Even if you've found your perfect property at the right price, you're only halfway through the battle. There are many factors homebuyers should be conscious of before deciding whether or not to proceed to purchase.
Research says that it takes buyers just a matter of minutes to make up one's mind about a property - and so often, having fallen in love with a place, romanticised about a cosy new lifestyle and having decided to take the plunge, buyers see it as 'job done,' handing everything over to the professionals to take care of. Yet the buyer has only just scratched the surface in terms of establishing whether their purchase is a sound one.
There is so much that buyers can and should be doing, preferably before the professional checks are carried out and before becoming too financially committed, to ensure that they are not buying an expensive noose.
In the case of buying a home as it is with any other commercial transaction, it is very much a case of Caveat Emptor ('Let the buyer beware!'), and it applies not just to the property per se, but the local neighbourhood too - as this impacts heavily on the price and saleability of any given property.
Take stock before the viewing. Is the property near to all the facilities you use in your everyday life? Is this really the place where you can envisage the lifestyle you currently lead or want in the future?
How near, for example, is the local supermarket or the essential shops you normally use? How convenient is it to get to a GP, dentist or local hospital? If you're the outdoor or sporty type, are there any good clubs or gyms with the right facilities nearby - and are the parks and open spaces well maintained and safe?
Libraries and council offices provide a rich source of local information as do local newspapers. Also try logging onto UpMyStreet.com using the "find my nearest" link where you can check out full amenity information for any specific area.
Neighbours from hell are the scourge of householders' lives. Yet how often does a homebuyer take the immediate neighbours into account when deciding on buying a property? Usually, they do not.
Is the seller being completely honest with you about his or her relationship with their neighbours - or are they the very reason why they are selling? By law, sellers must reveal any neighbour disputes on the new PIQ (Property Information Questionnaire) such as boundary issues, noise or access complaints etc, which is then submitted to solicitors during the conveyance process.
Economies of truth can be found out and vendors held liable for any misrepresentations, but by then it is all too late. Don't leave neighbours to chance or you could subsequently discover that, whilst the house is fantastic, they become the reason why you need to immediately remarket!
Be your own detective and believe your own eyes and ears. Knock on doors and talk to the immediate neighbours about the area, your thoughts about moving in next door and carefully gauge their reaction.
A top tip is to visit the neighbourhood at various times of the day: rush-hour, the school run and at night, especially if there is a pub nearby. Are the streets quiet or is there any evidence of drunken behaviour? At weekends, do rowdy children or youths crowd the streets? At night, can you hear unreasonably loud music belting out of a teenager's bedroom window - or is there an enthusiastic Mr DIY locked in his shed playing with power tools for unnecessarily long periods?
All these are signs that the neighbourhood may be undesirable or that life may become unbearable due to noise - when it all seemed so different during the viewing. You have been warned.
For useful information on neighbourhood nuisance, visit the Neighbours From Hell website which is the UK's largest online forum for neighbourhood issues - but best of all, trust your own judgement.
Detach yourself from the initial enthusiasm of the purchase and do your sums. Sure, you might be able to afford the mortgage repayments but what band does the Council Tax band fall into and how much are monthly charges? Given the steep rises in recent years, could your budget cope with future increases, especially if interest rates begin to creep up from their historical lows?
Ask the vendor to produce copies of previous years' Council Tax bills. How much have they risen and what is the average annual rate of increase? You can get an accurate picture of this by logging onto the local authority website for that area. Some councils are notorious for hiking bills way above the national average. One thing that affects future Council Tax bills are planned major developments such as road changes or a new shopping centre.
In the USA, comprehensive crime statistics are freely available. In the UK, detailed information is not so easily accessible and it is difficult to be aware of any underlying local social issues that may exist. Given that your vendor is hardly likely to talk the area down, what can you do to wise up on local crime, an issue that should be a major consideration in any home move?
Visit the local police station. Be honest and ask about the level of crime in the area. Contact nearby neighbours and ask whether they've ever been a victim of crime and if so, what type. Some areas are notorious for burglary, others street violence. The Home Office website is currently being Beta tested but should, when it comes fully online, have a postcode search tool for local crime statistics, broken down into the various categories.
As well-meaning as some homeowners are, nothing excuses poor DIY and it can be very costly to put the bad workmanship of an over-enthusiastic DIYer right. Always look the vendor straight in the eye and ask what improvements, if any, they've made and what major DIY work they have personally undertaken.
