Buying a home: how to avoid the most common mistakes

Money Advice Service

It’s worth knowing what to look out for – and what mistakes to avoid – when buying a home. Read our guide to find out what property lenders don’t like and what problems to watch out for.

A list of properties lenders don’t always like

  • Homes of unusual construction – any building not of standard brick and mortar construction. There are still homes built of wattle and daub, cob, concrete or timber frames which can sometimes be covered with asbestos cement.
  • High-rise flats – for example, ex-council flats in tower blocks, especially if they have problems with lift maintenance or where most of the other flats are still in the hands of the local authority.
  • Flats over shops, restaurants and offices – any property where other people could have the right to access your property. Properties like this are also hard to value.
  • Short leaseholds – flats are often sold on leasehold which means you only own it for a specific number of years. Leaseholds of 80 years or less can be a problem so look to extend the lease before you buy. Find out more in Leasehold or freehold – the financial implications.
  • New build properties – lenders often value newly built properties lower than the asking price meaning you will have to have a larger deposit. The developer might offer special deals to help. See our affordable housing schemes section.
  • Brownfield sites – properties built on former industrial land can be difficult as they might be contaminated. Your solicitor will need to check the certificates to prove the property has been decontaminated.
  • Too close to the sea – coastal erosion could lead to your new home becoming dangerously close to a cliff edge.
  • Character homes – converted lighthouses, windmills, schools and pubs might need a mortgage from a specialist lender.
  • Grade 1 listed properties and thatched houses – the cost of repairs and rebuilding make them less attractive to mainstream lenders who also worry about the risk of fire.

Things to look for when buying a house

When you are house-hunting, bear in mind the property might not be as good as it first seems.

There is a lot of common mistakes you can avoid when buying your home by looking beyond the decor.

There might be repair bills and hidden problems including:

  • Damp,
  • Faulty electrics, or
  • Noisy neighbours

Which could contribute towards higher costs and extra effort after you move in.

Inside the property

Check for problems which might be expensive to fix, such as:

  • Damp
  • Faulty guttering
  • Missing roof tiles
  • Weak toilet flushing
  • Rotten window frames.

If you have a friend, family member or trusted builder who is familiar with fixing properties, take them with you to visit the property.

A builder will give you an idea of how much it will cost to fix any obvious problems.

You can then use this as a bargaining tool to ask the seller to lower the price.

Don’t be afraid to ask how old the wiring and roof are or when the boiler was fitted and when any renovations were done.

Know what questions to ask the estate agent and surveyor in our Who’s Who guide (PDF 3MB).

Use our Jargon Buster (PDF 217KB) to explain complex terms.

Outside the property

  • Check the surrounding area – look at the state of the nearby streets, pubs and shops to get a feel for the area.
  • Visit at different times of the day – your street might be really quiet in the middle of the day but noisy and busy during rush hour.
  • Subsidence – look outside the property. Are there big trees growing nearby, which could potentially cause subsidence problems?
  • Parking permits – will you need a permit to park there? Is it difficult to find parking if you don’t have off-street parking or a garage?
  • Flooding – is the property in a flood zone? Buildings insurance for previously flooded homes is expensive and might be hard to find. If you can’t get insurance, then you won’t get a mortgage.
  • Noisy neighbours – ask the sellers if there have been any problems with neighbours. If you’re viewing a flat, find out if the neighbours above have wooden floors, or what potential noise there might be.
Read our guide to learn more about Surveys.

Check the Environment Agency website for properties in flood-risk areas.

Your next step

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.

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