London first-time buyer: ‘My mortgage and bills cost the same as renting in a house share’

·3 min read
 (© S Saunders/ Digital Nation Ph)
(© S Saunders/ Digital Nation Ph)

From her eighth-floor balcony Karen Judge has a bird’s-eye view across the River Thames and a swathe of south-east London. It was this vista which convinced her to buy her first flat.

Before taking the big step on to the property ladder Karen had spent 13 years renting. This time last year she was living in a shared flat in Camberwell, paying £800pcm (including bills).

“I think that I had just got to the stage where I wanted to live on my own, I wanted my own kitchen and that sort of thing,” she said. “Renting on my own would have been really expensive, like £1,400 or £1,500pcm, and I realised that if I used the Help to Buy scheme I could afford to buy instead.”

Karen, 32, is a sonographer, splitting her time between Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, and she needed to find somewhere that would allow her to get to both hospitals easily.

After checking out what was available for sale using Help to Buy, she settled on Woolwich, both for its good transport links and wide choice of properties for sale. “I didn’t really know the area but a friend from work lived there and she recommended it so I started to look around,” said Karen.

At the start of the summer she went to view a one-bedroom flat at the Trinity Walk development ( and was instantly smitten.

“When I was looking for somewhere, having some outdoor space was a priority,” she said.

“I have a lovely view — you can see the sun rising right in front of you and I have a coffee out there to start the day. From the balcony I have the river on the left and trees and hills on the right. It’s like a bit of nature for me. I’m from the country so it’s nice to have trees around.”

Karen moved into the £375,000 flat in September. Using Help to Buy meant she only needed to put down a five per cent deposit.

“I had been able to save quite a lot of money during the pandemic,” she said. “In a funny way I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that.”

Her mortgage now costs her £600pcm. Once bills are factored in she thinks she will be spending around the same per month as she used to on rent.

And so far, the move is working out perfectly. Karen can get to Guy’s in half an hour and St Thomas’ in 50 minutes, and once the Elizabeth line gets going, those times should be reduced.

There are also plenty of facilities on the doorstep. “The high street in Woolwich has clothes shops and cafes and a market. I feel like it’s a town within itself,” she said.

“I don’t always have to get the train to go anywhere. The Royal Arsenal is just a 10-minute walk and there are nice restaurants and a lovely cafe for brunch. And I can walk down to the river which is nice.”

Karen is also encouraged by the signs of ongoing regeneration in the centre of Woolwich, where a new arts centre has just opened, a new leisure centre is planned, and the former covered market is to be repurposed with a cinema, restaurants, and bars.

“It feels like an up-and-coming area, so I felt it was a good investment to buy here,” she said.

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