No, not easy, actually. Being young with a leaning towards enjoying myself, I had no savings - nothing to use as a deposit. But what about these 100% mortgages I had been hearing about? Surely I qualified? Oh, there was something else - I was also self employed with no accounts.
Self employed with no accounts and no savings.
Could I get a mortgage? It was virtually impossible. Not a single High Street lender would give me a mortgage. Even my bank who have had my services for ten years turned me down; even though my bank knew exactly how much I earned each year and how much I spent each week; even though my bank knew that making the monthly payments on a repayment mortgage would not be an big problem for me.
Then I heard about Self Certification Mortgages.
What is a Self Certification Mortgage? It's essentially a mortgage whereby you decide whether or not you are capable of making the repayments. And that is when the penny dropped, because you see the entire process of applying for a mortgage is premised upon an institution (such as your bank) deciding whether or not you are able to make the monthly repayments.
And what is the formula for working this out? Well, if you are employed it is your salary - a bank will lend you, say, 3 or 4 times your annual salary. Normally they will ask you for a small deposit, say 5%, to demonstrate that your intentions are serious.
Obviously, if you are self employed, and particularly with no accounts, you often do not have an annual salary and you are unable to demonstrate regular monthly income. Many self employed people - notably me - live hand-to-mouth, regularly waiting for reluctant clients to settle outstanding invoices. So how can your ability to repay a mortgage be judged? I discovered that self certification was the answer - i.e. YOU. You make a judgement as to whether or not you are borrowing too much money and whether or not you will be able to afford the monthly repayments. After all, if you are bright enough to run your own business, manage your own tax affairs, handle purchasing and invoicing, surely you are bright enough to work out whether you can repay your mortgage!
Think about it - conventional, salary-based mortgages are judged on the basis of what a person has earned in the past, but a person could be made unemployed within hours of securing a mortgage. On the other hand, Self Certification puts the onus on you predicting what you will earn in the future. Sure, you could go out of business, but a salaried person could also lose their job.
So I thought, well this is good, but I bet that a Self Certification Mortgage is the stuff of loan sharks, with huge interest rates, crushing monthly repayments and Guantanemo-style penalties.
But there was something else I discovered about mortgages. Although the High Street is swamped by lenders, there are only actually a very small number of 'actual' lenders: the majority are intermediaries acting on their behalf, because the number of mortgage applications is so great that intermediaries are required to perform the process of judging each applicant and assessing risk.
So I discovered that whereas a High Street lender would turn me down, a smaller lender might accept me. But get this: the mortgage that I actually received from the small lender at the end of the day was exactly the same as the mortgage which had been refused me by the High Street lender! Only the forumla for judging my ability to repay the mortgage was different, not the mortgage itself!
So what's the catch with Self Cerftification? There is always a catch in my experience, and in this instance it was a very big catch. Whereas a regular mortgage requires the borrower to contribute a deposit of, say, 5%, my Self Certification Mortgage required a deposit of 15%. Fifteen percent!! Of course I can see why they ask for this, why if you are not being judged using the conventional formula you are expected to show some serious committment. But I didn't have any savings. I was young and self employed for crying out loud.
So what did I do? Okay, I would not recommend this to everybody, but I was desperate for my own home and I knew that I could afford the repayments. I took out a Personal Loan shortly before my mortgage application and, supplemented with a timely invoice payment, I was able to pay the deposit and afford the key refurbishment costs on the property (roof, re-wiring, plumbing etc).
On the High Street this would be called a Home Improvement Loan and acquired AFTER you have obtained a mortgage and purchased the property. I simply borrowed a little more in the form of a Personal Loan before I had acquired a mortgage. I was fortunate in that I could afford to carry the costs of these repayments for the forseeable future and I had bought on a rising market - the value of my property was already more than the mortgage and personal loan combined before I had even finished the refurbishment (ie. 4 months after buying the property). I would not recommend this to everyone, and you have to be very, very clear about how much you are borrowing and what the total repayments will be.
However, getting on the property ladder and having my own home was the most important thing to me, and it just goes to show that if you look beyond the High Street you can actually find the same or similar financial products but with less of the hassle. The High Street had always made me feel inadequate, a financial failure
You might be interested to know that, because I was still looking for the catch in my Self Certification Mortgage, I went to a respected, independent financial advisor recently (on the High Street as it happens) and asked if I should change my mortgage to something better. His advice was that I had got a very good mortgage deal and that I should stick with it for the forseeable future. So I have.