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How to find a home to buy

When searching for a house or flat to buy, you have to balance two main questions: ‘What do I want?’ and, ‘What can I afford?’

Buying a home is a significant expense, so you don’t want to do it too often.

Plan for a minimum five years in your home, as this should help you recoup the costs of moving if prices rise.

Use the Unbiased Life Planner to see where this five years (or more) will take you, and ask yourself if this property will meet your needs over that period.

Finding a house

This guide will help you make the most of your viewings as you search for your next home.

  1. How do I decide what home to buy?
  2. What property can I afford?
  3. Where should I buy my home?
  4. How long should I spend viewing a property?
  5. A home-buying checklist
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How do I decide what home to buy?

When choosing your next home, you need to make the decision with both your head and your heart. In particular, you will have to weigh up a huge range of factors including:

In short, buying a home is always a compromise. Your challenge is to work out which of these factors are most important for you, and which ones can be overlooked if necessary.

What property can I afford?

A mortgage adviser can help you work out what you can afford to spend on a property. They’ll take into account your incomings and outgoings, as well as other home-buying costs, to work out what’s within your budget. Your adviser will also be able to find and secure the best mortgage deal that’s available for you, giving your more bargaining power when it comes to making offers on homes you like.

Location, location… Where should I buy my home?

Getting to know a new area takes time – years in fact. But since you don’t have years to spare, use this quick checklist of things to consider when comparing different areas.

  1. What does the area offer me?

    Think about your priorities, not just now but for the next five years at least. Do you need good nightlife, a nearby gym and trendy shops, or are good schools and cheap supermarkets more important? A lot will depend on your life stage.
  2. Is it convenient for me?

    Think about how much time you spend travelling to and from work. Also consider things like food shopping and going out. Local transport links may be a crucial factor, even if you have a car.
  3. What does the area offer that I don’t need?

    Some areas have benefits you might not want yourself, but which can push up property prices. If you’re not planning to have children here, an outstanding school on your doorstep may mean you pay a premium for something you don’t need yet.
  4. Is it a thriving or up-and-coming locality?

    Walk the high street to get a feel for the place. Do the shops, cafes and restaurants look fresh and lively, or does the street have a tired or run-down look? What new places have opened, and what’s closing down?
  5. What is the council tax?

    Make sure you factor this into your calculations of what you can afford.
  6. How well do I fit in there?

    A shortcut to seeing if a place might be right for you is to check the demographics. You can then see what proportion of the locals are of similar age and background to yourself. The Streetcheck website offers this facility, along with plenty of other useful local information.

To help with your hunt for a home, you may want to rent a home in the location where you're looking, both for convenience and to get used to the area.

Remember, even if you don’t plan to have children in the next five years, it’s worth checking things like school catchment areas. Life has a way of creeping up on you!

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How long should I spend viewing a property?

The right viewing time for a home may be as little as 10 minutes or several hours (probably spread over several visits). If a property is obviously wrong for you, you can be in and out very quickly. However, if you are starting to consider it as a possible purchase, you should spend more and more time scrutinising it in detail, either to confirm or challenge your initial positive feeling.

It’s often said that people can spend more time choosing a new outfit than viewing a new home. It’s true that viewings may only take a few minutes – but you should be putting in many hours behind the scenes, researching properties and locations, viewing other homes for comparison, and thinking about your needs. When the time comes to view, you should have very clear ideas about what you are looking for, so can check them off your list during your viewings.

View a house at least twice before making an offer, preferably at different times of day (e.g. weekend daytime, weekday evening).

A home buying checklist – the best tips for house hunting

When your offer is accepted, you should commission at least a homebuyer’s report from a chartered surveyor, to discover any issues with the property. Older properties may need a more thorough home condition survey or even a building survey.

However, you can make these simple checks yourself during your viewings.

  • Windows – are they double glazed and in good condition? Bad windows will make it much more expensive to heat your home and can cause damp. They’re also expensive to replace. Check for rotten wood by seeing if you can press your finger into the frames and see whether the paint is badly cracked. Also bear in mind that freshly painted window frames could indicate a cover up of bad condition. And if there’s condensation between the panes, there’s a problem that will need to be looked at.
  • Damp and structural problems – mould and bad cracks in the walls may be a serious warning sign.
  • Roof – how old is it? Newer roofs need replacing every 15 to 20 years, and although old ones tend to last longer, they will need attention if there’s any damage. Keep your eyes peeled for missing roof tiles, lots of moss and any dipping, and watch out for flat roofs as these can have drainage problems.
  • Plumbing – poor water pressure can be difficult to live with, so turn on the taps and shower and flush the loo to see if it is running well. You should also ask about the boiler to work out whether you’ll need to replace it soon (a big expense).
  • Utilities – check that the property is not on card meters, as this can be very expensive and also hard to change.
  • Storage – is there enough or room to build it in? New homes can be lacking in storage.
  • Attic – check for good insulation – a lot of heat can be lost through this space.
  • Neighbours – ask the neighbours’ neighbours (on the other side) what they’re like. Noisy or problem neighbours can be a major cause of people moving!
  • Why are the owners moving? – Ask the seller where they’re moving to and why. You may not get a completely honest answer, but if they’re evasive, be concerned.

This list may sound over-cautious, but the fact is that you can’t be too careful when making such a big and expensive decision. ‘Act in haste, repent at leisure’ should be every home-hunter’s motto.

To start your home-buying journey, find your mortgage broker today.

If you found this article useful then you might also find our article on what a mortgage in principle is and how to get one informative, too!

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About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.