The Ultimate First Time Buyer’s Guide

Posted on 9/9/2019

Our Local Heroes Breakdown: Everything You Need to Know

You’ll never forget buying your first home – it is literally life-changing. But if you’re daunted by having to make such a big decision, Local Heroes is here to help.

We’ve put together a list of 77 handy hints and tips to show you what to look for in your first home. There’s information on everything from plumbing to plastering, drains to electrics.

Contents

There's even some bonus tips about parking and mobile phone coverage that you may not have thought of, a checklist to help you choose the perfect first home. Happy house hunting.

Properly functioning plumbing is one of the most important aspects in any home, few things will bring a household to a grinding halt as quickly as a broken shower or washing machine.

Before you buy

It’s unlikely you’ll be permitted to do much more than run the taps and ask questions before you get the keys but still, keeping an eye out can make a big difference.

  1. Take a look at the water tanks

    Unless they have a combi boiler, there’ll be a hot water cylinder in a cupboard somewhere, and possibly a cold-water tank in the loft.

  2. Check the roof while you’re checking the water tank

    While you’re up in the loft take the chance to check the state of the roof and the amount of insulation. Houses are like people, they lose most of their heat from the top.

  3. Check the taps and radiators for signs of leaks

    Stains or a build-up of limescale under a tap could indicate a drip. Green marks on copper radiator pipes could be caused by a leaky valve.

  4. Stains or a build-up of limescale under a tap could indicate a drip

  5. Does the house have lead pipes?

    If it was built before the 1970s, the house you’re buying could have lead pipes. Check under the sink, they’re larger than copper pipes and dark in colour. You’ll probably want to replace any lead pipes with plastic or copper, especially the ones that supply drinking water.

  6. Check if the taps are in good condition

    If you’re planning to replace the bathroom or kitchen, cleaning up the taps and re-using them could save you a few hundred pounds. Remember, if you’re carrying out major renovations you might need the approval of the local water company.

  7. WRAS Approved logoLook for the WRAS Approved logo on any new water fittings
  8. Look for the WRAS Approved logo

    On any new water fittings like showers or boilers. You should ask if the work came with a guarantee.

  9. Look out for damp spots

    There could be a leaking pipe behind the wall.

  10. Flush the toilet

    Listen out for knocking noises from the pipes. There should be a good powerful flush, even with a tap running.

    Continuous filling is a common issue with toilets, wait an extra minute to make sure the refilling finishes properly.

  11. Look for stains or warped flooring around the base of the toilet

    It could be a sign of a leak which should always be addressed as soon as possible to avoid further damage.

  12. Is there enough ventilation in the kitchen and bathroom?

    You don’t want it to turn into a steam room when you take a shower. Look for an extractor fan, especially if there are no windows, and test it to make sure it works properly.

  13. The shower furthest away from the hot water tank or boiler is most likely to struggle for pressure

  14. Turn on some taps and check the water pressure.

    Not just one, try a few (and the shower if possible) to see if the pressure drops and check upstairs as well as downstairs. The shower furthest away from the hot water tank or boiler is most likely to be under-powered.

After you buy

  1. Find the stop cock

    The stopcock is the tap that lets you to turn off all the water in the house. If you buy the place you’re going to need to know where it is (it’s often under the stairs). You don’t want to have to hunt around for it in an emergency.

  2. Watch out for mould

    If you see mould anywhere in the house it could be a sign of damp.

  3. Check if the pipes are insulated

    Especially in outbuildings and the loft. It may not be freezing cold right now, but frozen pipes can be much more than an inconvenience.

  4. Is the cold water tank in the loft properly insulated?

    Make sure the cold water tank also has a cover to prevent things from dropping into it. This is to protect your water from getting contaminated by things that may drop into it, like insects.

  5. Look for water marks under pipes, sinks and radiators

    If any marks look new, feel the pipes or radiators to see if there’s water leaking out.

