In the property world, location means everything – it’s the cornerstone of the asking price. But your decision to buy will be based on what the location means to you and how long you plan to stay there.
Is this property going to be a stepping-stone to a larger home, or will you stay in into the foreseeable future? Are you buying to let a property in an area that will appeal to a particular type of tenants, such as students or business people?
Think carefully about your needs and how they might change, how an area may change over time, and keep in mind possible resale values.
Before you start house hunting, you will need to draw up a list of features you will need from your new home, such as the number of bedrooms, size of kitchen, garage and study and garden.
Always view a property several times before committing to a sale; there are many things that you will need to consider before buying, so don’t feel pressurized into rushing your decision.
Choosing the Location
After finding an area that offers what you want, focus on specific areas within it. You might even compile a list of streets that you particularly like. Consider not just how a property will suit you while you live there, but how local features will affect its value when you come to sell.
Near a public house.
This may offer a handy extension to your social life, though pubs can generate traffic noise, particularly at closing time.
Near a school.
If places at the school are sought after, the property could have a good retail value to a family with school-age children. In the meantime, how will you be affected by noise from the playground and school-run traffic?
Rivers and flood plains.
The UK has seen some particularly bad flooding over the last few years, and so we’re all more aware of the dangers of low-lying areas. Check the history of the area with the environment agency at http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/flood/.
Unfortunately, many villages are losing their shops and post offices. Could a lack of local amenities be restricting for you? And would it affect retail value?
Does your area provide good transport links?
On the seafront.
Still a dream to some, but consider the possibilities of coastal erosion before you buy.
Proposed building projects.
You or your solicitor needs to do a thorough local search to ensure that there are no major building projects planned. Future road creation or widening schemes would dramatically affect traffic levels.
However, not all projects are bad news financially. The creation of giant shopping centers, which employ hundreds of people, and extensions to the London rail system had been known to push up property prices.
Electricity pylons or mobile phone masts.
There is currently a debate about the health issues of living close to pylons and phone masts. Check out whether the property you like has pylons or cables nearby.
Check out crime rates in your area.
Be aware of how traffic in the area changes. It may come alive with tourists in the summer, or host an arts festival in the winter.
Starting Your Property Hunt
There are many more options open to the house-hunter now than just the local estate agent. The Internet has opened up a whole new way of discovering and viewing properties.
Other possibilities depend on the type of property that interests you.
The estate agent.
Still most people’s first port of call. Be firm about your requirements and price range but be prepared to receive details of properties that don’t quite fit all your specifications.
Estate agents know that what-be buyers will often compromise, or even change their mind and what they’re looking for. It’s worth stressing to estate agents that you are genuinely looking to buy, making clear what you’re hoping to find.
Developing a good working relationship with an individual at each agency makes it more likely that they will think of you when your property comes on their books.
Useful if you’re planning to move some distance away and can’t easily visit local estate agents. You can download details of properties on their sites and register at the same time. They will then email or post you details of other suitable properties have come on the market.
Some people prefer to sell the property without incurring an agency. Check advertisements in the local paper. More unusual properties, or those in very popular locations, may be advertised in the national press – or on the Internet.
If you are interested in a newly built property, it is worth contacting the National House Building Council for a list of members. Check whether any of them has building projects in your chosen area. Most of the larger companies advertise a new project in local papers.
Buildings at risk.
You may be hoping to renovate a building that is in need of extensive repair or even reconstruction. Estate agents are usually reluctant to handle such properties. Contact your local authority or try English Heritage. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and the Scottish Civic Trust publish lists of such properties in Scotland.
Auction houses often have unusual properties on their books that may be in need of renovation or have a sitting tenant, and would not easily sell on the open market. Look in the Yellow Pages for details of local property auctioneers and register your interest. You’ll be sent information about future auctions and can purchase the catalogs. See our section on how to buy at auction for more information.
Not quite as DIY as it sounds, though some people do choose to build their own. You buy a plot of land which already has outline planning permission, then approach one of the many companies in the design and make self-build houses. The manufacturer recommends a builder in your area who can construct the house to be required specifications. Self-build companies usually handle a planning application if the house you want doesn’t figure outlined planning permission. Useful web sites include http://www.ebuild.co.uk and http://www.selfbuildit.co.uk.
Some housing associations operate a rental scheme in which a proportion is taken from each monthly payment and put towards eventual ownership of the property. Contact the National Housing Federation for more information.
Viewing a Property
You should view a property many times before agreeing to buy it. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. If possible, visit a property for the first time in daylight.
If the place appeals to you, arrange to view it again at another time of day so that you can see it in a different light.
