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Property search tips: how to find the perfect home

Buying your first home is one of life’s big milestones. If you’re about ready to take the step, first read our guide to buying a house.

Buying your first home is one of life’s big milestones. If you’re about ready to take the step, first read our guide to buying a house.

Written by
Alex Hasty
Insurance comparison and finance expert
26 JULY 2021
8 min read
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How to buy a house

Buying a new house is probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, so you need to get it right. If you’re armed with the right intel, you’ll find that buying a property can be one of life’s great experiences. Here’s what you need to know.

What to look for when buying a house

If you’re just beginning your property search, it definitely pays to be prepared. Here are our top tips for buying a home:

  • Get in with your local estate agent
    Estate agents often know about properties coming up for sale before they go on the open market. If you build a good relationship with the estate agents in your area, they might let you know about potential opportunities before everybody else hears about them. That way you can be first in the queue.
  • Do your research
    If you see a property you like, find out how much other, similar homes have sold for (remember, this isn’t the same as the asking price). Zoopla has a section on sold prices, and Nethouseprices is another great source of information.

  • Properly explore the area
    Location matters. You can revamp a house, but you can’t make over a neighbourhood. So, if you’re moving to an area you don’t know well, explore it thoroughly before you commit – and not just when you view the house. A neighbourhood that looks fine during the day can be another story when the sun goes down.

  • Find the catch
    If you find your dream home at a price you can afford, then unless you’re Jeff Bezos, the reality is that there’s probably a catch. You need to find out what that is, and decide whether you can live with it. Is the property on a flight path? Is it too close to the train line for comfort? Has planning been granted for a housing estate across the road?

  • Is the property a flood risk?
    Every year, thousands of people in the UK end up dealing with the consequences of flooding. It could have a dramatic effect on your home insurance, so it’s important to know if you’re moving to a flood-risk area.

Buying a house checklist

There’s a huge amount to consider when buying a new home, so when you’re viewing properties, you need to go in with your eyes open. Here’s what to look for when buying a house:

  • Signs of damp
    Wet patches on the walls, black mould, peeling wallpaper – these are all tell-tale signs of damp. Condensation on windows (particularly in the bathroom) is also another giveaway. Give the air a good sniff, too. You can often smell damp, particularly in basements.
  • The state of the roof
    Replacing a roof is a mega expense, so you’ll want to make sure yours is in good nick. Check for missing or broken tiles. Is the guttering in a good state of repair?

  • Textured wallpaper
    Anaglypta, woodchip and other textured wallpaper can be a real pain to remove. And while you can paint it, you can’t plaster or wallpaper over it.

    The problem with wallpapers like these is that they’ve often been used to cover cracked or crumbling walls. And they’ve often been there for decades, which means they’ve been painted over several times – that’s what makes them so tricky to get rid of!

  • Go up to the attic
    It’s always helpful to go up and see the attic. That way you can check out how much storage space there is, and whether there’s potential for a loft conversion. It’ll also give you a good clue as to the condition of the house. Are the beams in good shape, or are they damp and rotten? Are there any holes you don’t like the look of?

  • Check the plumbing
    It may be that you’re planning to rip out the kitchen and bathroom, in which case the state of the plumbing isn’t such a big deal. But if that’s not the plan, it’s a good idea to see check what condition it’s in. Does the loo flush properly? Is the shower powerful enough?

  • Inspect the exterior walls
    Look out for cracks in the walls, which could be a sign of subsidence. You should also check the window frames for signs of rot.

  • Phone and wi-fi reception
    Check your phone – can you get good reception all over the house? Or are there mobile dead zones? What’s the Wi-Fi like? Things like this are important if you work from home.

Buying a new build

There are lots of benefits to buying a new build. You shouldn’t be landed with the same maintenance and repair costs as you’d get with an older property. Your energy bills might be cheaper too. There are some things to look out for, though:

  • Is there a service charge?
    Service charges can be punchy, especially if you have features like lifts, communal gardens or a concierge. If there’s a service charge, find out how often it goes up. It might be reasonable now, but what about next year?

  • Measure any showhome furniture
    If you’re buying off-plan and viewing a showhome, check out the furniture. It’s often very small; a seller’s trick to make the property look bigger. Check the dimensions of the property you’re actually buying – does it fit a king-size bed? Will your sofa fit in the living room?

  • Check out the storage
    New builds often lack storage space. That empty cupboard may look sufficient, but think about where you’ll put your suitcases, vacuum cleaner, camping gear…

What are the top property websites?

It’s never been easier to find a home online. The trick is to make sure you’re on the best property portals. The great thing about property search engines is that they make looking for a house simple. Better still, they make it fun – so much fun that many people find themselves browsing property websites when they’re not even in the market for a new home…

Rightmove is the UK’s biggest property portal, making it super easy to search for all the properties to buy or rent near you.

Zoopla has over a million properties for you to browse, and a search function that lets you filter them in all kinds of clever ways.

The Modern House
You won’t find the cheapest properties on the Modern House, but you’ll maybe find the most beautiful. Even if the houses here are out of your budget, it’s a great place to get ideas. 

On the Market
On The Market is a simple search service offering thousands of homes available to buy right across the UK.
As of January 2021, had links to 570,209 UK homes for sale and rent.

Should I buy a house?

Thinking about buying a house? First, you need to sit down, do the maths and see if it works for you. There are numerous costs to consider – not only the price of the house. Other expenses you’ll need to think about include:

  • Mortgage arrangement fee
    This will vary, but you can pay anything from £0 to over £2,000.

  • Legal fees
    You’ll need to pay a solicitor, which can cost anything between £850 and £1,500.

  • Stamp duty
    This is the tax on your property purchase. It only applies to properties worth more than £250,000. See more on stamp duty rates. See more on stamp duty rates.

  • Surveys
    The cost of surveys differs depending on how detailed it is. You can get a basic condition report for around £400. But if you’re buying a period property and want a full condition survey, it could cost as much as £1,500.

  • Moving costs
    Removals vans can be more expensive than you think. Costs vary a lot though, so as always, it’s worth shopping around.

  • Decorating and repairs
    Obviously how much you need to budget for this will depend on the state of the property you’re buying, but it pays to have some money set aside to deal with any emergency repairs.

What’s the best time of year to buy a house

It’s difficult to know exactly when’s the best time to buy a house, as so much depends on the state of the housing market. The market is traditionally quiet over Christmas and gets busier in the spring, when the weather warms up.

But people have to move for all sorts of reasons – a growing family, illness, divorce, death – so often they have no say over when they put their house up for sale. This means the house of your dreams could come up at any time…

The content written in this article is for information purposes only and should not be taken as financial advice. If you require support on the products discussed here, please speak to your bank/lender or seek the advice of an independent professional financial advisor. We also have more information on our Customer Support Hub.

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Alex Hasty - Insurance comparison and finance expert

At Compare the Market, Alex has had roles as Commercial Associate Director, Director of Trading and Director of Growth. He’s currently responsible for the development and execution of Comparethemarket’s longer-term strategic options, ensuring the right breadth of products and services that meet customer needs.

Learn more about Alex

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