2. Get your mortgage in principle before you start looking
This might seem like doing the washing up before you've eaten the meal, but until you've sorted out how much you can borrow, you don't know how much you can spend. Compare all the latest first time buyer mortgage deals on offer, click here.
3. Don't be scared off by the 70'S carpets and woodchip
Even if you're not an avid fan of DIY, decorating is the easiest and cheapest way to transform a property. Sometimes strangely decorated houses can get overlooked an you can bag yourself a property bargain, why pay for someone else's expensive decorations when you'll probably redecorate anyway! A word of warning though - don't do everything at once. Try to live in your property for a few months before deciding to turn it into a Moroccan den because you'll get a much better idea of what will work if you take things slowly. If you are an enthusiastic renovator, however, look out for lenders with mortgages tailor-made for you.
4. Broaden your horizons
With house prices as they are, you're probably not going to get your ideal home in your ideal location. So look at the suburb next to where you want to live; you could find that three-bedroom Victorian terrace is just a 10-minute bus ride from the trendy shopping area you imagined yourself living in. The neighbourhoods next to the most desirable areas tend to catch up quickly. Alternatively, don't be put off by modern or ex-council flats and houses. You could find yourself with a view your near neighbours have paid three times as much for.
5. Talk to the freeholder
When buying a leasehold property your vendor should be able to provide you with either the freeholder's or the managing agent's number. Your solicitors will contact them by letter to check arrangements but it is worth calling them in person - you'll get a better idea of what they are like and an inkling of how easy they are to deal with. Find out what work has been carried out on the property and how much was spent. If the roof hasn't been touched in 15 years, there's a good chance you're going to be up for part of a hefty bill in the near future. Ask to look at any quotes and receipts for work proposed and/or carried out on the place.
Steph Davies bought an ex-council property and was shown quotes for major repairs to double glazing and repointing that had yet to be done. But when she received her final bill it was almost twice as much as the original quote which turned out to be a year old. Prices had gone up and extra, unquoted work also had to be carried out.
The moral of the story - always check the date on quotes and how long they are valid for. Also check what the quote actually covers and if there is any related work that still needs to be done.
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6. Act like Columbo
OK, so you don't need to buy a mack and dark glasses. But try to visit the property at different times in the day. Is the street a rat run during rush hour? How noisy is the pub opposite at 11 pm? The nearest police station will show you the local crime figures, or you can log on to www.upmystreet.co.uk for more information. (This site will also tell you Were to find your nearest creche, 24-hour food outlet or even ice-skating rink.)
If you are relocating to a place you don't know, consider spending a long weekend in the area. When viewing the property, check everything. If it's summertime, turn the heating on. But most importantly, listen. Do you really want to be counting the sound of passing rail carriages instead of sheep at night?
7. Check out the neighbours
Make sure you check out the neighbours. Don't underestimate the hell your life could become if you find yourself living next door to troublesome neighbours. Vendors are legally bound to tell you if they have had any disputes with the neighbours on the pre-contract enquiries your solicitor makes, but if the bad feeling hasn't reached an official body, you probably won't hear about it.
8. Protect all your hard work
Once you've found the property of your dreams and had your offer accepted, the last thing you want is for someone to gazump you. The very word drives fear into the heart of first-time buyers, but in reality only 2% of transactions are lost through gazumping. One way to protect yourself is to ask for an exclusivity clause (if you can persuade the vendor to sign one). It should prevent the agent from showing further potential buyers around the property you've set your heart on. for a small fee your solicitor can draw up a lock-out agreement - if the vendor reneges, you could take the case to court.
9. Get your vendors number
Some vendors will be reluctant to give you their number for fear of you ringing them every weekend asking to bring round yet another relative, so approach the subject sensitively. Being bale to contact them is a major advantage ifthings start to go wrong, as most transaction fall htrough due to a breakdown in communication. Don't try to be their best friend, but keeping in regular contact with them can help to reassure them that you are serious. Establishing a relationship will also make it harder for them to do the dirty on you and accept a higher offer from someone else.
10. Get your vendors number
Don't rely on the valuation report that your mortgage company commisions, this is not a full survey, it only serves to ensure that the amount you're borrowing from the mortgage company is reflected in the value of the property. Arrange for a Chartered Surveyor to conduct a homebuyers report or full structural survey. It will cost between £400 and £1000 depending on which report you have done, but it's better to find out that the roof or windows need replacing before the water starts pouring in. Any major flaws can be used to negotiate the price of the property down.
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