Somewhere between sizing up kitchen worktops and the slow queue for mid-shop IKEA meatballs, it dawned on me: We’re buying a house.
Wait, let me correct that. We’ve bought a house.
I still can’t quite believe it.
3 months ago, my wife and I’d already written off 2019.
We’d sat down in the first week of January and plainly agreed that we wouldn’t even dare hope to buy a house this year.
Let’s take the year, talk about it next Christmas, and see where we’re at!
Conversations about the property market were banned. Property listing apps were deleted from our devices and scrolling through property listings became a dirty secret.
It’s strange how much can change in a few short, but high-stress months.
Without hesitation I can say that one of the key reasons we have been able to buy right now is the service we received from our lender. And it began some 8 weeks ago.
My father-in-law had sent me a message via WhatsApp. I say he sent me a message. What actually happened was my mother-in-law sent the message on his behalf, so as to alleviate his disdain for modern technology.
The message was a photo of a newspaper clipping from The Times—you’ve got to love him!—talking about a new type of mortgage.
It’s the Lend-a-Hand scheme, from Lloyds bank. The basic gist is “supporters” place savings they have (amounting to 10% of the price of a property) into a savings account for three years, in lieu of any deposit from us as buyers.
It was touted as a revolutionary new product. And it genuinely felt that way, too. Save for one similar—but altogether different—product, there’s nothing like it out there.
We’d spent years and years struggling to save while lamenting about the cost of houses in relation to wages. Finally it felt like someone was trying to help us buy a house.
The terms of the mortgage were pretty standard. You find a house and offer to buy it, jump through a shit-ton of hoops, Et voilà, you get a house.
The “hoops” make things a little more complicated, and they are by no means absent from this new product, but the hassle is altogether lessened. The big difference is the lack of deposit.
Struggling to Save in the Rental Generation
Like so many of the aptly named generation rent, we’d been struggling to save for a long time.
Our general cost of living, coupled with the average cost of houses outside of run down areas meant it was all-but impossible to save enough for a good deposit.
Chuck in the random
fucking extortionate little expenses, and you’ve got a real trial on your hands. Things like fixing something on the car, hikes in insurance premiums and the sudden surge in energy bills can all but wipe out a savings account.
We were able to keep our general cost of living lower than most. At least I think we did.
It felt like we were being pretty savvy, if I do say so myself! Our rent was relatively cheap and we reduced our outgoings to essential bills like utilities and food.
Non-essentials like clothes, or meals out, or even just a cheeky pint down the local pub were all out of the question. We lived frugally, to say the least.
Yet still we weren’t really able to save what we would need to. If we really tried, we might have been able to rack up a half decent deposit 4 years down the line.
But a lot can happen in 4 years. And while it would have been fine, we were putting our lives on hold until we had the security of a home.
Before we took on the Lend-a-Hand mortgage, we were lost at sea.
How Service Made a Difference
After the initial message from the in-laws, we decided to take a trip to the bank.
It was a cold and wet Saturday. The winter storms had begun to come in, and we decided to use the time to head into the Lloyds Canterbury branch to pick up a leaflet, or get some more info on their scheme.
We entered the ornate building from the murky and chilly city centre, to a warm greeting from the concierge. I’ve never seen one of these people before, which probably goes to show how long it’s been since the last time I went in to a bank.
We explained to them that we were looking for information. After a few minutes were swept upstairs into a glass office, chatting to Paul, a friendly mortgage advisor about the new scheme.
This would be the only face-to-face we had with Lloyds.
Paul told us all about the scheme. About how it was new, and there were only a handful of pilot branches in London doing it in-house.
We would have to have a call with an advisor if we wanted to find out more.
We had a couple of spare hours, and the car was paid up in the car park. So we agreed to talk with George, the Lend-A-Hand mortgage specialist turned future happiness gatekeeper.
After about an hour of talking, George had us eating out of the palm of their hand. We’d given them all our information.
And I mean Everything. From our date of birth, down to how much we spent on groceries last month.
To be honest, if we hadn’t have been sat inside a bona fide Lloyds branch, I’d swear it was some kind of phishing call. There were moments I was waiting for George to start asking about a car accident I didn’t have.
George wound up the end of the call by providing an “in-principle” mortgage offer, and promptly passed us back to Paul. In hindsight, it was a pretty hefty offer. One that far exceeded what we thought we’d be able to afford.
And after a brief chat with Paul, we emerged back onto the now overcast and muggy city street.
As we walked through the now damp corridor of Canterbury city centre, we shared few words. In our silence we were both trying to figure out what happens next.
We got to the car and decided to head out of the main city to debrief over coffee away from the hustle and bustle.
As our hands slowly warmed, Cat confessed she’d already broken our promise and had been looking at houses. To be honest, so had I.
We’d both seen one. A small terraced house not far from where we were renting. It looked homely, and something about it drew us in.
Oddly, we’d seen it sold last year, but the sale must have fallen through at the last. 'cause here it was, listed at a reduced price well within our budget.
So we booked a viewing, finished our coffees and went home to break our promise and dream of owning a house again.
The viewing was on Monday afternoon, after Cat finished work. We met the agent outside the property and on first inspection were horrified.
