Looking for a new home in Oxfordshire: Where do you start?

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Traditionally, the post-Christmas period is when people begin to think seriously about moving home, creating the busiest period for estate agents in the early months of spring.

The last few weeks have certainly been very busy in my business, with the number of new enquiries from new clients higher than ever before, most likely due to the low stocks of available property. On top of this, there is the added incentive for second home buyers to try and beat the new increase in stamp duty which arrives in April.

Confidence in the UK housing market remains strong despite wider concerns over the economy, with Halifax reporting that the majority of people still believe that the average UK property price will be higher in 12 months’ time. This isn’t surprising, as the number of properties available to buy has dropped since 2005 from 72 per estate agent office to 37 per office in 2015, according to the National Association of Estate Agents: a drop of 50% in a decade.

So, where should you start the home search to be successful?

First of all, you have to consider the basics. I am amazed how often buyers start their search without first fully exploring their finance options. Do you have a budget? Do you really know how much you can afford to pay? Do you know how much you can borrow?

Be aware that the rules and processes around all mortgages have changed dramatically in the last 12 months, especially for older buyers and the self-employed. If you need to borrow, it is essential to understand your options before you start the search, as it’s unlikely that you will be the only person interested in a certain property and your agent, acting in his clients’ best interest, will need evidence that you can proceed before considering your offer.

Do you know where you want to live? This sounds fundamental but it is much better to narrow this down than simply widen the search to find the right property. Schools and commuting time tend to be the main drivers of location, but if you are not working, other criteria maybe more important. Write down your criteria and assess how each property matches your criteria.

What sort of property are you looking for in terms of period versus modern, style of decor, floor area, bedrooms, bathrooms, detached, semi-detached , terraced? Outside space, garages, equestrian features and gardens are all aspects to think about, but this is where compromise is most likely to be required. Most of my clients start off with a clear view of their ideal but often discover something they never thought they would really like. For example, someone searching for a modern property may end up with a period home refurbished throughout in a contemporary style, or a client that would only consider a detached property has fallen in love with a cottage full of character that ticks boxes they never realised they had!

The property viewing is critical. Do not rush your viewing and ask lots of questions. Here are a few tips that may help you get more from the viewings:

First of all, try to view on a weekday, rather than a weekend when appointments are scarce. You will also have more time and be seen as a more serious buyer by the agent.

Before viewing the property, walk around the location, visit local shops and if possible the local pub: these can be a great source of information about the location and often the property itself!

Things to ask the agent:

When can the vendor move? Have they found anything? What is their preferred timescale?

When did the property first come on the market? The Rightmove site does give a date but, in my experience, this may not be correct.

What is included in the asking/guide price?

Is the property listed? This is critical if you are thinking of making alterations.

If extensions have been added, who was the builder? It’s often easier to get this person back if you want to make alterations yourself.

Has the property ever flooded? This is particularly relevant in many parts of Oxfordshire?

Are there any offers on the property? They will not tell you the amount, but should let you know if anyone else is interested.

Have there been any disputes with the neighbours?

Are they aware of any planning applications to adjoining land or nearby?

Your solicitor will clearly ask many of these questions and more if you go ahead with the sale, but answers to as many of these questions as possible will help you decide what you should offer for the property.

Remember, it is the agent’s job to get the best possible price for their client, but equally, if you ask them a direct question about the property they are obliged to answer you truthfully. That said, if you do go ahead and your offer is accepted, always, always, always instruct a qualified surveyor to carry out a survey for you and do not rely on the bank or building society survey.

Finally, two things to remember: In my experience, if a house has been available without a buyer for several months, the price is set too high. This is nothing to do with the agent or advertising, the price is simply too high. Secondly, a bit of a cliché in the property market: From a long term investment perspective, it usually better to buy a property which is lower than the average price for an area than higher than the average price for an area.

Enjoy your property search, and good luck!

If you would like to discuss how County Homesearch can help you find your perfect property in Oxfordshire, please contact Stephen Wolfenden on 07836 369681 or visit www.county-homesearch.com