Eleanor writes on many topics, including parenting, single parenting, party and activity ideas, and career and home life.
Buying a new property can be an exciting time, but it can also be a daunting process. After all, a new home is likely to be the most expensive purchase you will ever make. It is both an emotive experience—we often have an idea of our 'perfect' home in our minds—but it is also a practical investment.
Read on for 20 tips on what to consider when buying your ideal property.
1. Do You Like the Street and the Surrounding Area?
It sounds obvious, but no matter how much you like the house itself, if you can't envisage yourself living on the street or within the immediate environment, any potential purchase might not be right for you.
In fact, you can often change a house to suit your needs, but you won't be able to do anything about the area.
As a friend once said to me: "You have to like where you are when you step out the door."
2. Is the Garden Facing in the Right Direction For Sunlight?
The direction of the garden is another factor that is impossible to change. If you're hoping to enjoy afternoons basking in sunlight and the garden faces north, it's just probably not going to happen.
It's important to bear this in mind if you view a property during a dull day, or in the evening when the sun has gone down. Otherwise, it might be something that you end up forgetting about until you've moved in, even though the amount of sun you get in your garden can really affect your overall enjoyment of any house.
3. Is There Room For Future Expansion?
If you think you might, in future years, want to add on to the property by means of a side or rear extension, be mindful of whether or not this is feasible with the available space. Ultimately, a house is a long-term purchase. Long, thin kitchens, for example, can be greatly improved in terms of space and room usage—but only if there is enough room to build on the side.
If you want to add a double extension, the rules about how close you can go to a neighbouring property are different than if you just want to add a single storey, so check local planning regulations first.
Finally, if you intend to expand upwards instead, see #4 below.
4. Is the Roof Pitch Suitable For a Loft Conversion?
Loft conversions are a very popular way to add an extra bedroom—but it's not always possible. The roof pitch must be of a certain height if you want to transform the area into a legitimate room with a staircase.
There are other stringent rules, such as the width of the stairs that lead to the room and the addition of fire doors, so do your homework if this is your plan.
5. Is the Road Too Busy For Children, Pet Cats, etc.
Do you have pet cats that are used to roaming outside in a quieter area? Do your children like to play out on the street? If so, a property on a busy road might not suit your needs.
Even if you don't have cats or children, living on a very busy road can mean inconvenience when trying to get your car out of the driveway, especially during peak times of day. There will also be more fumes from petrol and diesel.
6. Are Local Amenities Easily Accessible?
I once lived on a street that was a 20-minute walk from the nearest local shop. That meant I couldn't even buy a pint of milk without considerably more effort than I wanted to make. There was also no local store in the vicinity to buy any emergency items at night. I really noticed the lack of local amenities, even though I only lived there for eight months. Aside from those eight months, I've always lived in an area with at least one shop around the corner.
Some people move to the middle of nowhere and don't have a problem with a lack of amenities. But it is an important point to think about, since the ease with which you can access shops, public transport, local schools and other community facilities can make a real difference to how happy you ultimately feel in a new home.
7. Are You Happy With the Local Schools?
If you have children, or are planning to have children, there will be a point when the local schools become an important issue (believe me, I know!). With so many UK state schools oversubscribed, admission has become something of a postcode lottery and nothing is guaranteed.
If you move to an area where you are not happy with any of the schools that you should reasonably expect to gain a place at, you might be storing up future problems.
8. If the House Is a 'Project', Can You Afford the Renovations?
When it comes to housing, there is more than one type of project.
The first type might imply a complete redecoration of a property, in order to make it aesthetically pleasing. There might be some surface mould due to unheated rooms and poor ventilation. You might want to change the type of flooring used. All of this is stuff you can sort out as you go, room by room, and probably live perfectly contentedly in the mean time.
The other type of project is on another level entirely. Replacing a kitchen or bathroom, completely rewiring, changing the windows or doors, updating a boiler and/or adding gas central heating, knocking out walls, building extensions, updating plumbing to remove old lead piping, treating woodworm, adding damp proofing, replacing rotten timber and repairing roofs or chimneys are all examples of much more expensive jobs.
