Buying your first home is an incredible experience, but it’s also a pretty terrifying one. By definition, you haven’t bought a home before! It’s also likely that the advice your family tries to give you will be frustratingly outdated, and friends who have already bought their own place will have specific experiences or budgets that are very different from your own.
It’s made scarier by the fact that making a mistake could actually cost you quite a lot of money, and the process seems very complicated at first glance.
With this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of things I wish I had known about real estate when I first bought a house. They range from tips to do with the house itself, to the people involved in selling us that house, including lawyers and surveyors. These hints will hopefully make the process feel far less daunting, and help you find the dream home that you deserve the first time around rather than the second or the third!
Consider the Extra Costs
With how much it costs to buy a house, you could be forgiven for hoping that’s all you’d have to spend. However, there are actually multiple extra costs you ought to budget for when buying your first home. Some are more obvious, such as paying for a lawyer or paying for a removals company to take your stuff to the new place.
However, some are not so obvious. For example, remember that if you’re currently renting a furnished property, you’re going to have to find new furniture! This includes things you might not think of at the time, like coat hooks or light bulbs. On a related note, remember that nothing in your new home that you saw in the viewing is guaranteed to be there when you move in unless you have been explicitly told it will be there. For example, don’t rely on a set of shelves or a lampshade to be there! Make sure you ask your realtor exactly what will be included when you’re viewing the property. This will save you from having to make last-minute purchases that you haven’t budgeted for.
Luckily, some of these extra costs can be lowered or even removed entirely with a little bit of forward planning. In the example above, see if you can get some of that new furniture for free! Ask around friends and family and find out if they have old stuff in their garage or attic that they’ve been meaning to get rid of. In addition, you can also look on the ‘freecycle’ site for the area (usually either on Facebook or Craigslist) to see if anybody near your new property wants to give anything useful away. This is also much more environmentally friendly!
Explore the Area
The phrase ‘location, location, location’ is a cliché for a reason! You can fix most things about a new place, but you can’t move it to a new location. Make sure you do all the research you possibly can on the area your new place means. This means both on foot and online.
On foot, go around knocking on doors! If you’re polite and explain your reasons, most people will be happy to speak with you briefly about the area (and if they aren’t, maybe you don’t want those people for neighbours!).
If there are parks or green spaces around, visit them too. The same goes for local bars, restaurants, whatever! Really try to picture what your life would be like living in this area, and how you would spend your time. Do you enjoy the ambience of the local places? Can you see yourself spending a lot of time in them? If not, then even if you love a property with all your heart, then it might not be your new home.
Keep an eye out for the small things as well as you walk around the neighbourhood – are the cars clean? Is there graffiti everywhere? Is garbage left in the street? If you’re completely new to an area, it might be a good idea to even stay in a hotel or rent an Airbnb for a night or two to really get a feel for the place.
Online, make use of all the data available for your area – you should be able to find crime statistics, information on local schools, and even noise level checks. There’s nothing worse than moving into your dream house and realising that it comes with alarms at all hours of the night or is in an area that is very prone to burglary. You can also try to find out what is due to be built in the area – you don’t want to have a beautiful view destroyed by a new high-rise in a few months! These simple checks will stop you from being caught out, and help you find the first home that is really perfect for you.
View at Different Times of the Day
Related to the above, make sure to view the property at different times of the day, including exploring the neighbourhood. We all know those areas that are lovely while the sun is up, but once it’s dark become loud, drunken, or even dangerous. There are different advantages to viewing at different times. For example, daylight makes it easier to spot any flaws in the property, particularly in the loft or attic where you can check the integrity of the timber. Plus, you might have a new potential neighbour with noisy children and you’re most likely to find out about those in the early hours of the morning or the late afternoon.
On the flip side, if any of your neighbours will be playing loud music or getting into loud domestic arguments, you’re most likely to find out about that at night. It’s always a particularly good idea to look at the bedrooms after the sun has gone down – you don’t want to find out about a streetlight right outside the bedroom window on your first night in a new home!