Bear in mind that properties take on a different character in different weather and at different times of the day, so try to view them on different days, bright and dull, and on weekdays and at weekends.
On viewing a property, note your immediate impressions, and ask yourself the following questions:
Do You Get a Good Feeling About It?
How does the house feel? Does it feel right and comfortable, or does it make you feel uneasy?
Houses tend to give off good and bad vibes, which is why you may feel immediately at home in one house, yet feel oddly uncomfortable in another. Houses can also be affected by underground streams and ley (energy) lines. Trust your instincts – if it doesn’t feel right, don’t buy it.
Does It Have Potential?
Although you should always present a property in its best light when selling, many people either don’t know how to or just don’t bother.
The majority of buyers are unable to see through the clutter and dirt to visualize how a property could be transformed with a bit of time, effort and money. They want somewhere they can move into straight away with no extra work.
However, if you’re able to look past the ghastly decor and tatty furnishing, and have a vision of what a property could be like with a bit of effort, you may be able to grab yourself a bargain.
To pick out a property’s potential, try to do the following:
- Ignore the mess, shabby furniture, and horrible decoration.
- Consider the space and light and how it could be improved.
- Look for interesting period architectural features, such as tiled or wood block floors, fireplaces, cornicing and ceiling roses, or staircases.
- Look for areas that could be improved, such as knocking two small rooms into one, adding an extension, conservatory or loft conversion.
- Use your imagination, could you install a period fireplace, cornicing or new windows and doors?
- Think about how much the property would be worth when it has been done up.
Are the Rooms Large Enough?
Always take a tape measure with you when viewing houses so that you can check the room sizes. This is particularly important if you need space for large items of furniture.
You will also need to consider the shape of the rooms – if they are unusually shaped, then it may be difficult to arrange your furniture.
Assess the location of the property. Take a good look at the immediate neighborhood and drive past at commuting times to check the traffic. Give some thought as to the impact this will have in your future life.
Give the inside and outside a thorough check – any potential problems you see may affect your decision whether to make an offer, how much you are prepared to pay, and what professional advice you will need. It’s often advisable to take someone with you when viewing a property to get a second opinion.
Looking at the Outside
This is something you will need to do thoroughly if you’re interested in buying. Check the structural soundness and security, and imagine what it would feel like to live there.
- Look for signs of subsidence, such as a bent chimney stack, an uneven floor line, walls that aren’t vertical, or bulging or cracked walls. Bear in mind that houses built before 1960 are more likely to be prone to subsidence because foundations tended to be shallower.
- Are the walls in good repair? Does brickwork need pointing? If it’s crumbling, the house will become damp. Are there any dark patches on the render that may indicate damp?
- If there are air bricks, they must not be blocked by earth or plants.
- Is the chimney stack straight? Ask the seller if it works.
- Is the roof in good shape? Check (with binoculars if necessary) for signs of missing or dislodged tiles and leaks in the roof space, damaged chimneys and blocked or damaged guttering. Ask the seller if there is a roof guarantee certificate.
- Also check flat roofs thoroughly, as they’re vulnerable to the elements and a constant source of trouble (most need to be re-surfaced every 10 to 15 years).
- Does the guttering look sound? Can you see any damp patches that may be caused by leaky gutters?
- Do the windows and sills look rotten or rusty? Examine wooden window frames for signs of rot. In a conservation area, there are restrictions on replacement windows.
- If there is a conservatory, is it generally in good repair? Do the foundations look sound and are the flashing, the metal strip where the conservatory roof abuts the house, intact?
- Can you see any shared elements with neighbors, as a drive, right of way, or flying freehold (where part of one dwelling is built on top of the neighbor’s property)?
- Does the property have a garden, patio or balcony?
- Is it south facing?
- How large is the garden?
- Does it have mature trees and plants?
- Are there any trees too close to the property that could cause subsidence? The trees could have a preservation order on them – check with the planning department of your local authority.
- Is the garden secluded or overlooked?
- Are there any trees on a neighbor’s property or possible extensions and walls that could block your light?
- Are outbuildings such as sheds and greenhouses included in the price?
- If a house overlooks a green area, don’t assume that it will always be so – it could quite easily be sold to developers.
Access and Security
If there is shared entry for a block of flats, is there an entry phone or electronic pass card system? Does the door shut automatically? Ask whether there is a resident or part-time caretaker.
A public footpath through the garden or around the boundary of the house might compromise your security.
- Can you park on the street? If not, how far is the nearest parking area from the property?
- If you need to park a long way away, how do you feel about carrying heavy shopping hundreds of yards to your home?
