All you need for choosing your first home. Don't make these mistakes!

By Iona Bain

Buying a home is one of the biggest decisions you have to make in life. Therefore it's worth getting it right.

Too many people make mistakes in buying property, which can affect your well-being and your finances.

Your target area

You should only start choosing a specific property once you have zeroed in on the area you want to live in. What is your justification in picking a certain area? A lot of it boils down to how you plan on using the property. If it’s a buy to let, you have to consider your target market (not your personal desires) – if you’re appealing to commuters, property near a train station is a good bet while student homes should obviously be near campus.

But regardless of whether you want to rent it out or actually want to live there, consider what I call the holy trinity of property considerations; plenty of local amenities, good public transport links (either already in place or better still, coming down the track) and predicted economic growth.


Local amenities can include but aren’t restricted to;

- good local schools (many property websites now give you an indication of the quality of local schooling). You may not have children now but it is possible in the future (and when you do eventually come to sell, families will view nearby schools as a positive)

- green spaces nearby (all the better if you’re opposite a park or next to a pleasant river)

- a nearby high street with a convenience store and/or mini supermarket. A pub, café and other shops are major bonuses. It doesn’t have to be the soul of hipsterdom or gentrification – think “up-and-coming” instead. This cliché has a place in estate agent parlance for a reason. It is better to nab a bargain in an area on the way up (and grab the capital appreciation on the way) than pay a premium for neighbourhood that has ‘arrived’.

Being within easy walking distance of the tube or train station is always a huge plus – only being accessible by an irregular bus service is far from idea. You should also do some research into whether local transport links will be improved. Faster, more regular services into major cities (particularly in London’s commuter belt) will attract more interest in the area, so it’s good to get in at the groundfloor. Finally, promising economic prospects range from a major business announcing it will move into the area that create new jobs to plans for new shopping, cultural and artistic centres. Keep a look out in the news for areas that show the most promise but don’t go on hype alone. A real clue to an area’s prospects is successive years of house price growth in recent times.

There is no point in having the right property in the wrong area.

Property websites

Sign up with the big property search websites: Zoopla, Rightmove and On the Market. You will have to set filters for number of bedrooms, features and price. Set a price a little above your real budget – so you can see what’s available, and because many sellers set inflated prices based on wishful thinking, not the real value. Use the filters to screen out unsuitable properties, especially if you are ticking the box for ‘daily e-mails’, or you will be getting alerts for bungalows when you are looking for a flat and for properties miles from the area you are really set on.

Within a month or so you should have a good idea of how much property of the kind you’re looking for is coming onto the local market at a price you can afford. If hardly any, are you prepared to wait, or are you being unrealistic and may have to change your ideas about location or property type?

Get to know your chosen area online, if it is not local to you. Use Google street map to see what kind of street a property is on.  

Local agents

When you have a target or two in your sights, and you need to see it on the ground, continue to do your homework. If there are local estate agents who seem to have more of the right kind of properties, get them on your side. Some homes are sold before they appear online, if agents know they have a ready buyer, so you need to know as soon as something that ticks your boxes hits their books.

Tell them exactly what you’re looking for and your budget (you might want to quote them a figure a little below your real maximum in case there is room for negotiation).

They should be able to tell you whether you are being realistic, what sort of competition you might face, how often such properties tend to come onto the market, and whether or not they hang around for long.

The search websites will reveal how much properties in the area, neighbourhood, or street, have sold for in recent times.  Now it’s time, if you haven’t started, to pound the pavements and try to imagine living there.

On the ground

Website apps will highlight all the properties currently on the market in your chosen zone.  Quarter the territory at different times of day, or you might miss the school hour traffic using streets as a rat run, or the noisy Friday night pub.  Does the area look cared for, are there empty shops, do you like the vibe?

Police websites show local hotspots for burglary and anti-social behaviour. You might want to check school league tables. You could try tapping locals for clues, and if you have viewed a property and are thinking taking the plunge, why not ring the neighbour’s bell?  A good or bad neighbour is likely to be detected as such in short order. Viewings, if you are getting serious, should include one in the evening – you don’t want to miss next door’s pounding music that only starts after work.

Planning checks

Don’t rely entirely on the professionals: check whether there are any planning proposals for the street or area which could affect your chosen property – is that open view at the back about to be blocked off by a new abbatoir?  Might you be looking at, and listening to, a building site nearby for the next few years? Not all such plans would show up on formal searches.  But you can check yourself on the government’s Planning Portal (England and Wales), which lists planning applications by postcode and area.

Is it under a flight path, or in a flood zone?  Noise levels, and flood risks, can also be checked on mapping websites.

Become the expert

However helpful a local estate agent might seem, remember the only person who can really look out for your interests is you. The vast majority of estate agents are honest, but they work for the seller. Ideally they want you to pay as much as possible. However, when properties are not flying off the shelves, they also know that they won’t get paid at all until they clinch a sale.

Some estate agents “test the market”, putting overinflated prices to see if anyone goes for it.  Some sellers insist their agents put their home on the market at excessively optimistic prices. So the only way you can be confident of not paying over the odds is to become an expert on the local market.

Although tortuous and frustrating, don't forget about the Conveyancing process, the first step is to find a solicitor or conveyancer and “instruct them” to do it for you. It may be wise for you to understand how to navigate the legal jungle

With all this in mind, it's also key to research what kind of mortgage suits you best that fit your needs in tip top shape. If you want to know more, read this.

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