The ins and outs of finding a home

We’ve all spent hours online dreaming about being able to afford the perfect property – but when it comes down to it, how do you know which one is right for you?

What's the best way to find a home to view?

It’s time to get your detective hat on as the work starts before you even view a property. Here are some things we’d suggest doing to get you started.

  • Set up property alerts for your chosen area and budget on local estate agent’s websites, as well as Rightmove, Zoopla and PurpleBricks. 
  • Research the area if you don’t know it well – ask your friends, family and colleagues and join local Facebook groups. Look at local transport links, crime rates and for things that might be important to you such as access to a nearby park or the quality of schools.
  • Once you’ve shortlisted a property, check what price it previously sold for and how long ago. Is there a big jump in price?, if so, is there a reason? Perhaps they’ve added an extension, or the market value has gone up over time. If the previous owner lived there for a long time, we take that as a good sign! If the current owners have only owned the property for a short time, ask the estate agent why the house is being sold again. 
  • Check how long it’s been on the market – if it’s been on the market for a long time, you may have some more bargaining power, but you should also ask the estate agent if they have any thoughts on why it’s not been snapped up. 
  • Using Rightmove or Zoopla, take a look at other houses that have been sold on the same road to see if the one you’re looking at feels like it’s priced correctly. 

These tips can save you time in the long run, as you might find your shortlist for viewings gets smaller. 

What is shared ownership?

The Shared Ownership Scheme lets you buy a share of a property and pay rent on the rest. You can buy up to 75% of a property and you would fund this share just like you would if you were buying the whole property.  

You will need a minimum of 5% deposit, and the rest of the money you could borrow through a mortgage. This means that if you have a small deposit, or your salary doesn’t allow you to borrow enough to cover the whole property, you can take out a smaller mortgage and still become an owner. There is a catch though! You will need to pay rent to the housing association, who will own the other percentage of the property. This will be on top of your monthly repayments to your mortgage lender.

If you are considering viewing houses that are being sold under the Shared Ownership, you can search for properties that are sold specifically under these schemes. Apply for the Shared Ownership Scheme.

What should I look out for during a house viewing?

Be aware of estate agents plugging their own mortgage advisers and solicitors. Their advisers usually charge a fee (in the range of £400 - £1000) and they may take a referral from the solicitor which you pay as part of your solicitor fee. Use the below as a viewing house checklist and ask the estate agent these questions.

  • Why is the owner selling their home, and is there a chain?  
  • Have there been any other offers on the property so far? If yes, why weren’t they accepted?  
  • What have they sold other, similar properties for in the area?  
  • What can they tell you about the local area, for instance, local shops, transport links and quality of schools?  
  • Who are the neighbours, for instance are they young families, in rented accommodation or people who are retired?  
  • Is the property lease hold or freehold?  
  • If it’s lease hold, how much is the ground rent?  
  • How much is the council tax?  
  • How much is the service charge if in a flat?  
Property chain: A property chain is the number of buyers and sellers involved in the purchase of your property. So, if you’re buying from someone who lives in the property, they will need to find somewhere else to buy, and you will need to wait until they’ve found somewhere to buy before you can move in. Likewise, they may be buying from someone who is also looking for a place to buy, and so on.

There are also more specific questions about the property that it’s worth finding out, whether that be through the estate agent or the seller themselves...

  • Is there options to extend the property, have other neighbours done this?  
  • Has the property ever had any damp problems?  
  • How old is the boiler?  
  • Are the windows all PVC windows and in good condition?  
  • What is included in the sale (for instance, a garden shed).  
  • Which way does the property face/which rooms get sunlight and when?  
  • How much storage space is there?  
  • Is there a driveway or garage, is it easy to park on the road, and is there a charge for it?  
  • Keep an eye out for plug sockets on the skirting board as this is a sign that they are very old. The higher up they are, the more recently they’ve been added.  
  • Check for cracks in the plaster work and that the doors shut in their doorframes. If they don’t, it’s possibly a sign of structural movement and should be discussed with the estate agent.

Should I get a survey before putting in an offer?

You may have heard of surveys on properties, and they tell you about the condition of the house and if there is anything that could become costly to you should you buy it (such as structural damage).

As part of your mortgage application, the lender will instruct a mortgage valuation. Contrary to popular belief, this is not technically a survey as it is for the lender’s benefit and only the value of the home and concerning defects are reported in. In many cases, a report is not provided to the customer. Therefore, if you wish to know more about the condition, a survey is recommended. The main types of surveys are:

  • Level 1 Survey (previously known as a mortgage valuation) – This is a condition report which confirms details about the condition of the property and uses a traffic light system to highlight the seriousness of them.
  • Level 2 Survey (previously known as a homebuyers report) – This is a larger report, and contains more detail than a condition report and includes advice on repairs and maintenance. It also includes a valuation of the property.
  • Level 3 Survey (previously known as a buildings survey) – This is a full in-depth inspection of the property and reports on any problems it finds. This is the most suitable type of survey for older properties and those that have been extended or remodelled.

It is not typical that people pay to have a survey done before putting in an offer, because the sale is not legally binding (in England) until contracts are signed and exchanged, therefore, once you’re offer has been accepted, you can decide if you would like to pay for an additional survey then.

How do I know what's a fair offer?

Make sure you’ve done your research on the location, and what similar properties have recently sold for in that area. This will give you a general guide price. A general rule of thumb is that if a house has been on the market for less than two weeks and has multiple viewings, it’s a hot property. If you really want it, then expect to offer asking price (unless additional work or factors for a price reduction apply).

If the property has been on the market longer than two weeks, then you might get away with offering less. Putting in an offer of 10% under asking price is seen as acceptable – anything less and you might not be taken as a serious buyer.

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