Looking for your first home

By Charlotte Yau
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Find out how to search for your perfect home with our tips on location, amenities and what other things to look out for.

Buying your first 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 when buying property, which can affect every aspect of your life, from your finances to your mental health.

In this guide, we’re going to break down what you need to consider as a priority, and the factors you need to consider before buying. After that, we’ll run through all of the potential places you can find available properties, how to go about visiting the area in person, plus a few warning signs to look out for!

Let’s get cracking.

What to look for

We’ll look first at the area you’re considering buying in. You should only start choosing a specific property once you have zeroed in on the right area for you. Make this decision based on the following three property considerations; amenities, transport and predicted economic growth.

Amenities

Local schools

You may not have children now but it may be a possibility in the future (and when you do eventually come to sell, families will view nearby schools as a positive. Many property websites, like Rightmove, give you an indication of the quality of local schooling.

Green spaces

Parks, rivers, woodlands and forests all count! Is there somewhere outdoors where you could have a picnic, a run or a long walk with a dog?

Shops and supermarkets

The local high street doesn’t have to be the soul of hipsterdom or gentrification, but a pub, cafe, corner shop and small supermarket can all come in very handy.

Transport

Being within easy walking distance of a train, tram or even tube station is always a huge plus. Only being accessible by an irregular bus service cuts you off from the outside world and visitors far off from you!

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.

Economic growth

One of the main things to look for when buying a house is an area with bucketloads of potential that investors have recently set their sights on.

This clichéd term of ‘up and coming areas’ 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 a neighbourhood that has ‘arrived’.

Promising economic prospects range from a major business announcing it will move into the area and create new jobs, to plans for new shopping, cultural and artistic centres.

Keep a lookout 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.

One more thing

Who is the property for? If you’re considering renting the home now, or even in the future, it is wise to give some thought to the kind of people who would live there and what they’d want from a home in that area. So, if you’re appealing to commuters, property near a train station is a good bet, while student accommodation should obviously be near campus.

The bottom line is, there is no point in having the right property in the wrong area. Use Google Maps to outline the perfect section in the area, followed by a further, larger circle that would also be acceptable to you. Voila; you have your area.

Now you can get on with a far more tailored, focused search.

Where to look

You’ve got three options when it comes to actually hunting out your new home.

Property websites
First, sign up with the big property search websites: Zoopla, Rightmove and On the Market.

You will need to set filters for factors like the number of bedrooms and price range.

Set a price a little above your real budget, so you can see what’s available. Not only that, but 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 email updates, 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?
 

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. These are all really useful nuggets of information that put you in a much stronger, more informed position.

The search websites will reveal how much properties in the area, neighbourhood or street

When you visit

Now it’s time, if you haven’t already, to pound the pavements and try to imagine living there.

Go and visit your perfect area or home at different times of the day, or you might miss the school hour traffic using streets as a rat run, or the noisy Friday night pub.

Viewings, if you are getting serious, should definitely include one in the evening – you don’t want to miss next door’s pounding music that only starts after work finishes.

Warning signs

Does the area look cared for, or is there lots of overgrown green space, litter and empty shops?

As for the safety of the area, police websites show local hotspots for burglaries and anti-social behaviour.

You might also want to check school league tables.

You could try speaking to locals, and if you have viewed a property and are thinking of taking the plunge, why not ring the neighbour’s bell? A good or bad neighbour is likely to be detected quickly this way.

If your chosen area isn’t local, use Google Street View to see what kind of street a property is on.

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 abattoir?

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.

A final word of warning

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 and sellers ‘test the market’, putting over inflated prices to see if anyone goes for it. So the only way you can be confident of not paying over the odds is to become an expert on the local market.

 

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