You’ve saved hard. So here’s how to find a home that’s worth swiping right on.
Buying your own place is a big life decision, and you can’t afford to get it wrong. There is always some compromise or trade-off between your dream property and what you can achieve right now, but make sure you don’t compromise on the important stuff.
Too many people make mistakes in buying property. If you settle for something in a problematic location, not enough space, or unexpected defects, and then you come to regret it, it will really affect your well-being – not to mention your wealth.
So put in the homework – and the legwork – to make sure you get it right
Sign up with the big property search websites – Zoopla, Rightmove and On the Market.
You will have to set filters for number of bedrooms, features and price: set a price a little above your real budget – so you can see what’s available, and because many sellers set inflated prices based on wishful thinking not the real value.
Use the filters to screen out unsuitable properties, especially if you are ticking the box for ‘daily e-mails’, or you will be getting alerts for bungalows when you are looking for a flat and for properties miles from the area you are really set on.
Within two or three weeks you should have a good idea of how much appropriate property is coming onto the local market at a price you can afford.
If it’s slim pickings…are you prepared to wait, or are you being unrealistic and may have to change your ideas about location or property type?
Get to know your chosen area online, if it is not local to you. Use Google street map to see what kind of street a property is on.
When you have a target or two in your sights, and you need to see it on the ground, continue with the homework. Local estate agents now have competition from the likes of Purplebricks, but they still have the major position in the market and can be valuable to buyers.
If there are local agents who seem to have more of the right kind of properties, get them on your side. You need to know as soon as something that ticks your boxes hits their books. Some homes are sold before they appear online if an agent knows they have a ready buyer – and that could be you.
So tell agents exactly what you’re looking for and your budget (quote them a little below your real maximum in case there is room for negotiation).
They should be able to tell you whether you are being realistic, what sort of competition you might face, how often such properties tend to come onto the market, and whether or not they hang around for long.
The search websites will also reveal how much properties in the area, neighbourhood, or street, have sold for in recent times.
Now it’s time to pound the pavements and try to imagine – what would it be like to live in your chosen neighbourhood?
Website apps will highlight all the properties currently on the market in your chosen zone. Now you’re homing in on a target, you should assess the territory at different times of day, or you might miss the school hour traffic using streets as a rat run, or the noisy Friday night pub.
Does the area look cared for, are there empty shops, lots of for-sale or to let boards……in short, do you like the vibe? The nearer the tube the better of course, but whatever the transport connection, can you live with it?
Police websites show local hot-spots for burglary and anti-social behaviour. Is there a premium because you are near to a decent school?
At this point you could try tapping locals for clues. And once you have viewed an actual property and are thinking about taking the plunge, why not ring the neighbour’s bell? It can do no harm, and a good or bad neighbour is likely to be detected as such in short order.
Starting to get serious? It could be time to make an evening trip – you don’t want to miss next door’s pounding music that only starts after work.
Don’t rely entirely on the professionals: check whether there are any planning proposals for the street or area which could affect your chosen property – is that open view at the back about to be blocked off by a new roundabout or abbatoir?
Might you be looking at, and listening to, a building site nearby for the next few years? Not all such plans would show up on formal searches. But you can check yourself on the government’s Planning Portal (England and Wales), which lists planning applications by postcode and area.
Is it under a flight path, or in a flood zone? Noise levels, and flood risks, can also be checked on mapping websites.
However helpful a local estate agent might seem, remember the only person who can really look out for your interests is YOU. The vast majority of estate agents are honest, but they work for the seller. Ideally they want you to pay as much as possible – although when properties are not flying off the shelves, they’d prefer to clinch sales (and thus get paid something) than try to bag the best price.
If you are a first time buyer, you might think it would be easy to move on after a couple of years. But every move ends up costing you a lot of money, in fees, legal costs, moving expenses, and so on.
And will your first home keep its value for two years – or might it even go down in price?
Choosing a home that is more future-proofed will allow you to stay a bit longer if you need to. If you are planning a family, can it cope? Could you get a pram up those stairs? Is there scope to extend into the loft, or at the back, in the future? What about those schools?
Owning a home should get steadily more affordable. You will splash the cash at the beginning on furniture and improvements, but your earnings might improve. Hopefully the cost of the mortgage won’t bring any nasty surprises, even if you have to remortgage to a new deal after two, three or five years. So budget permitting, try not to choose somewhere you may quickly grow out of.
Above all, accept that you probably can’t have absolutely everything you want from your chosen property. It pays to focus on the things that are important to you, and get the best value you can, rather than end up paying more money for a property with features you don’t really care about or in a location you really can’t afford.
Make your own checklist of what you really do and don’t need such as:
❓ public transport links
❓ off-street parking
❓ closeness to busy road
❓ school playground
❓ industrial site
❓ garden or just a yard or patio
❓ overlooked or with a view
❓ gas supply…
Not everyone can move into a show-home. If you can see beyond the present state of a property, and are prepared to roll your sleeves up or spend a modest budget, you could find yourself a hidden gem.
A lot of buyers are put off properties by cosmetic problems. Some places look ghastly but simply need a makeover, patience, and TLC. Garish wallpaper, a dirty bathroom and rubbish in the back yard may have put a lot of buyers off.
But on the other hand, some negative features cannot easily be magicked away: awkward-shaped rooms, narrow corridors, bathroom in the wrong place, not enough natural light, signs of chronic problems with damp, infestation, subsidence, or flood damage.
They say people viewing a property know within seconds whether it’s right or not. But even if, or especially if, you have fallen in love with a place, it pays to be devil’s advocate and ask the tough and smart questions about it.
It’s time to invite your estate agent to take the Hidden Home Horrors Quiz!
The Hidden Home Horrors Quiz!
Banks and other lenders these days have strict guidelines to check whether a borrower can afford their mortgage repayments, not just at current interest rates, but also if interest rates shot up to 6-7%.
So don’t apply for a mortgage until you are confident you will be accepted, as a refusal could harm your credit rating. Never lie or exaggerate to a mortgage broker about your financial circumstances as this amounts to a mortgage fraud. If you know you are about to apply, keep a close eye on your budgeting over those three months. Put up as much as you can for the deposit, as borrowing less means less close scrutiny for your finances, as well as lower repayments and/or a shorter repayment time.
When it comes to picking the right deal, is the loan at 2 per cent with a £999 fee better for you than the one at 2.5 per cent with no fee? It might not be, so ask someone who knows. For instance, paying a £1499 fee on a loan lasting only two years adds £62 a month to your mortgage payment and would only make sense if you were borrowing at least £220,000. Sometimes, if you can face parting with a bit more cash up front, it will reduce your regular payments.
And when a mortgage lender or broker offers to throw in contents and buildings insurance too, get a separate quote. Shopping around for insurance always saves money because the market is so competitive.
You have found the perfect place. Lucky you, we’re not jealous. Not at all.
So what should your tactics be to get the best deal at the lowest possible price?
We’ll cover this in a bonus section on Home Truths very shortly. In the meantime, you can go back and look at our in-depth guides to saving for your first home and how to use government-backed savings schemes for first-time buyers. And if you’re not ready to buy yet, here’s how to own renting.