What Advice Would You Give to a First-time Buyer?

By James Brook FRICS on and updated on

Buying your first home can be a daunting experience. How do you know the home is right for you, or if the area suits your needs? And how do you know when it’s the right time to stop looking and make that offer when there’s so much money at stake? How do you know that you’re buying something that won’t fall down?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to taking the plunge, but with our many years of experience in the property market, we have a few tips that could help to make sure you’re prepared for the whole experience, so you can focus on the excitement of owning your first home.

1.     Prepare your finances

The truth is, planning to buy your first property starts way before you have your first viewing, and making sure your finances are in order and you’re clear on your budget are crucial if you’re going to be able to make an offer. While you may know how much you want to spend, speaking to a mortgage advisor will give you much-needed clarity. You’ll also be able to get an Agreement in Principle, meaning you’ll be in a much better position to proceed when you do make an offer.

It’s also important that you have a sufficient deposit in place. You’ll need at least 5% of the purchase price, but if you can manage to save more, you’ll have more options when it comes to securing a mortgage and potentially access to better deals.

While it may be exciting thinking about the money, you could borrow, try to remain realistic and only borrow what you can afford to pay back each month. Remember there are several costs associated with buying a house, from stamp duty and legal fees to removal costs and furnishing your new pad, so factor these into your thinking too.

2.     Do your research

As well as being prepared when it comes to your finances, take a bit of time to do your research on your preferred areas. Take a look at properties online as a starting point to see what you can afford. This will help you narrow down those elements you feel are essential to your search and those that are nicer to have. If you’re moving locally, take a walk around the area too – it may be that you can get more for your money slightly outside of your preferred location. And try to visit at different times of the day to get a better feel for what it would be like to actually live there.

3.     Find out about help for first-time buyers

If your initial conversations with a mortgage adviser haven’t been as positive as you hoped or a preferred area seems out of reach, remember there are schemes to help first-time buyers. For example, if you’re buying a new build from a housebuilder registered with the scheme, you can get a Help to Buy: Equity Loan, whereby the government will lend you up to 20% of the cost of a property (up to 40% in London) interest-free for five years. Shared ownership can also be a good option. Here you buy a percentage of the property and pay rent on the remainder, meaning you don’t need to have as much deposit. You can then buy a more significant share over time, known as staircasing.

4. Don’t be afraid to negotiate

If you do fall in love with somewhere that’s slightly out of your price range, don’t immediately write it off as there may be room for negotiation. Your estate agent can be helpful here; they’ll be able to tell you if there are other offers on the table, how long the property has been on the market, and the seller’s position – if they’ve already had an offer accepted on another home, they may be more likely to take a lower price, so they don’t miss out, for example. And remember, as a first-time buyer, you aren’t in a chain, so you’ll be an attractive option for many sellers.

5. Be clear on the property’s value

Before putting in an offer, you can find out whether the property is truly a smart investment by getting an impartial market valuation. Novello’s market valuations are carried out by RICS qualified chartered surveyors so you can be sure you’re getting accurate information on the true value of your potential home. Not only can this help you avoid a poor investment, but it can also give you a powerful bargaining tool if the valuation comes back lower than your offer.

6.     Choose your advisors carefully

As soon as your offer is agreed, it’s also time to assemble your A-team. You may not realise it when you set out to buy your first home, but there’s a massive amount of admin involved and having the right surveyor and legal advisor can make a big difference. The last thing you want when buying is to be the part of the chain that isn’t responding or holding others up, so do your research, check reviews, and only work with responsive people who understand your needs. Your estate agent may suggest companies for you to work with, but be cautious here as they may be on commission, raising the question of whether your interests will be their top priority. Using local companies can also be a good idea as they will understand the property market and have experience with similar properties.

7.     Protect your investment

Once you’ve had an offer accepted, your lender will carry out a mortgage valuation to determine whether the property is worth the money you’re paying for it. While this may give you some confidence that you’re not paying over the odds, be aware that this is carried out purely for the benefit of the lender so they can be confident their investment isn’t at risk. It’s also very limited in scope and involves only a brief inspection of the property – nothing close to what is involved in a survey.

For this reason, it shouldn’t be relied upon as an indicator of the state of the property. Having a thorough survey that checks the critical elements of the property is essential. According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), people spend an average of £5,750 on repairs after buying a new home, so opting for a thorough building survey can be a wise investment indeed. And remember, if issues are discovered, you can still go back to the seller to renegotiate the price.

There are a number of options available when it comes to choosing a survey, and the right option for you will depend on factors such as the age and condition of the property and whether you’re planning on carrying out any significant works. For many homes, especially those built before 1990 or that have been renovated, a Building Survey will be required. This is the most comprehensive survey available, and it will provide insight into multiple visible and not so visible aspects of your home, such as the state of the roof, areas of movement, timber defects and damp. A HomeLevel Report is less extensive and can be suitable for more modern properties that haven’t had any renovations or extensions done.

8. If buying a new build, remember to get an impartial snagging list done.

If you’re buying a new build, whether as part of the Help to Buy Scheme or not, we also offer a Snagging Lists service so you can be sure your home will be pristine when moving in the day comes. Conducted by RICS qualified independent surveyors, a snagging survey will uncover any issues which you can get your developer can rectify.

9.     Be patient

No matter how good your team is, buying a house will still take time. Checks need to be carried out, surveys need to be conducted, and paperwork must be completed, all of which take time. While it’s essential to be patient, if you think things aren’t proceeding as planned, don’t be afraid to ask for updates and identify the cause of any delays. And keep the agent updated too. Some delays are unavoidable, but making sure the seller knows you’re still committed can help mitigate any frustrations.

The Novello Approach

Buying your first home is a huge commitment, and we know it can be a confusing time. From the many forms to fill into the legal jargon and the time pressures, it’s essential to work with a surveyor that makes the process more accessible rather than causing more stress. At Novello, we pride ourselves on working with you to ensure you get the information you need when you need it. Our survey reports are laid out following a traffic light system so you can quickly see any significant areas of concern, and they’ll be delivered to you electronically to avoid unnecessary delays. Crucially, we know our job isn’t done once we send the report. We’re always on hand to talk through the results, advise on the next steps and share our years of experience so you can be settling into your perfect first home in no time.

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