Hunting for your ideal home

  • Top tips for your property search
  • It pays to be as thorough as possible when you’re househunting

The first step in identifying your dream home is to decide what type of property you want – or need. Do you prefer modern or period homes? The latter may have more character but require more maintenance. Do you want a flat or a house? A flat may be cheaper, but not practical if you have young children or pets, for example.

We all have a dream home lodged somewhere in our mind for the future. The mansion we will purchase with our Lotto win, the trendy riverside flat we’ll have as a pied à terre when we move to our country cottage, and other such flights of fancy.

Some lucky people will move into their ultimate property, but the majority of us need to set our sights a little closer to our budgets for our first home.

First you need to make some decisions.

What’s your maximum budget?

You need to have a rough idea of your budget in order to know what sort of properties fall within it. The only way to know this is to have a look at a few lender websites, use their calculators to get an idea of what is being offered, and if you see any deals that seem suitable, you can always get a Decision In Principle which will give you a clearer picture. Alternatively speak to a mortgage adviser who will be able to give you a realistic gauge of what you are likely to be offered based on your deposit and your financial circumstances.

Of course, you don’t need to go up to that level and may decide to set your maximum a bit lower so you don’t overstretch on your mortgage. Location or property?

You will have heard the phrase ‘location, location, location’ and it’s true that the postcode of a property can add thousands or tens of thousands of pounds to its value. For many people the area they live in is the most important thing, especially if you are planning a family. Good schools, nice cafes and pleasant parks count for a lot.

If your budget is generous you can have this and have a property that meets all your requirements, but for many people there is a compromise to be made. Are you willing to sacrifice the size of the property you buy, its condition, or the size of the garden in order to live exactly where you want?

Or would you rather have a property that is big enough for you and your family, ticks all the boxes yet may not be exactly where you would prefer?

The answer may lie somewhere in the middle and some first-time buyers look for properties on the edge of desirable areas where they may be able to get a little more for their money. It’s your decision, but you should have an idea of where you ideally want to live, and where you would be willing to consider.

Check out the area

Once you know the potential areas it’s important to check them out. Spend an afternoon there, visiting the shops and the park, for example. But also make sure you go back to the area at night to see if there are noisy pubs or bars.

If you drive to work visit first thing in the morning to see how bad commuting traffic is. Or if you take public transport, check out the distance to the train station or bus stop and the frequency of transport services.

Nice to have or need to have?

It’s important to have a think about what is important to you in a house. How many bedrooms should it have? Is a garden essential? If gardening is your passion this will be high on your property list, and if you have a young family, some outdoor space may be important to you. Do you require a large kitchen? Are you looking for a doer-upper that you can put your own stamp on, or do you want a home that doesn’t need any work? If you have a new baby for example it might be unrealistic to take on a large project such as an extension.

Make a list

When you find suitable properties and arrange to view them, it is worth making a list of what is important to you as well as questions to ask. Househunting is exciting and it can be easy to forget about the more mundane things like boilers and windows – but they are very expensive things to sort out so it is important to check them out and ask any questions.

Try to concentrate on the things you can’t change. Look past the décor as that can be easily and relatively cheaply altered, but the kitchen and bathroom will cost more to sort out. Look for problems, such as cracks in the walls or evidence of damp, and ask the vendor directly if they have had any problems with the property.

Find out if the vendor has made any alterations to the property and ask if they have the required Building Control Certificates and Planning Permission if it was required. These are the sorts of issues that crop up further along the purchase process so it is good to find out as much as possible at the outset. 

Clicks and Mortar

Just 20 years ago people found properties by looking in their local estate agents’ windows and in newspapers. Property portals have made the process much easier and are now most people’s first port of call.

They enable you to search for a property in your chosen location, at your budget and to match your specific needs and requirements, taking the hassle away from finding suitable properties. Plus they give you a really good idea of what you can get for your money in a particular area. Rightmove and Zoopla are two of the portals which provide you with a good starting point.

But don’t forget to register with the estate agents in the area you prefer too, because new properties usually go up onto their websites 24 hours before they are loaded onto Zoopla. And this could be the difference between getting in to see a property first and missing out on your dream home.



More from this guide

How much can I borrow?

How lenders work it out

Mortgage basics

Fixed vs variable rates

Valuations and surveys

How much should you spend?