SOME THOUGHTS ON WHAT YOU MAY NEED TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING YOUR NEXT HOME:
The following may not be what you might expect to read in a section like this.
If you are serious about purchasing, you will have done all your own research and will no doubt be fully aware of your limitations in terms of how much you can borrow to finance the purchase of your next home. That is, if you are to rely on a loan to help fund the purchase. If you are an investor you will probably have to contribute a higher percentage of the purchase price from your own funds, whereas if you are purchasing your own home, the cash contribution from you will generally be a lesser amount. You don't need me to explain all these facts and figures because, as I said, you will have done your own research. Furthermore, as soon as we come to grips with the various requirements and regulations associated with financing the purchase of a property the rules change again - as often as the weather changes.
You will have budgeted for stamp duty charges, solicitors fees and moving costs etc, but you should be mindful of the cost of renting an alternative house if you intend to undertake renovations works because this cost can certainly mount up. When you find the house you'd like to buy, it is essential - not optional - that you have a full building survey carried out. Not the one the bank has done; that’s a valuation survey. The survey that you will need to have carried out will involve the services of an expert surveyor who will examine the building; its roof, floors, windows, electrics and any vague areas such as an overhanging roof, spouting pipe or downpipe which extends into your property from the neighbour's or which extends from your house into the neighbour’s area. Drains and roots of trees also have to be kept in mind. The surveyor can also check for planning applications and local government plans for the area. The surveyor and or / solicitor should ensure that whatever alterations have been made to the house are up to regulation standards and are either exempt from needing to have Planning Permission or, in fact, have the necessary Planning Approval. There should also be proper paperwork confirming that any attic extension has been completed up to standard. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also, ask if you can meet at the property at the end of the survey. You can then discuss the realities of the situation and you might just cancel the whole proposal there and then. The surveyor will also provide you with estimated costs for various required works and these costs can often be enormous and intimidating. So, you need to talk to the surveyor and ask if all of what has been specified in the report has to cost quite so much or is there a possibility of putting off some of the required works for 5 or 10 years, to give you a chance to save up for these works.
Before you sign on the dotted line and actually take ownership of your new home, you should have familiarised yourself with the area beforehand. Read articles on line etc. Check with local schools to see if there might be a place for your child. And simplest of all; get off your backside, leave the car behind, and simply walk around the locality. Walk and walk and then come back and walk around again. Walk around during the day to see what amenities are close by and how they are used and by whom. Walk around at midnight to see how the atmosphere changes for the better or worse. But walk, walk and then walk again - around and around – on different days and at different times of the day and night. Can you imagine discovering that your child can’t walk to school safely – after you’ve moved in? Discovering that the bus service is woefully inadequate when you had intended not driving to work? Is there just a chance that you could walk to work or to the local school or maybe cycle? Or are you destined to spend the next 10 years of your life stuck in traffic jams? By doing without a lot of expensive and unnecessary luxuries, for example, the expensive glossy kitchen, designer curtains and handmade Italian tiles etc, you can invest more cash in the raw house and in the area where you actually want to live. Get the location of your new home sorted, even if it means paying more than you’d like, and budget for less frills and extravagances and resign yourself to having to live with draughty, unvarnished floor boards for a few years if you have to.
If you can’t afford central heating, make do with a few electric heaters for a few years. Heat the room that you are in and not the rooms you are not in. You are not in Miami. You are in Ireland. So act like it. Walking ‘round in shorts, a t-shirt and bare feet might be okay in Greece, but remember where you are and the cost of those gas bills. Do you want to know how you can save energy and money and be environmentally friendly? Put on a jumper! If everyone in the house did this, it would save you thousands on gas bills. Don’t forget that net curtains (yes, net curtains) can really insulate a house and maintain better security. How? By simply cutting down on draughts and by preventing a potential burglar from seeing what you have that might be worth stealing. You don’t need the frilly variety (unless you are very stylish!) and you might avoid the white nets which tend to turn a greyish brown shade and become very gloomy in next to no time. Instead opt for a cream net curtain which will not show discolouration and which will also beam a softer, warmer light into your rooms.
