How do I find the perfect property?
Buying a home is one of the biggest decisions you have to make in life, and it really is worth putting in a bit of research to make sure you choose a home that is right for you now and into the future. Our guide sets out the key aspects you will want to consider to help you find your perfect property.
How do you choose the right house to buy? We set out the key aspects you will want to consider when you are house-hunting to help you find your perfect property including the importance of location, planning for the long term, keeping a practical eye and being realistic about trade-offs you will inevitably have to make.
Location, location, location
The first step in finding the perfect home to buy is identifying the area you want to live in. The community you live in is likely to be as important, if not more important, than the actual property you choose.
Budget and what you can afford will be a key deciding factor for where you will focus your property search.
Additionally in choosing where to live, you will want to take into consideration:
- The setting – whether it is more urban, suburban or rural
- Commuting time and ease of getting around, including transport links
- Proximity to shops and restaurants (if this is important to you)
- Quality of schools in the area if you are likely to be planning a family in the future
- Parks and green spaces nearby
For more advice on choosing where you want to buy. See How do I choose a new area to live in?.
Plan for the long term
If you are a first time buyer, you might just want to get your foot on the property ladder and move on in a couple of years. But most people end up living in their homes for many years, and it is vital to factor that in. If you don’t buy a home that is future-proofed, you can end up having to move more frequently, which is incredibly expensive.
So, when you are looking at a home to buy…
- Ensure it is a home you will grow into. People tend to like having more space as they grow older
- If you are planning to have children, or more children, do you have enough bedrooms, and a garden? Living on the top floor of a block of flats might not matter if you don’t have children, but could be an impossible barrier with a pram
- Think about future potential or changes you might be able to make to add space if you need it — Can you build into the loft or extend?
All other things being equal, owning a home almost always gets steadily more affordable every year you live there.
- Furniture and home improvement costs wither away after the first few years.
- Unless you lose your job or stop working for other reasons, you will almost certainly enjoy earnings that rise steadily year on year throughout your life.
- The cost of a mortgage does not increase year on year, varying at most with interest rates. That means that your mortgage will get steadily more affordable as a proportion of your income year by year.
- Barring personal setbacks, a property that was difficult to afford when you bought it will almost always be more easily affordable five years later.
Think about the trade-offs
You are unlikely to find a property that has everything you want, so you will have to make trade-offs. But the trade-offs can also be opportunities:
- Being next to a busy road reduces prices, but if the noise doesn’t bother you then it could be an opportunity
- Many people don’t want to live right next to a school because of the noise from the playground, but if you are always out in school hours it won’t matter
- You pay a big premium for off-street parking, and it reduces car insurance costs, but do you really want it?
- People will often spend more for a garden, but if you aren’t that bothered, then it won’t be money well spent
- If you don’t have a huge budget and want to live centrally, living in a flat above a shop could prove perfect
Focus on the fundamentals
Make sure you distinguish between what is superficial and what is fundamental. For example:
- You can change the colour scheme easily, but there is nothing you can do about the total floor area in a property
- Can you envisage developing the property over the years – is there room for an extension or loft conversion?
- Ugly features might depress the value, but can be very cheap to remove
- Changing narrow corridors or awkwardly shaped rooms can be more difficult to change
Learn everything you can about the property
Once you have your eye on a property, learn as much as you can about it.
- Ask the estate agent detailed questions about the property. See Top tips – clever questions to ask the estate agent
- When you go to view the property, take your time to check rooms are big enough, that there is plenty of natural light, no signs of damp and check the condition of the electrics, heating, windows and the roof. See Top tips – things not to forget when viewing a property
- Ask the neighbours. Knock on their door and tell them you are thinking of buying the house next to them – most people will be delighted to speak to prospective new neighbours. If they aren’t, that tells you something too
- Sometimes you can contact previous owners, who no longer have a vested interest in talking it up – this can be particularly informative if you suspect there might be problems with it
Protect yourself from estate agents
The only person who can really look out for your interests is you. The vast majority of estate agents are honest, but you should remember they work for the seller and want you to pay as much as possible.
- some estate agents “test the market”, putting overinflated prices to see if anyone goes for it
- some clients insist their agents put their home on the market at excessively optimistic prices
- the only way you can be confident of not paying over the odds is to become an expert on the local market
- regularly check property websites, and go and see as many properties as possible – you will become better informed, and increase the chance of finding somewhere perfect
See our guide for more advice on making an offer on a house and negotiating the price.