  6. Check the pipes for rust and leaking joints

    Obviously, we’re not suggesting you take the panel off the side of the bath, just the ones you can see. They could be a good indicator for the state of the rest of the plumbing.

Book a plumber

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Feet warming on a radiator

If you’re looking to buy a new home in the summer, it can be easy to overlook the importance of a properly functioning central heating system.

Before you buy

When you’re viewing potential properties, there are a number of things to check or ask which can help you determine whether the heating systems are function correctly.

  1. Find out how old the boiler is

    It’s worth asking for the installation certificate, operation manual and warranty (if it hasn’t expired).

  2. Get the latest Gas Safety Record

    All gas appliances should have an annual service. If the boiler hasn’t been serviced in the last year and you plan to table an offer, ask the owner to arrange this before finalising the purchase or agree to pay a lower price for the property.

  3. If the boiler hasn't been serviced in the last year, factor this into any offer

  4. Check the boiler type and size

    To avoid hot water issues in winter, you need a boiler that’s right for your family.

    Conventional boilers are normally ideal for larger families. Combi and system boilers are typically more compact and perfect for smaller households.

  5. Test all gas appliances

    Just turn on the oven, cooker, hob and boiler and check if they are stable and if the gas is burning correctly.

  6. Do a room inspection

    Try to spend enough time in each room to see if there are any cold spots, especially rooms with two outside walls. It’s also worth asking about the insulation in loft rooms. If you need to insulate the roof or put in another radiator, make sure to budget for these.

After you buy

Once you’ve finalised your purchase and are making arrangements to move in, continue your checks to make sure everything is up to standard for your new home.

  1. Ask for the latest Energy Performance Certificate (EPC

    The law now requires an EPC when a property is sold, rented or newly built. In this report, you’ll find any recommendations and potential issues.

  2. Turn on the heating

    Even if it’s a hot summer’s day, switch on the heating and make sure all the radiators are warm to the touch. If they’re hot at the bottom but not at the top, they probably just need bleeding – and that’s an easy job.

  3. Turn the heating on high - even in summer - to make sure it's working properly

  4. Run the hot water

    Turn on the hot taps in the kitchen and bathroom to make sure they’re working as they should. If not, it could be something as simple as the boiler pressure. Once you’ve adjusted it, if the hot water still runs cold you may have to call in an expert.

Book a heating engineer

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A safely functioning electrical supply goes without say as one of the most important parts of any home, new or old. Ensuring your new home has properly maintained wiring and electricity shouldn’t just be the responsibility of a surveyor.

Before you buy

Most electrical checks should be done before you buy and carrying out the most basic of checks yourself can save you money on a survey and other fees if you know what obvious issues to look out for.

    Lots of lampsCheck all the lights throughout the property are working
  1. Check all the lights work

    If there’s any damage on the switches or fittings, be careful. If you can see any signs of repair, ask if it was carried out by a qualified electrician – and if there’s a guarantee.

  2. Check the plug and sockets aren’t damaged

    Any blackening or scorch marks could be signs of over-heating. Check any cables and leads too, for melting on the plastic coating and signs of fraying. Don’t forget the light fitting hanging down from the ceiling.

  3. Check which electrical work is still under guarantee

    And check how long the guarantees still have to run.

  4. Be aware of Building Regulations

    All electrical installation work in a home, garden, conservatory or outbuilding must meet Building Regulations. Apart from some types of minor work, all electrical work must either be reported to the local authority building-control or be carried out by an electrician who is registered with one of the Government-approved scheme providers.

  5. Make sure any electrical work was carried out by a qualified electrician

    Anything major work should have the right electrical safety certificates. For example, any new circuits installed require a Building Regulations Compliance Certificate (also known as Part P Certificate) and adding to or altering an existing circuit requires a Minor Works Electrical Certificate.

After you buy

Once the property is yours, you become responsible for a safe electrical supply to your home, getting everything set up as soon as possible can ensure you won’t need to worry about it for a few years.

  1. Are the visible cables and leads in good condition?

    Exposed cables and leads can be fire hazards. You’ll need to replace damaged ones when you move into a new house.

