Pitfalls to Avoid When Buying a Home

By : Nick Marr

Getting onto the property ladder may be a long held dream, but it’s also very expensive, not to mention stressful. Let’s face it, buying property is likely to be the biggest investment you’re ever going to make, so you need to be sure it’s the right one.

There’s a great deal that can go wrong with a property and, if you don’t spot the problem(s) in time, it can cost you dearly. Nowhere is the old saying ‘buyer beware’ more relevant than when you’re about to purchase a property.

Viewing a property is your opportunity to assess the condition of the asset you are thinking of committing to financially. Look out for the following potential pitfalls when buying a home.

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When you’re house hunting, it’s easy to be seduced by the décor and smart furnishings. Look beyond the obvious to see what can be gleaned. Switch on the lights to make sure the electrics are working properly; flush the toilets and turn the taps on to check the water pressure; ask about the age of the boiler and central heating.

Keep your eyes open for signs of damp, and check the condition of fitted cupboards and carpets. Are there any rotten floorboards or window frames?

Listen out for traffic noise from outside – how busy is the street? How sound proof are the windows? Ask the vendor or estate agent if they’ve ever had noise problems with the neighbours. If you’re viewing a flat, check if the neighbours above have carpeted or wooden floors, and what kind of noise levels you can expect from them.


Take a close look at the outside of the house too. Ask how old the roof is and check its condition as far as you can make out. Are there any big trees growing in close proximity to the property? These could potentially cause subsidence problems.

Check the whereabouts of the external drains. Are they easy to access and are they unblocked? Areas close to the house where water is pooling can cause structural problems to any home improvements you may have in mind, such as a patio or a conservatory.

Is the property located in a flood zone? Building insurance for homes in flood zones is very expensive, if you can get cover at all. Remember, no insurance, no mortgage.

When you’ve done a thorough viewing of the property and made a note of some of the problems, talk to an experienced local surveyor to see whether a survey might be a good idea. Residential surveys will not only provide you with all the necessary information to make an informed purchase decision, the report could be a handy bargaining tool to help get the vendor to reduce the price.

What will your mortgage lender make of the property?

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If you’re going to apply for a mortgage, here are some things mortgage lenders generally don’t like:

  • Unusual buildings – houses that are not constructed from standard bricks and mortar. Getting a mortgage for concrete or timber frame houses, or very old buildings, can be tricky.
  • Upper parts – flats or maisonettes located over restaurants, shops, or offices. These are extremely difficult to value and not a mortgage lender’s favourite.
  • High-rise flats – ex-council flats in tower blocks, where many of the other flats are still in the hands of the local authorities.
  • Short leaseholds – flats are commonly sold on a leasehold basis, which means you don’t own the property forever. Leaseholds of 70 years or less can be a problem for mortgage lenders, and you may have to extend the lease before you buy.
  • New builds – Mortgage lenders tend to value new build properties at lower than the asking price, which means you’ll have to pay a larger deposit.
  • Brownfield sites – A house built on former industrial land could be contaminated, so you may have to obtain a certificate from your solicitor to prove that the property has been decontaminated.
  • The edge of the sea – Lenders will tell you to stay away from houses sitting on the edge of a cliff, as coastal erosion could lead to it disappearing over the edge!
  • Character homes – You may need a mortgage from a specialist lender in the case of buildings like converted windmills, lighthouses, schools, pubs and churches.
  • Grade I listed properties and thatched homes – The cost of repairs and rebuilding, plus the risk of fire, make these buildings a lot less attractive to lenders.