Even decorating can lead to add to unforeseen issues, particularly when walls are hidden behind coverings, potentially hiding a multitude of sins. I pulled off old woodchip in our first ever home—a 1900 Victorian terrace—and the plaster and brickwork started crumbling away!
Remember, too, that completely renovating a house can be stressful if you have to live in it whilst the work is being done. Can you handle the chaos, dust, and invasion?
9. Do You Want Open Plan or Separate Rooms?
Open plan living is very popular right now. There is no doubt that it can lighten up a home, creating a feeling of more space. It's good for family communication, entertaining with friends and eliminating that 'poky' feeling you can get with lots of rooms. Some people love it, but it's not for everyone.
Separate rooms might be a better choice if family members like or need their own space. Working from home, studying or indulging in a hobby are reasons why it might be better to forgo the open plan living for more rooms. Additionally, noise pollution from different sources of activity could be an issue.
Think carefully—don't get carried away with the spacious feeling of open plan living at the expense of the practicalities. Every family is different.
10. Is the 'Vibe' Right?
Perhaps it is a personal thing, meaning something different for each of us. But the right vibe is a valid reason for weighing up the pros or cons of buying any particular home.
When we walk into a house, we often have a 'feeling'. It's instinctive, and even if we are asked to explain it, we likely can't. We might love the house instantly, or feel negative instead. Perhaps we can already imagine ourselves living there—somehow, for reasons unknown, it feels 'happy' and 'right'. That's a good thing. If, in contradiction, the house feels dark or oppressive instead, then we might never feel content there.
But before you allow your heart to completely overtake your head when deciding on the right home for you, just remember that the 'vibe' might be important, but it is not more important than the more practical points—if the house feels 'happy' but it's falling down and needs excessive renovation, then it might not be for you!
11. Does Everyone Like It?
When you buy a home it helps if everyone who is going to be living there actually likes it. That includes both your partner and your children. Of course, it stands to reason that the decision of the adults in the family overrides the decision of a three-year-old child who preferred a bedroom in a different house because it had dinosaur wallpaper, but in general, having everyone on board makes the whole experience of moving house a better one.
Older children might, for example, resent being cut off from their friends or having to move schools, or they might not like the garden if they are used to playing football and the outdoors space in a new property is unsuitable.
It's particularly important that both you and your partner like the house. If one of you is holding back for the sake of the other, then it might not be the right property for you. Don't try to persuade your partner to agree to buying a certain property if they feel it's not right—you'll only store up issues that could resurface further along the track. Buying any property is a serious investment and must always be a joint decision if you buying together.
12. Is the Garden Big Enough/Private Enough?
Outside space is important, particularly during the warmer months. When looking at a potential new property, it is crucial that you consider the good and bad points of the garden in the same way that you do the indoors living space. We covered the direction of the garden back in point # 2, but other points to consider are:
- Is the outside space large enough? Not everyone wants a large garden, but if you have children who like to run about, if you like entertaining outside, or if you just generally like gardening, growing things and pottering about, it could be a deciding factor.
- Is it overlooked? Some gardens, particularly on new build estates, seem to be overlooked from all directions. Think about how that would make you feel if you are trying to enjoy some privacy on a summer's day. If you don't like the feeling, a different property might suit you better.
13. Is Off-Road Parking Important?
Being able to park on one's own land is very important to some people, and less so for others. I've been in both situations, and having your own driveway is definitely more convenient. It eliminates the difficulties associated with trying to park outside your own front door (sometimes impossible, depending on the street). Parking on small, narrow streets with double-parked vehicles can often involve lots of manoeuvring backwards and forwards just to fit in the space available, especially with today's larger cars. Basically, it's a hassle.
Car insurance is also often more expensive for cars that are parked on the street overnight, as there is more chance of damage occurring.
But if you've never had off road parking, it might not be a big deciding factor when you view a new property. On the other hand, perhaps you love a particular house so much that it's an issue you're prepared to compromise on.
14. Do You Need a Garage?
Some people wouldn't dream of leaving their car outside in the elements, whereas others are less concerned. Whether or not you need a garage is definitely a point worth considering, whether it is for the car, a place to store other things, or a space to use as a workshop, a gym, or something else entirely.
