View houses like a pro, even if it’s your first time

So, you’re planning to fly the nest or maybe you want to buy rather than rent? Buying your first home is one of the most exciting things you’ll ever do. You’ve probably been saving up for this moment and already dreaming about your first step onto the property ladder. And when you’re ready, we’ve shared some tips to help you get the most out of viewing houses.

What’s your borrowing power?

First things first, make sure you can afford your own home. If you have a Lifetime ISA, you’ve probably accumulated funds towards your deposit. Using our affordability calculator, you can find out how much you might be able to afford to borrow towards a house purchase (your mortgage amount). And there are also some other costs you should bear in mind. For example, legal fees, surveys and furnishings. It can add up, so it’s important you budget for all this at the beginning.

Let the search begin

Once you have a budget plan, you could start the house hunt. There’s no harm in scrolling through properties online even if you aren’t going to buy straightaway. But you should think about your three to five absolute must-haves for your first home. This might be a certain number of bedrooms, a garage or off-road parking. When deciding on these ‘deal breakers’, consider your future plans. Is this where you hope to start a family or is it big enough for pets? Defining this should help make it easier to find houses to view.

However, it's important to have an open mind. There may be hidden gems which fit your criteria, but in neighbourhoods you haven’t considered. You might end up realising your ideal first home wasn’t what you were originally looking for.

Location, location, location

Great news - you’ve spotted some potential properties. You just need to conduct some further research before visiting them. Have a good look at the photos, consider how big the floor space is and read the descriptions thoroughly. Make sure the details meet your needs.

Then think about the price. After all, you want to get a good deal. Websites such as zoopla.co.uk can tell you the selling price of houses on the same street and how regularly they come up for sale. This information could help you decide if it’s a fair price and may indicate whether there might be potential issues.

After this, drive through the area - preferably on different days and times. This will help you discover local facilities, like transport links and schools. But also keep an eye out for traffic that could extend your daily commute, sewage works or flight paths (uk.flightaware.com). You can also check online for crime rates (police.uk), broadband speeds (uswitch.com/broadband/postcode_checker) and any planning permissions can be found on local council websites.

Take a look

Now you’re ready for viewings! This is an exciting moment but remain objective. We’d recommend going with a trusted family member or friend - the perfect person to share the fun with and offer a second opinion. You might also want to take photos (if the house is still lived in, check with the agent/seller) so you can compare properties later. And feel free to visit multiple times because it’s surprising what you spot second, third or fourth-time round.

Whilst you’re at the property, spend around 20-30 minutes viewing inside and the same time outside. Don’t feel rushed! Look at the condition of the house carefully because it’s better to discover loose tiles, dodgy light fittings or cracks now rather than later. If there’s a musty smell, sagging floors, peeling wallpaper or bubbling paint, the house might be damp. You should consider at this point if this is something you and your budget can deal with.

But house viewing can be fun too. Imagine your favourite colour on the walls - but bear in mind that updating the kitchen and bathroom may be expensive. Likewise, furniture and storage solutions cost money. And think about making the garden your own. Does it face the right way to catch the sun and are there any trees that could block the light? These are all things which should be considered.

Tell me more

Create a list of questions to ask at every property. Here are a few we’d want to know the answers to.

On the market

  • How long has this property been on the market?
  • How long have the current owners lived here? And why are they selling?
  • Is this property in a chain? (This could dictate how long it takes to complete and if there is a chance the sale could fall through).
  • How many viewings have there been? (Many viewings mean greater interest, but no offers could indicate a problem).

The house

  • What’s included in the price?
  • Are there any serious issues with the property?
  • Are there any management fees to pay on the property? For example, a shared garden upkeep fee.
  • What type of boiler does the property have? When was it last serviced?
  • What are the neighbours like?

What the experts have to say

Don’t just take it from us. We asked some estate agents for their advice when viewing houses and what change have happened as a result of the pandemic.

Michael Leighton – Leightons Estate Agency

“Viewers can really make the most of how some agents have adapted their agency in light of COVID-19. The changes we have made to the marketing of our properties could be extremely beneficial for a prospective buyer. The beauty of the video tours we have on all of our properties, is that people can get a feel for a property before they step out of the comfort of their own home (which is reassuring for the homeowner as well)."

“Once they do enquire about a property then we encourage them to ask any questions to which the answers would play a part in their decision making. If pretty much all of the boxes are ticked then it is just about that impression and feel a property has and by following the viewing guidelines we have in place, hopefully the viewing should simply serve as reassurance that the property in question is definitely the one for them.”

Advice when viewing properties during the pandemic:

  • If buying with someone else, make sure you arrange to view together
  • Respect the homeowners by making sure you have suitable PPE to wear if required. You won’t know their personal circumstances and they may be very concerned about COVID, they could have been shielding or be more vulnerable to illness etc.
  • Do not touch any surfaces and ask the homeowner/estate agent to open any cupboards etc you might want to see in
  • Do try and give feedback to the agent. It is very stressful at the best of times to move home but even more so now. The vast majority of homeowners will go out of their way to get the property ready for a viewing. For you to view and not give any form of feedback can be disheartening for them but the estate agent can really use that feedback to help you find a perfect home.

Connells Estate Agents & Letting Agents

“The good thing is viewings haven’t changed all that much and if you are interested in a property it is possible to view as confidently and safely as normal, we just try and keep viewing times to a maximum of 15 minutes and ensure social distancing is maintained at all times. If an agent is attending we will wear full PPE, including masks, gloves and shoe protectors”

“Although it is possible to view safely, we would advise potential buyers to find as much information as possible about the property they are interested in prior to the physical viewing. With the additional technology being used such as 360-degree tours, it is useful to get a good understanding of the property and the surrounding area prior to viewing. This allows people to compare multiple properties without having to take the time to visit them in person. It also allows the agent to highlight any additional features the potential buyer may have missed.

“As we are unable to double up on viewings and need to leave a little space in between each one, it is best to book in as early as possible to avoid missing out, and to be flexible on when you can view. Weekends and late afternoon are always high demand so may not be available, if you take a morning or afternoon and do a number of viewings then you may find it easier to get into a property sooner and avoid disappointment.”

“It is more important now than ever before to be prepared to evidence that you can proceed. Deposit sizes have increased since before lockdown and many lenders are changing criteria, so it's a good idea to make sure that you have an agreement in principle plus evidence of your deposit as you may need to demonstrate both when you offer.”

Your next move

Viewing houses can be equally exciting and overwhelming - there’s a lot to think about. But with our tips, we hope you feel more prepared.

Once you’ve found a property, get in touch. Our mortgage team are here to help with any questions you might have about mortgages.

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Speak to our team online via webchat, or call us if you've got any questions.

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