Buying a house during Covid

Should we buy a house during Covid? This was a question that did pop up, but our need for a new home (in a new country) was so great, we couldn’t wait. Let me explain how we ended up buying a house during Covid and give you some tips.

Four years ago, we moved to China from England. We rented out our home in England and thought we could always sell it when we got back. Obviously, I didn’t polish my crystal ball and I had no idea anything like the disruption or financial ruin of this pandemic was on the horizon, or I would have sold our house in 2016 and invested the money somewhere.

When we were ready to sell our home, of course, our tenants weren’t ready to move out. They moved out 7 months after I came back from China, heavily pregnant. In fact, I had a five-month-old when we got our house back. So in the meantime, I’d rented somewhere. Anyway, I never wanted to live in England again (and I still don’t) so we didn’t ever plan to move back into our old house. The rental place I got was abysmal due to the rental crisis in Ireland. Also, I couldn’t get anywhere in the South due to the rental crisis, so we ended up in Belfast where you have to learn a whole new way of talking about a lot of things to avoid offending people. But that’s another story.

We put our house up for sale in January 2020. We had viewings and multiple offers and had accepted an offer for full asking price within 7 days of the house going up for sale. Wow. We thought we’d be out of that rental in six weeks.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

The sale finally completed in August. This was a no-chain sale, we were moving countries so we were going to be cash buyers, and our buyer was a first-time buyer who was already approved for a mortgage when they put the offer in. Unfortunately, during the first English lockdown they shut down all the legal offices. This meant that our sale ground to a halt for months. Simple aspects of a house sale became impossible. When they all reopened, there was an enormous backlog.

Anyway, we had the cash at the start of August. By now, our baby had his first birthday and we were still in the rental, but we were finally able to go househunting. We booked some viewings.

Obviously, with the current situation, it’s not really possible to go to view the same house as many times as you normally would. To put it into perspective, when we were looking for our first house, in 2013, we viewed it (and another house) three times each to be sure we were making the right choice, that there were no issues we hadn’t spotted, that the area was decent, etc.

With our purchase last year, we had to make a decision from one visit. One of the main issues I’ve seen when househunting is damp patches. They can mean a lot of different things. Roof leaks, pipe leaks, bad bathroom installation, building defects in new builds, cracks in the walls from mica or pyrite (Ireland only), condensation or rising damp from outside. Basically, you don’t want damp patches. And on a viewing, they can be impossible to spot. The nicest houses get them. Even newbuilds. So I bought this FLIR infrared camera from US Amazon.

It attached to my phone, I downloaded an app, then it showed me areas of hot or cold. Basically it meant I could see behind the walls to find out if there were any leaks which will show as a sudden cold patch in the FLIR app.

For househunting in Covid times, it was the best $250 I spent. Think about it. This is the biggest purchase we’re making in our lives. We’re buying a house outright with no mortgage. If this falls down around our ears, we have lost the full cost of a house. An extra $250 is less than the cost of the surveyor or house insurance which are also intended to guard this investment. If you’re buying a house during Covid and are worried about not being able to find out enough from one brief viewing, I 100% recommend you get a FLIR One Infrared Camera for your phone.

You can get the FLIR One camera from UK Amazon here (it was about $50 cheaper to get it from the US for me).

Or buy it from US Amazon here.

If you’re in Ireland, the best place to get it will fluctuate week-by-week and you can shop on either site.

I was really excited to get one of these as I enjoy photography as a hobby and have messed around with infrared lenses in the past. This type of infrared camera is different to the infrared lenses you can get for DSLR cameras, though, and it creates images from the far-infrared part of the spectrum, which is less artistic and much more practical.

These are the sort of pictures you get (you can see the heat left from footprints on the floor, and the cold left from ice cream standing on a table, even after you’ve moved the ice cream):

The space where the ice cream had been sitting is that big dark circle at the bottom of the picture.
A footprint after I moved my foot. This camera is very sensitive and will show you a lot of information.

The estate agents didn’t say anything while I deployed the FLIR camera on each brief viewing of the two houses on our shortlist. We were not allowed to touch anything, which was annoying as it meant we couldn’t find out if the windows opened properly, or if the doors were hanging correctly, etc. This did mean we ended up buying a house where there were problems with the doors on the kitchen cupboards, but these aren’t hard to replace and it did make us feel more justified about the offer we had made for the house, which was 8k below asking.

Once we had satisfied ourselves that we were buying a house that was structurally sound and that didn’t have any hidden disasters for us to find later, we put in an offer and it was accepted, and four months later (thanks to more Covid delays) we were the proud owners of our new home.

And if you want to know how I managed to start a business that enabled me to be mortgage free by thirty-three years of age (including taking two years out for a baby), I will write about that at some point soon.