Look Out for Dealbreakers
As has been said before in this article, most things about a new home can be fixed – except for dealbreakers. We’ve already discussed one dealbreaker (bad location) at length, but there are other dealbreakers you should also be on the lookout for.
Don’t be shy about inspecting every aspect of a house on a second or third viewing – you’re the customer, so you’re always right! Make sure to especially check the house for damp, which can be a nightmare to get rid of. Check for wet spots, mould, peeling wallpaper, unusual amounts of condensation on the windows – anything that might indicate dampness in the house. Keep an eye out for all these signs, but keep a nose out too – houses with damp will smell musty.
Check the electronics by flipping switches and turning on the oven. Plus, make a note of the power points in the property: are there enough? Are they intelligently spaced? Do any of them look damaged or unsafe? It can be very inconvenient to discover that the only power point in the kitchen, for example, is already being used by a fridge you can’t move.
Check the plumbing by turning on the taps and flushing the toilet – plumbing is expensive, and sometimes impossible, to fix. In particular, check the water pressure in the shower and check that it actually gets hot. Nothing worse than getting into the shower after an exhausting day of moving in and finding out that it has poor water pressure and doesn’t get hotter than lukewarm!
Check you can get cell phone signal in all the rooms, as you’re unlikely to want to change service provider to accommodate your new home. Take some binoculars to look at the roof and look for loose tiles or leaky gutters. Lift up any mats or rugs to look for stains or holes that they might be concealing. Again, don’t be shy – you’re potentially going to spend a lot of money here, and you’re entitled to know what you’re buying! Finally, try to really picture yourself living in this house. You can even try acting it out if that helps! For example, mime preparing dinner in the kitchen and check there’s enough space to move about. Try to imagine hosting a dinner party, if you’re that kind of person – is there enough room for everyone to socialise?
Dealbreakers can be personal things too, and if you love to host and the kitchen is too small, this might be a problem. If all of these checks fail to show any problems, you might be onto a real winner!
Question your Lawyer
The cardinal rule of buying a home for the first time, or any time really, is not to be shy, as discussed above when viewing the property. It’s important that you also use some of that confidence in hiring your conveyance lawyer.
Conveyancing is a specialist type of property law, so make sure whichever firm you hire can actually do the job – do not, for example, just automatically hire the firm that handled your divorce. That said, you can occasionally get a lawyer to throw in a will for free in this situation, so don’t be afraid to ask! Just like with any part of buying a house, make sure you find out exactly what hidden costs will be involved, especially as different firms charge for different things. Some will only charge a basic rate, while some will charge extra even for essential parts of the process such as verifying your identity. Most importantly, make sure to check what you will be expected to pay if a sale falls through. Lawyers will often charge a fee for work done, even if the seller is the one who pulls out of the deal.
You should also bear in mind that even firms that offer a ‘no move no fee’ service (ie, they won’t charge a fee unless you actually get the property) may still charge you for things like searches that were carried out on your behalf.
Do the Inspection and Survey Right
Hopefully, if you checked for all the dealbreakers discussed above, there shouldn’t be too many horrors turned up in the survey and inspection!
For properties that are older or a little more unusual, it is probably best to fork out for a full structural survey but I always recommend buyers pay for an inspection no matter how old the property is. These checks could well save you money in the long run if you can spot signs before they become problems and get them fixed early.
Plus, finding any defects may give you ammunition to haggle down the price of the property. You could therefore potentially save money by spending money in this situation! It may also be worth spending a little extra on new builds as well, especially if they are incomplete at the time the inspection or survey is taking place. This way, the inspector can pinpoint any defects or unfinished bits, and you will be able to put pressure on the developer to remedy those problems before you move in.
Here’s a pro tip: if you can, try to accompany the inspector when they’re working on your property. The likelihood is, they’ll tell you more in person than they will include in the report. That way, you can find out a little bit extra about your property (and also, you can find out what exactly it is you’ve paid the inspector to do!). Also, if the inspector does find a problem then it’s an ideal way to make sure you get a quote for any work that’s needed straight away. Then you can ask a reputable builder for a second opinion, before arming yourself with that information to renegotiate with the seller.