Tak­ing the mys­tery out of first-time home buy­ing

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

like the one or two-bed­room Lon­don flat they thought they’d end up buy­ing.

As McLeod, 34, ex­plains, the rather repet­i­tive ex­er­cise ac­tu­ally helped to ed­u­cate them about what they wanted – and didn’t want – in their first home. “Be­fore I was in sales, I was an ac­tor, so had al­ways done mys­tery shop­ping as an ex­tra in­come stream,” he says. “Mys­tery shop­ping in­volves play­ing a role, so it comes nat­u­rally.”

The cou­ple were em­ployed by Pulse Mys­tery Shop­ping to pre­tend to be first-time buy­ers at the mar­ket­ing suites of new-build de­vel­op­ments, for £75 per trip. “Some­times we posed as Help to Buy cus­tomers [the scheme that of­fers buy­ers a gov­ern­ment eq­uity loan to help with their de­posit on a new home], other times buy­ers with a de­posit from ‘the Bank of Mum and Dad’, and each time we wore a hid­den cam­era,” says McLeod. “To make it use­ful for us, we asked to be sent to de­vel­op­ments an hour from Lon­don, but we gen­uinely didn’t know where we wanted to end up liv­ing. Re­search­ing the lo­ca­tion was one of the key things we learnt.”

The cou­ple in­evitably saw mul­ti­ple schemes by ma­jor house­builders, in­clud­ing Bar­ratt, David Wil­son Homes and Redrow, but soon re­alised that many prop­er­ties at the lower end of the mar­ket were very sim­i­lar to one an­other. “You re­ceive the same sales pat­ter at many of the mar­ket­ing suites. Al­though on one oc­ca­sion a sales­per­son did ac­tu­ally say ‘my boss would kill me for say­ing this but I wouldn’t ac­tu­ally buy here my­self…’ We of­ten walked into a scheme and thought we’d seen it be­fore, when we hadn’t, it was just the same thing in a dif­fer­ent place. So con­sider the lo­ca­tion first, then find a de­vel­oper you like,” he says.

Tyler, 32, who works for a tech com­pany, agrees. “A lot of what we saw was quite boxy, and I would have liked to see much more open-plan liv­ing lay­outs,” she says. “Also, de­vel­op­ers could re­ally treat buy­ers as in­di­vid­u­als, try­ing to find out what they want, rather than just sell them a prop­erty.”

An­other thing they learnt was to look for the ex­tras or “add-ons”. “The head­line price might look at­trac­tive, but ask what is in­cluded and what is not. Of­ten we would see an in­cred­i­blelook­ing show home but re­alised that it had a num­ber of up­grades that would cost ex­tra – maybe £50,000 on top of the £300,000 sales price. White goods are of­ten not in­cluded,” says McLeod.

Hav­ing seen an aw­ful lot of homes – and saved around £6,000 to­wards their wed­ding – they knew what they wanted.

They opted for the Berke­ley Homes scheme at Hol­bor­ough Lakes, south-west of Chatham. “I had lived in New Zealand for five years, and at the back of my mind had al­ways dreamt of liv­ing by a lake,” says Tyler. “With mys­tery shop­ping, you al­ways pre­tend you like some­thing, but that time I wasn’t act­ing. The nat­u­ral set­ting made it re­ally stand out from other schemes.”

The brand-new neigh­bour­hood set around an eight-acre fresh­wa­ter lake comes with walk­ing trails, nurs­ery, pri­mary school, vil­lage hall and pri­vate res­i­dents’ gym. Prices start at £375,000 for a three-bed­room house. It’s ac­ces­si­ble to Lon­don from nearby Sn­od­land, get­ting to Strat­ford in 38 min­utes and St Pan­cras in 45 min­utes.

The cou­ple sorted out their fi­nances – Tom’s mum down­sized her home to free up some cash for their de­posit – and re­served a four-bed­room house with a bal­cony and a large gar­den for £570,000, which they bought us­ing the Help to Buy scheme.

“It was a bit of a leap of faith, buy­ing a home off-plan, but we had the con­fi­dence af­ter get­ting to know the de­vel­oper,” says McLeod.

All of this mys­tery shop­ping made the cou­ple savvy about how to ap­proach de­vel­op­ers and get the best deal. “Don’t be afraid to ne­go­ti­ate on the price of a new-build, whether it is ask­ing for £10,000 off the price, the stamp duty to be paid, or on the Help to Buy ticket,” says McLeod.

“Some prop­er­ties are ad­ver­tised for be­tween £650,000 and £690,000, but might be brought down to £600,000 so buy­ers can take ad­van­tage of the scheme. Don’t be afraid to say that you can only af­ford to buy a prop­erty if it’s un­der £600,000.”

The cou­ple have now en­joyed their first full sum­mer of en­ter­tain­ing and bar­be­cues with fam­ily and friends at their new home. Tyler rel­ishes the eas­ier com­mute and the lake­front com­mu­nity: “I love liv­ing here as I feel like I am on hol­i­day ev­ery day of the week,” she says. And the added ex­tra: there are no more trips around build­ing sites at week­ends.

Berke­ley’s Hol­bor­ough Lakes, where prices start at £375,000

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