17 November 2018

House buying top tips: If I'd known then...

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Six house-buying tips from those who’ve done it before

Buying a house can be a daunting prospect for any first-time home buyer. Whether you’ve been saving up for years and are finally ready to take the plunge or have just decided it’s time to put down some roots, it can seem as if there are a million things to think about. While no amount of reading can prepare you for the frustrations that can come with trying to find that first property, some of the big do’s and don’ts may not be things you’d even thought about. Here, two experienced buyers tell why you need unbelievable amounts of patience, good support networks and why you should never leave a sandwich lying around on moving day…

1. Don’t buy in an area you don’t know

Jose, who bought her first property in 1985 and has moved multiple times with her husband since then, advises being careful where you buy. “When moving to an area outside our comfort zone we bought too soon,” she reflects. “It would have been better to rent, so that we were sure we had bought in the right place.”

Making a list of your own personal priorities, for instance being near public transport or having access to green spaces, can also help you make sure you are moving to the ideal spot. Get to know an area through research. Look at local news websites, crime rates, any planned new developments and what the local schools are like.

But think about the house too. “Don't buy a house you hate, however good the area,” Jose adds. “Rent until one you like comes up. Always buy in a good location. Even if it's too small, a house in a desirable place should appreciate in value more readily and be more likely to sell once you want to move on.” So while it might seem premature to think about selling your house before you’ve even bought one, it’s sensible to bear it in mind.

2. Spend time near the property to get a feel for it

Once you’ve decided the area ticks your boxes, you’ll want to get a real feel for the place. So go back and spend time nearby, says Jose. “I like to stand outside the house at different times of the week, just to check that I’m getting what I want. Nose around the neighbourhood – see who’s taking their dog for a walk and how tidy their gardens are. While I don’t like living in a scruffy area, neither do I like the idea of living next to a house with no blade of grass taller than a centimetre and an owner who regularly sweeps the road gutter immediately outside their house!”

Another thing to consider is what council-run facilities are like. Look at the upkeep in local leisure centres and how free from litter the streets are. For those looking for a sense of community, it may be worth finding out about local interest groups - whether that's a historic society or a beer lovers club.

3. Be prepared for paperwork

Tammy was 26 when her mum helped her buy a property in Northamptonshire. Nothing prepared her for the amount of paperwork that followed. “When you first buy, you don’t really know what you’re getting into,” she says. “Then comes the paperwork, which is terrifying.”

This is a tale any homeowner will be familiar with. The buying process undoubtedly always takes longer than you expect. While there are normally many things out of your control, it is important to keep the channels of communication open between yourself and your solicitor, as well as making sure the agent is on top of everything. Weekly check-ins with all parties are advisable; you’re the one paying for their services, so make sure they deliver and make your purchase run as smoothly as possible.

4. Have a support team on standby

Having her mum to help her out financially and emotionally made a huge difference, says Tammy. “It’s a massive help having someone to hold your hand a bit,” she explains. “There will be points at which you’ll want some advice from someone who’s done it before.”

That doesn’t mean it was all plain sailing, as anyone who’s ever tried to make huge decisions with a family member will know. “My mum was helping me buy the house, which had its ups and downs,” Tammy says with a laugh. “Obviously, I was very grateful to her but there were definitely times when it put our relationship under pressure. We always managed to laugh about it afterwards, though.”

Other people who can be useful include friends or colleagues who have recently bought themselves. The memories will be fresh and you can learn from their mistakes. There are also plenty of online resources and forums for buyers, which will help you decide everything from whether to get an interest-only mortgage to the pros and cons of different types of survey.

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5. Keep these things with you on moving day

“They say always know where the kettle, tea, biscuits, sugar and mugs are,” remembers Jose. “Add bed linen to the list – or book a hotel nearby for the first night. Have a torch to hand; one house we moved into had no light bulbs because the sellers had taken the lot with them. And when you move in, take disinfectant, buckets, cloths, sponges, washing-up liquid and rubber gloves. You never know what you’re going to find.”

Other things to consider are whether you will need internet as soon as you move in; sometimes there is a long delay between purchase and installation, so it’s good to be across that. Similarly with a TV licence and gas and electricity payments – getting these lined up before moving day will make everything easier.

6. Finally, that sandwich…

Packing up your worldly belongings is an enormous task and one that should not be underestimated. If you don’t want to spend money on a removal company (some will do all the packing for you), buying a bumper set of stickers and thinking about what order you will need things in can help you pack strategically. For instance, do you know exactly what furniture and belongings are going where? Is there a way you can make sure you have all your essential items within easy reach when you first arrive?

And last but not least, you won’t want to repeat one of Jose’s biggest packing mistakes, “leaving, only for a moment, a tuna sandwich in the hall on moving day. The packers put it into one of the crates and we had a frantic unpack when we reached our new house.”

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