You’ve worked out what you can afford and arranged your mortgage. The next step in the journey towards moving is finding the home that doesn’t just match your dreams but also meets your practical requirements. Yet again, this is a decision that requires a lot of thought and can be one of the most daunting parts of the process due to the amount factors you need to consider. We’ve tried to make it a little easier by identifying some of the most important things to think about. In this part of the Smoove Move moving guide, we’ll take a quick tour of what you should sharpen up on before dropping that pin in the map.
Location, location, location
The most important thing to decide when buying your new home is its location. Yes, sounds obvious but where you choose to live affects virtually all aspects of your life. This decision should most definitely not be a spur-of-the-moment thing. Area, work, shops, schools, transport…all these considerations should be taken into account when refining your search. Here are the top six location factors:
When choosing the area you’d like to move to, remember that lively, buzzing parts of town may sound great when you’re still a party animal; but not so attractive when the wild times are over. Don’t forget that neighbourhoods can quickly change personality on a street by street basis so do your homework.
Think about how long you to plan to stay in your home and what would happen if you needed to find a new job in that area.
Town mouse or country mouse?
Many people make an escape to the country only to realise that shopping, nights out, education and healthcare services are lots harder to access. Peace and solitude can come at a price in terms of lifestyle so make sure that your rural idyll won’t cramp yours.
Back to school
Another important lesson to learn during your house hunt is not to forget about local schools. Even if you don’t have kids of school age now, this may well change over the next few years. So plan ahead and compare local schools using sites like School Guide and the Government’s school comparison site. Being in the catchment area for good state schools will often increase the value of a property so you may well be able to save on buying if local schools aren’t a consideration.
Travel time to work
We’ve all heard about work/life balance. And one of the things that can make a job even harder work is the length of the daily commute. According to recent research, Britain’s average daily commute is one hour and 38 minutes.[i] Many commuters spend even longer stuck in traffic jams, sitting on the bus or packed into a train carriage. Ask yourself what length journey you could put up with day in, day out. Then check out public transport links and road connections, remembering to work out average journey times using tools like Google Maps.
Safe as houses?
Nobody wants to live in a dodgy area. For most movers, how safe an area is an all-important factor and though it may cost a lot less to live in a high-crime area, you may end up paying the price in the long run if you become a victim. It may also work our harder to sell if your ‘lively’ street turns out to be a crime hotspot. Luckily, it’s easy to find out how many crimes have been reported in your chosen area at police.co.uk.
The size of your property is the next thing you need to decide when refining your search. Research has found that between a quarter and a third of people in the UK are dissatisfied with the amount of space they live in.
Hardly surprising when research has also found that the UK has the smallest homes by floor space area of any European country, with the average new build property covering just 76sq m compared with almost double that amount of 137sq m in a country such as Denmark.
If you’re just starting on the ladder, a smaller starter home could be a sensible first move, followed by a progression to a bigger place as your family (or income) grows. That’s assuming your plans for the future go exactly as imagined.
So there’s also an argument for buying a larger property first off that you grow into. Go for that option and you’ll then be spending more on running costs, upkeep and maintenance. Alternatively, this could be great if you’re planning to rent out a room or Airbnb it to make some extra cash.
Though we don’t all have a fully-functioning crystal ball, this decision should be made by thinking about what you think the future will hold for you or your family.
Old v New
Many people prefer older properties as they often offer lots more character and potential for improvement through DIY or professional renovation. Period properties also tend to have more floor space and higher ceilings, plus (if you’re lucky) will boast lots of original features to make them look even more attractive. All this can come at a cost in terms of renovation and repair expense when you move in, as age can quickly take its toll on older properties. Depending on how well the previous owners kept up with maintenance, choosing an older property could add thousands to the cost of moving in.
Go for a new build and you’ll benefit from minimal repair and redecoration costs, lower running costs and energy bills plus the peace of the NHBC’s 10-year warranty that guarantees the quality of the build. The average new home can also be up to six times more energy efficient than an older property to save on fuel bills. Plus, there are no upward chains when buying a new build house, making the whole process easier.
On the flipside, developers can sometimes pluck their prices from thin air with no consideration for the history of the local property market. Which means, like buying a new car, you could wipe thousands off the value as soon as you purchase. Also, many developers can be unhelpful during the sales process and in terms of aftersales care.
What’s more, new builds can often be smaller than traditional homes. After analysing data from 16,000 English homes, a team from the University of Cambridge, found that 55 per cent of them had less floor space than the London Housing Design Guide’s internal space standard. More than a fifth of the properties fell short of total space requirements when the number of occupants was taken into account.[ii]
What lenders don’t like
It’s also worth knowing the types of property those risk-averse lenders would rather avoid. If you’re longing for a lighthouse or think thatch is your thing, you may encounter problems with your mortgage application. In fact, anything unusual such as high-rise flats, converted trade or church premises or listed properties could put paid to your grand designs.
Also, be aware that locations such as flood areas, coastal sites or reclaimed brownfield areas can also make getting a mortgage problematic.
The cost of living
Don’t forget to factor the cost of living into your decision. If you’re looking at properties like apartments with shared landings and public areas, there will be an ongoing maintenance charge to pay. Plus, things like energy bills, utilities and council tax can vary hugely between properties and areas. The current owner or estate agent should be able to give you a good idea of running costs.
Next step: Getting the Most out of Viewings
Previous step: Getting a Mortgage