready to give up the flexibility of renting for something you can put your stamp on, decorating it as you see fit without asking permission. Or perhaps you’ve run the numbers and found that renting is no longer economically viable for you, and a mortgage over the long term would be cheaper, even factoring in maintenance and other costs associated with home ownership.

“Spoiler alert," she adds, "It’s not the right decision for everyone, though, so stay focused on what matters most to you and don’t allow yourself to be swept away in the tide of what you think you should be doing, based on external pressures. You know what’s best for you.”

2. Plan BEFORE starting the house hunt

We see you scrolling through Rightmove! Sadly, buying a house is not as simple as *adding to cart* – we wish it was. Davinia recommends answering the following questions before window shopping:

What can you afford? There’s no point even starting your search before you have clarity on this. The sooner you can determine how much you can comfortably afford, the more precise you can be with your search.

How does home ownership fit in with your broader life goals? For example, if you plan to start a family in the short to medium term, then buying in an area with good schools might be more of a priority for you.

Where would you like to live? Are you more of a city dweller, or do you prefer rural life? Are you looking for a house or apartment?

What are your non-negotiables? Is not having a garden an absolute deal-breaker? How many bedrooms would you like, ideally? Is parking for you or your guests important to you?

3. Preparation is everything

“Prioritise,” says Davinia. "This is where a little tough love kicks in as we remind ourselves that we find the time for whatever is important to us.

"If you find that life is constantly getting in the way, then it could mean that now is just not the right time for you to add a property purchase into the mix, or perhaps that subconsciously it’s not something you really want to do. Exploring which of these things is true for you is important if you keep on hitting a brick wall whenever you begin.

“As with any big goal, sometimes the enormity of it can overwhelm us, so breaking it down into bite-sized chunks, such as looking at prices in your desired area, then comparing them against what you might be able to afford, is a great way to get going.”

4. Start where you are

We're all guilty of daydreaming about an unspecified time in our future when we finally live in our dream house. But if you want to make the dream house happen, you need to prioritise action over fantasies. Here's what Davinia recommends:

"Look at your personal finances in terms of what you might be able to afford based on your current and projected income and expenses and see how that measures up against likely housing costs for properties in your chosen area.

Explore possible mortgage options to get an idea of what you could borrow without committing until you’re sure. Then, register with a few estate agents who can help you research the market within your price range and book some viewings. Recognise that it’s the start of a journey that may include a number of stages such as research, analysis, selection and purchase, so commit yourself to playing the long game and doing your due diligence throughout to give yourself the best possible chance of finding the right property for you.

5. Do I stand a chance if I’m a sole buyer on a single income?

“Absolutely!” says Davinia. "The number one metric you need to be concerned with whether you are buying your property alone or jointly is affordability.

“This overrides all else because it dictates what banks might be willing to lend and, therefore, what your options might be for a suitable property. Speak to a mortgage adviser who can help you run the numbers. Having a good grasp of your cash flow in the months leading up to starting your search will help with this. You may need to be savvy about how to make your pounds stretch, and it’s worth keeping an open mind about where your first property might be, but don’t count yourself out before you take the first step.”

6. As a single woman, will sellers take me seriously?

As Davinia explains, “In most cases, you’d be represented by an intermediary or estate agent, who’d be acting on your behalf, so your exposure to the seller should be minimised throughout the process. Ultimately, it is in everyone’s best interests for the process to be run as seamlessly as possible, which is a difficult thing to achieve with so many moving parts, so lean on your advisers to make sure they’re acting in your best interests.”

“Sadly, even with the most positive mindset, discrimination remains a pervasive threat, but in the spirit of controlling what we’re able to control, don’t allow imposter syndrome or concerns about other people’s opinions to force you out of the race before you even reach the starting blocks. Remember: what other people think of you is not your business!”

7. How do you deal with being constantly dismissed as a single woman?

“Don’t!” says Davinia. "Instead, ask for recommendations from friends or colleagues who’ve had positive experiences and request an introduction. For what is likely to be one of the biggest investments of your life, it’s important that you have a team of advisers (as well as cheerleaders who have already been through the process) who are committed to helping you realise your goal. Don’t spend a single second worrying about those who won’t. Chemistry really counts, so trust your instincts.

“Remember there is a mutual benefit to your successful property purchase so even though it might appear that way, don’t feel that your advisers have the upper hand. You get to decide who you want to work with.”

8. What questions do I need to ask when viewing a house?

Paper and pen at the ready, here are the top questions to ask when viewing a property, according to Davinia:

Why are the sellers moving on?

Ask about the neighbours and what the neighbourhood is like overall, including the quality of local schools if that’s a priority to you.

What are the sellers leaving behind, and what are they taking? (This could be fixtures and fittings, carpets and even lightbulbs!)

Get a feel for average bills; how much are utilities, and how strong is the WiFi?

Ask when last the house was rewired, and whether there are any known plumbing issues or structural problems that may not be uncovered in a survey.