  2. Make sure any work carried out, before or after buying, is always done by a qualified electrician

  3. Get an Electrical Installation Condition Report

    The seller doesn’t have to provide one but an EICR is recommended when a house changes hands. Your survey won’t include the electrics and you want to ensure your new home is safe.

  4. Check the Residual Current Device trips when you press the test button

    Many houses have RCDs fitted in the fuse box these days, to switch off the electricity automatically if it detects a fault. They protect all the appliances on the circuit and can stop electric shocks and electrical fires.

Book an electrician

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Keys in a door

Getting the keys to a property is a big moment, when a house becomes your new home. And while the significance of the moment should be appreciated, there are other aspects of the keys and locks to the property that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Before you buy

  1. Are the locks secure?

    If you’re concerned about security, think about upgrading to smart locks for some extra peace of mind.

  2. Who else has a key?

    While it’s unlikely someone undesirable kept or found a spare key to your new home, you can’t be sure where all the possible keys to your locks are. If you have any doubts at all, consider changing the locks.

After you buy

  1. Do you have all the keys?

    You may have all the keys your new front door, but do you have the keys for all the windows, the back door and the patio doors? Get the locks changed when you move in and you’ll have a full set of keys – and you can just give copies to people you trust.

  2. Make sure you have enough spare keys for everyone in the house, as well as extra copies to give to friends and family

  3. Do you have enough spare keys?

    Whether you change the locks or not, make sure you have enough keys for everyone in the house. Get a few spares to give to friends and neighbours in case you lock yourself out.

  4. Do all the locks work correctly?

    Older locks or worn-down keys may not work correctly and could be dangerous in an emergency. Use each key in each lock to make sure they turn easily and don’t stick, WD40 can help to loosen an old or stiff lock. More serious issues than simple stiffness may need a professional locksmith.

  5. Have you talked to your insurance company?

    Some insurance providers will make you replace the locks as a condition of your policy. The new locks will probably have to conform to British Standards Institution guidelines. You can find a copy of them here.

Book a locksmith

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The condition of the painting, decorating and even the plastering in any new home should always be checked and while it doesn’t have to be perfect, knowing whether you’ll need to re-plaster entire rooms or simply touch up paintwork can make a big difference, especially when budgets are already stretched tight.

Before you buy

While any prospective seller or estate agent is unlikely to let you inspect the plaster under wallpaper, there’s plenty of things to keep an eye out for on the surface.

    Painting & Decorating equipmentKnowing when a wall needs to be just repainted vs re-plastered can save a lot money
  1. Check the walls and ceiling carefully – in every room

    Look for any large cracks or obviously uneven surfaces, plaster should be smooth and even. Re-plastering a room or multiple rooms is unlikely to be the most expensive job in your new home, but the time it can take for plaster to properly dry, especially in winter, could affect your move.

  2. Does the plaster look new or different at the bottom of the wall?

    If the plaster looks like it’s been replaced up to about 1 metre above the skirting board, that can be a good sign. It probably means that any rising damp has been treated. Ask what work has been done, and make sure you see the guarantee for the work.

  3. Watch out for woodchip

    Woodchip or heavily-textured wallpaper can hide things like rough, cracked or badly plastered walls. You can take it off when you move in, but you’ll probably take half the plaster off with it.

  4. Feel for damp patches you can’t see

    Woodchip or any heavily textured paper can be used to hide damp. Place your palm against the wall to see if it feels cold or clammy.

  5. Don’t underestimate the cost of fixing a damp problem

    It’s not just the price of fixing what’s causing it, like a broken tile or a blocked guttering. You could also end up with a big bill for redecorating and re-plastering.

  6. What’s that new plaster hiding?

    It’s great to buy a place that’s just been freshly decorated. But new paint and plaster can be used to hide damp and cover up cracks. So, make sure your surveyor looks out for both.

