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My first time - things to look for and ask when buying a house

I've started looking to buy my first home. It's exciting. However as a first time buyer no one really tells you what you should be looking for or asking when you go and look at properties.

You spend hours on house buying search sites, or going up and down the high street visiting estate agents. This is followed by even more time visiting prospective new homes before deciding to put an offer in somewhere with the hopes it will be yours.

However, the amount of time you actually spend looking at each house in person can be as little as 15 minutes thanks to estate agents booking back to back sessions with open days. This isn’t long to make a decision about whether to spend the most you’ve ever spent on anything buying a house. As a first tiImage of young woman writing listme buyer no one really tells you what you should be looking for or asking when you go and look at properties.

So I’ve come up with a top 10 list of things to keep in mind during your house search from my own experience:

1. Why is the house for sale? Try and find out. Are the current owners moving to a bigger or smaller house that fits their needs, or are they relocating? Or, do they have nightmare neighbours, have they discovered a problem with the house and it’s cheaper to move than get it fixed? Knowing this in advance could potentially save you money and even stop you living near some neighbours from hell.

2. Is there a funny smell? With some properties, you can smell a damp problem before you see it. If the property smells like your old student halls, chances are there could be some damp in the property. Even if you can’t smell it, check in the corners of rooms and around doors and windows for signs of damp or mould. This can look like water stains on the walls, there could be mould growing, or there could be signs of freshly painted patches on ceilings.

3. Can you take photos? Ask the estate agent before you get snapping, but taking your own photos when looking around properties will often be more helpful than some carefully angled photos you have seen online, especially if you are viewing multiple houses in a short space of time.

4. How long has the property been on the market? Try and find out. Has the property been on the market two days or two years? If it’s two days, it’s worth finding out how long other properties are generally on the market in the area before they have an offer put in. Some houses can go the same day, and others can be on the market a few weeks or months before selling. You can find out how much similar properties in the area have sold for in the past by doing a search online to give you an idea of what to offer if you love the place. Equally, if it’s been on the market two years, you might need to do a bit more digging to find out why it hasn’t sold up until now. Find out if it’s had offers put on it before and perhaps had buyers pull out, or if there’s something that makes the house undesirable to purchase.

5. What’s included in the sale? It’s important to know whether things like the washing machine and fridge freezer are included in the sale of the house, or if you will need to account for buying these when you move in. Likewise, the curtains, fixtures and fittings, and even the garden shed. If they’re not included and you don’t already have them, it’s important to factor these costs into your move. You can often pick up these sorts of things cheaply second hand on websites like Gumtree or eBay, or your local paper.

6. What’s the local neighbourhood like? If you are not familiar with the area go for a good walk around. Is being near a good school important to you? Or, how about being within walking distance of a train station, a good pub or a corner shop? Parking may wll be important to you. Visiting the neighbourhood at different times of the day will also tell you a lot about buying the house, such as whether there will be lots of people using the road to park during the day and commute to work from a nearby train station.

7. How much is the Council Tax and bills? Are there any service charges if it’s a flat? Knowing how much your other monthly outgoings could be on top of your mortgage will help you determine if the property is affordable with your monthly budget or whether you’ll be going over each month.
8. Have any major works been done? Has the house had an extension added? It’s important to check that all the necessary building consents were in place when it was built, otherwise you may have to pay to get these approved in hindsight, or worst case scenario, if the works don’t get approved, they may have to be knocked down. Equally, if one of the rooms has just been redecorated, this could be a sign they are covering up something, such as a problem with damp or cracks.

9. How long is the lease (if it’s a leasehold property)? Most flats are leasehold properties. This means that you only own the property for the length of time on the lease unless you pay to have the lease extended. Many leases are between 100 and 999 years. But some are now much shorter. When the lease expires the property’s ownership goes to the landlord, known as the ‘freeholder’. Ideally when you are looking at flats you want as long a lease as possible, as they can be expensive to extend, and difficult to get a mortgage and resell if the property doesn’t have a long lease left on it. Check first, and if the lease is nearing 80 years or less, and you love the place, it’s worth seeing how much the lease extension will be before parting with your money.

10. Are the vendors in a chain? If you’re a first time buyer you’re in a strong position with having no chain behind you. This can often work in your favour when putting an offer on a property, as you can potentially be flexible with your moving date. However, this does mean you can be very dependent on those higher up the chain, and any delays could mean you have to wait even longer before finally moving in.

The Budget is one of the great political events of each Parliamentary year and perhaps never more so than when an election looms. For savers, this one looks as though it will, at last, deliver for them. It’s too soon to predict a scorching summer, but at least the sun does seem to be about to come out from behind the clouds.

By Emma Burhouse

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