Confirm whether it is freehold or leasehold and, if the latter, what the tenure is. Depending on how long is left on the lease, you may struggle to get a mortgage unless it is extended to a suitable level (usually over 70 years).

Ask about the water pressure – put the taps on yourself if you can!

Check if there have been any modifications to the original house spec, perhaps they’ve done a loft conversion or added a conservatory, make sure they’ve had planning permission.

Ask about access rights via your property to public pathways or spaces, which areas you are responsible for and which belong to neighbours, to avoid disputes after you’ve bought the property.

It’s a big purchase, so be thorough (while respectful of someone else’s home – don’t go in and slate the current décor for example!), take someone experienced with you who can capture the things you miss, and don’t be afraid to make two or three visits before you make an offer.

9. What is Stamp Duty? Do I need to pay it?

According to Davinia, “Stamp Duty or its more complete title, Stamp Duty Land Tax is levied on properties, over a certain threshold. For residential properties, you only pay land tax if your property is over £250,000. The exact rate you pay varies, subject to the final purchase price.”

It's also worth bearing in mind that there's Stamp Duty relief available for first-time buyers. If you’re a first-time buyer in England or Northern Ireland, you won't pay Stamp Duty on properties worth up to £425,000.

10. What are all the extra bits that I'd need to pay for on top of the deposit?

Davinia notes that in addition to your deposit, you’ll also need to budget for:

Conveyancing: Legal costs or conveyancing as well as searches to check who owns the property and whether the name on the title deed matches before it is transferred over to you.

Valuation: Lenders will request a valuation of the property to check that it is a suitable property to lend against, i.e. it is worth the purchase price.

Survey: You’ll need a survey to check the condition of the property and see if there are any costly repairs required that might compromise its value and force you to revise your offer price.

Financing costs: The cost of arranging finance including a mortgage adviser if you used one as well as an estate agent fees should be considered too.

Stamp duty: On completion, you may also be required to pay stamp duty.

Be clear on all the costs associated with your purchase in advance so there are no surprises during the process.

11. What should your solicitors do on your behalf?

"Your solicitor, also referred to as a conveyancer in the case of property matters, is instructed to act on your behalf in all legal matters related to the purchase," explains Davinia.

“This includes performing all the due diligence associated with the home you are purchasing to check all the correct documents are in place, reviewing survey and search information, requesting any additional information as required and coordinating with your seller’s solicitor to agree exchange of contracts. This is the longest part of the process with good reason – your solicitor will make sure that nothing is missed in purchasing your property that could leave you exposed to liability or further expense when the property is yours.”

12. Is shared ownership actually worth it?

"For some, it’s a viable first step to home ownership, provided the numbers work. With shared ownership properties, you effectively own a stake in a property, say 25%, with the rest owned by a private developer or housing association who acts as a landlord. You secure a mortgage for the part you own and you pay rent on the rest. Usually you are able to incrementally increase the size of the stake you own up to 100% or a predetermined cap of say 80%. This is known as ‘laddering’.

"Typically you’d have to meet certain eligibility criteria to secure a shared ownership property, which may include annual salary or key worker status for example. Do look into likely resale value and exit process should you want to leave in future. There are often restrictions on renting out your property in the event you do not want to sell but do decide to move on.

“Do your due diligence, run the numbers and be clear on the terms of your purchase before you decide to commit.”

13. What's the difference between a leasehold and a freehold?

"The difference between leasehold and freehold is primarily one of land ownership. With a freehold property you own the house and the land it is built on. With a leasehold property you own the property for a certain length of time, as determined by the length of the lease, but you do not own the land.

"In addition to mortgage repayments, therefore, leasehold property owners also have to pay ground rent for use of the land upon which the property is built as well as maintenance and other charges as determined by the freeholder.

“The length of the remaining lease is an important consideration in the purchase or sale of a leasehold property. Many banks will not mortgage a leasehold property with less than 70 years on the lease.”

14. What does ‘no-chain’ mean?

“When you buy a property, effectively a new marketplace is being created in which you are the buyer and on the other side there is a seller. If your seller is not dependent on buying a new property before they can sell you theirs, this means there is no chain, which typically makes for a smoother process as there are only two parties to manoeuvre (you and them) instead of three or more (you, them and their seller).

"Conversely, if your vendor is selling their property and buying a new one at the same time (as opposed to selling it and banking the proceeds before using them to buy a new property in what is effectively two separate transactions) and/or if you are also selling an existing property to buy the new one, then this lengthens the chain and potentially the length of time it will take to complete the process.”

15. Where do I stand legally if the chain falls through?

“If the chain falls through before you have exchanged contracts, then, unfortunately, there is nothing you can do. Once contracts have been exchanged, however, you may be able to claim compensation from your vendor. Be clear on what the obligations are for everyone in the chain before you exchange and how long it takes between exchange and completion. In some cases, both can occur on the same day.”

16. How long does it take to complete a purchase?

“Given the many stages involved in purchasing a property, the average estimated completion time is 12 weeks from the offer stage. This may be shorter or longer, subject to circumstances.”

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

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