How to Buy a House – Our Top 10 tips

Buying a house will probably be the biggest purchase in your life. Having gone through this process five times in fifteen years, I think I’ve almost got the hang of it. Here are my top 10 tips that will help you avoid costly mistakes

Get Regular Property Alerts

Although there are a growing number of property websites, Rightmove is still the market leading website with a very easy to set up alert and searches system. You can set up a map of the areas where you are interested in living and then put in your price range and property type. You can set the frequency of the alert as well which should be set to ‘daily’ if you are searching seriously. You will get an email each day of the week (including Saturdays & Sundays) listing the properties that have come up that meet your criteria. If you don’t get an email everyday, then you probably need to widen your search.

In terms of widening your criteria it is worth noting that estate agents work to quite a rigid formula on how they describe property. A ‘two bedroom’ property might also have an attic room which cannot be described as a bedroom but could be used as a spare room, or a garage that could be converted. So if you are not getting much luck with a search for three bedroom property you might drop the criteria to two bedrooms – you’ll have to spend longer sifting through results, but it might find a hidden gem.

Check house sales in the area

This will help you find out whether you are being realistic with your home search. You can use sites like Zoopla or Nethouseprices to see what price houses have sold for in the last few years

Be as ready as possible to move

Estate agents love first time buyers because they don’t have a property to sell and will either be at the start of a chain or not in one at all if there is an empty possession property. First time and cash buyers have a very strong hand and if you are in this position you could probably ask several different estate agents to give you a call before they put properties online. You might be able to do this if you already have a buyer for your property, which again makes you a better proposition for estate agents that someone who is ‘thinking of selling’ – it shows that you are ‘serious’ and probably in a hurry!

Get to know the neighbourhood by visiting often

Keep visiting your desired area at different times and on different days, including weekends. Look out for obvious issues like road noise, parking problems or congestion at certain times of the day (school pick-up etc).

Get to know the area by searching online

As well as getting a feel for the area by visiting you can also get stats online for things like crime, noise and schools. Environmental factors like flooding, pollution and radon levels will be less obvious from visiting an area but information can often be found on the Government’s website.
View a property at different times and speak to neighbours.

A property may be very quiet during the day but have noisy neighbours or barking dogs nearby in the evening. You can find this out by visiting at different times and also by speaking to several neighbours. I’ve personally have never had a problem with ringing a neighbour’s doorbell and saying “I’m thinking about buying the property next door, have there been a problems in the local area that you know of…” People are normally quite keen to meet their future potential neighbours and if they are unhelpful, this in itself is quite useful information.

A quick glance at a neighbours garden to see if it is overgrown or has lots of junk in it, will also be a useful sign. Signs of children and dogs, whilst in themselves not a problem, could potentially produce noise at certain times of the day (or night). You can’t choose your neighbours but it is always good a bonus if you can get on well with them.

Avoid short leases

If a property has less than 75 year lease, you will begin to have problems with selling it in a few years time. You can always renew the lease if you have lived there for at least two years but the longer you leave (ie the shorter the lease becomes) the more expensive it could be to renew the lease. Solicitors won’t always point out the problems with a shorter lease and some mortgage companies won’t lend on shorter lease properties. Shorter leases will restrict your sales pool when you do want to sell in future. Beware also of expensive leasehold service charges for things like maintenance of communal areas and insurance.

How to Buy a House and Avoid Planning Problems

If there are plots of land (large or small) nearby, or empty looking property, these could potentially be built on. This might mean years of living near a building site and ending up in the shadow of a block of flats. You can have a look at the Government’s planning portal website to avoid any unpleasant surprises – here

List of questions to a vendor

When you visit a property that you like, there are a few key question you should ask, but be well aware that the answer may the whole story!

  • How long has it been on the market?
  • Have you had many viewings?
  • Have you had any offers?
  • What are the neighbours like (any disputes)?
  • Why are you selling?
  • Any renovations or problems (leaking roof, subsidence etc)
  • What do you like most and least about the property?
  • How old is the boiler?
  • Have you got boiler/gas certificates
  • How old is the wiring – any electrical certificates?
  • If not freehold, how long is the lease and what are the charges?
  • Are there any problems with parking
  • If there any properties nearby that look run-down, then ask about them?

List of Potential Problems to look out for

A survey should pick up on these, but if you see obvious issues it can say a lot of time later, or simply put you off the property in the first place:

  • Are there any obvious problems with nearby properties – looking run-down or uninhabited?
  • Damp – includes smelling musty, patches on ceilings and wallpaper, obvious mould, condensation on windows etc
  • Cracks and stains on walls and ceilings
  • Pay close attention to anything that looks like it has been painted or wall-papered recently (woodchip wallpaper covers up a lot of problems and is difficult to remove)
  • Look at locks on doors (are they five lever deadlocks often required for insurance?) and windows – do they have all the keys?
  • Turn on light switches and ask about electrical certificates
  • Check for sockets, ideally look for plenty of double sockets
  • Check the attic – you should be wary about seeing daylight (eg through cracks and holes).
  • Check the roof for missing tiles or bowed surfaces
  • Most people prefer south facing gardens. Check for moss on the north side of the property
  • Check outside wall for cracks or cracks that have been repaired
  • Can you get a mobile phone signal

These top 10 tips should avoid expensive mistakes – good luck with your property search!

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