15. Are There Any Large Trees That Could Block Light?
There is no doubt about it—large trees on neighbouring properties can block light and ruin your enjoyment of your outside space. In the UK, the blocking of light by trees is not usually considered a factor for legal intervention, so it makes sense to take note of the surrounding area before you make an offer.
Remember, if you are viewing a house during the winter months or on an overcast day, the degree to which any large trees might affect enjoyment of the garden might not be apparent. Think ahead and take notice of the position of any potential 'offenders' and the position of the sun during the middle of the day. Remember, trees on one side of the boundary may not have any impact at all—my neighbours to the right have two huge trees and it isn't a problem at all.
16. Can You Afford to Fix Imminent Issues?
Houses are an ongoing source of expense - even houses that are not 'projects'. Whilst some issues can wait until you've saved the cash, others might need immediate attention. A good survey should identify any significant problems that need to be dealt with sooner rather than later—examples include, but are not limited to:
- Damp problems.
- Problems with the roof, such as slipped tiles or leaks.
- Issues with the boiler and heating - a boiler that is unsafe or isn't working properly may need fixing or replacing before you can access heating or hot water.
- Electrical problems—houses that have not been updated may need to be completely rewired.
- Structural chimney problems.
- Plastering—you'll probably want to redecorate, but you'll need walls that are in good enough condition first.
- Flooring. New flooring might not be essential, but it might be something you feel you can't live with in its current condition.
All of the above issues can be very expensive to fix, so before you get carried away, make sure you can afford to get the work done.
17. Are There Large Cracks?
Cracked plaster is a common issue in houses, and hairline cracks are usually superficial, revealing brickwork in good condition behind. Reasons why plaster starts to crack can be simply due to old, hollow plaster or shrinkage or expansion around timber. To fix it, you could fill it in and repaint, or re-plaster.
Sometimes, however, cracks can indicate a more serious structural problem. A surveyor should be able to diagnose the seriousness of any cracks, but typically wide cracks and cracks that are apparent on both sides of the brickwork are more likely to need more extensive work.
A good survey of the property is essential.
18. Is the Roof in Good Order?
Some houses look a complete mess, but it is purely aesthetic, whereas others have problems that need imminent attention and are expensive. Again, a proper building survey is required to identify any problems.
Completely re-roofing a property is an expensive job requiring scaffolding, so it's best to be informed before you put in an offer. Though it is usual to instruct a surveyor after pitching your offer, even a visual check can often (but not always) offer clues regarding the general age and condition of the roof.
Flat roofs are often predisposed to problems and don't generally last as long. However, houses with flat roofs may be cheaper because they tend to be less popular.
19. Will Your Furniture Fit?
It might sound obvious, but unless you are prepared to get rid of some of your furniture, it helps if it fits in the appropriate rooms. And it might not, even if the rooms are of a decent size.
Smaller rooms, different shaped rooms, rooms with crevices, storage cupboards, chimney breasts, fireplaces and the positioning of doors or radiators are all reasons why your furniture might not fit into the rooms of a new property.
Do your homework. Measure up—properly.
20. Can You Live With the Compromises?
There are always compromises to be made when purchasing a house. Well, maybe not if you've designed and built it from scratch, but for the rest of us, no house is completely perfect.
You might have to compromise a bigger garden for a more desirable location; a smaller master bedroom for a bigger room elsewhere; a garden that faces the 'wrong' direction for that house that is ideal in every other way.
We compromised the size of the bedrooms for a larger downstairs living space, as the property had a lower level extension. The size of the master bedroom is still not ideal, but it is something we live with. Looking forward, there is the potential to upgrade to a double storey extension instead, but current finances don't allow it. And, in reality, it might not be worth the hassle.
The point is, it is important to only make compromises that you know you can live with. A bedroom that is too small to fit any furniture into at all might be fine for a toddler, but not for a nine year old.
A house may be just bricks and mortar, but it is the backdrop of your life. Any decision to purchase a property should be approached with equal doses of enthusiasm and careful consideration.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Phoebe Tiangson on March 13, 2019:
Thanks for the article