Thursday, October 18, 2012

House Hunt -Some Methods

Wow.  I keep hearing that it's a buyer's market in the real estate world, but that has not been our experience so far.

Sometimes I get really tired of looking for a place, and then we'll find something we love that we'll get excited about and I'm all charged up again.  Luckily, Niall is very consistent and is constantly looking at properties.  It's kind of fantastic being married to a researcher because he's so good a digging up different options.

I keep a running spreadsheet of the properties we've viewed.

Niall has an even more indepth method (I think he has hourly alerts and some extra apps that help), but here are a few tactics I've been using:
  • Check rightmove everyday.  I also have alerts set-up with them so they'll notify me by email on a daily basis if properties come up with my search parameters.  Outcome:  Fairly successful, this is the main site we use for viewings.
    Love the exposed brick in this bathroom:

  • Check GSPC's website a few times a week.  Outcome:  Positive.  We've found, viewed, and even offered on properties that righmove doesn't have.

  • Check The Church of Scotland property website about once a week (that's how often they seem to update.)  Outcome:  Pleasant to look at, but nothing so far.  We dreamed of getting this manse in Bankfoot.
  • Check Gumtree, findaproperty, zoopla, s1homes and other random property website a few times a week.  Outcome:  No luck so far, but there are some properties here we would have missed otherwise.
  • Walk or drive through the neighborhoods we like now and then, checking for any new for sale signs.  Outcome:  Positive.  We've found a few properties ahead of them coming up online and have been the first in to view.  We loved this house for the kitchen, but the layout didn't work for us.

  • Networking.  Basically if you've talked to me lately you know we're looking for a house.  So many people have been good about letting us know about places near them that are up for sale or may be coming on the market.   Outcome:  Positive, we've found out about a few properties this way.  It also makes me feel loved!
  • Explore new areas.  We have certain areas that we know we like, but just haven't found anything yet.  We'll talk about an area, or I'll hear about an area from friends, and then drive out there with the girls to get a feel for it.  Outcome:  Positive.  We've viewed some houses further afield and explored some areas and confirmed they're not the right place for us right now.
  • Agents.  Unlike the U.S., as buyers we don't have agents (typically) in the UK.  Sellers usually pay a 1-4% commission when their house sells.  We give out our details to the agents and let them know specifically what we're looking for.  When we talk to them about feedback on recently viewed properties, we let them know what we liked and what we didn't and ask what they have coming up that may be of interest.  The agents are out peddling on behalf of the seller, but it hasn't hurt to get on all the mailing lists and continually check back with them.  Outcome:  Okay.  We've gotten phone calls about potential properties coming on the market as well as properties that are just coming on.    
  • Direct flyers.  There is a neighborhood that I like and Niall is okay with.  I've been hoping and praying that a house that works for us will come up in the neighborhood, but nothing so far.  One day I took the girls out and spent three hours walking around pushing flyers through doors saying we're interested in buying.  


Our family is looking to buy a home in this area. I am doing this leaflet drop to try and find the right property, which has eluded us so far!

We are private buyers looking for a 3-bedroom home (or smaller but with scope for expansion) in the xxx area. We recently moved up from Wales and are renting a flat nearby and are in a position to move at your convenience. We have a solicitor and finances in place so can move as quickly or as slowly as need be.  We are happy to do work, but are also fine with a home that is closer to move-in condition.

If you may be interested in selling your house directly to a buyer and are happy to avoid estate agent fees, then I would be grateful if you could either call me on my mobile or send me an email to discuss further.

Thank you for your time,

    Outcome:  Positive.  I put out 85 flyers (the little girls were so tired after three hours of going door to door and I haven't had the energy to go and leaflet anymore yet) and had two responses.  We viewed one house so far. 

We've seen hundreds (maybe even thousands?) of properties online.  And even though we haven't yet been successful, seeing a lot of what is in our price range helps to manage my expectations.  We've seen a lot of places and get lots of ideas and a more solid understanding of we do and do not want.

House Hunt-Three Offers

Since June we have been madly hunting for a house.  The Cardiff house closed (meaning it officially sold, we handed over the keys and the buyers wired our solicitor the money) on June 27th.  We moved to Glasgow on June 26th and have been watching the property market with two sets of very keen eyes ever since.

