10 top tips for finding a home to buy

Finding a home, whether as a first time buyer or a seasoned mover, can be as exciting and inspiring as it can be stressful and tiring.

This top tip guide from OnTheMarket.com will help to ensure that the process of buying a house is as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

1. Finance comes first

Before you start seriously looking at properties, you should consider how you will pay for your new home. Unless you are a cash buyer, the purchase will almost certainly involve borrowing through a mortgage. You will also need access to sufficient money to pay a deposit, which is usually 5% or 10% of the purchase price of the property. It is sensible to talk to a “whole of market” financial adviser who will be able to assess the amount of mortgage you can afford to take on and will help you to apply for a loan. Find an Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) via recommendation from friends or family, through an estate agency, your building society or bank, or via the internet and go as far as getting an “Agreement in Principle”, or AIP, which confirms the amount that can be borrowed if the property meets the lenders’ criteria. Agents and sellers will take you more seriously if they know you have an AIP in place. Remember also to budget for the costs of moving: legal fees, stamp duty land tax, removal costs and so forth. You can find out more in “Financing Your Purchase”, another top tip guide from OnTheMarket.com.

2. Identify your wants and needs

With a clear idea of how much you can afford it is time to start looking for a suitable property that meets your criteria. If you have to be near a particular school, station or workplace, identify them on a map so that when you see sales details, you can quickly tell if the property is close enough. Make a list of all the things you need in a property. These items are often very different from the things you might want. For example, you may want a double garage but only need an off-street parking space. You might want four bedrooms but really only need three. Being clear about what you need will help you quickly to identify the homes to look at in more detail and will give the estate agents an accurate understanding of what they should offer you. Good estate agents are often very adept at sifting wants from needs and then coming up with properties which at first you might think unsuitable but which actually are ideal. You would be amazed at the number of people who end up buying a dream home that is completely different from what they originally looked for!

3. Get your own home on the property market

Many buyers have to sell an existing home before being able to move and some think it is best to find the property to buy before going on the market. This is a recipe for disappointment. If your own home is not even up for sale, then when you find your ideal purchase you are unlikely to be able to secure it quickly. Any offers you make will be put to the seller as being “subject to sale of their own property” and that puts you at a disadvantage against other bidders who may already have found a buyer or have the cash available. So read the top tip guide from OnTheMarket.com “Choosing your estate agent” and put your property on the market at the earliest opportunity.

4. Starting the property search

You are now ideally prepared to start the search for suitable properties. Begin on the internet by looking at OnTheMarket.com (where you can register to receive automatic alerts when a new property comes on the market) and the websites of estate agents in the area you are moving to. Most sites enable you to filter results by such criteria as location, price and number of bedrooms. Get hold of the local newspapers to look at the property advertising. Call or email the most relevant estate agents and register with them for details of the properties they have for sale and new ones coming on. Remember that estate agents have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of buyers on their books. Some are serious and some are “dreamers”. If you want to be at the top of the agents’ lists when a new property comes on the market, make it clear you have done your homework and are serious about moving. Be specific about your requirements: the area you want to be in, how much you can afford to spend, why you are moving and what your timescale is.

5. Sorting the list

It is very likely that in a matter of hours or days you will have a pile of property details to look at. Decide on the ones that meet your criteria and plan to go and see them. Don’t look at more than six in a day. If you view a greater number, you will forget more about each one than you remember. You will probably be making the viewing appointments through the estate agents’ offices. Sometimes the agent will meet you at the property because they hold the keys. Other times you may be meeting the seller. Give yourself plenty of leeway between appointments so that you can keep to the scheduled times. Estate agents are busy people and they generally won’t wait if you are more than ten minutes late. Be courteous and call them know if you are running late.

6. First impressions

You have now arrived at the first viewing. Is the outside of the property what you expected? Have a look at the surrounding properties. Do they appear to be in keeping with the area? How busy is the road? Once inside, you will be looking at rooms that are probably filled with the owner’s furniture and possessions. Try to remove them in your mind’s eye and picture your own things in the place. Your chances of finding somewhere that is perfect in every respect are slim but do remember that you can, at a price, change almost anything about a home except its location. So if there is a room decorated with wallpaper you dislike, it can be altered relatively easily. Likewise, if a kitchen is a bit run-down, it can be updated. Don’t let the less important things put you off. Immediately after the appointment jot down a few notes of what you liked and disliked about the property. It will help you later to recall the visit.

7. Second viewings

After you have viewed a number of potential properties, you will start to think about which ones you prefer. It is then time to go and have a second look. And most sales are agreed after a second viewing. Make the appointment for a different time of day than on the first viewing. You will see the place in different lighting conditions and be able to assess if there are any issues with noise or traffic at certain times of day. You will be surprised at how different a property can seem when you return to it. For example, the rooms may appear smaller or larger than you remember; and you will definitely see things that you missed first time around. On this second visit take a little more time and look at items in more detail. Turn on taps (ask first!) to check water pressure, look at where the power points are located, see if every room has heating. If the seller is there, you might ask what items they are going to be leaving (such as carpets and curtains) and what they will want to sell. If you really like the property and the seller is present, do not be tempted into making an offer on the spot. Wait and do it through the estate agency as face-to-face negotiating with a seller can sometimes become difficult.

8. Making an offer

When you have found the property that you would like to purchase, you will have to decide what price you will be prepared to pay. Every property has an asking price and a price that the seller will accept. The two may not be the same. If the property is for sale through an estate agent, remember that they are acting for the seller, not for you, and that they have a legal obligation to achieve the best price for their client. You may offer any amount that you wish for the property and except in very specific circumstances the agent, by law, as soon as possible must put up offers to the seller until the point where a contract for the sale has been exchanged. Judge the amount to offer based on the asking price of the property in comparison to what else is available to buy in the area and what you may know have sold. You can ask for items to be included in the price and you can also make clear any conditions you would want such as being able to move in by a certain date. At this stage everything is up for negotiation.

9. Agreeing the price

The agent will put forward your offer and the seller will decide whether to accept or reject it. If they accept, that’s great. If they think your offer is too low they will want you to increase the amount. You are now in a process of negotiating with the seller via the agent in the middle. A good agent will guide you towards the figure that they think their client will find acceptable.

10. Your offer accepted

If negotiations go well you will eventually arrive at a figure that you are willing and able to pay and that the seller is willing to accept. Once the offer is accepted and the sale agreed, the agent will confirm everything in writing and the property is then said to be “under offer” or “sold, subject to contract”. It is now time for the legal process to begin and for you to instruct a solicitor or conveyancer so that matters can move forward to an “exchange of contracts”. Be aware that until the contracts are exchanged you and the seller are free to change your minds and pull out or to renegotiate the sale. Happily, most sales do go through successfully so you can now start to get excited at the prospect of moving to your new home.

Note that in Scotland the selling, buying, and legal processes differ from the rest of the UK. In particular, properties are marketed with either a “fixed price” or at “offers over” a certain figure, which is the lowest amount a seller will accept. Estate agents tend to operate from within solicitor firms. These top tips are still applicable to the general procedure for finding a property to buy in Scotland.

Content provided by OnTheMarket.com is for information purposes only. Independent and professional advice should be taken before buying, selling, letting or renting property, or buying financial products.

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