HOUSEHUNTING : SOME TIPS

At last the news is out and I can happily share I’m finally cutting the Eggleton cord. I’m (just about) in a position where moving out from my family home is just about feasible. I’m aware that this ‘exciting announcement’ is probably only exciting for me, but those who have followed my journey and tribulations of living with parents as an adult, will perhaps be mildly happy for me, and perhaps also a bit intrigued to see what happens next! 

I’m just hoping I haven’t done some really bad maths, and end up having to do an announcement about how I’ve had to beg my parents to have me (and all my clutter,…oh and boyfriend ) back. But do you know what? There’s no shame in that in this in 2019, with Brexit uncertainty, rising living costs for just about everything (and wages not going up to match it) I’m sure this isn’t a rare series of events for young adults, and even for those approaching middle age. 

While I’m not exactly comfortable financially, I’ve saved very hard and think together Si and I can just about cover monthly costs. I figured if I don’t take the plunge sometime I’ll never know whether it’s workable, and I thought now would be quite a good time to try. In turns out from lots of conversations I’ve had from people in that property know, that right now is pretty great you’re a buyer. Due to the aforementioned Brexit uncertainty not as many people are moving so there’s less competition if you find a property you like, and the likelihood is you’ll be getting more for your money because prices have dropped, again because of the uncertainty. 

As I’m looking in one of the most expensive places in the UK, with a budget which has been described by one estate agents as ‘challenging’, the words ‘more for your money’ resounds like angel song. To put it in to context we searched what we could get in Northamptonshire and if we were able to move there we could afford a 4-6 bedroom house, here we can only just about get a 2 bed flat. Don’t do what I did and torture yourself by looking at locations you know you can’t move to. 

Apart from looking for student digs in my second year of uni when it came to moving out of halls, I have had no experience of home hunting. But I think I’ve actually taken to it fairly well and managed to stay pretty organised. However, it’s definitely been a steep learning curve, so I wanted to share anything that could help any of you in a similar position to me. 

DOING IT ALONE

I have had to do the majority of this on my own as Si’s hours mean he isn’t to attend viewings most of the week. Knowing that he wasn’t going to be available to view as many as me,  it didn’t make sense for him to be the one in contact with the estate agents. So I was the person doing all the phone-calls, searching and emailing from the start. It’s a hell of a lot on top of normal work/lifeload if you want to be quick off the mark at seeing new additions to the market. Before I start waffling into more details, here’s some initial tips I’ve collated from my experience of house-hunting.

SEARCH ALERTS

Create search alerts so you can keep track on newly added properties. Set the filters to newest added, so every time you check you’re only seeing ones that aren’t on your radar already. Within that you’ll sometimes see properties that have been reduced so are now newly within your max budget parameter. I used On the Market, Zoopla and Rightmove. I know there’s such a thing as house swapping now too – local facebook groups are good for that kind of house hunting. 

LOOK ABOVE YOUR BUDGET

It might sound pointless but do search for properties that are above your budget. We looked at some 30 grand above. You never know whether they have initially overpriced the property, or whether they’re in a hurry to move which would make them more inclined to accept a lower offer. I actually got an email today from an estate agent saying that a vendor was willing to drop the asking price by 40k if that would make a difference to my decision. Of course the counter argument for this approach is that there’s a chance you will fall for a property that doesn’t have any wiggle room that you’ll never be able to afford, and this could lead to heartbreak, but for me it’s a risk worth taking. Moving forward I made it clear to our agents to not show us properties above our budget that they didn’t think had any room for manoeuvre. 

LOAD UP ON ESTATE AGENTS (if you’re just buying)

Sign up to lots of estate agents. When you ring to register they’ll need your house – house-hunt requirements ( how many beds, location, must have a garage etc), they’ll want to know where you live now, whether there’s a chain (you need to sell), whether you’re a cash buyer etc. I just copy and pasted all the information in to a document so I could just fire over the information quickly via email each time. 

AM I FIRM ENOUGH?

Handshakes  – You’ll find yourself becoming very aware of your own handshake, as well as the handshakes of others. It’s a good way to quickly hone your technique and firmness level, although one Estate agent called Ben really caught me off guard when he went in for a left handed one due to an injury. There was no preparation for that one. 

IT WILL TAKE OVER YOUR LIFE

Expect it to completely take over your mind. I haven’t been able to do any work since I made the decision to house hunt. My sleep pattern is a brand new pattern….one that involves very little to no sleep and middle of the night Rightmove swiping. It’s like tinder for those with dirty house fetishes. 

THERE IS ALWAYS A COMPROMISE

There will always be a compromise. You have to leave behind the notion of the ‘perfect’ house. I doubt it exists, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get buy something that can make you very happy, or one you can make very close to perfect. Even if you have the biggest budget in the world and the house you get ticks all the boxes there will always have been another house that ticked some of the boxes a bit more enthusiastically. It’s good to get the reality check early on in the search as the sooner it happens the sooner you’ll be able to work out which compromises you are willing to make. 

NOT GREAT FOR PHONE PHOBICS

Estate agents love to phone, even if you’ve asked politely a number of times that emailing is preferred. Even if you’ve explained that you’re at work, or anything other reason you’ve used to let them know NOT TO CALL. If like me, you are phone phobic it’ll either drive you bananas or cure you through forced facing of the fear. Still annoying though.

Obviously estate agent work is commission based so they will want you to buy from them and will be very eager in terms of following up and chasing to find out whether you want second viewing or interested in their properties.

