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How to decide what you want in a home - and know what you really need

No home is perfect. So what’s the best way to tell the difference between wants and needs? We talked to the experts.

Image: Shutterstock/Jon Chica

BUYING A HOME for the first time can feel like a monumental project. You’ve never done it before, so you can’t possibly be an expert yet, but meanwhile, you want to ensure you get the best value possible and end up with a home you love in a location you enjoy.

It’s a tall task, for sure, with a big price tag attached. In order to demystify the home buying process for first timers out there, we checked in with expert estate and property buying agents who gave us the download on how to decide what you want — and how to know what you really need in a home.

Their insights may be valuable when you’re beginning to search for your first home – and could save you time or money (or both!) along the way.

The property market in Ireland has been on quite the rollercoaster for the last decade. And while prices are indeed high due to low supply of homes, Ronan Lyons, assistant professor of economics at Trinity and author of the Daft.ie property reports, predicts that they aren’t likely to increase so rapidly in the foreseeable future.

He explains, “We’re about to enter a period for the next 18 months or so [from summer 2019], as far ahead as we can look, and it looks like there will be lots of new family homes on stream. Prices might not lower, but there will be enough quantity that prices shouldn’t go up that much in the next 18 months.” A somewhat reassuring thought for buyers who are just about to start their house hunt.

Source: Shutterstock/Pavel L Photo and Video

One of the reasons for this, Lyons said, is the completion of new luxury apartments in city centre locations that might draw existing homeowners to sell their larger family homes in hopes of downsizing. Family homes are what first time home buyers are often seeking, and while there won’t likely be a dip in prices due to an influx of them to the market, at the very least there should be more choice for buyers in the year ahead.

Understand your budget (like, really understand it)

Deciding what you want in a home involves a host of variables, and the first and most important is dialling in on your budget.

Property buying agent Breffnie O’Kelly suggests that your first step should be ascertaining the absolute maximum of your budget – between your savings, your bank mortgage approval, and any other resources you might have available to you, like a parent or grandparent gift.

O’Kelly insists you can’t assume anything about the market you are buying in. “[Whatever] market you are in for the six months you have bank approval to buy a home, that market has never been like this and it will never be the same again,” she says. So she recommends spending your time understanding what your money will get you in that market. 

If your maximum budget is €300,000, she recommends calling estate agents selling properties with asking prices in the upper end of that budget. “Call them at the upper end of your range, to find out if this actually your range,” she says, “If 295 is always 330 [by the time the bidding is over], you need to go lower” in your search. This will ultimately save you time going to viewings.

Source: Shutterstock/Tyler W. Stipp

Choose the right area, instead of the right home

Choosing an area to zero in on with your property search is another key element in beginning your search, says Ronan Crinion, founder and managing director of MoveHome.

“The first thing you should do is pick an area in the city that you like. It’s an area you should feel comfortable in and it should be easy to commute to your place of work, and it should have as many local amenities as possible. And then you should buy the worst house in the best possible area.”

While buying the worst house in the best neighbourhood can seem counterintuitive, it is a widely accepted view. With a few modifications, you can greatly increase your home’s value and remain closer to the amenities you want.

Make a checklist – then check your list against reality

Then it’s time to start narrowing down what you want and need in a house. Estate agent Michael Roberts of Michael Roberts Estate Agents in Limerick suggests making a shortlist of ten of your most-wanted items before viewing houses.

“If you get 6-7 of those, you’re doing well. View six or eight properties and you’ll soon get an idea of what you like and don’t like,” he says.

But he also warns that viewing too many properties can cause you to lose perspective in your search, “Sometimes viewing more than ten properties can lead to confusion and you’ll end up waiting for the ‘perfect house’ that never arrives, while all the time prices are going up!”

Source: Shutterstock/Catherine Jones

Don’t get hung up on things that seem desirable – but have little real-life impact

Danny Butler, managing director of Smith & Butler Estates, says he often sees buyers get hung up on needing a south-facing garden. However, they often fail to realise that a north-facing garden can work for their lifestyle as well.

“If a garden has width and is north-facing, it can get sunshine in the morning and evening. Chances are, you’ll be working during the day and for the two weekends of the year we get sunshine in this country, having sunshine in the afternoon shouldn’t be a deciding factor when looking at a property.”

Look past the cosmetics

Similarly, several estate agents report working with buyers who can’t see past the cosmetic work many more affordable properties would need. Crinion told us, “Houses that need a lot of work are quite off-putting for first time buyers because they don’t have the experience of a refurbishment. But they are the best value out there on the market, the ones that need a little bit of TLC.”

If TLC doesn’t scare you off, make sure you get a building surveyor and architect to have a look before you buy the house, so you won’t be faced with unexpected costs or limitations when it comes time to renovate.

While first time buyers might be searching for a move-in ready property, Roberts says they should almost always be financially prepared for some level of work. “It’s rare to find a [second-hand] property that does not require some remedial works and nine times out of ten the figure you budgeted to carry out the minor works increases by 10-20% when the tradesmen call back for a second look!”

So when you’re looking at the maximum side of your budget, make sure to leave a little cushion in case you need to fix an unexpected problem.

And remember: ‘Unless it’s a no, it’s a yes’

When it comes down to deciding to make an offer on a house, O’Kelly maintains that you should do your homework before even attending a viewing. “You should know you can afford it, it’s in an area you like, the connectivity is good, the neighbors haven’t annoyed you or put you off. You do a drive-by so you know what the house actually looks like, the expression on its face, how much of a walk it is to coffee, to the train station. Unless it’s a no, it’s a yes. Everything else should be a yes before you walk in the door.”

And finally, to take a little of the emotion out of the ultimate choice in buying your first home, O’Kelly recommends pretending you’ve bought the house and are selling it today.

“Assume you’re selling it today,” she suggests. “Who’s’ going to be buying it from you? what’s going to put them off?”

This can help you discern the practical problems the house might have that you would otherwise overlook if you’re already smitten with the property and viewing it through rose-coloured glasses.

About the author:

Emily Westbrooks

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