If builders have performed surgery on the home, check whether all relevant planning permissions and buildings regulation approvals have been granted before investing in a surveyor.
From January 2005 electrical installation work in the home became subject to a new IEE Wiring Regulations. Failure to comply is a criminal offence. Check whether any electrical work has been undertaken since this date, by whom - and that it is either compliant with new regulations or has been fully checked by a competent person, inspected and tested to BS 7671.
Is the property near to a river or flood plain? If it is, it could mean astronomical insurance premiums or that the property is uninsurable if in a particularly high-risk area.
The Environment Agency website contains wide-ranging information about issues such as air quality, waste and flooding.
It may look well-built, solid and in good order - but a question many buyers often fail to ask is what lies beneath the soil? Are there any environmental implications of buying in that area? For example, is the property built on top of, or near to a former landfill site? Is there a generally high pollution level in the area, or a history of mining that may mean subsidence issues?
Landmarkinfo.co.uk contains a comprehensive database of high quality data including current and historical land use, landfill, geological and floodplain information.
An increasing scourge on the landscape, it's always best to check where the nearest mobile telephone masts are. Although there is no current, definitive scientific proof that they are dangerous, many people are put off living near them and re-saleability of your property, even before you've bought it, should be a key consideration.
OFCOM provides a database of all telephone masts in the UK. Log onto www.sitefinder.ofcom.org.uk/ for an accurate postcode search of all masts in any given area.
If you're buying a three-bed semi, a detached house or purpose built flat, chances are that the property will have a driveway, garage or allocated parking space. If not, think about where you and your visitors will park.
Is there a resident's parking scheme in place? Who is it run by, how much does it cost and how many parking spaces are you allowed as a resident? Some parking charges are both punitive and their terms restrictive - and many buyers only discover this after moving in!
If there is no residents' parking scheme, ask the local authority about any plans in the pipeline. Crucially, visit the road during the day in office hours as well as in the evening. How crowded is it with parked cars, particularly workers and commuters? Is it still as full at weekends? If so, do you really want to live within a congested car park with little or no peace at all and inconvenience each time you want to park?
Is the market price fair? If so, how can you be sure? There may be few comparables in the area to assist you, but you should try to find out whether you are paying too much money.
Our Sold House Prices section offers buyers instant fingertip information about current property prices across the UK. You can also visit the Land Registry website and for a fee of just £2, find out exactly what the vendor paid for the property you're hoping to buy!
Everything seems perfect. The home, the garden, the neighbours, the location, even the vendors are very nice. It might sound cynical to question the motivation behind the marketing of any property, but it's a legitimate query as the answer can reveal underlying problems.
Always ask how long a property has been on the market, the reason why it has been put on sale, how long for - and if you're seriously interested in buying, ask the agent to perform a 'chain-check' up the line to confirm how far advanced, if at all, your vendor is with their intended purchase - a good sign of a motivated seller.
Ideally you want a committed vendor selling for valid reasons and ready to proceed at a speed which suits your timescale. If the home has been languishing on the books of several agents for a while, you have to ask yourself, the selling agents and the owner - why?
Even if you don't have children, nearby schools should be a major consideration as schools are a good indicator of the type of neighbourhood you'll be moving into. Visit the school at the end of the day and see what level of calm exists.
Is there a good teacher presence at the gate? Are children dressed smartly, moving orderly and well-behaved, or is the whole area one of noise, riot and mayhem? More importantly, is the road where you're hoping to buy on the route home for the pupils? As a property owner, you overlook the influence of a nearby school at your peril!
Finding out more
Check out the OFSTED reports. Speak to parents at the gates of local schools and ask about any problems or concerns. Look for signs of vandalism at or near to the school. Performance tables on the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DSCF) website can give a detailed picture of individual schools.
If you're not car reliant, then transport links into your place of work should be a key deciding factor in your eventual choice of location. If you have a car, take an honesty test and drive from the property to work at rush hour. Does it take longer than you expected? If you use public transport, check out bus and train timetables as well as the alternative routes in case of delayed or cancelled services and ask yourself whether it is a convenient place to live if transport fails for any reason.
TransportDirect.info provides a live travel news summary and a comprehensive search facility for all types of public transport. For specific rail users, www.nationalrail.co.uk provides an on-line journey-planner.