This wasn’t how it looked in the photos. It was dark and worn down. It had been stripped of life. Left bare and alone. A vulnerable home, in need of some care and attention.
We went away disheartened. Not knowing if Cat’s parents would agree to us buying it—after all, they’d want to help us fix the place up.
We booked a second viewing and returned a couple of days later, this time accompanied by the scrutinising eye of my Father in-law.
He walked through the house, tapping every wall and tugging at the peeling paintwork. He squinted, strained, and drummed his way through the house from top to bottom. Covering every inch.
We emerged in silence and headed home.
As we discussed, we were surprised how positive he was being.
Well, there’s nothing major wrong with it
His approval was all we needed and the next day I promptly called the bank to arrange the mortgage.
And Then Came the Hurdles
I’d love to say that everything went smoothly with the mortgage process. But I can’t.
After the initial phone call, I was handed over to a Lloyds Lend-a-Hand Mortgage advisor by the name of Peter.
I would soon find out that Peter’s job was to make sure our application was as ready as possible for the underwriters. And boy was that the case.
We ran through everything. Checking and double checking all the details George had put into the system a few days before.
And while I was were pretty confident things would be fine, but I wasn’t holding out too much hope.
What followed was a couple of weeks of daily emails and phone calls with Peter as we made the application as strong as possible
Each day a new hurdle presented itself. Each day, Peter told me how I could fix it, and each day I scrambled to do so as best I could.
And then came the call I thought had ended it all.
Matt, I’ve got really bad news. It’s looking like the most you’d get is around £4,000 short of your offer.
A combination of Cat’s patchwork employment (zero hours contracts, the bastards), and a salary sacrifice I had in place with HelpDocs was meaning we weren’t going to get the mortgage we needed.
£1k we could manage. Heck, £2k at a push with some juggling. But £4k? No way. 😭
What struck me was how sorry Peter sounded on the phone. I know what support people can sound like. The fake empathy usually doled out left, right and centre.
But Peter was different.
Peter was clearly upset for us and was as gutted as me. Even so much as spending a few minutes chatting to make sure I was ok. And it was this that made all the difference.
As we spoke, my mind was going a million miles an hour trying to find a solution. And then Peter said something.
If you got rid of that Salary sacrifice, you’d be in a much better position. But you’d still need to find £1k
Wait. The Salary sacrifice only totalled £1k, so if I could pay that back. And we could scramble to find the rest.
Leave it with me.
I hung up the phone and promptly got to work on improving our financial position. And less than 2 hours later, I was talking to Peter again.
That would be the theme to my Lend-a-Hand support experience. Peter would contact me to let me know of an issue, but would also help me figure out how to get things back on track.
Knowing how much effort we were willing to put in, Peter matched it.
It was absolutely mind-blowing. And an astonishing level of service to get from a bank.
Valuation Distress: The Killing Blow
After getting us ready to be scrutinised by the underwriters, Peter passed us off to Pamela in processing.
Pamela’s job was simply to facilitate the next steps. There wasn’t much in terms of contact, but I kind of liked that. I could just leave it be, and wait for things like the valuation to come back.
But when the valuation did come back, it was by far the worst and most telling hurdle.
The valuation was £13,000 less than the offer we’d made on the property. I appealed, of course, but it was upheld.
Of course, I could go back to the seller, but it felt so shitty to try and knock them down. Regardless of the valuation.
I was destroyed.
After all the hurdles we’d been through. All the headaches getting things ready, jumping through hoop after hoop. We were going to be stumped by something I had absolutely no control over.
Then something incredible happened.
Peter called me.
It can’t have been part of the job, can it? I mean, perhaps it was—and it was absolute mad props to Lloyds—but it didn’t feel like it.
Peter’s familiar tone somehow made the utterly shit news seem bearable. It wasn’t in the slightest, but it made it seem that way.
Ah Matt, I’m so sorry. I just heard about the valuation and knew you’d be gutted. I’m gutted for you.
We spoke for a while as I lamented about renegotiating the offer, and Peter reiterated something Jake had told me an hour before.
Worst case scenario they say no and you don’t go any further. Best case, you can save yourself a few quid.
I know. It sounds obvious when someone else says it. Even more so when you have multiple people saying it!
I had to face it, renegotiation was my only move.
Considering how anxious I was about renegotiation, it was super simple. Made me feel like a bit of a twat really. Like I was worrying about nothing.
I called the agency, they called the seller. The seller appreciated the valuation was probably accurate and we came to a compromise.
I sent the new details to Peter who was audibly ecstatic about the turn of events. He promptly rushed through the new application and over the following few days we sailed through the remainder of the process.
I have no doubt the hurdles we faced would have been exactly the same regardless of the type of mortgage we’d gone for. But what was unique was the service experience we received.
Across the board, the Lend-a-Hand team surpassed my expectations. But the stand out hero of the story was definitely Peter.
I knew nothing about mortgages. And I can honestly say, without the support and guidance of someone who knew their shit and had my back, we wouldn’t have ended up buying our first house.
As we build our customer education team, I hope I can build a team of Peters. Educators who feel what the customer feels and understand their struggles. Who will do whatever they can to help the customer succeed and guide them to a happy resolution.