Whether you are a first time buyer, or if you are moving for the umpteenth time, finding a new house is a challenge and an adventure. Buying a property is a very large transaction, but it’s not just bricks and mortar… it is the place you will call home.
We can’t, of course, tell you what kind of home would be suitable for you, but we can give you some pointers and advice as to how to go about it. These suggestions may give you a little structure to help your decision-making, and that such a framework can be useful with such a daunting prospect as choosing a home.
Work out your finances
This should always be the starting point. You need to know how much money you have to put down on a new home. If you are buying outright in cash, this is your budget. If you need a mortgage, this is your deposit, and will make a big difference on how much you can borrow. Work out your monthly income and outgoings. Be honest and precise. Taking out a mortgage isn’t just about how much the bank will lend, but also about what you can afford to pay each month. Remember that interest rates can go up, so at very least consider fixing your mortgage for a period of time. In these uncertain economic conditions, be brutally honest as to the possibilities of your work circumstances changing for the worse. If you depend on overtime which might be cut, or if your industry is suffering redundancies, you really need to think long and hard about whether the time is right to make such a weighty financial commitment.
If you are sure, speak to an independent financial advisor to get the latest deals and mortgage products available. Ideally, get a mortgage agreed in principle before you start to look for houses. However you are intending to pay for your new home, it’s vital that you know exactly where you stand financially before you even begin to search. Your budget is the first thing to determine the criteria for your new home.
Make a list!
Writing things down is a great way of organising your thoughts – especially if you are house-hunting with a partner. If it’s on paper, you can organise your priorities, and between the two of you can recognise the things that matter most as a couple when your individual opinions are different. A good way to start your list is to make two columns – ‘Must have’ and ‘nice to have’. Then break your page into headings – the house, the location, the wider area. You may want to break these down into sub-headings – bedrooms, garden etc. Exactly what you put in your framework is up to you, but you’ll end up with a grid, waiting to be filled, that looks something like this:
NICE TO HAVE
|Two||Three – spare room/study|
|Must fit sofa/suite in lounge||Separate dining area would be good!|
|Must have a shower||Would like a downstairs loo|
|Courtyard at least, with room for shed||Decking or lawn|
|1 off-road space||Garage? 2 spaces?|
|Not on a main road||Cul-de-sac|
|Within 15 minutes drive of school||Ideally within walking distance|
|Within 30 minutes drive of work||Ideally within 15 minutes drive|
|Less than 15 minutes to M5|
|Bus route||Walking distance|
|East of the city||St Leonards/Newtown|
When your grid contains all the things that are important and relevant to you, then you can start to fill in the spaces. This will give you a real sense of what things matter, and how flexible you can be. Again, the details are all down to you, but your grid might look like this:
Now you have a clear plan of what you’re looking for. It’s worth noting that not everything in each column will have an equivalent – perhaps being near the motorway would be nice, but not vital. Maybe being within walking distance of school is essential, and nothing else will do. Either way, though, work down each column on its own and number your priorities. You will end up with two lists, in order, of things that your new home must have, followed by things it would be nice to have as a bonus. They won’t necessarily be in the same order, so your list might read;
These two lists together give you a comprehensive checklist to evaluate any potential new home you see. It may be that no single home ticks everything on each list. Perhaps you find somewhere which has a spare room in St Leonards, but which has no shower. Or maybe there’s no off-road parking, but you’re within walking distance of school and the city. By comparing like-for-like against your checklist, you can compare how homes stack up against your needs. You may also find that your lists change a little once you see what’s out there.
Finding homes to view
Now you know what you want, and how much you have to spend, you can start your search in earnest. The best and simplest way to search is on the internet. There are lots of different internet portal sites, where estate agents advertise the homes they have for sale. The biggest and best of these is http://www.rightmove.co.uk. There, as with most portals, you can specify criteria such as price and the number of bedrooms, and get a selection of homes which meet your basic requirements. From there, reading the descriptions will let you check off things against your list. You should be able to narrow down the number of potential houses to a manageable shortlist of up to a dozen. From there, it’s relatively easy to book some viewings and start to see exactly what you can expect for your money.
If you are dead-set on a particular area, it’s worth driving or walking around looking for signboards. You can, for a snapshot, browse through the local paper, but compared to the internet this is haphazard and time-consuming. It’s always a good idea to register with as many local agents as there are, because they will take responsibility for informing you when new properties come on the market. Every agent, like each portal site, will ask you questions about your budget, how many bedrooms you need, and which areas you prefer. The narrower your criteria, the less homes you will see, but the more closely they’ll match your needs. If in doubt, start broad, and get more specific as you learn about the availability of local homes. It would be a shame to miss something great because you’ve been too precise, but once you’ve got a sense of what’s available, you can focus in on exactly what you’re after. When you start doing viewings, you can build up a rapport with the local agents and they will know to call you as soon as something suitable comes up for sale.