House hunting and buying a property can be daunting, expensive and tiring, but there are steps you can take to ease the process.
Once Upon A Time there was a family in search of a new home.
They went on Rightmove, found the perfect house, had their offer accepted immediately, and they all lived happily ever after.
Ah, if only it was that simple.
Before we found our fixer-upper, we lost money on a house purchase that fell through (the owner pulled out), came close to buying two different new builds, had three offers refused, and went on over 30 house viewings. And that’s the short and stress-free version.
Here’s a version with a bit more detail, as well as some advice from me based only on my personal experiences.
[Disclaimer – I am not a property expert and have no relevant training or qualification]
Why we moved and downsized
There’s this popular version of a plan for life and adulting, the plan is: you study hard, get a job, work hard, meet someone, work harder, get married, have a family, work harder, get a house, work even harder, get a bigger house, work even harder, retire, and downsize.
What my husband and I realised, is that this version isn’t for us. We individually figured that out a few years ago, but it really hit home when we bought our last house: a 4 bed detached property in a ‘nice’ area.
From the outset, it would appear that we had the perfect family home, and that we were right on track with our ‘adulting’. But it never felt like home and it didn’t make us happy. Why?
- It took longer to clean than I cared to spend my time cleaning.
- We didn’t use all of the space – we had two under-used spare bedrooms, and one of the reception rooms just became a dumping ground.
- We went to the top end of our budget because we could, not really considering if that was the best way to invest our money.
- The house didn’t flow in a way which suited how we wanted to live.
- The area, though nice, didn’t feel like home.
- The house and garden felt disconnected.
We had always known that it wasn’t going to be our ‘forever home’ – particularly not for serial movers such as ourselves – but we renovated the house in order to bring it up-to-date and add value, and it was a good investment.
We had planned on living there for atleast five years, but after a couple of years we realised that it just wasn’t going to work for us. After a few more months of umming and ahing (mainly because we became new parents) eventually we went ahead and put the house on the market. We sold it last summer and eventually moved out in November 2019. And so, the hunt for a new home began.
New build Vs Renovation
During our house hunt we seriously considered two different new build properties. Whilst both houses offered an easy option for us and the idea of simply unpacking our bags was very appealing, the amount of house on offer in comparison to older houses in the same area was considerably less – the new build gardens in particular were the smallest we had seen in over 30 viewings! Ultimately, for us, it just seemed like a lot of money for not a lot of quality outdoor space.
Further to this, we’re a rough-around-the-edges family, and weird as it may sound, the new builds we looked at just weren’t our style – too fancy ha ha – and they didn’t seem sturdy enough.
The ultimate dream for us is to buy a plot of land and self-build; but until then our goal was to find a well-built house with a decent sized garden that we could put our own stamp on, and not feel too precious about it. Though we eventually bought a renovation project, had we found an older house that didn’t need any major work carrying out, that would’ve been fine too – and probably preferable for my husband!
Location, Location, Location
Once we had established that new builds were out, we could really hone in on our must-haves. When we moved last time it was just my husband and I, but this time we had a toddler and a dog too – our wants and needs had changed drastically.
Top of our list when searching for our new home was: location, location, location – we are the type of couple that would’ve exasperated Kirsty and Phil. We wanted a village location, somewhere with lots of open spaces and a slow pace, somewhere with a friendly community and ideally with a pub! Pretty easy, right? RIGHT?
Villages in the areas where we were looking are very desirable with most of the houses being way out of our price range, which meant patiently waiting for an affordable option to pop-up in the hope that we could snatch it up before someone else did.
With this in mind, we put ourselves into a strong buying position by agreeing to proceed with the sale of our last house regardless of if we found somewhere to live or not – we ended up completing the sale of our last house in November last year, and we moved in with my in-laws. If you are in a position to break the selling chain and move in with family/friends I would recommend it, as for us it relieved half of the stress once we had sold ours.
