House hunting: how to find the perfect property

The first and most important question: can you afford it?

Sunny Springtime Street in Glasgow, Scotland, UK
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Before the excitement of looking for the perfect property begins, you’ll need to settle a few logistics, namely what you can afford, where you want to locate to and the sort of home you want.

Your dream home might be a modern riverside apartment or a rustic barn conversion. But whatever it is – the first thing you need to know is, can you afford it?

Figuring out your budget

To step from dream to reality, you’ll need to know: the key costs of buying a property; the deposit you’ll have; and, the amount you can borrow (have an idea of current mortgage rates).

Don’t forget stamp duty and other expenditure: everything from fees for surveys, conveyancing and arranging a mortgage, to removal and home improvement costs. A rule of thumb is to have 10 per cent set aside for this.

The place for you

Once you know your price bracket, you can figure out where you can afford to buy. To help you chose a new area to live, you’ll need an insight into regional property prices. Generally it’s cheaper to buy in the countryside than in a city centre. The south east of England is usually more expensive than the rest of the UK, and prices in London can be up to three times higher than elsewhere.

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Bear in mind that our UK housing market is very localised, meaning some streets/ villages are more expensive than others close by. So trawl the internet to hone in on the right area. Once you have a shortlist, go and visit these locations and talk to people there to find out if this could be the place for you. Perhaps you have friends of friends who live there who can offer an insight…

Research everything from council tax rates to amenities nearby – or planned new facilities like leisure centres or shopping complexes. Be wary of low prices if the area has drawbacks – anything from high crime figures to an industrial waste site.

Transport links (including train fares and times to your workplace) will be a top consideration. And if you have children or are planning a family in future, find out if there are good nurseries and schools nearby. You can look them up on Ofsted’s website and ask the local council regarding catchment areas.

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Then, when you pinpoint your new area, befriend local estate agents! Make sure you visit your target area at different times of the day, and even think about renting there first so you can be sure if it’s the place for you.

No place like home

You will need a list of essentials e.g. a minimum number of bedrooms, or, if you’re buying a flat, whether you’re happy to be on the ground floor or higher up. Know the difference between the fundamentals and features that you can change. So if the décor is vile – remember, you can alter it, but if you need to drive to the local shop and you don’t have a car, you’ll have to rethink.

You’ll also need to make compromises. So if you’d prefer a trendy area in town, you may have to settle for a flat as opposed to a house. There could be trade offs though. For example, it will be cheaper to buy a house on a main road than a side road, so if noise does not bother you or your partner, then this could be worth exploring.

Whenever possible, buy somewhere future proof – a home you will grow into e.g. where you could do a loft conversion or build an office shed in the garden in the coming years, because if stamp duty rates stay put then the costs of having to move again will likely be high. So think hard if you are planning a family in a year or two and looking at a third floor flat because it won’t be buggy friendly.

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Your final choice

Always ask your estate agent clever questions, everything from how long the home has been on the market, to exactly what the sale includes, e.g. are white goods included? When you view a property, don't forget to check out the right things – look for everything from signs of damp to the amount of storage space. And knock on the neighbours door for a chinwag about the area!

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To know what to offer, check local property websites regularly and visit as many properties as possible to help you get better informed: basically become an expert in the local market. Wishing you the best of luck in your quest!

• By Paula Higgins, Chief Executive, HomeOwners Alliance.

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