So far, no luck.  We have viewed 30+ properties and put in offers on three.  Buying a house in Scotland is a different game than in Wales.  In order to put in an offer, we have to call our solicitor (lawyer) and have them put it in for us.  We don't get charged for each offer we put in, but pay a fixed fee once we can actually buy a house.

Sometimes, if there is a lot of demand for a house or to try to drive up the price, the estate agents set a closing date.  Basically, we get a deadline where the solicitor puts in our best offer and then the vendor makes a choice. The first one was a house in Kelvindale, which we offered the very top amount we could, but still were the lowest of five offers on the closing date.  It was move-in ready, beautifully renovated and just lovely.  I try to not be remorseful and tell myself it was three bedrooms (one was rather small, per usual) and the bathroom was a bit odd because of the roofline.  But, honestly, it was just nice.

courtesy of Rettie

On the second house, we were one of two offers at the closing date.  We didn't get chosen, but when I called the vendor's solicitor to find out why, they would only tell me there wasn't really any difference between our offer and the one that got chosen.  We weren't in love with the house, but it seemed good enough.  It also had three bedrooms, with a bathroom and a WC (half bath) downstairs.   It needed a lot of work.

 courtesy of googlemaps

The third house was on at a fixed price.  That means that whoever offers the asking price first gets it.  We watch the property websites very closely, so saw this pretty much within an hour of it going live.  We got the soonest viewing we could.  We saw the property at 6 PM one evening and called the agent the next morning as soon they opened (9 AM), saying we wanted the house.  They said we had to get our solicitor to make the offer.  I called and couldn't get our solicitor.   Then I texted, emailed, phoned the solicitor's cell (mobile) and called a few more times.  Our offer went in around 11 AM.  And guess what?  In between 9 AM and 11 AM someone else put in an offer and got the house instead.  It was another three bed, with one bathroom and one half bath (WC).  I didn't love it but liked it okay and we decided it could work for our family.  It was move-in ready.  I didn't feel bad about not getting it.

courtesy of rightmove

And, that's where we stand right now.  0 for 3 on offers, but still looking and hopeful!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

House For Sale

We've put so much into this house so it hurts to admit, but we're selling.  Niall has a great job opportunity up in Scotland, so we're relocating.  At nine months pregnant, so it seemed like the perfect time to sell.

I've known for a while we might have to move, so I read and watched as much as I could about selling houses.   We had a couple of agents come and look at the house to get an idea on commission, etc.   We decided to try selling our house ourselves using an online agent, rather than a local estate agent.  We were open to using a local agent if the online one didn't work.

We ended up using because they allowed us to pay monthly and got us listed on all the major property sites (including rightmove and findaproperty which is like MLS in the US.)  They arranged the viewings for us, handled negotiations and were reasonably priced.  Using them saved us thousands of pounds.  (The local agents charge between 1.5%-4% of the selling price.)

We paid extra to get a sign and put it up ourselves.  (I had to call a sign company for help, but basically we drilled three holes in the sign, drilled it into a baton with small screws and washers.)  Our neighbor still had his sale sign from a year ago.  He let us take it off his hands and we used his baton and fixings.

I used existing holes in our front wall, put in some plugs and drilled the screws into the wall.  I know we got at least one viewing from the sign and it let the neighbors know we're moving.

Before putting the property on the market we made a list of all the things that needed to be fixed in the house and started doing things one by one.  Most things we could do ourselves, but for a few we hired professionals.  (A handyman for a few bits and pieces and an electrician to install fire alarms and fix a light.)

We tried to improve the curb appeal.  Removed all the weeds, power washed the front, had a handyman freshen up the paint, resealed the front door tiles and washed the windows.

We wanted to put a double bed in the loft room to show how much space there is.  (I kept reading that having furniture in a room is better than not.)  Since we didn't have an extra bed, I used this as guidance.

