GAS engineer Daniel Wells is saving thousands renovating his first home by doing the work himself – and roping in family and friends for some DIY help.
Daniel, 30, and his partner Emilie Campbell, 20, bought their three-bed home in April this year for £298,000 – just four weeks after having their daughter, Wolfie.
The property is dated but the new parents were prepared to take on the renovation work themselves, alongside some help from family and friends.
They reckon they've saved around £20,000 getting a house which needs a bit of work doing to it compared to somewhere that was already up to scratch.
The pair are yet to move in, not wanting to live on site with a newborn. They’re hoping to move in over July.
He's using his skills as an engineer and tricks of the trade he picked up from family members who are involved in the labouring industry, to do it himself.
Daniel had been saving since 2015 and decided to put this cash towards buying his first home when his relationship with dancer Emilie became more serious.
Moving into Emilie’s family home in East Sussex when the pandemic hit in 2020 helped him ramp up his savings.
The couple paid for the household’s food bill, which came to around £400 to £500 a month for four people.
But after Emilie discovered she was pregnant in June 2020, Daniel started to ramp up his savings even more, ditching the pub, family birthday bashes and even Christmas events to tuck away up to £2,000 a month.
Some weeks he’d be working an exhausting 80 hours per week to stash away even more cash in the race against time to buy a family home before their little girl was born.
His frugal living and gruelling work schedule paid off in the end though, as Daniel saved up enough money to put down a £60,000 deposit for a £298,000 house.
They exchanged on their dream home just a month after Wolfie was born in March during what Daniel said was one of the most stressful points of his life.
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We caught up with Daniel about how he managed to stay on track saving his cash while taking a snoop around the family’s new home.
Tell me about your house
It’s a detached three bed house in East Sussex.
The house has a bathroom, and an open-plan kitchen and dining room, with a separate living area.
We have a big garden which will be perfect for Wolfie to play in when she gets older.
We also have a garage with enough space to fit one vehicle in.
Why did you pick this location?
The house is just a 10 minute walk to the beach, which is great to have on our doorstep.
I work around Sussex, so I wanted to have good access to all the major roads and motorways – as I’m a gas engineer, I drive around the area a lot in my van.
It’s a half hour drive away from my parent’s house, and my grandparents also lived in the area, so I’m familiar with the location.
We had spent eight months searching for a home until we saw this one pop up on Rightmove.
We really wanted a back garden, and it’s a great size compared to the other homes we looked at in our budget.
How much did you pay for it?
I put down a £60,000 deposit for the house and paid £298,000 for it.
Our offer was accepted in December 2020, and we completed in April this year – just four weeks after Wolfie was born.
It was one of the most stressful points of my life juggling getting a house through and becoming a dad.
I took out a mortgage for £238,000 for 35 years at a fixed-rate of five-years.
My mortgage repayments are around £812 per month.
I reckon we've saved around £20,000 on average by getting a house which needs a bit of work done, compared to somewhere we could have moved straight into.
How did you save up for the deposit?
I had most of the deposit saved up when me and Emilie decided to buy last year.
I was lucky that my parents set up a cash ISA for me when I was really young, and it’s been with me for all my life.
By the time I was ready to put a deposit down, I had £40,000 saved up in the account.
I also saved £20,000 in my current account, which I put towards the deposit.
In 2014, I was living at my mum’s house, sharing a room with my brother when I took a career change, switching from working in the customer services section at a financial companyand applying to become a gas engineering apprentice.
I didn’t have to pay anything towards rent, I just lived off my £800 a month salary for four months.
Over the three years I did my apprenticeship, I passed qualifications every year, and saw my salary increase alongside this.
By 2017 I had fully finished my apprenticeship, and my basic salary had increased to over £2,000 – that didn’t include overtime.
So I started putting around £1,500 away every month into my savings – and just living off £800.
I had been thinking about buying a place of my own and moving out of my mum’s house for a couple of years before I met Emilie in 2019.
When things got serious between us, I moved into her parent’s house in 2020 as soon as the first lockdown was announced, so we could put together a plan to buy a property.
We had to pay for the food and any takeaways we had for the whole house, so we were spending about £400 a month on this.
But when we found out Emilie was pregnant in June last year, I knew I had to save as much as I could in a short space of time to buy us a family home before the baby was born.
We ditched our date night, which we had once a week, and had it at home instead, saving us £110 a month.
We swapped going to the cinema or having a nice meal to cook our own romantic fakeaways at home instead.
