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The Ultimate First-Time buyers guide – part 2 (of 3)

Viewing properties

Here we go again! This part deals with the next stage – you’ve found some properties that you’re interested in having a look round – where do you go from here? Read on….

Looking around houses or flats

After all your research you’re going to have a number of properties you want to look around. This is new territory for most people and can seem a bit weird and awkward. Sometimes you’ll just be accompanied by the Estate Agent and the house itself will be empty, but more often than not it will be the seller who shows you round their own home.

Tips for viewing properties
It’s important to bear a few things in mind before you go on these visits.
You are going to walk around a stranger’s home. Whilst you do need to consider whether the house is what you want, be polite. If you do eventually strike a deal with these people your lives will be intertwined with theirs for a very stressful period in each of your lives. You don’t want to irritate them at the start. Also it may be they later have to choose between you and someone else offering the same amount. If you’re the one who laughed at their bathroom suite and pulled a face at the state of the kitchen then it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that they’ll probably prefer the other people.

Don’t go alone. Although sometimes this is unavoidable, wherever possible take someone else with you. There is the safety aspect of course, but I’m thinking more about the ability to discuss the property with someone else when you leave. Who to take with you? If two of you are buying then you should both go and see the property together. If you’re buying alone then a friend or family member would be useful.

Come back with someone who knows what they are talking about. If you’re interested in a property it’s a good idea to come back with a builder friend, parent, DIY nut to give you a second opinion. We saw a house we liked and took a builder friend round. He pointed out the roof was rubbish, and the walls were damp – things we had no idea about before speaking to him. A surveyor may spot these things for you later on but it’s a good idea to be able to weed out the bad properties yourself at an early stage without having to pay surveyors

Photographs – I’ve found it very useful to take my own photos when walking round a property – when thinking back later it can be hard to remember the layout (or even which property it was!) and your own photos can help with this – a camera phone is fine for this. However you must make sure you ask the owners first if they are happy with this and explain why you want to do it– if they aren’t then don’t push it – you’re a guest in their house

Speak to the estate agent. How long has the property been on the market? Have many people viewed it or not? Has the price been reduced? Have they had any offers yet? In all this be very aware of who you’re speaking to – if you’re in the estate agents office talking to the negotiator he wants to get someone to buy the property. That’s not to say they’ll be lying but just take it into account who they are.

Speak to the sellers – it’s a good time to ask questions that might help you to get more of a feel for the place. Also from a social viewpoint things can sometimes get a bit stilted and awkward, and having a few questions up your sleeve can help to get them talking about the property. Things I’d normally like to know include:-
o How long have you lived here?
o What are the neighbours like?
o What’s the area like?
o Why are you moving?
o Have you found somewhere else to buy yet?

On asking these questions you are really just trying to find any potential problems – such as that they are moving because the area has gone to the dogs, their neighbours are a nightmare. Again when hearing their answers you’ve got to make a judgement call on it – it all helps you to get an idea of their position.
o Are carpets and curtains included?
Carpets and curtains are one of those things that can cost a lot and (usually) have to be custom-made for the property itself. Whether or not you want to pay anything extra for them is up to you – even if you don’t like them it can be nice to have some sort of covering in the property giving you time to wait until you can afford to replace them with ones that you like. Sellers often over-value what they think they are worth – going on what they paid for them as a base value. If carpets and curtains are not included then it may be worth asking if they’d be prepared to throw them in. It’s one more thing that can be brought into negotiations later on if you’re interested in the property.

(altogether now..) “Fallink in luff again, vot am I to do”
Sometimes you come away from a house and you absolutely love it – this really depends on the sort of person you are – some people fall in love with property and to others it’s just a place to live. I fall into the first category and can easily get carried away. And it’s exactly that – getting ‘carried away’ – that you want to avoid.

When you come away from the property you really need to analyse why you love the property (or if ‘love’ is a bit strong, why you really liked it). When we bought our first property we did this all wrong. Looking back on it we bought the property because the sellers made us a cup of coffee and sat down and talked to us about the house. Seriously that’s why we chose the property. We viewed 2 houses that evening, both 2 up 2 down mid terraces, and in the next streets to each other. The first one was empty and the agent showed us round. It smelled a bit damp (all empty properties will smell a bit damp because they usually haven’t been heated properly), but it had a good sized dining kitchen, and it had central heating. The second one had stone cladding (which we hate – sorry if you’ve got it – it’s just personal opinion) but it was warm (because they’d had the fire on – it didn’t even have central heating) and they made us a cup of coffee. It was also marginally more expensive.
If we’d sat down and analysed what we thought of the two properties in terms of what they had to offer I’ve no doubt we would have bought the first one. But we didn’t and basically bought the second one because of a cup of coffee.