  7. Check for signs of recent electrical or plumbing work

    Rough or uneven plastering around plugs, switches and pipework will tell you something’s been ‘made good’ after the job. Ask what was done, and if the work came with a guarantee.

After you buy

Once you have finalised your purchase, you should continue to check and recheck the condition of your plaster thoroughly.

  1. Check for blown plaster behind the wallpaper

    Tap the wall and see if you hear bits of plaster breaking off and falling down behind the paper. It’s easy to get blown plaster off the wall, but it’s a messy, dusty job and you’ll need a skilled plasterer to re-skim the walls.

  2. Tap on the walls firmly – all you should hear is the sound of your knuckles

    If it sounds hollow the plaster could be blown, which means it’s not sticking to the solid wall behind it any more. If it’s only in a small spot don’t worry. If the rest of the plaster is well bonded it should hold small blown patches in place.

  3. Look for the tell-tale signs of rising damp

    Damp doesn’t always come from above. Check the walls lower down (especially behind radiators) for signs of rising damp. Things to look out for are flaky plaster, blistering paint and mould.

  4. Look out for peeling wallpaper

    It could be a sign of damp in the wall underneath. Or maybe the sellers have used unskilled tradespeople to work on their house.

  5. If you're planning on plastering, remember you won't be able to decorate for a couple of weeks while the plaster dries

  6. Remember, new plaster takes time to dry out

    If you’re buying a brand new house or you do need to re-plaster some walls before you can move in, remember you won’t be able to decorate right away. Leave the plaster for a week or two before you paint – you don’t want it to come out patchy.

  7. Ignore small marks and scrapes on the wall

    You’ll probably make a few more when you move all your furniture in. It won’t take long to repaint a couple of walls and door frames – and you can take the opportunity to choose your own colours.

Book a tradesperson

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Man assembling a flat pack cupboard

Moving is a stressful, busy time and almost impossible to do without some help, either from friends or family or a professional moving company. Whether this is to help with the heavy lifting, the driving, or simply because no one can do everything themselves, it’s great to have someone ready with a helping hand.

Before you buy

Keep an eye out for smaller details or issues you’d like to address quickly. Smaller issues are a lot easier to fix when the property is empty or before you fill it with boxes and furniture.

  1. Check the doors and windows for draughts

    If you’re looking during warmer months, draughts can be easy to overlook. But they can be a serious issue when the weather gets cold. Draught excluders can help but you’ll probably have to turn the central heating up too – which means your bills will go up.

  2. Check doors for sticking or jamming

    It could mean the hinges are out of alignment, or humidity has made the door swell. A few sprays of WD40 can often solve the problem. If not, you may need to try replacing the hinges or shaving a little bit of wood off the bottom of the door.

  3. Will you be able to hang your blinds or curtains?

    Changing fittings can be both costly and time-consuming. So, check if the windows already have the right fixings for the curtains you’ve got your eye on.

After you buy

It’s easy to focus on large important matters when you’re moving but keeping an eye on the smaller details, particularly those you can hand off to a helping friend, can be great for your prioritisation.

  1. Wall damage

    Watch out for damage to the walls, things like scuffs, nail holes and wall plugs. They’re easy to cover up, but don’t forget them when you’re working out how much you’ll have to spend fixing up the place.

  2. Where will you put your TV?

    Check there’s room for your TV and stand in the lounge. Or if you plan to hang TVs on the walls, make sure they’re solid enough to take the weight.

  3. Look out for gaps or mould in the sealant around bathroom or kitchen tiles and fixtures

  4. Check the grouting around bathroom fixtures

    Look out for any gaps or mould in the sealant around the tiles, shower tray, bath and basin. You may be able to clean some of the mould away, but in bad cases the sealant may need replacing. If there are any gaps in the sealant you will need to replace it.

  5. Look out for carpet dents

    Heavy furniture that’s been left in the same spot for years can create dents in the carpets – and you only spot them when the furniture is moved. Try putting an ice cube on the dent overnight and then using a fork to restore the fibres. After that, vacuum the carpet dry.

