House hunting can be stressful. There are a lot of factors to consider, such as location, orientation and proximity to amenities like schools and public transport. The process can be overwhelming, but try not to panic, otherwise you can miss some really important things that you should be looking out for.
1. When deciding on how much to offer for a house, you must have a clear picture of what you will need to spend to make any necessary changes once you've bought it. Be wary of spending too much. If houses on the road have a value of €750,000, for example, doing work that pushes the total purchase price up to €950,000 isn't a good idea.
I visited a home recently where the asking price was €650,000, which seemed really good value for the area, but the amount of money required to bring the house up to standard and create better living space was more than €450,000, bringing the total spend to well in excess of what homes in the area are worth.
2. Get an expert opinion on what the works might cost. It's a good idea to visit the house with an impartial builder or architect. Family members or friends may be too emotionally invested to give you honest advice. Take the advice on board and do your sums. Be prepared to walk away.
3. Seeing the potential in some properties on the market can be a challenge. Years of neglect and dated decor can be a real obstacle to many people, but don't be seduced by immaculate walk-in condition either.
4. Don't underestimate the importance of off-street parking. You might not have children now, but struggling to find a parking spot off the street with a boot full of groceries and a toddler won't be much fun in a few years' time. We had clients who sold their newly refurbished home when a house on the same road with off-street parking came on the market.
5. Try not to become obsessed with square footage. When it comes to a home, bigger is not necessarily better. Instead ask yourself whether or not the house can be adapted to suit you. Look at the proportions of the house and the garden. Building an extension might mean you lose valuable garden space or you might find that the original front room becomes redundant.
6. Think about the site – things like orientation, neighbouring properties and trees will all have an impact on your home. You can do anything with a house over time but you can't control the site or what surrounds it. My advice would always be try to find a house situated on a good site.
7. Run a planning search for the neighbouring areas and lands surrounding the house. This is very easy – all of the councils have a planning search facility that works by typing in an address. It will let you see what development is planned for the area and what the precedents for work similar to what you might plan to do yourself are. You'll also be able to see any conditions on similar developments.
8. If you have found a house that ticks all the boxes regarding location, etc, but are unsure if you will be able to transform it into your ideal home, look to see if there are any houses on the street that have done work and ask if you could take a look. You can also ask them about any possible issues they encountered when doing the work.
This is particularly relevant with older properties, which often have hidden pitfalls impossible to detect until the works have started. Pay attention to whether or not the property is protected, as this will mean that making changes will require a conservation report and planning.
9. Look for opportunity to add value in the future. The addition of a bedroom and bathroom can increase the value of your home by as much as 15 per cent, but you need to make sure you have the headroom to convert the attic space. Small-scale domestic extensions, including conservatories, do not require planning permission to the rear of the house if they do not increase the original floor area by more than 40sq m and the house has not been extended before.
For terraced or semi-detached houses, the floor area of any first-floor extension should not exceed 12sq m. Again this figure should include any previous extensions carried out.
And the adage holds true that given the choice, always go for the worst house on the best road rather than the best house on the worst road.