Buying a house, it is often claimed, is one of the most important decisions you ever take.
Buying a home is a decision which, thanks to the difficulty of getting on the housing ladder, more and more people are taking later in their lives. But buy the right house at the right time and the benefits in terms of long-term security could be incalculable.
So for anyone contemplating their first home in the near future, here are our top 10 tips. Much of the advice is common sense and is equally applicable to existing homeowners planning to move house in the near future.
1. Get your finances sorted before you start house-hunting in earnest. It is extraordinary how many people find their dream home and then phone their bank manager. Don’t make the same mistake. Unless you are buying without a mortgage, find a lender you trust and establish how much they are prepared to lend via a mortgage in principle. You also need to work out how big a deposit you need and, if you are a first-time buyer, see if you qualify for the government’s Help to Buy scheme.
2. Check out possible areas where you can afford to buy. Put together the main pieces in your property jigsaw – how much you can afford, how far from your place of work you are prepared to live, etc. – then track down areas which would enable you to complete the jigsaw to your satisfaction. “You should also keep an eye on Land Registry House Prices to monitor house price changes in a given area,” says Mark Charter of Carter Jonas in Oxford.
3. Focus on a single area in the first instance, rather than adopting a scatter-gun approach. If you are pressed for time, as most house-hunters are, it is vital not to expend vital energy on wild goose chases. Identify one area as your prime target and then comb that area for viable properties. Only when you have drawn a blank should you start looking somewhere totally different.
4. Try to pinpoint up-and-coming areas. They usually represent better value. Is a particular town about to benefit from improved transport links? Are there major new regeneration projects in the pipeline? Research that kind of background detail and you will be ahead of the game.
5. Set-up a property alert at OnTheMarket.com. Many estate and letting agents are launching their new-to-market properties exclusively at OnTheMarket: 24 hours or more ahead of any other portal.
6. Make use of dependable local agents who are familiar with an area and will be able to give you an informed opinion of the market value of a property – which is not the same as the asking price. The best agents have spent years developing expertise in their local market. You should tap into that expertise. “You need someone with a steady hand who can take some of the heat and emotion out of the transaction,” says James Evans, CEO of Douglas & Gordon. Find an agent in your area.
7. Look for properties where you can add value by improving or extending them. Not all properties can be readily improved or extended. They may be new-builds or located in conservation areas with tough planning restrictions. But a property which you can expand as your family expands can represent an attractive long-term investment.
8. Don’t underestimate the importance of good transport links. This particularly applies to people who are going to be commuting daily. If a property is advertised as being ‘within ‘forty minutes of Waterloo’, you will need to factor the commute into your daily routine.
9. If you have children, or are planning to have children, research the local schools – don’t rely on second-hand opinions. You should expect to pay a significant premium in the catchment area of a good school but it is usually well worth paying. Apart from anything else, proximity to a good school will help to ensure your property maintains its value.
10. Never put in an offer on a property unless you have visited it at least twice, preferably at different times of day. Some areas look fabulous at night but less fabulous during the day, and vice versa.
Track down the right property, get it for a fair price and furnish it to reflect your personality and you could be sitting on an attractive investment.
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