BUYING A HOUSE; AN ARCHITECT’S GUIDE

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Buying a house is stressful, buying a house as an architect is fraught with snagging lists and criteria that can never be met (not by any architect of my salary anyway), then throw in buying a house as a parent and the criteria required of that house makes it near to impossible to satisfy.

When we purchased our first home, we naively jumped feet first into the deep end with no major worries or criteria other than, a house that “felt right” in a city we knew and loved.

The second house search, however, seemed an entirely different kettle of fish, we had 5 years of homeowning experience – some of which had left us a little battle worn and with a new distrust of pipework and plumbing, we now had a child to factor in, we had jobs we actually enjoyed and wanted to keep and the trump card we were priced out of the city we had loved living in for five years.

So how do you go about searching for your second home?

For us it was a matter of criteria first, this next home had to satisfy a lot in order for us to give up the city we had hoped to stay in.

Here was our check list (and the criteria we didn’t meet!!):

Personal criteria:

  • Walkable to a train station with connections to London (for commute)
  • Walkable to a town (for socialising)
  • Has the right atmosphere within the house
  • A street with a good vibe
  • On budget
  • Separate dining room

Architect Criteria:

  • Character property (ideally Victorian)
  • Potential to improve/enlarge
  • No major planning or building regs fails
  • Any modern works are done to a good standard or at least without huge cost to rectify

Parent Criteria:

  • Minimum 3 bed, with potential for 4th bedroom
  • Downstairs toilet
  • Quiet
  • Warm
  • Driveway (at the front of the house) – this was met BUT it is the tightest driveway to park on imaginable!
  • Garden, big but not too big.
  • Bathroom with a bath
  • An area for toys
  • Decoration and general state liveable upon moving
  • Walkable to a good collection of good primary schools
  • Walkable to good secondary schools (in case we stay longer than planned)
  • Walkable to a good doctors surgery
  • Not too far from our current friends
  • ½ way (ish) from the ‘grandparents’

The parent list was given top priority. I still believe this was the right decision, however; I have to say that during the purchasing process I often wondered if I liked the house at all or whether I had only bought it on the basis that on paper it was better for my child than our previous home.

This foreboding feeling was heightened by the stress of dealing with selling and buying a property something that I really believe that I held against the house for months after moving in.

Our buyers had threatened to pull out two weeks before we were due to exchange, our solicitor was slow to inform us that the house had a small lean-to extension which didn’t have building regulations approval. Under rational circumstances, this alone would have been a reason for me to pull out, but this far down the purchase with so much already spent and nowhere else on the market, with our buyers fragilely hanging on, we went ahead. I reasoned that I was an Architect, I understood what the consequences would be and knew the cost of remedial works that would be needed. But I have wondered often since we gained the keys if this was a mistake.

This was not helped by the fact that the house developed a weird smell about 3 weeks into living there, a smell we traced back to the little non-compliant lean-to which it seems not only didn’t get building control sign off, has been built in a way that would never get sign off.

With the smell resolved at our expense, I bitterly went about enquiring what other works were done without proper approval and not disclosed by the seller.

All in all, in the first few months of living there I was wholly unsure we had made the right decision, why hadn’t I put more emphasis on my Architect’s list checking every detail? How could I have committed to a house without the proper certificates of works? Why did I prioritise completing the sale over the hassle of dealing with the previous owner’s dodgy works.

Well, the answer was, we are not millionaires. We do not have the luxury of buying a perfect house, I had the benefit of understanding that the shoddy works were not major structural or safety issues and we were in a rush to find somewhere for our daughter.

Still, I was upset, this was not my perfect home.

I wondered if we should admit our mistake, take the hit and sell up immediately.

They say that house moves are up there as one of the most stressful things that you will have to deal with in your lifetime and I have to say that with the purchase of my second home I quite agree. This is not helped by if, like me, you have a bad habit of spiralling when stressful situations occur and holding onto the stress even when the source of it has gone. The best piece of advice I received during this time of doubt was to give it some time. Time to allow the stress of the move to fall away, to decorate and put our mark on the house, to rectify what needed immediate action and to plan how we could be improving the house over the longer term.

We are now knee deep in paint slowly taking ownership of each room, planning a loft conversion for some point in the future and ripping out the old (bathless) bathroom.

With time; we have seen a Christmas and my daughter’s birthday and hosted a fair few celebrations in our home, softening our bad memories and making good memories instead.

We have been in our house for eight months now and recently returned from a trip away and I have to say when I opened the door, I felt the love, I have forgiven its faults and it is finally our home, it may not be perfect but it is a good place to be for now.

If you are looking to buy your next house. My advice:

  • Make a list of must haves and find somewhere that satisfies at least some of this list; if you are compromising make sure it is on something you are happy to live without.
  • Always take a tape measure to your viewing! Will your furniture get up that spiral staircase? Is the front door wide enough for your double buggy?!
  • Look up its listing history, has it been listed for sale multiple times? This may be an indication that the property is falling through at the solicitor stage and gives you the opportunity to question why.
  • Most importantly, make sure you receive the history of all works carried out, be insistent and ask these questions at the start of the process. If any works are non-compliant seek professional advice and understand whether you will be happy to carry out any remedial works that will be required.
  • Look for clues on the house’s history at the first viewing, does the render change texture or colour? This could be an indication of an extension. Is there a large opening between rooms? A wall may have been removed. Is the floor level inside lower than the ground level outside? Check that this isn’t causing any issues with internal damp.
  • Look at the local council’s planning website for planning applications. You can do this yourself, don’t wait to spend money on a solicitor to do this for you if it is a deal breaker. Does the house currently have a beautiful green field in front of it? Make sure there isn’t an application in planning to build thousands of new homes on that view.
  • If you are buying the house for its potential to extend, ask a local Architect to go to a viewing with you so that they can advise you on what is and isn’t possible, you don’t want to buy a house with the hope to extend only to find out later in the process that there is a reason it cannot be done.
  • Get a surveyor to do a full structural report, it may be more than the usual householder survey but it could end up saving you thousands of pounds.
  • Be comfortable with the location of the property, you can change a lot about a house but you cannot change its location!
  • Fall in love with the house and if you can’t fall in love immediately then allow yourself time to let it grow on you, some houses are slow burners and you may find, like me, that having decorated and settled in you open the door one day and realise that your house is a happy home!

GOOD LUCK!

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