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Home-buying cheat sheet – pt. 1

Updated 20 December 2022

3min read

Nick Green
Financial Journalist

You may be more-or-less familiar with the home-buying process, and you might be confident of getting a mortgage. But this uber-stressful experience can still trip you up many times before you get those keys (and afterwards, too). Be ready for anything with these lateral-thinking tips. Article by Nick Green.

Home-buying tips

Some house-buying advice might seem obvious, like making sure you arrange a proper survey and checking out the neighbourhood. We’re going beyond the obvious, with our first instalment of ‘alternative’ tips to give you an edge in securing your dream home.

  1. What has the present owner been neglecting?

When people decide to move house, they have to keep the place looking nice for viewers. But clean and tidy rooms may disguise more serious flaws. The house-moving process can take a very long time, and once a seller has a buyer in place, there’s less incentive to sort out those niggling problems – everything from plaster cracks to more serious issues like a boiler that needs servicing. On your second viewing, remind yourself that the owner has probably been neglecting something, and see if you can spot what that is. It may even get you a reduction in price.

  1. Why are they moving?

There’s a catch-22 to all home buying, which is that someone dislikes this property enough to go through the enormous stress and expense of moving out of it. The reasons could be perfectly simple – the family might have a fourth child on the way and the house only has three bedrooms – but take care that whatever factor is influencing them won’t also be an issue for you. Of course, if there are sinister reasons (like a landfill site opening nearby) don’t expect the seller to tell you, but if the property seems ideal for their needs, look carefully for what they might be hiding.

  1. What have they missed?

If number 2 above is the ‘Evil Twin’ then this is the good one. Your seller may be moving out because they only think this home no longer suits them. Some people have an aversion to carrying out building work, extensions or extensive home improvements, but if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t mind this or enjoys it, then you may be able to see bags of potential that the seller has missed. Planning permission may be an obstacle, however, so bear this in mind before you plan to convert that bungalow into a palace.

  1. Are you paying for what you don’t want?

House prices are a law unto themselves. House A may be £20k more expensive than the seemingly identical House B in the very same town, due to numerous factors that can be hard to spot (or, sometimes, to understand). For instance, being in the catchment area of an outstanding school can add many thousands to a property’s price, but if you don’t have children (or yours are the wrong age or gender) then you’d be paying for what you don’t need. Similarly, some streets are just fashionable and desirable while others are seen as less so – and this can be self-perpetuating. A cheaper street doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a crime zone; you could easily pick up a bargain if the locals are sniffy for no good reason.

  1. Think (far!) ahead

It may seem strange to think about selling your house before you’ve bought it, but your house is not just a home, it’s your biggest long-term investment. There may be flaws in it or issues that don’t bother you at all, but which might put off future buyers and so affect the property’s value over time. Examples of off-putting features may be houses on slopes or with steep driveways (often a problem in winter), houses on busy roads or with concealed entrances, houses that don’t match the character of the street – the list goes on. You may not care, but some might, so be fussier than you really are and drive a harder bargain.

You can check your mortgage readiness with our Mortgage Checklist tool. Find more off-the-wall home buying tips in part 2.

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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.