16 October 2020: Starting over in the middle of a pandemic

A year on from joining the Stonewater Homes team as a Property Manager, Rachel Lifton was in a position to make use of an employee benefit scheme that would enable her to overcome the barriers preventing her from becoming an independent homeowner – even during a pandemic. Here, she shares her house buying experience and why the myOwnHome scheme was pivotal in making it possible.

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I’ve been a proud homeowner for 20 years and in 2015, my husband and I was in a position to buy our dream four-bedroom detached house in Weston-Super-Mare, off plan. With three older children, the home was exactly as we’d always imagined – on a beautiful street and with plenty of space for us all to enjoy.

It took just over two years to build but after just a month of living there, my husband moved out of the home and we officially separated. There was no way I could afford to live there by myself and after putting most my savings into buying and furnishing the brand-new house, I needed some time to regroup.

My main concern was that I wasn’t sure I would be in a position to buy in the same area again; no matter how much I saved. Having raised my children in the area and with all my friends nearby I thought I was going to have no choice but move away and completely start over.

With my ex-husband pushing for me to finalise my next steps, I was beyond stressed and doing all that I could to find an alternative and affordable solution. Just as I was about to give up, I attended my first Stonewater company day and listened to an announcement made by our chief executive about a pilot shared ownership scheme that was being launched for colleagues.

Learning about the myOwnHome scheme and its purpose, filled me with hope. I knew in that moment that I was going to be ok and that with patience I was going to be in the financial position to buy a home suited to mine and my children’s needs.

I say patience because as with every scheme, there was criteria that needed to be met and the one obstacle preventing me from applying when applications opened that following September, was that I needed to have worked at Stonewater for a year.

myOwnHome works by giving eligible colleagues the opportunity to choose a home that is available on the open market, either a new build or re-sale, which Stonewater then purchases on their behalf. Colleagues then have the option to buy a share of their home, ranging from 25 to 75 percent, depending on what’s affordable to them and then pay discounted rent on the remaining share.

I counted down the days to my first work-anniversary and when the time came to finally apply, lockdown restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus were in place and so I was unable to view any houses. Whilst some people would have found this incredibly frustrating, I used this as an opportunity to get all my ducks in a row – sorting my mortgage checks and planning what surveyor I was going to use when the time was right.

By the time restrictions were eased and estate agents could conduct viewings, I had compiled a list of four properties and was sure one of them would be perfect; I was right. Originally priced £15K above my budget, the owners of a four-bedroom home located just down the road from where I was living at the time, negotiated on the price and accepted my offer. After three stressful years, I was finally securing my own home, through the support of Stonewater.

Everyone I’ve explained the scheme to including my friends who work for other housing associations, and even the estate agent I worked with, were impressed with Stonewater’s commitment to giving everyone the opportunity to have a place that they can call home. I never imagined being in a position like this at 44, but this scheme presented me with an opportunity I would never have thought possible; a chance for me to secure a home that I love and can be proud of.

Despite being a pilot and kickstarting my application in the middle of a pandemic, I was impressed with how quickly we got through the process. Taking just over two months, most the people I closely work with knew my circumstances and everyone was supportive throughout. In fact, on the day my paperwork completed the sales manager who had been dealing with my application called to congratulate me and tell me to collect my keys; which was an incredible feeling.

I’m also now in the process of selling my previous home and the plan is to put any money I get from that sale into buying more shares in my current home.

Although it is still a little surreal, even now that we’re settled in, I’m unbelievably grateful to work for an organisation that invests and offers what has felt like to me, a lifeline for its colleagues.