For most of us, choosing the house we want to be our first home is the most important and expensive decision we have ever made. It’s shocking to discover then, that the average time a person spends on viewing the property they decide to buy is just 25 minutes. According to research by zoopla.co.uk, we spend twice as long deliberating over home appliance purchases as we do making the decision to buy our future homes, and three times as long when it comes to choosing a sofa. Obviously, these slightly sensationalist statistics don’t take into account the hours (sometimes months) we might spend researching the housing market and viewing multiple properties before we make our decision. They do, however, ably demonstrate how emotive the issue is. A house is more than just bricks and mortar, it’s a home, and home is where the heart is. When it comes to making decisions about house-buying then, it seems emotion often rules.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with making big decisions emotionally. It’s important to ‘feel’ the right way about the place you are going to call home. However, intuition can lead you into making snap decisions. The best approach is to combine your feelings about the property with some good old-fashioned rational judgement. Keep the love and excitement bubbling on the back burner while you follow these practical steps:
View the property more than once
This can seem difficult when the market is so fast-paced, but it is better to see the house as many times as possible before you make a decision with such big financial and emotional implications. The more viewings you have, the more chances there are for you to find any problems that might exist. Make sure you view at different times of the day too, because although a house may seem quiet at 10 am, it might be a different story come school pick-up time or during rush hour.
Take your time
Sometimes an estate agent can make you feel rushed if they are hurrying to get to another appointment. When you book your viewing, tell the agent how long you would like to spend viewing the property and stick to it. (20-30 minutes for a first viewing). Take your time to inspect every nook and cranny; open built-in cupboards, test taps, water pressure and plumbing, make sure radiators work, try light switches, check floorboards, and open blinds and windows to ensure they function properly. It could pay dividends in the long run. Which? the research found that 71% of people who spent over 90 minutes looking at properties ended up paying less than the asking price for them.
Take someone with you
If you are buying with a partner or relative, obviously take them along to the viewing. Anyone who is invested in the outcome needs to participate in the decision-making process. Invite an independent friend or family member too if you can. Someone who is unaffected by the emotional aspects of the decision might have a better perspective and a more considered approach to practical issues that you might overlook.
Pay attention to the outside as well as the inside
The interior may look like something from Ideal Home magazine, but make sure that you evaluate the exterior of the house too. Check the condition of the roof, look for signs of damp or for hairline cracks in the walls. Has the woodwork, pointing, guttering and double glazing been well maintained or is any work required? These sorts of problems can prove costly to rectify and you will need to take them into account when negotiating on price.
Watch out for potential cover-ups
With all the property TV programmes and advice available these days, vendors can be quite savvy when it comes to showing their properties in the best light. Check for obvious serious issues like cracks, mould and dampness, and beware of places where a vendor has tried to cover up a defect. Damp may have been covered over for example, but watch out for small areas of bubbling, peeling paint or a musty smell. Don’t be fooled by stylish staging either - lighting, temperature, cleverly placed furniture and tempting aromas can all affect how you feel about a property when viewing. Try to look objectively, ask what fixtures and fittings are included in the purchase price, and imagine the property empty if you can.
Spend time wandering around the area
Spend a good 20-30 minutes getting a feel for the neighbourhood and to see how far away the things that matter to you are, for example, supermarkets, schools, cafes and access to public transport. Look out for potential problems like noisy pubs or nearby train tracks. There is no way to know for certain, but there are a few tell-tale signs that an area is on the up. These can include new developments, the presence of cranes, skips and scaffolding, cafes and shops opening up, new transport links and good or improving nearby schools.
Confirm what land comes with the building
Double-check what land actually comes with the building, for example, gardens, driveways and parking spaces and query whether you have to share any spaces or access to spaces with your potential neighbours.
Stand your ground on Open Days
These events where properties are available for mass viewings for a limited time are becoming increasingly common. Vendors and estate agents like them because they minimise the inconvenience of individual viewings and they generate a sense of competition and urgency. Don’t be intimidated. Being surrounded by competition can make you panic, but try to remain calm and make sure you do all the checks you planned to do. If you like the house and are feeling pressured, you can make an offer and still arrange another thorough viewing. The most important thing is that you have all the information you need to make your best and final decision.
Always ask these key questions:
Where is the boiler? How old is it and when was it serviced? Has there been any work done on the property? If so what guarantee is there on this work? Which way does the house face? If there are any, are the chimneys functional? Where are the smoke alarms? Do they work? Is there a loft? If so, how do you access it? Is it boarded and adequately insulated, and could it be converted into extra living space? Are the windows double-glazed? What are the neighbours like? Listen to your heart! Once you have followed the above steps and gathered enough positive practical information to make a rational decision (or give yourself a better negotiating position), tap back into your emotional side. Does the property make your heart beat faster? Does it feel homely? Can you imagine yourself living here with a partner or family? Does it make you happy?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then congratulations! You might just be ready to buy your very first home. Good luck.