How to tell a real estate gem from a money-pit

We’ve spoken to experts at the heart of the house-buying process, to give you the vital information you’ll need to take a confident step on the property ladder. Here we’re tackling the world of home viewings, with insight from surveyor Adrianna Hegarty SCSI, owner of Hegarty Properties.

Finding the right home can be a challenge for anyone – especially in today’s high-pressure property market. It can be really easy to miss problems that may end up breaking your heart (and your bank account) – particularly without the help of a trusted surveyor.

Wondering what exactly a surveyor is? According to Grad Ireland, a building surveyor: "provides professional advice on all aspects of the construction of new buildings and the maintenance, repair, alteration and renovation of existing ones."

Whether you’re after a slick, city-central two-bed apartment, a sprawling home in the countryside or just simply the perfect brand new starter home, here’s what to keep your eyes peeled for during those seemingly endless viewings.

1. Have a closer look at that Velux window

The light-filled study in the attic may seem like a brilliant feature of a home, but you’re going to need to check it out first. Adrianna insists that any extension should be checked: "Back in the Celtic Tiger there was a huge amount of attic conversions. Some of them were quick jobs and don’t pass regulations. For example, they may have narrow stairs or fire access from a Velux window." Adrianna recommends schooling yourself on current home health and safety rules, or you could end up saddled with a higher home insurance premium later on. "There are a lot of new regulations around health and safety which you’ll need to check in a potential new home. That includes simple things like whether a fire exit is low enough to the ground to be accessed by emergency services."

2. Figure out the possibility of further expansion

Adrianna’s most pertinent advice? If you’re open to the idea of putting extra work into a house over the coming months and years, you could save yourself a lot of cash: "It’s better to buy the worst house on the best road rather than best house on the worst road. You could buy a house that is already immaculately done but a house you can put your own work into might be better value."

During a viewing, keep your eyes open for extra space that a house might have, and don’t forget about orientation: "You don’t want to be stuck in a house where you’ve no light in the evening. If there’s an attic space check if there’s enough headroom for an attic conversion."

Lastly, Adrianna advises exercising caution with previous extensions. "There are only so many that can be done and you might not be able to do anything further," she says.

3. Look for the latest mod-cons

"Developers have a better standard of build these days," says Adrianna, adding that it’s become something of a competition to provide the best, most modern features in a new home. As a buyer, this can work in your advantage, as you can approach each viewing with a must-have list of features in mind. "We’re seeing things like solar panels, natural light and a focus on the orientation of the sun that is built into their design," says Adrianna. "Open plan living spaces is a big trend, along with a Stira up to the attic already fitted and sun rooms designed to catch evening sun."

4. Take a peek at the neighbours’ houses

Unsure about the house? Actually, a stroll down the road could tell a lot, says Adrianna: "Look at the neighbouring properties. Check their orientation to the sun and the work they have had done. You can also tell by them how well the estate tends to be looked after." This can be particularly beneficial in relation to assessing value for money in the area. "If it’s on developed land, what are the house values and are they going up or down? Make sure to check the price register and zoning laws in the area," she adds.

5. Research the area’s construction plans

No matter where you’re buying, a little research around planning for the area is an absolute must. As Adrianna suggests: "Always do a planning search. You could be buying a house and there’d be a field behind it but there might be a development about to be built behind you in the future." When researching the area, don’t forget to think about things like whether there may be a "rush hour shortcut," along with the normal consideration of local schools and other amenities, says Adrianna.

6. Bring a builder along to viewings

What’s her most important tip for viewings? Actually, it’s to bring a builder with you. "A big mistake to make is when people end up being emotional about a house – it’s better to bring an impartial builder or somebody you know to a viewing," says Adrianna. "Don’t get too emotionally involved and get into a huge bidding war – it happens quite frequently."

7. Get friendly with your estate agent

Adrianna insists that getting to know your local one can benefit you in the long run: "If an estate agent has a seller that doesn’t want to go to the public market, it’s easier for them if they have a relationship established with a buyer, because they can make direct contact to see if they are interested in that property." Estate agents are bound to know the most about a property and may have valuable advice if you ask them, especially if they have seen an engineer’s report.

8. Ask around to find the right experts

One of the most common mistakes Adrianna sees people making is not hiring the right experts when evaluating a home’s structural integrity: "You have to get a qualified engineer, and it must be an engineer that is up to date with all the new regulations – things like what planners would or wouldn’t allow." One last nugget of advice? Have a budget and stick to it no matter what, says Adrianna: "Don’t get emotional. Decide to drop out instead of getting into a bidding fight. Have a clear cut idea of what you’re going to spend and leave it at that."

This article was first published on TheJournal.ie as part of the Home Truths series in partnership with Bank of Ireland. Publication of this article is not seen as an endorsement of the content by Bank of Ireland.


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