You should also be aware that when buying a "lovely old house" that you hope to improve over the coming years, will cost you a fortune. I repeat, a fortune! That is, relative to what you had in your own mind or were told, even by an expert, at the time you purchased it. If you are at the upper end of the market, a million Euro +, purchasing an older Period property, you will no doubt spend the best part of a year (usually longer) paying the mortgage on your new home while you pay out rent to live elsewhere in short-term accommodation while you get designs finalised and agreed to by the planning authorities (and your new neighbours). Then you will need to go through a tendering process where your architect and quantity surveyor will prepare detailed information about what is required for your renovation project - almost down to how many bricks will be required. When you finally secure the services of the builder of your choice and at an acceptable cost, you will still encounter unforeseen expenses and delays. Remember banks are now slow to give extra top up mortgages for renovations. So, these costs may have to come out of your savings or you may have to wait until you have gathered up enough money to start these works. More often than not, you will pay almost as much for the unrenovated house as you would for the completely renovated one just down the road. This is so because people want to put their own mark on their new home. They don’t want to be stuck with someone else’s taste in their home. Fair enough, but having to renovate a complete house from top to bottom can be a daunting, lengthy and expensive experience. Not for the faint hearted.
My pennyworth of advice is that you should NOT include in your building budget items such as lovely rugs, expensive flooring, designer coffee tables, leather sofas and expensive built in surround sound systems etc. You can even do without built in wardrobes (more lumps of expensive chipboard). Buy a free standing one for next to nothing or you can opt for second hand or a self-assembly one from somewhere like Ikea. Your architect will usually include all these costs in order to be more realistic about what your overall spend might amount to. However, I say, you can make do with less expensive simple things, like plain tiles in the bathroom(s) for the next few years. However, do invest in good design. I repeat, do invest in good design. Not just the current fashionable design, but the design which suits you and your lifestyle. It might be a lovely idea to have a big Aga in your country style kitchen where you dream of preparing lovely roasts, using your own home grown vegetables fresh from your garden, and baking scones for afternoon tea, but if you are working all day and struggling to sort out the laundry, school runs and voluntary work etc, you may not ever manage to get the benefit from such a hefty outlay. If you are adamant that you simply have to have the Aga, sauna or home cinema or whatever other non-essential feature you dream of for your new home, then you can leave space for these things in your designs - to be installed later. So what if you have a blank wall where the Aga was to go. Unless you are very flush with funds, you really will have more important outlays to make provision for. First of all, get the basics done and done properly. Avoid the fads. Just because your friend manages to keep cream porcelain floor tiles and black high gloss, designer kitchen cabinets looking pristine does not mean that you need to have the same in order to keep up with her or him. Chances are your friend spent 3 days cleaning before you went ‘round there for dinner last week. Maybe their hearts are broken having to repeatedly polish these surfaces. Maybe the mother spends half her days growling at the children (and her husband) all of them with sticky fingers, always marking the nice cabinets. Is that how you want to spend your life? If you have young children, you need to make your house as child-friendly and as child-proof as possible. Take this piece of advice from a selfish, bad tempered, old grump who wouldn't know where to start in raising a child: You can either choose to have beige carpets or children, but you can’t have both”. No odds that your friend manages to have both. Maybe you just don’t realise the rows going on behind the scenes in your friend’s house. Life is hard enough without burdening yourself with unnecessary extra chores.