So please learn from our mistake and if you’ve fallen in love with a property, try and analyse why this is so, and make sure you’re buying the best property for you, and not because someone made you a cup of coffee. Viewing on a sunny day can show a property in a great light, and conversely viewing on a damp foggy evening can make many houses seem dreary (especially if they are vacant and lit by bare light bulbs)

How to negotiate on the price
OK so you’ve found a property in your price bracket, in the area you want to buy and you want to make an offer – what do you do next? Well it’s up to you really. There’s nothing to stop you discussing price when you’re in the house with the seller. That really depends on your personality and theirs. If you’re not comfortable going the whole hog and negotiating then you can ask them if they are open to offers on the price. From their response you can get an idea of how low you can go.
Most people do their offers and negotiations through the Estate Agent. There’s no rule that says you have to do this but it’s more comfortable to most people.

In deciding what offer to make you should take into account all the information you’ve gathered so far :-
– what houses are going for in the area (and by the way in relation to this you can actually find out what they actually sold for – not just asking prices – you can try www.houseprices.co.uk www.hometrack.co.uk – both give you the information very quickly – some other sites require registration and jumping through hoops before they tell you. When looking at these make sure you’re comparing like for like though – the property may be in the next street but it could also be twice the size of the one you’re interested in)

– Any work needed on the property – for this you’re going to need a ballpark figure for what you think needs doing, and take that into account in your offer. So you can say, for example “ We know the asking price is £245K but we reckon the damp proof course has failed, a couple of rooms need replastering and the roof needs some repairs. Because of all those things we want to offer £235K”. The danger of this approach (linking your requested discount in to specific works) is that the sellers say they can get all the work required done for £4K so if they sort those things out will you increase your offer to £241K. There’s nothing that says you have to link a lower offer in to actual works – you can just offer a lower price.

– The information you already know about the seller – if you know it’s been on the market for a while and that they are selling to move their child to another school and they’ve found the one they want to move into and it’s June and they want to be in the new house before the start of the new school year in September – then they may be desperate to sell – so they may take a lower offer. On the other hand if you know they’ve already had two offers slightly below the asking price which they’ve rejected then you know it’s probably not worth you doing the same.

– What’s included – carpets, curtains etc. If you want them to be included then you’ll need to make that clear when you make the offer – otherwise you can beat the seller down and reach agreement only to find them later coming back and saying they want another 2K for carpets and curtains
– What you can afford. Bear in mind you may well be entering into negotiations here so if the house is at the limit of what you can afford it’s probably wise from your own point of view to be offering less – you can always then increase your offer and still be within your budget. If you start at your maximum then you’ve nowhere to go. If you do this (make the lower offer first) then also psychologically the seller has moved you up a bit. There are no real rules on this – some people come up with a take it or leave it offer and some keep coming back for more (or less!).

There are a couple of points in your favour though:-
1. You’re a first time buyer. You are like gold dust in the property market. Most other people looking round will also have a property to sell and therefore they can’t actually do anything about buying until they have sold their own property. You on the other hand can move as soon as they can.
2. The Estate Agent must communicate any offer you make to the seller – even if it’s a stupid one. So whatever you offer the Estate Agent needs to let them know about it – if the estate agent says ‘I don’t think they’ll go for that’ then that’s fine but they’ve still got to put the offer to the seller to get their instructions

Don’t be afraid of making a stupidly low offer – that’s the advantage of making your offer through the estate agent – it takes the emotion out of it. Even if the seller is insulted by the offer, the estate agent will normally explain to them that even though it’s low it’s still an offer, it’s from a first time buyer, and you may be prepared to increase.

Conversely if you make a stupidly low offer don’t be surprised when they say no. You can always then increase your offer. In the example above of a property where they’ve already rejected 2 offers just below the asking price you’ll probably be wasting your time in doing the same (Never say never though – the other two offers may have been from people who weren’t yet ready to move – you’re a first time buyer).

What happens here really depends on so many things – the attitude of the seller, the marketplace, the particular type of property, the area, and so on. Until you ask the question though, you don’t know the answer – on a property we bought in the early 1990’s the previous buyers had pulled out because of a defective roof (which the seller was having to get sorted out). The sellers had already moved down south because of their job and so were keen to move. We actually didn’t know any of this but made a low offer – which was accepted straight away. If we hadn’t made the offer we wouldn’t have got the property.

At some stage in all this you should eventually get the call saying that the sellers have accepted your offer – you’ve got a deal! So we move onto the next stage. That will be covered in the final part of this blog – part 3, coming next week.

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