Finding a keeper
Once finances are in place, you can optimise your property search by following our quick guide for househunters
Make a (realistic) wish list
You most likely know where you want to live but consider broadening it out even by a few kilometres; say the next postal code or suburb, just to increase your options. Number of bedrooms? Reception rooms? Garden size and orientation? Off-street parking? Garage? Have you any deal-breakers, ie do you absolutely have to have a side or rear entrance for bikes, bins, whatever? How much work are you prepared to do? Major renovations are costly in terms of money and time – be realistic about your budget, your DIY abilities, and your tolerance for mess. Think about practicalities such as your commute, nearby schools, proximity to public transport and shops.
Househunting is time consuming and frustrating so doing as much as you can from the comfort of your sofa makes sense. Set up property alerts on myhome.ie with your requirements. See what price properties in your preferred area have been making on the Residential Property Price Register, propertypriceregister.ie, but remember this State registry is very limited in the real information it provides as it takes no account of the size or condition of the house. Blogs such as collapso.net which tracks property price falls gives good information, particularly if you are looking at a house which has been on the market for a while.
The small print in any description, whether it’s on a property website or in the glossiest brochure, carries an accuracy disclaimer. So use it as a guide, albeit a well-informed one. Continued on page 24
Mistakes we have come across include measurements for a small house which seemed huge but that’s because they included the garage and unconverted attic which are obviously not living spaces; elsewhere a brochure stated that there was planning permission in the garden for a mews. In fact it had lapsed.
Open viewings are both frustrating and convenient. Frustrating because they are usually scheduled for an hour and on Saturdays, but convenient because if you manage your time you can see several properties in a single day. All you can expect from an initial open viewing is to get an idea of whether the house might be for you. If you really are interested, make an appointment with the agent to see it at another time. If the house is not on open view, make an appointment and if you’re buying solo, take a friend – an extra pair of eyes will see things you don’t and be more rational. It’s very easy on first viewings – especially if you’ve been househunting for a long time – to let your heart rule your head.
Look beyond the cosmetic
Many a househunter has reported back that the house was amazing and “they had beautiful furniture”. Big deal. They’ll be taking it with them, so it’s entirely irrelevant. You need to develop a stripped-down way of viewing. Sowhat, the wallpaper is horrible, a morning with a paper-stripper and some elbow grease will sort that. Learn to view houses in terms of how they would work for your requirements. Pay experts Even if the house is a relatively new build or an apartment, you should always get a survey by a professional. Their lengthy written reports can appear to err on the blindingly obvious because, yes, everyone can see the gutters are hanging off and there’s greenery sprouting from the chimney stack but you need to know what you are getting into. (Actually greenery from the chimney can indicate a very expensive problem.) A good surveyor will be able to tell you roughly how much you might need to spend or see extension potential that you can’t.
Ask friends for a personal recommendation or find a professional to survey the property at the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (scsi.ie), or an architect at the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (riai.ie).
An often overlooked source of very valuable information for housebuyers is the planning office whose information is available freely online from the relevant county council. You will be able to see if the house you are interested in has had planning permission refused – this could be important in the case of, for example, off-street parking or a two-storey extension. Or that neighbours who applied for the sort of work you intend doing have had their planning refused. Or if you’re buying what you think is a remote holiday home, it might help to know that the local area plan recommends building a major road nearby or that what looks like a large field is in fact a site that has already received planning permission for a small housing estate. The OPW also has a useful site (floodmaps.ie) which will give you historical information on flooding in the area.
Price Unless the asking price is very low – a strategy agents sometimes use to stir up interest – agents normally expect initial offers around 10 per cent under the asking, it’s their job to get as much for their client as they can so expect that to be only the opening gambit. They are obliged to pass on every bid to their client, the seller. Make sure the agent knows your credentials – the prize for an agent is a cash buyer, then it’s someone mortgage-approved who has nothing to sell and can sign contracts immediately. Ask the agent who is selling the house – if it’s the bank or a difficult executors’ sale it might take some time for agreement from the seller to be reached. Forget about the asking price – what matters is what you can afford and what you are prepared to pay. If the bidding gets too competitive, bow out – there will always be another house.
- Get your finances in order. There is no point house-shopping if you don’t have the money. - Make a realistic checklist of what you want. Include everything from garden orientation to en suite requirements. - Be prepared to compromise – on nearly everything, from the small things – a utility room might not be that crucial for you after all, to the big things, such as location. - Get expert advice: free online and eventually paid for from professionals such as surveyors, architects and solicitors. - Get quotes from anyone you engage – professional services operate in a competitive market.