September 08, 2017

Buying Our Family Home & House Hunting Tips

Buying your first home is without a doubt one of the most exciting things you will do in your lifetime. Picturing your dream home decorated to perfection and the new chapter of life you'll enjoy there, is truly a momentous occasion. As with all major life events though, buying your home doesn't always come easy or go smoothly.

I thought I'd tell you a little about our first buying experience, as well as giving a few helpful tips for anyone that may be thinking of house hunting themselves. Having a little knowledge of things to look for and most of all what to avoid, can really help save not only money, but bags of stress too.

Our Family Home

When buying our first home, we were admittedly a little naive and quick off the mark. We were excited by the prospect of finally owning our own home after years of renting, as well as finding somewhere that would one day become the home we brought our babies home to and started our family in.

We got to work searching online for houses, deciding what areas we liked, how many rooms, how much outside space we needed and even how suitable it would be for future pets and children. There are quite literally thousands of properties to search for and it's amazing how choosy you can be when it comes to it. Buying a house is just like buying the perfect wedding dress or finding your soul mate - when you find the one, you just know it's 'the one'.

We visited a few bizarre houses, one where you had to walk through one bedroom to get to another, as well as a gorgeous flat above the noisiest factory ever with no parking.

When we finally found a home we fell in love with, we had an extensive survey completed initially which came back with a book of issues, some major and some a little more minor that could wait. We decided that as we loved the house, we would just work through the book like a project and create our perfect home dealing with one issue at a time.

We had several more minor issues to look at such as brickwork that needed repointing and a slightly dodgy chimeny, but we were assured that these could be dealt with at a later date, so began to research into looking at the major problems first, how to fix them and how much it would cost. 

The first major issue with our house was rising damp as well as a serious condensation problem throughout. We were able to negotiate a £2K cashback payout with the previous owners to cover the cost of fixing the damp work. I read about asking for cashback and it was so easy I'd certainly reccomend it if the house you like needs work. Before the purchase we had professional damp proofers and builders in to give us quotes, so we had an idea of what we were getting into. We managed to get the house for a bargain price, got our keys and off we went through that front door (with pub carpet, red and yellow walls and smoke stains throughout), our new home.

This is where the problems started.

We suddenly realised that we had been played slightly. When we had visited the property, they always had the windows open and the heating up, they had lots of furniture hiding lots of things and even made up professions for the neighbours to make it all seem more friendly and ideal. The reason the heating was up was to dry the literally saturated walls and the windows open to rid the smoke and damp smells.

It was only when we began to strip the walls of our house that we truly saw the extent of not only the damp, but also the damage it had caused. From thinking we would just need the walls injecting, we found we then had no choice but to take the walls back to brick, remove and dispose of all the internal fabrics and carpets and have the ground floor fully tanked, injected and sealed. We opted for a local builder, a friend of a friend that gave us a great price - a great price because he was a total cowboy and the damp came back within a few months, the builder vanished and we were left with a newly decorated home that once again had to all be ripped up. This was a really depressing time for us and cost us a fortune, got us in debt which we will be paying off for some time and really was an expensive mistake, part of a very large learning curve.

We later got the damp work re done, by which point we had to pay triple our original quote as they also found wet rot that needed urgent treating. This time having learnt the hard way, we went with a large national company that would provide proper paperwork as well as a 20 year guarantee. A much more reassuring prospect!

Aside from the damp, we've had to deal with several issues such as taking out a very flimsy stud wall (our bedroom was made into two small rooms), relocating radiators, plug sockets, fixing floorbords , replacing ceilings and my favourite of all, finding a window ledge held up by...... a chocolate bar! Yes we truly had purchased a house from Billy Bodge It and found endless examples of how not to DIY. 

8 years later and we are in love with our home still, though we sometimes wish we could pick it up and put it somewhere else. We are still working through that book, we always have jobs to do and are still yet to paint the plaster from our second damp work treatment. Having done it all once, it's been really hard to muster up the motivation (and cash) to do it all over again, but we're getting there slowly. 

We've scraped off layers of woodchip, completed a cheap makeover on our kitchen and bathroom, as well as covering up a crazy amount of bright green gloss paint, seriously who covers beautiful Victorian coving in green gloss paint!?

Despite having a lot to do, we were glad that staple areas like the kitchen and bathroom, although outdated, were liveable and needed no urgent work, as well as a fully functioning (all be it built in the stone age) boiler.

Although we love our home, not having enough knowledge or cash prior to house hunting meant we put ourselves in a very vulnerable position and were lucky it wasn't far worse. With other home owners having to suffer things like subsidence issues, major infestations or those having to file asbestos claims after being exposed to it unknowingly; it's so important we know what to look out for. 

Here's a few ideas of things you may want to think about when on the look out for your perfect family home.

House Hunting Tips

When buying, add these to your initial checklist;

  • Distance to work
  • Distance from family
  • Nearest town
  • Local schools
  • Parking
  • Counil tax costs
  • Reasons for choosing the area (and if it's something you'll want long term)
  • Volume from traffic and local businesses
  • Likely to be a good investment
  • Room for expanding your family (if that's on the cards)
  • Realistically within your budget
  • Rental value (if that's a likely eventuality)

Once you've found a property you love, consider these when viewing;

  • Visit in daylight to see the house, but also visit the area at night to see if it feels right.
  • Visit more than once! Take a fresh pair of eyes with you too like a friend or relative. If you have a builder friend (or similar) even better! They may notice a major problem, meaning you can save on survey costs.
  • Look past the decor, not just to see the potential of the property, but also to any problems that may lurk behind, or what they may be covering.
  • Don't be afraid to have a real good look and sniff around for signs of damp etc.
  • Be honest with yourself about how much work there is and if it's for you.
  • Check fixtures and fittings for clues to the age of the electrics and also to see if they will all need replacing too.

Finally, look and listen out for these more major and pricy issues;

  • Structural issues/subsidence - be wary of cracks in walls that go deeper than the plaster. You will need a specialist to confirm any serious issues.
  • Hazadous substances like Radon and asbestos can be found in older properties and should be taken very seriously. 
  • Substandard electrics and plumbing.
  • Damp & mould - rising damp, penetrating damp and condensation.
  • Dry rot/damp rot.
  • Roofing issues.
  • Flood risk areas.

These more major problems don't mean that the house is a total write off, but it is worth having a professional in to quote you for the work that will need doing before any agreements in terms of purchasing the property go through. It may be that with the help of a specialist, your home can be fixed in no time, but there are red flags that shouldn't be ignored.

Be viginlent when house hunting, ask all the questions, visit a few times and be sure to always bring in the help of an expert when needed. A few pounds now could save you thousands in the future.

Although I've made it sound all doom and gloom, it really is a very exciting and fascinating time. As with everything, knowledge is power and if you're like me you will find it all interesting anyway, enjoy a barter and love playing detective!

Do you have any more house hunting tips to add?

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