5 things I've learnt about house-hunting and home buying...

Ok, so our flat move is next week. And as I type, we're surrounded by boxes, and knee-deep in bubble-wrap. I keep finding bits of packing tape stuck to my clothes.

We're in that awkward phase of packing. You know - the bit where you've packed all the obvious stuff like books and pots and pans, and have wrapped all the pictures. But you're left with piles of old paperwork and mementos from your past that you're not quite sure whether to keep or throw away. So instead of making any decisions, I've decided to write a blog post about the home-buying process. 

View from our current shared back garden. Image courtesy of Yohanna Adolfsson @ SquareFoot Media

View from our current shared back garden.
Image courtesy of Yohanna Adolfsson @ SquareFoot Media

#1 - Don't be afraid to start looking early

Not everyone will agree with this, but I have found it hugely useful to start looking before we've been actually ready to make an offer on a place. And I mean that both in terms of searching online, and doing viewings in person. Starting early will give you a feel for the market - what the prices are like, what you can get for your money, whether the type of property you like comes up a lot or very rarely. Obviously you'll have to guard yourself against falling in love with a place before you have the finances and wherewithal to move, but so long as you insulate yourself against that, you'll reap the benefits of all that extra knowledge about what the market is doing and what you like and dislike. Which brings us to...

#2 - Know your compromises

The other benefit of starting to look early is that you'll get better acquainted with your own priorities. I think this is especially useful in a couple - making sure you're both on the same page about what you're willing to compromise, and what are 'must-haves'. For us, when we first started flat hunting the first time around, my husband's initial priority was space. He wanted the biggest flat we could afford. But another key priority for both of us was location. We had already lived for two years in a part of Edinburgh that didn't have much sense of community or any amenities like shops or restaurants on our doorstep. So after visiting a few flats and weighing things up, we both ended up agreeing that we were happy to sacrifice a bit on space to be in a location that we loved. So by the time we saw our first flat, we both instantly knew it has the right combination of space and location for us.

#3 - Don't panic-buy

Now that might sound obvious - who on earth would panic-buy a home, it's not a pair of shoes we're talking about here! But what I really mean is, bide your time. When we started flat-hunting first time around the market was a bit quieter. This time was a whole different ball game. The market was soaring in Edinburgh, and things were being snapped up almost instantly. Because of that, it's easy to get swept up in estate-agent buzz and feel like you're going to miss out unless you act really quickly. And I'm far from immune to it. I look back at one of the first flats we viewed and remember thinking we could put in an offer on it. Even though, looking back, it was all wrong for us. But I was, even at that early stage, panicking about what we might be able to get. My recommendation is to try not to pay too much attention to what the market is doing, take a deep breath, and focus on what you really want from your home and the life you're going to lead in that new place. And then of course, once you've found what's genuinely the right place, you can snap into action!

#4 - View strategically

When we first viewed the flat we're about to move into, it was one of those dream Edinburgh evenings - endless blue skies and bright, startling sunlight. When we walked into the flat, I was totally captivated by the light. I remember standing in the living room bay window, basking in the sunlight and gazing wistfully at the view. Everything had a magical sheen to it. Which is all well and good, but this is a LOT of money you're going to spend on a home. You can't afford to have rose-tinted glasses about what you're buying. So for our next viewing, I made sure to pick a day when the weather was due to be overcast, and viewed it at a different time of day. Would the flat still be as impressive? Would the noise from the road bother us more? Were we really prepared to live on the third floor (again!)? And it was time to ask all those tricky questions like "what's the state of the boiler - and the roof?" No matter how in love with the property you are, be hard headed for the second viewing. Ask the questions you might not quite want to know the answers to. Then at least you're going into it with your eyes open.

#5 - Get the right people on your side

And finally, get a team you can trust. I know it works differently in England, but in Scotland you can only put in an offer through your solicitor. So get one you trust and like, as they will do a lot of the running on your behalf, and if they're good at their job - and willing to patiently answer all the million questions you're likely to have - they will take a lot of the stress out of proceedings. Also, this time around we got a mortgage broker. To be honest, we had been advised to use one first time around but I just wasn't sure what they did, and it seemed like an expense we didn't need. But it's been a godsend. The mortgage broker will find the best deal on the market for you, meaning less work for you - and getting the best deal has the potential save you a huge amount over the course of your mortgage. Ask your solicitor if they can recommend someone. Ours actually didn't charge us anything, as we were referred by our solicitor. I can't guarantee you will be as lucky, but I'm glad we asked!

Hope this is helpful, and let me know if you're house-hunting at the moment. What tips do you have?