'It's vital to keep calling: the money isn't ring-fenced, so it's first come, first served'

15th September 2006 at 01:00
When I left my well-paid marketing job two years ago to become a teacher, I thought I'd reduced my chances of buying a house to nil. But then I became aware of the various key worker housing schemes. After spending a lot of time deciphering websites and brochures, I opted for an interest-free loan.

Working your way through the variety of options is just the first step. A lengthy application form - which establishes how much money you are eligible for - has to be approved by your school. If you get through this stage, you'll be invited to an initial meeting and then a financial interview. The first meeting smacks somewhat of a gathering to promote timeshares. But if you don't attend, you can't progress. Unfortunately, these vital get-togethers aren't scheduled with teachers in mind; many are held during school hours or immediately after. Plus, each scheme covers a wide geographical area and the meeting can be far from home. It is supposed to outline the scheme, although when I finally made it with 100 or so other key workers, we were told that the current pocket of money had already been allocated and that we would have to wait another six months for the coffers to be refilled.

The follow-up interview with an independent financial adviser is a straightforward look at your financial situation and includes credit checks and ensuring you have enough funds to pay solicitor fees, survey costs and stamp duty.

Although there were officially no funds, I continued to call and hound the organisation until more became available. It's vital to keep calling: the money is not ring-fenced, so it's first come, first served.

From the start you must have a good idea of the property market in the area you want to live, and sign up with as many estate agents as you can. I found it exhausting to look at houses after a day in the classroom, but you have to move quickly to ensure you can get your hands on the available money. House buying can be a stressful and immensely bureaucratic process; buying through the key worker scheme adds yet more layers of administration and communication. The organisation I was dealing with lost my application details, my prospective house details and mortgage information more than once. I also had to follow up each fax or letter with numerous telephone calls to ensure they got to the right person and did not get lost in the system. So you need to prepare yourself for lost breaktimes spent on the phone or standing over the office fax machine.

However, the scheme serves as a financial safety net as there are quite strict criteria about what kind of property you can buy - for example, it must need no more than pound;3,500 worth of work. The scheme also provides access to financial advisers and solicitors with specialist knowledge of key worker housing. On top of my key worker loan, I secured a specialist key worker mortgage, which didn't offer the best available rates, but included a free homebuyer survey and pound;250 towards legal fees. The whole process took me around 10 months to complete and wasn't helped by the house-buying climate in London, as properties were being snapped up and often went to sealed bids ending up at prices beyond my means.

Although it was painful at times and added stress to the buying process, I cannot fault the end result: I'm the owner of a two-bedroom house with garden in Hither Green, south-east London.

Jon Wayth teaches languages at Bexley grammar school in Welling, south London. Key worker living in London: www.housingoptions.co.uk

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