Book a handyperson

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While plumbing brings water into the home, drainage takes it out. Slow running, smelly or blocked drains are impossible to ignore issues.

Before you buy

A couple of very simple checks you can make even during a short viewing can give you a great idea of whether there may be an issue with the drains.

  1. Test all the sinks

    Fill each of the sinks and see how long they take to drain. This can be a good indicator of the state of the pipework underneath and reveal any leaks.

  2. Use the toilets to check their drainage

    Slow draining toilets usually indicate a blockage or obstruction in the pipes. Properly working toilets should flush strongly, drain quickly and refill correctly.

  3. Check the bathtub

    One of the most common places to find a leak is around the bath drain. The easiest way to test for this is to plug the drain, fill the bath, and then leave it for an hour or so (don’t worry, you don’t have to stand and watch it, especially during a viewing). If the water level drops over that time you know there’s a leak.

  4. Just ask

    One of the best ways to find out about a place is to talk to people. Try asking the neighbours whether they’re happy with the water pressure and drainage – it can tell you a lot about the house you’re looking at buying.

After you buy

After you have bought the home and have the chance to inspect sections of your pipes and drains closer, you can do more to both check their condition and ensure they continue to drain quickly and thoroughly for years.

  1. Strainers

    If your sinks don’t have them already, add strainers to all the drains. These stop things like food and hair washing down the sink so that you don’t have to spend time unblocking the pipes later.

  2. Empty the sink traps

    Unscrew the sink traps, the U-shaped bend in pipes under a sink, and check them for any blockages or unusual smells.

  3. Test the shower tray drainage

    Test for leaks in the shower by running it for a few minutes and looking to see if any of the water appears outside the shower or on the ceiling of the room below.

  4. Check more serious issues with a CCTV inspection

    If you suspect there may be something more serious with your drains or pipes, get a specialist with high-end CCTV equipment to look inside your pipes and pinpoint any problems.

Book a drainage engineer

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Integrated oven switched on

While you will most likely be bringing your own white goods appliances like a washing machine and fridge, other appliances could form part of the purchase, particularly the oven and hood, as well as any integrated appliances like a microwave. Making sure these are all functioning correctly can save a headache or two in your new home.

Before you buy

  1. Any cables that are staying shouldn’t be fraying

    Don’t worry about electrical appliances that the sellers are taking with them. But check any other cables for signs of fraying or splitting, particularly if they have pets. Puppies love to chew.

  2. Are the appliances in good working order?

    Make sure the cooker, boiler and any other appliances aren’t subject to a manufacturer’s recall. You can check at electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk

  3. Check the covers and casings

    Check on all the appliances – especially the boiler. A damaged casing could lead to a leak or an electric shock.

After you buy

  1. Test the smoke alarm

    It should sound if you press the Test button. If it doesn’t, make either replacing the battery or installing a new smoke alarm an urgent priority.

  2. While everyone should always have a functioning smoke alarm, a carbon monoxide alarm can be just as important

  3. Test the carbon monoxide alarm – if there is one

    And if there isn’t, get one. You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide, the only way to detect it is with an alarm.

Book an appliance engineer

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As well as all the functional tips and tricks we’ve outlined here, there are a number of other things you can do to help you out both with the looking for and the buying of a new home.

Before you buy

  1. Check the mobile phone signal

    There’s not much you can do to improve a weak phone signal, so do you really want to live in a house with bad coverage.

  2. Where will you park?

    If there are double yellow lines outside the property find out where the sellers park their car. When you go to look round, see how easy it is to park nearby – and imagine doing that same walk with heavy shopping or suitcases.

  3. Take a walk around the area

    If you’re moving somewhere new, check out the bars and restaurants, the shops and how close you are to transport links. Websites and estate agents’ listings will likely contain this info but you can’t beat walking around the area for yourself.

  4. Talk to the neighbours

    If you’re likely to move forward with a purchase, introduce yourselves to your neighbours and make sure you get off on the right foot.

After you buy

  1. Relax!

    You deserve it