5 key questions to ask before you start your search

Set your sights on a home that suits you

Answer the key questions below to help you work out what to look for

Your hunt for a new home is about to begin – expect nerves, excitement and anticipation for weeks to come...!  

Yet with so much to think about as you start your search, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed. What price property can I buy? How much can I borrow? Where should I look? What type of property is best?

To help guide you, here are five key questions to ask yourself in advance. They’ll help you get a clear idea of what you really want from a home, and give you focus for finding a property to suit your needs. Bear in mind that the perfect house can be rather like hunting for a needle in a haystack. So prepare to be flexible and get ready to compromise – you could surprise yourself with a new home sooner than you think...

1. ‘How much can I actually afford to pay for a property?’ 

This is the biggest question of all, one which shapes every decision to come after it. There are no sneaky shortcuts to the answer, either. Whether you’re a spreadsheet whizz or prefer an old-fashioned pen and paper, you’ll need to set aside proper time to prepare. First get as clear a picture of your personal finances as possible: your salary, how much savings you have, your everyday spending, credit card bills, car payments, household bills, loans, the lot – don’t leave anything out. It can be daunting the first time you lay it all out but don’t worry. Getting on top of all the details will put you in control when it comes to working out what you can afford to buy.

With all the numbers at your fingertips, you can then start to get a feel for where you stand. Two key figures will quickly emerge: what you can put up as a deposit and how much you then need to borrow for a mortgage. The bigger your deposit, the better a deal you’ll get – here’s how to get started if you’re a first-timer. (If you’re already an owner, you can add to equity in your existing property for a deposit). Your mortgage size will be based on how much you can afford to pay each month. Try our calculators to get an idea of how much you could borrow. That’s not all: you’ll also need to budget for surveys, legal fees, insurance and other moving costs. It all adds up but here’s a breakdown of what to expect. 

2. ‘Where should I try to buy, and why?’

‘It’s all about location!’ is an evergreen estate agent mantra, and for very good reason. Where you live will have an immediate impact on your daily life, so it’s vital you prioritise what you want from your new home’s position. Is it for a decent nursery and your parents nearby for emergency childcare? What about good schools, low crime rates and how close you’ll be to the countryside? Have you always hankered after a city dwelling? Or perhaps you’re after a doer-upper in a ‘coming area’ that’ll give you the chance to turn a profit. Any hunt for a new home will start with a list of your own ‘must-haves’, so be ready to decide on what you can’t compromise on.

3. ‘What kind of space do I need, inside and out?’

You probably know how many bedrooms you’re after – particularly if you have kids! But what about the rest of the space? Having somewhere handy to WFH is now high on the list for many; a garden’s a godsend for kids (and pets); and if you’ve family members with mobility issues, a downstairs bathroom could be a huge help. Some prefer open-plan living while others would rather shut a messy kitchen behind a closed door, so look out for layout too. If you have a car, is a drive or – at the very least, off-road parking – a deal-breaker? And, if you’re a dab hand at DIY, it could pay to keep an eye out for home improvement opportunities. To help, draw up a list of ‘what I need’ versus ‘what I’d like’ and use it as a checklist to cross off potential properties.

4. ‘Should I target a particular type of home?’

For some, it’s about centuries-old character and the chance to live in a period property. For others, it may instead be the chic comfort and modern convenience of a shiny new-build.

Whatever your preference, you’ll likely have a favoured type of décor, look or style before you start hunting for a home. But be sure to weigh up any practical realities and take account of possible extra costs. For example, older homes often brim with charm and carry desirable features that’ll hold their value in future. But they sometimes need a lot of expensive modernisation, and can often lose a lot of heat. Plus, you may not be allowed to make certain changes if the building is in a conservation area or listed.

New-builds, on the other hand, tend to be much better insulated, which could save you money on utility bills (and you could even get a mortgage for an energy-efficient home; see our green mortgage). However, they often come with a ‘snag list’ – small jobs to still sort out – though it’s usually accompanied by a warranty to cover any repair costs in the first few years.

Even if your heart is set on a specific style, why not set up a couple of viewings for alternative properties to test your taste – and see if your mind can be changed. You never know, you could end up willingly ditching your dream Victorian end-of-terrace for a new-build with a giant garden and all mod cons.

5. ‘Is there a way I can boost my budget?’

If you think you’ll struggle to save a decent deposit – especially if you’re short of the minimum 5% required for a mortgage – there may still be ways for you to buy. They include a guarantor mortgage, such as the Barclays Family Springboard, where family can use their cash as a deposit for your mortgage to allow you to borrow 100% of the house price.

You could also consider a Help-to-Buy ‘equity’ mortgage (on new-builds) or a shared ownership scheme (where you also pay rent to a local housing association).

And if you’re lucky enough to have parents able to help contribute with a lump sum, be sure to tell your mortgage lender so they can record it on your application, as part of affordability checks.

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