What being a first time seller taught me about being a first time buyer

What being a first-time seller taught me about first-time buyers

6th October 2023: The information below was correct at the time of publication but is subject to change.

I recently sold my home. I’d bought it six years earlier as a first-time buyer, but it was really interesting to experience the transaction from the other side. Below are some things I learnt that you might find interesting as a first-time buyer. Take note, because they could be the difference between a vendor selling their home to you instead of somebody else, even if your offer isn’t the highest one they receive.

Sellers love first-time buyers

Back when I bought this house, I realised that as a first-time buyer, I was a little more valuable than somebody who had to sell their own place to fund the new purchase. This worked out well, as the then owner accepted my offer, so long as it was at asking price, without taking any more viewings. He wanted a quick sale as he’d basically already moved out. Selling it to somebody who had to sell an existing property was something he wanted to avoid. This worked out well for me six years ago.

But most sellers won’t be in this position. They’ll be in the position I found myself in more recently, where I need to show that my house is sold in order to be taken seriously by the people whose homes I was trying to buy. It works both ways. I wouldn’t really take seriously any offer from somebody who hadn’t yet agreed upon the sale on their home. Who knows how long that might take? And even if they did, and a first-time buyer offered the same (or even slightly less), I’d probably still prefer the first-time buyer as there’s less that can go wrong. The bigger the chain, the more opportunities there are for issues. If one person in a long chain changes their mind or has an issue with their purchase or sale, then people way down the chain are affected. There is value in eliminating that risk.

From my point of view, I wanted to be placing offers on my onward purchase, telling the vendor that I had not just agreed to the sale of my house, but agreed to it with a first-time buyer. And guess what? They don’t want to get involved with a huge chain if they can avoid it, either, as that makes them less appealing to their onward vendor. We’re all in the same boat, really. 

Being prepared matters

I asked my agent to ensure only people who were proceedable, i.e., in a position to actually buy my house, were able to come and view. This meant that they had funds for a deposit and proof of mortgage via an agreement in principle. (Personally, I’d prefer this to be done by a broker as I’ve helped so many people who came to me after saying they got an agreement in principle directly from a bank but then were told they’d never actually qualify for a mortgage offer with them. I’d rather have the broker review all their documents before getting an agreement in principle—not just their name, date of birth, salary and address history—and be able to prove it.)

And to the people who viewed my property and made an offer but needed to sell your own to buy mine but hadn’t even started the process of getting yours on the market: You could have offered me twice what you did, but it wasn’t a realistic offer, was it? You weren’t prepared.

Be ready to tell your position. Make sure they know you are a first-time buyer. You don’t need to give them your CV, biography, etc, Your position as a first-time buyer is your biggest asset. Though it’s not worth much without being properly qualified in advance.

Also make sure the seller knows you will appoint a good solicitor. Not just the cheapest. I was a bit paranoid about this as I’ve seen what havoc and stress a slow and uncommunicative conveyancing solicitor in a chain can cause.

Bad-mouthing my house won’t make me sell to you for less

This was my biggest and most surprising lesson. It really influenced how I acted when viewing other people’s properties.

Some people viewed my property and pointed out every single nick and imperfection. The boiler wasn’t installed yesterday, that was an issue. There was some traffic on their way here. And so on.

I think they were doing this to try and deflate my expectations of what they should offer. But given the way they were speaking, I wasn’t expecting them to offer at all. Apparently, my home was rubbish. So imagine my surprise when they made a reasonable offer the very same evening. Their comments about my house influenced how I perceived their offer because it was equally important to me to know I was accepting an offer from somebody who was motivated to complete the sale. And the more motivated the better. I’ll explain below.

Certainty and confidence are worth more than cold hard cash (to a point)

Now, I’d also had people who viewed the house and said, “I can see myself living here” and “You have a lovely home.” And less to my surprise, these people also made an offer.

Now, say the people who viewed and trash-talked the whole time and the people who viewed and made positive comments both made offers at the same level. Whom do you think I would rather accept an offer from, assuming they are both first-time buyers? The positive ones of course. Not because they were complimentary, not because I liked them more, or because I could tell they would appreciate living here, but because they gave me more confidence that they would be good buyers.

And what do I mean by good buyers? I didn’t get the impression they would drag their feet; I could tell they wanted to move in as soon as possible. I was confident this was the house they wanted, not just one of a few they’d be content with. They could see themselves living here and were able to look past the imperfections of a home lived in by home workers and an energetic cockapoo for the last six years. They wouldn’t be unrealistic if a survey picked up minor defects.

Then there is the guy who was speaking as if I lived in squalor; I’d fully expect him to demand I have all sorts of minor works done prior to sale if a survey found just a tiny imperfection. I’d question how committed he was to buying a house that he perceived to have so many issues. He might pull out at any second if another house without a scratch on the bathroom radiator came to the market. I mean how much did he think pointing this out would save him?

Essentially, I was more confident with the positive viewer, to the point where I’d probably have accepted their offer even if it was a few thousand less than Mr Negative. Because remember my priority as a vendor: finding a buyer at the right price, but more importantly one who will actually follow through, as without that I can’t get my own new home. After all, we’re all in the same boat, really.

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