I bought a flat! But you knew that already from this post. I moved in last week and am busy getting settled. I love my new place and I’m excited to make it my home once the boxes are unpacked. A number of you have asked me to write about the process so I thought I would dedicate a blog post to showing you how to buy a flat in London.
How to Buy a Flat in London
Or at least to showing you how I bought a flat in London. Individual circumstances play a big role in each person’s flat purchase process, so there’s no one-size-fits-all model.
In fact, my case was more singular than most, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Even if you’re a more standard buyer, the London property market can be daunting at the best of times and maddening at the worst. If there’s any advice I can give on the subject it’s that making a purchase takes a good deal of patience and a great sense of humor.
How I Found a Flat in London
The latter of those was the most important for me when I started looking at flats in London. Back in spring I found myself in need of a new place to live, and fast. I had just gone through a break-up with a boyfriend, and I was living in his flat. Awkward.
I thought about my options and assumed I would have to rent. It had never occurred to me that I could buy a flat in London. First, I didn’t think anyone would give a mortgage to a self-employed travel blogger. Second, all my friends that have bought in London have been high-earning bankers and lawyers, and even they’ve had trouble affording a place.
But the more I researched, the more I realized that the combination of my personal savings, a history of gainful self-employment, my British citizenship, historically low interest rates, and a weak housing market provided the ideal conditions for me to buy a flat in London.
I called my bank, fully expecting them to laugh out loud when I asked for a mortgage. But not only did they take me seriously, they also pre-approved me. It helped that I could demonstrate self-employment earnings for 8 years (apparently it could have been much harder if I had recently become self-employed) and that I got British citizenship several years ago (it can be difficult for Americans without British citizenship to get mortgages in London). It was also reassuring that the woman I spoke to thought I had her dream job (yay!).
Mortgage approval in hand, I started looking at properties. And when I did I realized it didn’t cost as much to buy a flat in London as I feared. I had never looked at prices before since I had always assumed I couldn’t afford to. If my banker friends struggled, how could I even think about it?
But prices have come down in the last four years and many of the properties I looked at had been reduced in price since going on the market. I was also looking for smaller properties than my friends bought, which made another difference.
Encouraged, I spent two-and-a-half weeks running all over London looking at flats. From Hampstead to Peckham, Fulham to Islington I viewed properties pretty much everywhere in the city. I wasn’t set on a particular neighborhood, but more interested in finding a flat I loved.
And in the end I found just that. My flat ticks all the boxes I want it to tick, from lots of natural light to outdoor space. It’s in a great area in south London, which opens up a whole new part of the city for me to explore (it’s hard to believe how infrequently I’ve been to this part of the city). And best of all, it has a view.
How I Bought a Flat in London
Once I put an offer on, I needed my first piece of advice more than my second (that’s patience if you don’t remember). The process that takes place between having an offer accepted and actually getting the keys to a flat in London is not only long but also very different from how it works back home in California.
Without getting into the painful details, it basically involves getting a solicitor (lawyer) to make sure the property is what it’s advertised to be (it’s all “buyer beware” here) and hammer out the details with the seller’s solicitor. While that might sound straightforward, it rarely is. Also, both parties are allowed to back out until almost the last minute without a penalty, so it’s a bit nerve-wracking.
In the end, it took 10 weeks for me to complete my flat purchase. That may seem long (and it certainly felt that way to me), but it can take far longer. It involved things like paying for research to be done to make sure my flat didn’t come with the responsibility of covering costs for repairs to the local church’s chancel (seriously) and hiring surveyor to make sure the building wasn’t going to fall down (it wasn’t).
On the last day, I got a phone call from my solicitor to say the flat was officially mine and a call from the estate agent saying I could pick up the keys. I went straight to the flat, excited to be a homeowner for the first time. I had never felt like such an adult.
The moment I opened the door and walked into my new home was one of the most meaningful of my life. I couldn’t stop smiling, and I felt so grateful to have a place of my own.
Naturally, this called for champagne. I celebrated with a few friends that evening and the following week. In fact, there’s been a lot of champagne in my life since I got the keys.
And while I’m now in the less exciting up-to-my-eyeballs-in-boxes phase, I’m still over the moon about my place. I can’t wait to get settled in and start sharing more about this part of London with you.
I hope this little guide has helped you get a feel for how to buy a flat in London (or at least how I did). If it’s a dream of yours, I wish you the best of luck in making it a reality. In the meantime, here’s to many more years in the city. Because no matter how, where, or what amount of time you’re here, it’s an amazing place to be.
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