Finding the right property
Choosing a new home sounds like fun. Snooping around other people’s houses promises at the very least to provide hours of cheap entertainment (judging by the number of TV shows devoted to the subject).
But the potential for enjoyment is likely to be tempered by the harsh reality of a limited budget, and if your existing property is now under offer the clock will be ticking ominously. Over the coming few weeks, the pressure to make a crucial, life-changing decision costing hundreds of thousands of pounds can reach fever pitch.
In reality, most of us start out with a fairly hazy mental image of the dream-home that we hope to acquire. Then, after viewing a series of disappointingly shabby and pokey properties in our price range, the truth inevitably dawns that compromises will need to be made.
Grand ambitions may have to be scaled down to fit budgets. If you’re buying together as a couple, it’s sometimes tempting to compromise your partner’s requirements rather than your own.
The male of the species might, for example, regard a walk-in wardrobe or en-suite bathroom as an unaffordable luxury, but a garage workshop as an essential. Such differences of opinion can easily escalate into smouldering resentments that later flare up in bitter recriminations.
So the best approach is to nail down those attributes that you consider to be truly essential before you start. Write out a list of the things you really need, and those that are negotiable. This goes straight to the heart of why you decided to move in the first place.
Deciding what you want
Though it helps to start with a clear picture of what you want, it’s also important to be flexible that so you don’t miss out on a different type of property that could meet most of your requirements.
Suppose, for example, that you’ve set your heart on a stylish Georgian or Victorian townhouse, but then a spacious Edwardian mansion flat comes up that unexpectedly pushes all the right buttons. Too tight a specification and it could easily have slipped under your radar.
Going through the process of pinpointing your requirements before arranging any viewings should save a lot of time and energy. The key issues can be divided into those that relate to the building itself, and those concerning the area that it’s in.
You may end up balancing one against the other, because living in a posh, more expensive area usually means having to settle for a smaller property, whereas the same budget would get you a larger flat or house in a cheaper, less salubrious part of town.
Often the main reason for moving is the need for more space, so the minimum number of bedrooms is often a key factor. This will generally depend on where you happen to be in your life-cycle. Estate agents describe properties by the number of bedrooms, which could be anything from a first-timer bachelor pad with zero bedrooms (a studio flat) up to family-friendly four or more.
Of course, you may be downsizing, perhaps following retirement or divorce, with a reduced appetite for space. But having more than one bedroom makes properties suitable for friends buying together, or where letting a spare room is part of the plan.
House or flat
Flats tend to be lower priced, and appeal to first-time buyers, investors and downsizers. There’s often a potential drawback with noise, since you’re in close proximity to adjoining flats, but modern purpose-built units should have been constructed to meet stringent soundproofing standards. Also, poor management and maintenance of blocks can be a problem, and leases sometimes include eye-watering charges.
There are two kinds of people in the world – those with green fingers who love gardening and those who’d rather drink poison than spend hours clipping, snipping and digging.
But regardless of your leisure interests, if you have children or pets then a decent garden is normally high on the agenda. Low-maintenance gardens can provide the best of both worlds.
In some locations properties with attractive gardens can command a significantly higher price.
No matter how minuscule your carbon footprint, homes without any off-street parking can be a hassle, unless, of course, the street is generously endowed with parking spaces.
This is often a problem even in the most expensive areas, with local councils requiring payment for resident permit-parking schemes. If there’s potential to drop the kerb and provide a space or two in the front garden, this could be worth exploring.
Most males harbour certain primitive desires for a garage, a sane place to which to retreat and do stuff that less enlightened folk don’t fully appreciate. But how many garages today are used for their original purpose of housing vehicles?
A garage may be a desirable feature, but it is rarely essential unless your neighbourhood is plagued by joy-riders and ‘envy-scratchers’. Off-street parking or an allocated car space is often perfectly sufficient.
Properties with integral garages may have potential to convert into extra living space. Or there may be potential to construct a new garage, subject to planning.
It’s a matter of personal taste. Some will pay a premium for a brand spanking new home in perfect condition. Others will gladly pay over the odds for a centuries old ‘character’ property radiating period charm, with the feel of ingrained history only found in genuinely antique buildings.
We’re all familiar with the failed architectural dream evident in our cities, strewn with unloved, unkempt tower blocks. But fashions change.
With good management and maintenance, some blocks have become desirable residences appealing largely to fashionista singletons, the amazing views perhaps ameliorating the ugliness of the architecture.
But mortgage lenders are generally very wary about lending on anything that’s more than five storeys high or of non-conventional construction.
Tower blocks aren’t the only buildings that worry lenders. Different banks have their own particular ‘blacklists’ of unsuitable buildings. For example:
- Pre-1960s timber frame
- ‘Scout hut’ timber frame, ie those not clad externally with brick, block or stone
- Flats accessed by ‘open deck walkways’
- Houses with 100 per cent flat roofs
- Walls built from reinforced concrete
- Steel-framed houses
- ‘Non-habitable’ homes, eg without functioning kitchens or bathrooms
Some lenders aren’t keen on houses with more than one kitchen, properties built with unusually thin walls (eg sub-standard Victorian rear additions), or even thatched cottages. Buildings with a history of subsidence can also prove troublesome.
But if there’s one type to be especially wary of, it’s post-war Council houses, some of which pioneered new ‘non-traditional’ types of construction, such as poured concrete, or pre-reinforced concrete (PRC). Some of these are acceptable, subject to being professionally upgraded, but many aren’t.
However, for the vast majority of buildings there shouldn’t be a problem – unless, of course, the mortgage surveyor notices that it’s visibly collapsing.
To get the home we really want many of us will gladly sacrifice the ideal of a house in pristine decorative condition. Indeed, spurred on by TV property celebs anyone with good DIY skills may relish imprinting their personal mark on their new home with a spot of renovation and improvement.
Most properties you see won’t be in too shabby a decorative condition, but then again they won’t have the exact kind of kitchen, bathroom or wallpaper that you’d really want.
So you could end up refurbishing the whole house – in which case you may as well save some money by buying a really trashy example in the first place. In a slow market, run-down properties command a lot less money, but conversely in a boom people can be willing to pay almost as much for a wreck as for an equivalent house in good condition.
It’s also worth remembering that if your vision involves making structural alterations, these inevitably turn out to be more expensive and messier than you first imagined.
If you’re thinking of making structural changes you will need ensure that the house is structurally sound to begin with or more issues could arise. Check out our other blog posts here that will be of benefit in this instance;