Then I challenged myself not to go out or spend any extra money – apart from our food bill – for four months between November 2020 and February this year.
The second and third lockdown helped as it meant I couldn't go to the pub with my mates, and all I did was sleep, eat, work, and woke up to do it all again.
I missed friends’ and family birthdays, and I even missed my work’s Christmas do – when it was allowed – so I could keep saving.
I saved an extra £500 per month just by being super strict.
I worked double shifts during this time as well, working 80-hour weeks sometimes – earning an additional £500 on average per week.
I worked over Christmas too in a final savings push. It was really hard, but worth it in the end.
How did you afford to furnish it?
As we had both spent our lives either living with our parents or in rented accommodation, we had a lot of furniture to buy.
We made sure to set aside a couple of thousand pounds out of our savings to pay for a few essential pieces we needed, such as a washing machine and fridge.
We got a lot of furniture donated from family and friends though, that we’re really grateful for.
We were given a couple of sofas and a bed from friends, while our families gave us lots of kitchen bits like a kettle, toaster and plates.
We haven’t furnished Wolfie’s room yet as we’re still renovating and decorating the house – but we expect family and friends will help out with that too.
How are you paying for the renovation work?
The biggest cost we’re paying for at the moment is renovating our bathroom and kitchen – it's £7,000 in total.
But I'm pushing the costs down and saving thousands by doing the work myself.
I’ve always been doing different trades including labouring, so I’ve picked up tips and skills along the way to help me with the renovation.
I’m pulling in favours from people, getting DIY savvy friends and family in to help us so we can avoid paying for a builder.
Friends will help re-plaster the bathroom and re-do the electrics.
But it's my grandad, Richard and my dad, Craig, who are doing most of the work that I can't do.
They're helping out loads. They stripped out the bathroom so I could then re-plumb it all.
Previously there was only a shower in there, but we're putting in a bath instead so we can bathe Wolfie more easily.
We’re also upgrading our kitchen too, adding in more units and making it more to our style than what it was before.
The kitchen is currently basic, like what you would see in a student house. It has fake grey granite worktops and it’s all white.
What help is out there for first-time buyers?
GETTING on the property ladder can feel like a daunting task but there are schemes out there to help first-time buyers have their own home.
Help to Buy Isa – It's a tax-free savings account where for every £200 you save, the Government will add an extra £50. But there's a maximum limit of £3,000 which is paid to your solicitor when you move. These accounts have now closed to new applicants but those who already hold one have until November 2029 to use it.
Help to Buy equity loan – The Government will lend you up to 20% of the home's value – or 40% in London – after you've put down a 5% deposit. The loan is on top of a normal mortgage but it can only be used to buy a new build property.
Lifetime Isa – This is another Government scheme that gives anyone aged 18 to 39 the chance to save tax-free and get a bonus of up to £32,000 towards their first home. You can save up to £4,000 a year and the Government will add 25% on top.
Shared ownership – Co-owning with a housing association means you can buy a part of the property and pay rent on the remaining amount. You can buy anything from 25% to 75% of the property but you're restricted to specific ones.
Mortgage guarantee scheme – The scheme opens to new 95% mortgages from April 19 2021. Applicants can buy their first home with a 5% deposit, it's eligible for homes up to £600,000.
We want a modern, black kitchen, with black table tops and cupboards .
We’ve been looking at cupboards without handles as we like the minimalistic look – and the metal kitchen unit handles aren’t kid-friendly at the moment.
Grandad is helping me strip out all the units, and he'll help me fit the new ones in.
He has put up shelves in the garage, and helped me repair the old rickety shed, as some of the walls were badly damaged.
He also helped me fix the garden fence because it blew down.
As a thank you for all the work, I'm giving grandad a bit of the garden so he can grow his veg in it.
He can also teach Wolfie about gardening too when she's older.
We’re still saving up for all the renovation works, I’m working a lot of extra shifts to get the money we need for it all.
But I reckon I've saved £7,500 by fitting the bathroom and kitchen myself, without getting a builder in.
We've also raised another £1,000 by selling all the old kitchen units on Facebook Marketplace – we're putting the cash towards the renovation.
What advice would you give to first time buyers?
You have to be really strict with your spending once you’ve decided to buy.
It means giving up the nice food, the takeaways, and any luxuries.
To get your dream house, you have to make these sacrifices – but it was worth it in the end.
We have big plans for our home – it’s going to be somewhere we’ll stay in for a long time.
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