As the property market gets ridiculously overpriced here in the UK at the moment, I have been thinking about staying put and extending instead of moving on to the next doer-upper. It got me thinking about when I have moved in the past, so here are some top tips for when you are thinking of moving home. I have learnt a few lessons from being a serial house-hopper personally, and am sure there are yet more to come before I finally find the ‘forever house’:
1) Look for a south-facing or east/west facing property
Estate agents love to sell south-facing properties because of their sunny, warm and light credentials. For many home buyers, the very thought of north-facing means a gloomy and chilly property that’s uninviting. While a south-facing home tops the most wanted list, it’s important to think about what your ideal home looks like. A glass extension built on the back of a southern home could actually be a waste of time, unless you fancy sitting in a sauna. An east/west property could be more of a draw if you’re looking for a bit of sun in front bedrooms early in the morning yet want it to switch to the back when it sets late afternoon.
Make sure to ask the current homeowner where you can expect to find the sun and at what time before you settle on a new home – even if you’re viewing the property in the winter. You might not mind straight away but you will once the summer temperatures kick in! Don’t get too caught up with the sun either – light is equally, if not more important. My current house loses the sun on the terrace by 3pm, so evening BBQ’s involve either wearing coats or running down to the far end of the garden to catch some rays…
2) Check the parking
Picture the scene – pulling up outside your home to find that there are no parking spaces available after a long day at work. If it’s a one-off, it’s annoying but imagine the horror upon learning that this is the way it will be day in, day out for the foreseeable future. To avoid falling into the no-parking trap, make sure to view a property on multiple occasions, at different times of the day. There may be a parking space when you first view it mid-morning on a weekday, but it could be a totally different story at 6/7pm once people have returned from work. Say no to shared driveways too. If it’s the only snag for an otherwise perfect house, then give it serious thought, but it can easily become a point of contention following a neighbourly dispute. If you are lucky to have private off-road parking, then grab the chance!
3) Vet the neighbours
Of course, I don’t mean put them under surveillance, but it’s worth keeping them in mind when you make multiple trips to the property once you are seriously interested in buying it. If a prospective neighbour listens to loud music, chances are you’ll become alerted to it on at least one visit. The same goes for yapping dogs. Also, if a street has signs of home improvements going on, it is a great sign that your future neighbours are gentrifying the area and will want a nice quiet road to live on too. Once you move in, make yourself known to the new neighbours and introduce yourselves, it always is a good start to living in your new home and location. I got a freshly baked welcome cake once just from saying hello to a next-door neighbour on moving day, brilliant!
4) View the property in bad weather
Two reasons for this. First, it’ll help you check for any leaks and second, it’ll help you work out whether your dream home is really your dream home or whether you should continue the search for something better. If you still love the home when it’s pouring down and you’re not beaming from ear to ear, then all signs point to it being worth putting in an offer. It can also force you into pushing your emotional response to one side and think about whether the home is a practical choice. You might have readily committed to undergoing building work to change the layout but are you really prepared to put that much time and money in?
5) Don’t be shy
Our instinct is to be as respectful as we can be and not be too intrusive when we’re in a stranger’s home. Go against what your body is telling you to do and resist the urge to get in and out as quickly as possible. Instead, get to know the house as much as you can. Ask all of the questions that are on your mind (things like whether the current homeowners smoke if you’re a non-smoker) and turn on the taps and shower. A steady flow of clean water is crucial. Make sure everything is in good working order and get a survey to be certain. Look inside fitted cupboards and the loft to make sure you have adequate storage too. We bought a house once with an attic conversion, and it was only on moving day that we clocked there was nowhere to put the usual loft stuff; christmas decorations, suitcases and so on…
6) urban versus countryside
How many times have we all wished that we could up sticks to the country, or vice versa and head to the city? Your location will play a big part in your decision making but make sure that you’re not too focused on a breath-taking view that you’re ignoring the fact that you have to jump in the car and go on a 30 minute drive just to go and buy a pint of milk. Think about what your journey to work, the shops, the doctors and the nearest hospital and school would be like. If you need to compromise, make sure it’s one that you can live with.
If you have children and fall in love with a house in a new place you have not lived in before, research the area thoroughly for the following before you commit to buy; schools, parks, swimming pools, travel options for teenagers, cinemas, access to walks and so on. You can fall in love with a house in a new location for example, only to find out later that the schools are not brilliant and you are either compromising on education or driving a lot of extra miles to get them to a good school further afield. If you do the latter, you will have even more mileage to add on for playdates, (guilty of that error!). Rightmove has an excellent school checker which lists local schools and their results simply and clearly as a starting point.
7) Listed buildings
I have owned two Listed Buildings – one Tudor and one Georgian, and they can be both a wonderful thing and also an absolute nightmare! Most UK residential buildings which are listed hold Grade II status, and this means that you cannot think about extending or removing any period features without serious planning applications. You are a custodian of a historical gem which is lovely, but that also means that any repairs or alterations are time-consuming and costly. For example, replastering anything pre-Victorian usually means using historically accurate lime plaster, windows have to be restored rather than replaced, and the Local Authority departments in your area will expect you to submit applications for most works. If you don’t get permission and then go ahead with any works, you can be taken to court and forced to revert the works. But all said, each time I have one I say never again, and then I fall in love all over again with the history of a house and happily move into one. So if you find a Listed House and fall in love with it, remember to factor in more expensive upkeep costs (eg heating, specialist trades), so that you don’t get a shock when they start coming in.