- Is there a residents’ parking scheme?
- Is the house on a steep slope and if so, is there a flat area for parking?
Looking Inside the Property
When you’ve found a property that you like, you should make a close inspection of its condition.
Does it have enough storage space, power points, and light fittings? Is it in good condition, are the windows, roof and floorboards sound? If not, is it reflected in the price?
Go prepared with a tape measure, pen, and paper to write everything down, and to note any fixtures that the seller wants to either leave or sell.
It may be useful to have rough measurements of your current accommodation for comparison, and sizes of any bulky furniture. You will need to consider the following points:
Is it Sound?
- Look for signs of subsidence, such as cracked walls and doors that stick or don’t hang correctly.
- Does the property have a damp-proof course? Check for signs of damp or damp smells. Feel walls for moisture, which can be caused by condensation, and check windows for condensation. Damp is one of the most difficult and expensive problems to get rid of.
- Check the roof timbers for signs of damp, woodworm or other boring insects.
- If possible, visit an old property after a heavy rainfall, when any leaks in guttering or tiling should become obvious.
- How old is the piping (lead piping will need replacing) – and are the pipes and boiler insulated or lagged?
- Test the floorboards. If a floor is springy, it could mean that the joists are rotten.
Is it in Good Working Condition?
- How well is the house insulated? Is there cavity-wall insulation? Check the loft is well insulated – with the light off you shouldn’t see any daylight.
- How old is the central heating system? Is it gas, oil or electric? Ask to see heating bills.
- Is there enough water pressure? Turn on a tap to check, on each storey.
- Have a good look at old plasterwork and if it looks unsound tap it – a hollow sound means that it will need replacing.
- Inspect the state of the decoration. Be wary of new paint or wallpaper, which may be hiding cracks or damp patches.
Is it Suitable?
- Is there room to expand? Would it be possible to get a loft conversion or build an extension? Even if you don’t need it yourself, the capacity to expand always adds to the value of the property.
- Will the kitchen be suitable? If you’re not planning to replace units, check whether there are enough work surfaces and that the utility area is big enough for your appliances – and any you may want to install in the future.
- Which way did the rooms face? When do they get the sun?
- Is there enough storage? If there are no built-in cupboards or wardrobes, you may need to install some or buy free standing storage. Either way, it will reduce the size of the rooms.
- Is there space for your furniture? Is there enough space in the kitchen or dining room for the size of table you need? You might need to move radiators to make your furniture fit.
- Is access to the property or garden awkward? Might anyone need to get through the front or back door with a bike, pushchair, or wheelchair? Is access to the property and up the stairs generally easy for removals? Is it straightforward to get to the garden?
Using Your Senses
By using your senses as you walk around the property, you can spot lots of small details that may indicate problems.
You can then ask a surveyor to check this out if you’re still interested.
Use Your Eyes
- If the floorboards are covered up by carpet, ask to see a corner of them in each room, if possible.
- If you are planning on bare wood floors, rotten wood and boards with big gaps may need to be replaced. Boards in bad condition may also be a sign of dry rot or wet rot or beetle infestation.
- Look for signs of condensation and mold in the kitchen, bathroom, and toilet. This means that there is a ventilation problem.
- Windowless bathrooms and toilets should have an adequate extraction system to remove moisture.
- Look around the loft. Check whether it offers good storage space, whether the roof timbers are sound, what sort of insulation it has, and whether the water tank is insulated.
Use Your Ears
- As you walk from room to room and out into the garden, what can you hear?
- Neighbours. Visit when the neighbors are likely to be home and check if you can hear them through any party walls.
- If you are viewing a flat, can you hear people upstairs? Noise carries more easily if a flat has bare wood floors. Although they are currently very popular, some flat leases do not allow bare wood floors.
- Traffic. Try to visit when the traffic in the street outside will be at its worst. Can you hear it from the back garden?
- Noisy plumbing. Run a tap or flush the loo, then listen in the bedrooms. Loud plumbing could mean that the pipes are faulty.
- Check the location of the boiler. If it is on the other side of the bedroom wall it may wake you up when it comes on in the morning.
Use Your Sense of Smell
- Try to overlook smells that you will be able to get rid of – cats, dogs, cigarette smoke, or carpet. It’s the smells that may point to problems that you have to watch out for.
- Damp. A musty odor, rather like potting compost. You would not expect a lived-in property to smell damp unless it had problems such as cracked walls, water penetration, or bad ventilation.
- Gas. If you think there is a faint whiff around the boiler, then it may need to be replaced.
- Toilet. If the toilet smells dodgy, it could mean there is a leak into the floorboards.