Before you have any designs and specifications drawn up for what you’d like to have done in your new home, make a list. Make an extravagant list of all the things you’ve ever wanted in your home - regardless of cost. Go mad! Enjoy yourself! If you are one half of a couple; two separate and independent lists should be made without any reference to what the other half of the partnership wants. To hell with what your other half wants or doesn’t want. We are fantasizing. Then, make a second list - the meanest, most miserable, list of only the absolute necessities. No frills or luxuries. Cut it right back to one bathroom; children sharing bedrooms, no home study, no guest accommodation. Cheap laminate or painted concrete floors and boring white or cream paintwork everywhere. Not as much as a pair of curtains! Then put these lists away. You can come back to them from time to time over the coming weeks. Gradually you will add to the meanest list and over time you will cut back from the extravagant list. Eventually, you will arrive at the reality of what is possible, do-able and, most importantly, affordable. It might be a tricky area - not agreeing to what your other half simply has to have – when you know he or she will never use that must-have (and very expensive) gadget in the new house. Maybe just say nothing. You might have to tread carefully for a while. Try to avoid vehement disagreements. Give things time to settle and before long your other half will (hopefully) come to the realisation that what was originally essential in their mind, isn’t really needed at all. Catastrophe avoided!
If you make a mistake in your design, you will end up living with it for the next (at least) 10 years before you could even consider facing into more renovations and more heavy expenditure. Invest in good insulation and in an economic way of heating your home. Try to avoid the very latest gadgets because you may be paying a higher premium for these new items only to discover in 12 months’ time that the cost of these features may have halved. In fairness, it’s not always easy to know what new gadget to install and which to leave to a later date. Solar panels come to mind here. As each year passes these panels are becoming more and more efficient and effective and their price will fall as more come onto the market. Sorry, I know I'm a technophobe but I really cannot see the benefit of spending thousands on being able to open and close skylights from your phone! And maybe a pair of speakers with the cables laid underneath the (cheap) laminate flooring might do you for a while, rather than going mad on a surround sound system that you might never really have the time to enjoy – that is until the children have all grown up and flown the nest.
When purchasing items for your new home it is now often as well to make do with the cheaper items. There was a time when a high price was some guide to the quality and reliability of an item. It seems to me that those days are gone. Most of the electrical items have an in built obsolescence period. You are lucky if you get more than 5 years from some appliances. If it were easy to repair an item or if it lasted forever, the manufacturers would go out of business. They need you to keep returning to buy more. Likewise, I cannot help but be concerned about a company offering a 10 year guarantee on window frames or a 15 year guarantee for the new roof. Just think about it. The house you are proposing to buy has stood for maybe more than 100 years. You are told that the roof needs to be redone. Fair enough. But does it need to be redone immediately? To think that your lovely new, expensive extension will need to be re-roofed just about the time you need to fork our money for third level education for your family and the main roof over the house may still be up there - keeping the rain out. It’s good to recycle and it’s good to preserve original features, not only because they look more in keeping with the house but because they will last a damn site longer than the new shinny replacements you are foolishly considering wasting money on.
It might not be easy trying to live in your newly purchased home immediately after you have just closed the deal, especially if it’s in poor condition with dodgy floorboards, mould and awful plumbing etc. But try it – even for a weekend. You might be surprised by how bright a certain part of the house is first thing in the morning or how dark the area where you had intended to site the kitchen has turned out to be. Once you discover how noisy the neighbours are, you might rethink the location of the master bedroom. The noisy road outside your front door might actually be much quieter than you had presumed. Maybe you can do without that sound proofing glazing for a few years? Money saved. Once you actually spend a night or two in the house, you will discover lots of its little quirks and this knowledge might help you avoid expensive renovation mistakes subsequently. The idea that you have to rip everything out and start afresh is not always necessary and may not only result in very little improvement or benefit but may, in fact, destroy the character and charm of what it was that made you buy the house. The loss of that charm which you have just obliterated may result in others not wishing to purchase if and when you come to sell. I remember when I was very young I was attempting to overhaul what I had thought was a weed-filled garden. Everything had to be ripped out and the whole place tidied up. What I ended up with was an unsightly mess - devoid of all the nice flowers which I had thought were weeds! Learn from my relatively inexpensive mistake and tread carefully before you start hacking at your new home.
