Renovation Blog - Finding the House

Finding and Buying the house

Why move?

We have lived in London for 14 years and wanted to move out to the countryside for more space for the boys to run around, a larger house and so on, but still be vaguely within striking distance of the capital just in case we needed to visit.

We like older houses and in particular Georgian architecture, so were looking to invest in something 200-300 years old. As a seasoned renovator I was also looking for a potential modernisation or development opportunity that would stretch our money further.

The only reason we were able to contemplate buying a large house in the country was that we had scaled the property ladder in London for some years beforehand. We started with a small flat and worked our way up to a dilapidated four bed house. We now wanted to move again, with the intention of using the profit from the renovated London property to scale down our mortgage and ulimately improve our quality of life.

How to find a bargain property?

The difficulty in finding properties needing renovation was what had inspired us to set up pickupaproperty in 2004, and I was pleased to put it to the test. I initially looked at three regions using the pickupaproperty database - Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. I quickly found that a 5 bed Georgian house anywhere (even in a state) would stretch our £500,000 budget that we hoped to have from the sale of our London house to the limit. Eventually we decided that our best bet was Norfolk, where there are plenty of suitable houses just about within budget.

Nowadays with online photographs and floorplans it's a lot easier to decide if you want to make a trip to view a property or not, and we must have looked at dozens of places only to reject them without ever visiting. We also did our house price research using the many internet resources that are out there.

We made various trips to view houses but nothing grabbed us, and we were looking for a house that we could live in for a very long time, so could afford to be a bit picky. Then in my April we discovered my wife was pregnant (exactly how I am still not sure!) and we decided that we would aim to be in before the baby (our second) was born. That gave us a definite push to find a house.

Could this be it?

At last, helped by the daily email alerts from the pickupaproperty website, we found two potential places that we liked the look of and arranged to go and view them (along with four others we were less sure about). At the last minute one of them cancelled because, in the words of the vendor "he was only giving viewings to people who had sold their houses". His property had been on the market for many months and I suppose this explained why. I suggested to the estate agent that if he wanted to sell it he would need to let us view it, and I was actually hoping that selling my house and buying the next would happen at the same time, as I didn't really want to live in rented accommodation in the interim. The vendor stuck fast so we never saw it!

However, we loved the other house which fitted all our requirements. It even had a 2 inch crack running down one outside wall (due to a massive tree growing twelve feet from the house which of course had a Tree Preservation Order on it) and two ceilings that had collapsed. The property was for sale for what it would have been worth after all the renovations had taken place. I explained to the estate agents that these would cost between £100,000 and £150,000 (and that was before I'd even had a survey), and hence I could only offer the asking price minus that sum. The estate agent agreed with me but said the vendor was insistent on getting the full price. We haggled back and forward and I upped my offer a bit but the vendor wouldn't budge an inch, and after much gnashing of teeth we had to give it up as a bad job. It was still unsold 8 months later, justifying our decision to walk away from the deal.

Always do your budget carefully

It is important to keep in mind what any property will be worth when you've finished renovations, and only pay that amount less the projected cost of the renovations. Ideally you also need to leave some contingency in there too. Click here for more general information on buying and renovation costs.

It's also key to find the right type of mortgage for your renovation.

Expanding our search

Making such an important decision as moving house can be a long process. It is crucial to find the "right" one, as it affects everything - commuting, schooling, friends, family. We knew pretty much what we were looking for and were not prepared to compromise so we kept searching, but towards the end of May were starting to get worried we would miss our deadline for moving. We decided to expand our search to Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire as well, which still offer some very reasonably priced houses, indeed among the country's cheapest.

We went to view a few and found just the place in South Lincolnshire. It was quite a bit over budget and the owners admitted that it needed a new roof (along with all the other visible problems). They had obtained a quote for the roof of £20,000 so we had that to bargain with. After a few days haggling a deal was struck, a good 10% below the asking price.

Full structural survey

I would always recommend anyone buying a property in need of serious work to get a full structural survey. In our case the house was also 250 years old and Listed Grade II, so we needed someone who understood old buildings. We found a great surveyor, David Glew, to do the survey. Click here for more information on surveys.

This threw up a few issues but in particular that the roof tiles were a specific type of rare slate and would need to be repaired and replaced like-for-like to satisfy the local Conservation Officer. Some initial research revealed that this was likely to cost in the region of £50,000 rather than the original £20,000 quote... Further negotiations with the vendors followed and eventually we settled on a fair reduction in price and we were ready to proceed.

Selling your renovated property

I am pleased to say that our house in London sold in a couple of days. We had fully renovated it and also carefully de-cluttered and sorted it ready to sell. It's a tired old saying that you should do this but every time I have sold houses I've found it to be hugely beneficial to make every effort to present them in the most appealing way. If you've lived there for a few years it's well worth giving key areas (hall, stairs, living room) a fresh coat of paint for the best impression, and if you like bright colours that's fine but perhaps consider toning them down so as not to alienate any potential buyers.

Don't forget the legals

After the inevitable difficulties with the chain and a few legal wrangles we finally exchanged. Our conveyancers, Burr Sugden did a great job for us. Remember you don't need to use a local firm and you may find that you can get a much cheaper deal by shopping around. My wife was now heavily pregnant, and then two days before we were due to move our removal company phoned up and said they couldn't do the job after all. We rang round everyone in the book but alas it was the Summer holidays and all the removal firms were busy. We eventually accepted that we'd have to do the move ourselves and at the last minute found a fantastic removal company in Lincolnshire who agreed to drive down and help us, but did not have enough van space, so we had to hire two ourselves as well. See how we got with the move in August 2006...

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