“You should be able to find and house and agree a sale within three months.”
Yes, prices are rising and competition is fierce but Breffnie O’Kelly, a buyer’s agent who specialises in helping house-hunters make a purchase, tells me we must be doing something wrong if we haven’t managed to buy a house a year after starting our search. She offered to share her top 10 tips, which she believes will help us become “confident, clear-thinking and focused buyers”.
While we have already learned most of these points the hard way – and don’t necessarily agree with setting a deadline (we can’t fathom spending our life savings on something we don’t love) – if I had these tips earlier (and taken heed), they could have saved us months of wasted faffing.
1. Recognise a golden moment
This is when your need or desire for a new home coincides with the financial means to purchase. If you are in a position to buy and a bank is willing to fund you based on your current status, don't presume it is going to last.
2. Set yourself a deadline and focus
Your mission is to find a property in three months and there is no reason why this cannot be done. You will be more selective in what you go to see when you count how many Saturdays you have left for viewings.
3. Clarity facilitates speed
Work out what you love and what you hate. When you find a house you really like, assume you have bought it. Move in, mentally. How do you feel about your neighbours? Is there parking for visitors? Will you have lots or very little light? Are you going to be able to get to your kids' crèche, your yoga, your football training? Can you commute easily to work? Do you feel safe walking home at night? Could you fit visitors around your kitchen table? You will have to make some compromises; it is about working out what will make or break it for you. Set your budget and stick to it – searching with a "plan B" budget (eg, if you think parents might gift you some money), is a surefire way for it to take forever.
Improve your knowledge using your current home and your friends’ homes. Measure the rooms you are living in. If you know someone with a north-facing garden ask them if light is an issue or have they worked around it with a different layout or extra windows? If there is anything you think might be a deal-breaker for you, see how it applies in the lives of other people. Fear prevents people making quick decisions.
4. Use online resources to research before viewing
The 3D satellite view option on Google Maps allows you to see the house and garden from all angles. Eircode.ie has very clear outlines of the plot.
5. Spend more time doing drive-bys
You could rule out five houses with one drive around, rather than back and forth with agents and viewings, which takes up time and mental energy.
6. Bid decisively
Ask loads of questions of the agent: are there other bids? If so, is the bidder a cash buyer or dependent on a sale or mortgage approval? What's the vendor's situation? Was a sale agreed before? If you like it, don't delay. If you let time elapse, you will let other bidders in. You need to convince the agent that you are reasonable, enthusiastic and serious about the house, that you won't change your mind and pull out of the sale.
7. Gather your property team
Ask for recommendations for a solicitor (with conveyancing experience) and a surveyor, and contact them in advance. Agree how much they will charge. When placing a bid, send the agent their details along with proof of funds from your bank.
8. Know you love the property
Before you step inside a house you should know that you can potentially afford it, the location suits, and it is roughly the right size (or that there's potential to extend). Otherwise you are wasting your time.
9. Don't rule out commercial properties
The BidX1 website has some great properties for sale that could be converted. Planning legislation has been relaxed for converting use from commercial to residential, and the Living Cities Initiative also encourages the re-use of buildings, so it is definitely worth considering.
10. Try and make it fun, fast and on target
House hunting can take its toll on relationships. You don't want to buy a house just for the sake of it, but endless searching will impact on the quality of your life so don't let it drag on. Accept the reality of the market; you cannot invent more houses or wait for a greener field that may never appear.
While employing someone to do the hard graft for you is an attractive prospect, especially after the initial thrill has gone out of the house-hunting chase, paying for such a tailored service is usually beyond the means of most first-time buyers like us. But O'Kelly also offers group workshops for trader-uppers and -downers, and free webinars for first-time buyers. The first one is on February 15th. See breffnieokelly.ie