Our house hunting must-haves
It’s easy to compile an endless list of must-haves, but as our search went on…and on…and on…I learned to drill down our list to the absolute top priority, because you will 100% have to compromise on something.
After making LOCATION our number 1 priority, the rest of our non-negotiables were the following:
- Double door access to the garden or the ability to easily add this
- A utility/boot/wet room area downstairs or the ability to add this
- At least 2 double bedrooms
- A decent sized garden
Here is a secondary list of ‘wants’ that I kept in the back of my mind but were not make or break:
- Semi-detached or detached – we bought a semi
- Off road parking – we don’t currently have this but it’s possible to add
- Garage – we don’t have a garage
- Ideally 3 bedrooms – we have 3
- Kitchen big enough for a dining table – we have kitchen-diner
- Bathroom/toilet upstairs and downstairs – we currently have a shower room upstairs and a toilet outside
- A village with a pub – we are very happy to announce we have two!
We were willing to compromise on all of these secondary ‘wants’ and viewed a variety of properties in order to find somewhere that could meet our non-negotiable list.
So my advice would be to firstly make a list of top priorities, followed by a list of nice-to-haves, and be willing to compromise.
The other non-negotiable that we needed to get our head around was budget.
Unlike our last move, we decided that unless we found the absolute can’t-resist-it dream forever home, we didn’t want to go to the top of our budget. Our main purpose for the move was to find a space with a better connection to the outdoors, a location that we loved, and to free up some of our equity to invest for our daughter’s future.
Though buying a house is extremely expensive and a huge privilege if you are in that position, what I have learned is that it’s important to choose your budget based on how you want to live your life day-to-day; owning a house isn’t the be all and end all, and it’s not worth it if it consumes your life financially or exhausts you – bigger isn’t always better!
When we decided on an overall budget this included renovation costs; no matter what type of property we viewed or placed an offer on, it always took into account any work that we would need to do. I would recommend making this clear to estate agents.
It’s also important to be aware of all associated moving fees (solicitors, stamp duty, storage etc), and I included a rough figure for these costs within our budget for both selling our last house and buying our new one. Moving ain’t cheap!
If you do decide on a fixer-upper, another consideration for your budget is if the house is immediately habitable or not. The house we ended up buying was previously rented out by the last owner, so whilst I refer to it as our “fixer-upper”, it is in a liveable condition – we are just updating it and customising it to suit the way we want to live. Some renovation projects might be without running water or electricity, or even dangerous to live in. Therefore, you might need to budget for renting somewhere whilst the work is being carried out, or if you’re up for it, purchasing a caravan so that you can live onsite.
You have to be open-minded
Finally – and I can’t stress this enough – when house hunting, please be open-minded.
At the start of our move, I wasn’t open-minded enough and that almost cost me finding our current home.
One of the local estate agents that I had been in contact with had been badgering me for weeks about viewing a property in the area where we live now. After continually telling him “No, we don’t want to live that side of town”, I finally agreed to view the house – if I’m honest, it was mainly to stop him calling me.
I ended up falling in love with the location and the house that we viewed, and we quickly negotiated an offer that was accepted. Devastatingly, the owner of the house ended up pulling out after deciding not to move, and though it was upsetting at the time, my eyes had been opened to a new area.
Amazingly, a few weeks later a similar property in the same area suddenly popped up on the market. The house was listed on a Friday, I viewed it the following Monday, and we had an offer accepted on the Tuesday.
It suddenly felt so simple and straightforward, like it was meant to be.
The following two months going through the buying process felt like the longest of my life, and they were filled with a rollercoaster of emotions and endless legal paperwork (it’s a whole other blog post). Then, on Friday 20th March, we completed on the purchase of our house just in time to go into lockdown!
And that’s it, the tale of how and why we chose our home – the short version.
I hope you found it interesting having a bit of an insight into our decision making process, and I’d love to hear about how you found your home (whether you rent or own).
Are you in a new build or an older property? Did you go to the top of your budget or have you played it safe? What’s more important to you, house size or garden size?
Let me know,