The Ultimate Checklist for First-Time Buyers

It’s widely accepted that buying a new house is one of the most stressful processes that people willingly embark upon. While it might be a little bit more exciting when it’s your first home, it can also be much more daunting if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

If you’re preparing for your first step onto the property ladder but aren’t sure how to even begin knowing which house to buy, this guide is for you.

Getting Started: the three key elements of any home

Searching for a new home will always boil down to three basic elements: the location, the price and the house (or apartment) itself.

Before you start looking at homes, outline your priorities and flexibility for each of these factors. It will help to keep you focused and stop you from looking at (and falling in love with) homes that won’t actually be a good fit for your needs.

Non-negotiables might include:

  • Upper price limit (consider arranging a mortgage in principle beforehand)
  • Number of bedrooms
  • Outdoor space / parking
  • Amount of redecorating required
  • Proximity to family, work or amenities

Write down your “must-haves” and, if you’re planning to view several properties, put them into a comparison table so it’s easier to remember each house and its key features later. Keep in mind that your goal is to get on the property ladder – not to buy your forever home.

Once you’ve determined what you need in a home, you can create a shortlist of properties to view.

Before a viewing

As you’re driving through the neighbourhood, take a look at:

  • How close the nearest shops, parks or pubs are – can you walk?
  • What the local parking situation is like – will you or your visitors need a permit?
  • How long your commute to work might be – will roads get clogged in the mornings?
  • Neighbouring properties – what do these imply about the area in general?

Research the local area for an idea about property value forecasts, the neighbourhood’s reputation and history, and whether there are any upcoming developments that could affect the value of your home. Offering a premium price for a house that overlooks fields won’t pay off if the land has been earmarked for 1000 new homes to be built in the next few years!

Remember that being near to good schools and local transport links will always boost a property’s value, even if they aren’t a priority for your own lifestyle.

At the property

A lot of first-time buyers aren’t sure how to behave during a viewing and waste a lot of time being overly polite instead of looking at a property critically. Of course, it’s important to be respectful about someone else’s home, but don’t forget that you’re planning one of the most expensive purchases of your life. You have a right to see what you’re paying for.

As you stand outside the building, look at the condition of walls, windows and the roof (if you can see it). Make a note of anything that doesn’t look right so you can ask a surveyor to inspect it – this could save you thousands of pounds in repair costs later down the line.

Once you’re inside the building

The key thing when it comes to viewing a property is to look past the superficial detail. Curtains can be changed and walls repainted, but the current owners are presumably taking all of their furniture – so don’t be taken in by impressive interior design.

  • Scrutinise the space – are your favourite bits of furniture likely to fit (bring a tape measure if it comes to a second viewing)
  • Look at the light – both how much natural light is in each room and whether you’re going to be annoyed by insufficient indoor lights or bright streetlights outside
  • Flick the light switches to look for signs of faulty wiring
  • Make sure there are enough plug sockets in each room
  • Check where the phone/internet line is
  • Can you detect damp? Look for cold walls, condensation, peeling wallpaper and musty scents
  • Sniff the air – pet odours and cigarette smoke can linger long after you move in – artificial scents could be a mask for these!
  • Keep an eye out for strangely placed wall coverings or carpets that could be hiding damage
  • Test all taps and check the shower pressure
  • Check that all windows and doors open and close properly
  • See if the heating system needs to be upgraded
  • Be mindful of in-built storage options – will there be enough?

Always have multiple viewings

This applies to seeing more than one house and arranging multiple viewings for the same house. Looking at more than one property – even if you’re certain that you like the first one – will help to give you some perspective about what’s available.

Seeing your preferred property on multiple occasions will give you the opportunity to scrutinise it in more detail, looking past the superficial elements to think about how the property will suit your lifestyle needs.

Arranging a second viewing at a different time of day from your first is a great opportunity to check:

  • The parking situation throughout the day
  • Internal light during the morning/evening
  • Nearby traffic at rush hour
  • Noisy neighbours or busy pedestrian routes

When you’ve found the perfect home

As long as you’re satisfied that the property will meet your needs, your estate agent will guide you through the process of making an offer. You will need to get a solicitor in place and contact your lender to let them know that you are ready to buy.

If the vendor accepts, you should contact a Chartered Surveyor to carry out an inspection of the property. This will help you make sure that there aren’t any hidden defects or safety issues that might appear once you move in – potentially costing thousands in repair costs. Protect your finances and give yourself the chance to negotiate the cost of any major or urgent works off of the price you’re offering.

It might feel like the hard part is over, but once you’ve had a final price agreed with the seller, the journey is really only just beginning. It can take weeks or even months for contracts to be agreed and signed, so keep in touch with your solicitor, take the time to get your belongings in order and make arrangements for accommodation in the meantime. Good luck!