Research the area
First of all, research the area you're hoping to move to carefully. Find out what the amenities and transport links are like and, if you have children, whether there are good schools in the area.
It's also a good idea to check out the crime levels in your chosen location by using a site such as www.police.uk. And you can use the government's planning portal to find out whether there have been any planning applications nearby to avoid any nasty surprises.
• View a good number of properties
It can be easy to fall in love with the first or second property you see, but viewing a few others to see how they compare (both in look and price) will work in your favour.
As soon as your offer is accepted, ask the estate agent to take the property off the market.
• Be on the lookout for damp, cracks and bad plumbing
When looking around a property, don’t be distracted by the furnishings and décor, keep an eye out for the following instead:
• Signs of damp – condensation on windows, mould on the walls, peeling wallpaper, a musty smell.
• Cracks on ceilings and walls – ask if you can go into the loft and check for rotting timber and cracks.
• Bad plumbing – ask if you can flush the toilets and turn on the taps.
• Loose tiles on the roof and problems with the gutters – you may need binoculars to help you do this!)
Another thing to consider when looking for your first home is whether there’s sufficient storage space in the property. Where are you going to store your vacuum cleaner and winter coats, for example?
• Take photos and/or make notes
As you go round each property, take a few photos (check this is OK with the estate agent first), or make notes if you prefer, to remind yourself of what each one has to offer. After all, if you're viewing several properties, they can all start to blend into one and it can be difficult to remember every detail. Flipping back through the photos and reading through your notes will help you to make a more informed decision.
• View the property again – at a different time of day
If you've seen a number of properties, you'll no doubt have a few favourites. But before you make a decision about them, go back and view them again – preferably at a different time of day. Problems with the property may be easier to spot in daylight, but you might find that the evening is the ideal time for your neighbour-to-be to practise the drums.
• Check out the parking situation and communal areas
If you have a car, find out what the parking situation is like. If the property doesn’t have a garage or driveway, will is have a dedicated parking spot on the road? And, if so, will you need a parking permit?
If you're buying a flat, don't forget to also check out any communal areas and find out how much the annual ground rent is and what's included in that price. It's a good idea to get this in writing before buying.
• Talk to your estate agent...
Don't be afraid to ask the estate agent questions. Find out how much experience they have selling properties in the area, ask how long the property has been on the market, and see whether they know what fixtures and fittings will be included in the sale.
...but watch out for the jargon and sales tactics
Many of us are already aware of some of the classic estate agent jargon. For example, 'cosy' usually means 'small', and if you're told you'll be able to 'put your own stamp' on the property, it usually means it needs modernising.
But you should also be wary of estate agents who encourage you to pay the full asking price. If you put in an offer below the asking price, a common sales tactic is to tell you that someone else is keen on the property and is willing to offer the full amount – and if you don't match this offer, you'll lose the property. Don't be persuaded to do this though, unless you know you'll never be happy living anywhere else, as it won't necessarily be true and you could end up paying too much.
As soon as your offer is accepted, ask the estate agent to take the property off the market. This will help to reduce the chance of someone coming along with a higher offer, and you losing out.