When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Finding a home to buy

You can start your research by checking out property websites online.  This will give you an idea of the properties within your budget that are available in your area. Visit estate agents in the area that you want to live in, but remember that agents are working on the seller’s behalf and are trying to get the highest possible price for the property.

Some people may choose to sell their home privately, without using an agent.  These types of sales will usually be listed in a local newspaper or an ads magazine or website.

Viewing a property

Most buyers have a clear idea of the type of property they are looking for, but it can be difficult to find your ideal home. Comparing properties is easier if you put together a checklist of your priorities.

Deciding what is essential will help you to avoid wasting time viewing unsuitable properties. The checklist should include details of what you want from the property itself, and the local area.

The kind of property that is right for you will depend on your personal circumstances. If you have young children you may want a property that has a garden or is on the ground floor. You also need to think about:

  • how many bedrooms you need,
  • how much time and money you can afford to spend on repairs and decorating,
  • how much your heating bills are likely to be,
  • whether you can afford all the upfront costs of buying the property, including survey fees, solicitor costs and stamp duty
  • whether you can afford the ongoing costs, such as ground rent and service charges if the property is leasehold,
  • how much you will have to pay for rates.

Try to get as much information as possible about each property to decide if it is worth viewing. Check the address on Google streetview. You can ask if any offers have already been made on the property, but the estate agent doesn't have to tell you.

During the viewing

It’s easy to fall for a well decorated or stylish property.  Try to think practically about your household’s needs and work out if the property meets these. Work out how much you are likely to have to spend on repairs and improvements, as this may affect what you can afford to offer.

See how each property measures up against your checklist. Don't be afraid to ask questions or to take notes on anything important, such as:

  • leaks in the plumbing or guttering,
  • problems with the roof or structure,
  • stains or cracks on the walls or ceilings,
  • mould or condensation,
  • uneven floors.

These sorts of issues can be a sign of serious problems in the property. If you can, walk around outside and look at the property from the garden. Look for any major alterations made which could affect the structure of the property.

Visit a property at different times before making an offer. Ask what the neighbours are like and, if possible, try to meet them. Work out if there is enough parking at the property.  Find out what public transport is like to and from the property and ask about local services, such as schools, doctors and shops. This will give you a better idea of what the property and the area are really like.

Energy Performance Certificates

All house sellers must provide an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) free to any prospective buyer before entering into a contract for sale. The EPC, which is valid for 10 years, is issued by an energy assessor who must be a member of an accredited scheme approved by the Department of Finance and Personnel (DPF). The agent or seller has to show you a copy of the Energy Performance Certificate when you view a property.  This should give you an idea of how energy efficient the house is and how much your heating and energy costs will be.

A certificate is required by law and the penalty for not providing one can be as much as £5000.  The Department of Finance and Personnel website contains more information on arranging a home energy assessment and getting an Energy Performance Certificate.

Buying a new build

Buying a new home has its advantages. They will often have a “turn key” finish which means the property will usually have new flooring and new white goods installed as part of the purchase price.

Most new build properties come with a 10 year building guarantee.  This won’t cover small repairs but will usually cover any serious problems.  On top of this, many builders offer a more extensive 12 month guarantee.  Ask the building company for the specifics of the guarantee.

Buying an older property

Older properties are often closer to schools and shops than new builds.  If you’re looking at an older property it’s important to get a surveyor to carry out a homebuyer’s report or a full survey to check for any structural problems.

Next steps

If you like the property and you think you’d like to live there you can make an offer and start the process of purchasing a home.