House hunts often begin in the new year, prompted, perhaps, by the removal of the Christmas tree and its gaudy baubles. Maybe there’s a realisation as you take down the decorations and start work again that the place you live in is a bit tired. There's a temptation to think that all of life’s problems could be solved by a new start. Fresh-faced house hunters often forget that there are few things more stressful than moving house - bar, perhaps, divorce. Since the housing market has effectively closed shop during lockdown, it's the ideal opportunity to reflect on how to remove the pressure from the process once there's a chance to look at houses again. Here's my guide to eight common mistakes people make - and how to avoid them:
Do your sums
My first rule of thumb is simple: stop going to view properties you cannot afford. You’ll only upset yourself. There’s no point torturing yourself endlessly viewing houses or flats that are out of your price range in the hope that one of your low-ball offers will be accepted. Set a strict budget and don’t forget to calculate moving costs, Stamp Duty if applicable, legal fees and a rainy-day budget too. Add ten per cent if you must for searches online but that’s it. The market isn’t likely to fall by 40 per cent and unless a property is wildly overpriced, you’re unlikely to achieve more than a ten per cent reduction on the asking price.
Prep the mortgage
You'd be amazed how many people begin to view properties without a mortgage in place. This is dangerous: if you happen to stumble upon the house of your dreams you won't be in a position to move swiftly and risk losing out to other buyers. If you aren’t a cash purchaser make sure you know how much you can borrow, how much repayments are likely to cost and whether you can afford those repayments. And much as you might like to think you can borrow what you like, you’ll be lucky if you can get more than four or at most five times your annual salary. Speak to mortgage providers and also look into their processes for arranging mortgages. This isn’t the early noughties, and you cannot expect to have an answer by this time tomorrow. If you’re ready to move, you’re likely to get a better deal.
Ignore the market noise
In every paper and online website up and down the land you’ll find ‘experts’ telling you what the market will do this year, particularly in January. This year online market websites suggest we could see a 5 per cent rise in house prices in 2021. The mortgage lenders like the Halifax suggest we could see a marginal fall and estate agents Savills and Hamptons suggest a flat market. Meanwhile the outlier of the CEBR, Centre for Economics and Business Research, predicts a fall of 14 per cent. By definition, most of these predictions will be wrong. Don’t worry yourself with them. Speak to local agents, find out what’s sold recently, look at stats that are specific to the location you want to live in. That’s far more helpful than reviewing national statistics that are more suited to a newspaper headline than taking a rational decision.
Make a checklist
Make a checklist covering the specifics of what you are looking for and be realistic about what is achievable. For example, you might be after a south facing garden, off street parking or a quiet road, and these are all reasonable criteria. Some house-hunters get caught up in the superficials: they insist there must be a wood burning stove, or an Aga, cinema room or shed. All of these things can be put in by you. You’re unlikely to tick everything on your list so be prepared to compromise or even be surprised by a property that ends up being right.
Online sites aren’t estate agents
By all means use the online aggregators to help your search. See what’s on the market and gather information. But the most important task when beginning your search is to find out who dominates a local market. Don’t be afraid to make enquiries with the top three agents in your desired area. Get onto their books. Estate agents can then contact you directly as soon as a suitable house comes on the market - infinitely better than waiting for it to appear on a search site.
Ignore the decor
Don’t be put off by something as changeable as a wall colour. It’s incredible how many people will discount a property because the carpet has swirls, the house smells of dog or the bathrooms suite is a 1970's avocado special. Compared to the cost of moving, it's a relatively small cost to get a property redecorated and I would suggest it’s one of the first things you should do after moving anyway. Even if a house is immaculate when you move in, it won’t last more than a few years.
Don't ignore the details
Whilst the décor is not something to worry about, there are plenty of things you should consider. Yes, have a survey done. Focus on seemingly dull details like when the property was last re-wired, heating, windows, speed of broadband, roof and damp. If it’s a flat, check the cladding, whether there’s a nasty leasehold lurking or if there’s a big service charge. Many of these aspects are unseen and can be costly to put right. Do your homework and it will make your life much easier when the property you buy becomes your home.
Make several visits
I am well aware of the stats that say you’ll know whether the property is right for you almost instantly walking through the door. But I urge you to go back to that property at a different time of day, walk around the streets and enquire about the neighbours and neighbourhood. A property near a school or shops can be a parking nightmare or the street a commuter rat-run. A house is the largest purchase most of us will make in our lifetime so it's worth a bit of nosiness to make sure you get it right.