It takes most of us the grand total of 25 minutes and 30 seconds to decide whether to buy a new property. According to a study published earlier this month by Barratt Homes, that’s the average time we spend viewing a potential new home before making a decision – only seven minutes and 30 seconds more than what it takes us to choose a new pair of jeans. But acting on the spur of the moment is never a good idea when facing what’s probably the biggest financial commitment of our lives. So we have asked five property search agents – who purchase houses for a living – to share their top tips on how to buy a house.
Pictured: a penthouse interior at Barratt’s Oceana Boulevard development in Southampton
Before you even set out to view a property, says buying agent Hannah Edge of Recoco, you should make a list. Write down all your requirements you can then use this as a checklist after viewing a house. It's are also useful to give to estate agents so they can fine-tune your search." At the same time, she adds, be realistic: "You are very unlikely to score ten out of ten for any house. Work out what compromises you are most and least likely to contend with."
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Choosing a house in 25 minutes is really as bad as it sounds, according to the experts. Instead, advises buying agent Jonathan Mount of The Buying Solution, you should take your time and view a property you are interested in several times. "Make sure you have seen it at least twice and at different times of the day. Your experience of an area during the evening or at a weekend may be totally different to during the day."
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At a viewing, says Rachel Johnston of Stacks Property Search, be charming but don't hesitate to ask probing questions. "Asking with a smile and responding with an understanding nod will endear you, and your bid, to them." Don't be afraid of turning off the light either, says Guy Meacock of Prime Purchase. "The first thing estate agents do is to switch on all the lights but you won't live in the house like that, so turn them off. Turn off any music as well: you want to hear the tube rattling underground or the plane roaring overhead." Pay particular attention to cracks: "If they are zig-zag shaped and go diagonally across a wall, then there are serious subsidence problems, whereas if there are straight lined cracks, they are plaster cracks and can be easily remedied," says Jazmin Atkins, also of Prime Purchase. Watch out for serious damp problems too. "If a house smells musty and there is damp coming from the ground floor then we have a problem and the house requires damp proofing. If there are spots of damp then that is a leak and can be easily remedied."
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Look at each house with a detached, critical eye, say Jonathan and Hannah. Question yourself, urges Hannah. "Will this house work with your furniture, your way of life and requirements? Will it work for you in the long-term? Will it provide you with a return in the short term if you don't plan to be there for long?"Don't get distracted by baking scones or a sofa, adds Guy. Instead, look literally at the bricks and mortar. Above all, suggests Jonathan, "do not appear overly enamoured with it. If you love it and you want to make an offer, it is better for the seller and the estate agent to think that you will only buy it for the right price and you are not emotionally attached to the house. This should make your ability to negotiate stronger."
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Once you've decided you're interested in buying a property, you should arrange a viewing specifically to do a room-by-room assessment, says Rachel. "Take a camera, notebook, and preferably a friend or relative who can help you. Open and shut doors and cupboards, check appliances, turn taps on and off, check everywhere for damp and leaks, look out for cracks or evidence of recent cover-up work, check windows, floors, radiators, under sinks and in the roof space. When you've finished inside, have a good walk round outside looking at gutters, fences, exterior condition, sheds and outbuildings. Leave no stone unturned!"
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The Internet is not just a convenient way to hit the big property portals and agents' sites. You can find a lot of really useful information. Google Earth, says Hannah, allows you to see the location and setting of the property although, she warns, you need to ensure you have the right postcode for the property.
You can also discover whether properties close to the one you are planning to buy have been granted any planning permission by checking the local council's website. "If you have small children and there are plans next-door for major work, such as a basement dig, this could be very disruptive," advises Jonathan. Likewise, notes Hannah, you can check whether the area is at risk of flooding. Best of all, she adds, websites like nethouseprices.com or mouseprice.com are useful to discover what similar houses have sold for in the area - "a great negotiation tool if you decide to offer."
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Do a quick check of the neighbourhood, recommends Jonathan. "Is there anything in your immediate vicinity that may affect your enjoyment of the property or the future value of the investment? Watch out for hospitals (because of sirens), pubs or bars, busy roads, and close proximity to the tube (to avoid underground rumble). At the same time, being within easy reach of transport links is a major plus, as are parks, such as Richmond Park (pictured) and thriving high streets. And you are buying a flat, also examine the façade and communal areas to ensure they are well-maintained.
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Don't dismiss a property that's in bad condition if it would otherwise meet your requirements. "I have purchased a number of properties on behalf of clients that are in need of significant refurbishments, even though they initially wanted to buy something in excellent condition. It is important to remember that you can never change the location or orientation of a property, but you can always give it a makeover.
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