And while you have this determined notion of buying, for example, a red brick Period house - like all your friends have, ask yourself this very simple question: Have you or your partner ever lived in this type of house before? Have you any idea of the costs of heating such a house? Do you realise that even in the good, supposedly solidly built, Period houses you can sometimes hear your next door neighbour sneeze? The idea of having lovely polished bare boards might be quashed once you realise just how noisy and draughty these can be? Have you ever lived on a terrace of houses and had to listen to your neighbours thundering around on bare boards? The romantic idea of having two wonderful, interconnecting receptions rooms with high plaster ceilings and antique fireplaces at the hall floor level might be good in principle but if your kitchen is in the basement, you might never actually use that magnificent dining room. If you do use it, just who is going to trot up and down two flights of stairs with bowls of soup? Call for Hudson! Once these realities come to mind you may decide on a cheaper more practical home. If you are fully aware of the advantages and disadvantages of buying the Period home or an ultra-modern home in a development - then go for it. Just so long as you are sure. Maybe rent the style of house you want to eventually purchase for a year or two. Do I hear that familiar question, usually only asked by the Irish: "Wasting money on rent" while you could be saving up or paying off a mortgage? Would a year's rent really be wasted money if you save yourself from making a hugely expensive mistake that you will be stuck living in, and paying handsomely for, when a different type of property might have been a better option all along?
Before you start to spend thousands on renovation works try to establish the various costs of the ingredients and materials to be used. Have you any idea of just how cheap the ingredients of a fitted kitchen actually are? I don’t care about the (absurd) quotes you got from various suppliers. Modern kitchens are basically chipboard, self-assembly, boxes which are stuck on the wall in a straight line and then dressed up with strips of cornicing, end panels and pretty doors. Even the most expensive kitchens are usually made from some form of chipboard / MDF (medium density fibreboard). For the first few years you might make do with a row of free standing appliances inserted underneath the worktop. Integrated appliances would be great but at nearly double the cost of free standing, you might do without them for a while.
Bathrooms should not be that expensive. But they are. Breathtakingly so! Whatever way it is designed, it will have a hot and cold water supply and a 100 mm sewer pipe taking everything away. To think that you can easily spend €10,000 fitting out a bathroom to end up with not much more than a bathtub, lavatory pan and a wash hand basin along with some new "fashionable" tiles, is really crazy. Most of your costs will have been driven up by labour charges. The ingredients in your new bathroom shouldn’t really cost much more than a few thousand – if you’re sensible – and not €10,000 or even more. This might sound Dickensian but you might manage very well with an instant hot water electric shower in the bathroom and a good old fashioned electric kettle in the kitchen. The washing machine usually runs on a cold feed and the dishwasher heats its own water. So let’s say you had to make do without a gas boiler and radiators for a year or two, you might find that the electric immersion heater would do fine for the supply of hot water and with a few electric heaters you could save several thousands, avoiding the installation of expensive plumbing. Of course, it would be great to have all the luxuries on hand from day one and some bare essentials mightn’t go amiss either, but it all comes down to cost. My point is that with a bit of thought you might avoid spending thousands on these finishing touches which were budgeted for and ended up reducing your purchasing power so much so that you had to purchase outside your preferred location.
Whatever your budget and wherever you end up, try to have one “good room” where you can escape to in the evenings. Not the room filled with children’s toys or storage boxes. A separate room where children are not allowed and wherein you can relax. Open plan is all well and good if you don’t mind smelling last night’s dinner or this morning’s burnt toast for the next few days. However, it will do no harm to have an extra, separate room to escape to.
So, the simple points that I am trying to make are as follows:
- Familiarise yourself with the locality wherein your proposed next home is to be located.
- Pay for a complete and thorough survey.
- Do without unnecessary extras in the early days. Instead, invest that money in a better house or in your preferred area.
- Keep in mind the potential for improvements – always mindful of the costs involved.