SEE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE

See as many properties as you can. It helps you to really understand what you can get in certain areas for your money and helps you work out what is a good deal and what isn’t. It showed us very effectively which areas you get more for your money space wise, but perhaps sacrifice on amenities and location to stations for instance. It also helps you learn more about what you really value in your future home. This is probably the biggest purchase of your life so it makes sense to be thorough. 

A PICTURE SOMETIMES SPEAKS A THOUSAND MISLEADING WORDS

The pictures on the sites are VERY misleading at times. They will be using wide or fish eye lenses which make the property look much bigger than it is in reality. Make sure you look at the floor plans for the measurements and then once you’ve seen one property you have something to compare to. E.g the lounge is wider than the flat we saw yesterday etc. Also I personally find it easier when there’s furniture in the space rather than empty rooms. It’s hard to imagine how much room beds/sofa’s etc fill.

PREPARE FOR CHANGE

What you think you want will change all the time – your priorities and deal breakers. See ones that you weren’t necessary drawn to. One that Si had discounted ended up being one of our favourites. Some may not look very sexy in the pictures, but in reality the space and feel in person might make up for it. The one we ended up buying Si said he didn’t even want to view. Sometimes the sexier choice isn’t the one you want. 

LISTEN TO YOUR GUT

Sometimes it’s a feeling. We went into one that ticked all the boxes and was ideal location wise, but we both said it just didn’t feel like ‘us’ and we couldn’t put a finger on why. 

IT CAN GET TENSE

If you are buying with someone else or buying knowing someone else will be living with you there will be differing of opinions, mainly in terms of priorities. I was lucky that on the whole Si and I have very similar tastes and priorities, but as I said earlier there were a few properties that I had to work hard to convince Si about viewing. Try and keep these conversations as calm as possible. 

SEXISM IS RIFE

One of the most disappointing things I experienced during my house-hunt was the assumption that Si was the person paying for the home, or that he was in charge of decisions. On my first viewing, despite arranging it and doing all of the corresponding, the male estate only talked to Si while we were walking round the apartment. Even when I asked the questions he’d direct his gaze and answer to Si. If he’d got me on a hormonal day I might have raged enough to say something but I kinda figured I wanted the estate agent on side, so I let it go. 

HEAD VS HEART

We’ve have this inner battle with most of our past relationships and now it will be applied to your house hunt. You will have to deal with a tussle between your heart and your head. Another reason why you shouldn’t rush this process because it takes a while to get this balance right. 

DISAPPOINTMENT IS COMMON

There will be disappointments. In my instance I thought I’d pretty much found the ideal place, managed to sell the imagined dream to my partner, explaining how on summer nights we’d be able to stroll to our fave local pub by the river. How it was near to our friends so we could host dinner parties etc. That I could nip to the local supermarket which was literally 5 minutes walk away. Then had a very difficult job unsell it to Si when a conversation with my architect sister in Law outlined the many reasons why this would not be a sound investment. It may look great on paper and in person, but it’s that stuff that’s not as easy to spot, and the stuff you only think about when you consider the property a few years down the line or when you come to resell. Let’s not mention the gutting nature of thinking you’re got your dream place and it falling through due to someone else changing situation in the chain. Been there got the t-shirt…but then I found the place I ended up buying the next day. So don’t give up!!

FLAT VS HOUSE

There’s a hell of a lot to consider when you are buying a flat/apartment or maisonette. You need to find out about service and ground costs over the year. This could dictate whether it’s somewhere you would be able to afford to actually live. Look at the overall building. If its’ a huge block that may need some sort or maintenance or renovation in the near future you might have to contribute a very large amount of money towards it. A flat near us that was actually one offered to us for a viewing is being given a big rehab which is costing each tenant £20,000 plus.So even if the price it’s at seems very reasonable, ask yourself why that may be and why you may have ahead of you. 

YOUR NEIGHBOURS

You need to think about how the other residents/neighbours and how they maintain their properties might impact your ability to sell, and the price you can sell it at. When we were interested in one lower ground flat we went at night just to see if there’s people hanging around on the plot, whether it feels safe and to see how noisy it was. Look at how well the communal areas are looked after. The corridors, commenced gardens, garages etc. This will impact your quality of life in the property and potentially the relationship you end up having with your neighbours. 

GAS VS ELECTRICITY

The majority of flats are electric rather than gas which is traditional but far more expensive . I asked for the most recent tenants to let me know what their average bills were to give myself an idea whether it was feasible for us on a monthly basis. Check the efficiency ratings of the building on the brochure, you don’t want to knowingly purchase a house you’ll struggle to keep warm. 

If it’s a flat you will often have to get permission to make any significant changes. Permissions can also cost money, so that’s another factor to consider – you have to remember you just own a bit of a building rather than the whole thing when you buy a flat. 

ADDING VALUE

Adding value is perhaps slightly trickier with a flat. Of course you can improve the inside, perhaps convert a loft space, but the fact its’ still a flat and you cant do anything to change the overall building will mean there’s a ceiling point in terms of how much value you can add to the property. It’s arguably easier to add value to a house that needs some TLC or some renovation. 

FOR ONCE I WISH I WAS OLD

This next tip is something that will drive you mad. You’ll find a property that looks too good to be true. Guess what? It is! This huge property with extra bedrooms is only in you budget if you only own a small percentage of it or if you’re over 55. Some are more clearly labelled (The Homewise ones) but theres a few that reveal they’re retirement properties deep in the description. 

So that’s just a few of my observations from the Househunting process. I’ll be back soon talking about things I learned from the actual buying part of the process, when things get really grown up and serious!!

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