We got 15 moving boxes from a local company and used them to declutter the house.  I took down all the personal photos (except two Niall made me keep up, both of him!), religious items, and things we wouldn't use over the next few months and put them in the boxes.  We (meaning not me) took all to the loft and used them as a base for a double bed, covering them with a duvet.  We put the air mattress on top and made the bed.  It looks so comfortable every time I'm up there I want to lay on it!  (See the boxes?)  But it's not the most stable of places.

We did market research on our street (luckily most of the houses are fairly similar so it's fairly easy to get a valuation) and checked with local agents to make sure our valuation was on key.  

Through the online realtor we paid to have someone prepare an EPC report and floorplan.  We took several rounds of photos trying to get the best light.  I made a two sided flyer and had it printed through  It was £26 for 50 copies, about 45 too many.  Originally I thought we'd give them to potential buyers that viewed the house and put them outside the house for any curious people passing.  (But it turns out it's hard to find the outdoor brochure boxes in the UK!)

Luckily people started calling for viewings really soon after we put the house up for sale.  The plan has been to keep the house clean so it wasn't too much work to get things ready.  Just before each showing we mopped, vacumed and tidied, and then stashed away the bathroom rug, garbage cans and any other items.  Niall handled the viewings, alone.  We'd make ourselves scarce, going for a walk or a drive and then Niall called when the viewings finished.  

Within a week we got an offer we were happy with.  We're keeping our fingers crossed that the sale goes through and (so far) keeping the house on the market until contracts are exchanged.

Back Yard (Garden) Clean-up

Folks, this is nothing short of a miracle.  Here's the garden as it currently looks.  It's finally decent!

I've had big plans for our back garden.  In my scenario the garage would go, so would the pavement.  Here's the backyard about a year ago.

My plan was to put in a long garage door (there's back lane access and off street parking, even if unused by us, would be a selling point in the future), lay a nice big paving stone patio and build a covered pergola. I spent the winter collecting ideas on pinterest

But, things changed and we needed to sell our home.  In speaking with estate agents and others, we wouldn't recoup money invested on my proposed back yard makeover (it would cost a few thousand at least), so we did a modified version.

It has been a process, beginning last year.  It started with removing the satellite dish and some wires running from the garage into the house.  And getting a lawn mower and some other gardening tools.  Can you see how crazy overgrown the apple tree is?

With all the house construction the backyard has been a dumping ground sometimes.

And the tree and surrounding area a nightmare.

The apple tree we haven't learned how to handle (yet), and with a bumper crop of apples there were loads left rotting on top of the garage roof through the winter.

For Christmas we got the tree pruned by a tree surgeon.  It was one of the best Christmas presents!  The garage isn't great (the roof is corrugated plastic) and with a very wet winter  and a few major cracks and holes everything inside was rusted and ruined.  So a few weeks ago we decided to put in some effort.  Can you see the garage full of, erm, stuff?

How about now?

We borrowed a power washer from a friend.  People, the secret to yard work in the UK is a power washer.  I could NOT believe what a change it made to the back pavement.  I was sure I would be using brick acid and scrubbing on my (very pregnant) hands and knees.  But Niall managed to work wonders.  Sorry for the glare, but here's Niall in action.

I wanted to show how much difference the power washer made, but this picture doesn't show it.

Maybe this one does?

After cleaning the pavement (it took about two days), some missionaries from church kindly volunteered to come over and help us.  For six long hours we cleaned out the garage (four trips to the dump with our little car loaded with dirty garage junk.)

I never got a very good picture, but in the back corner there was an open compost pile that has been an ongoing eyesore.  Here's a photo from before we replaced the back gate.

Then Niall and the missionaries worked on clearing the compost pile. I guess yard work is a lot of fun for a toddler.

I bought a composting bin from the Council (£5, thank you Cardiff Council) and we used some gravel to fill in the area (some we picked picked up for free, the rest we purchased.)

We had a handyman make some repairs to the garage (replace some rotten wood, repair some broken roof panels), did some painting and had a garage door repair team fix the garage door.  (Our garage door is an up and over.  A replacement door was in the region of £500, so we were very happy the repair guys could get it working again!)  A little girl was pretty excited about the change.

Niall painted the windows and was proud enough he took a photo in the process.

It's not perfect, but the back garden looks much nicer and is pretty safe for toddler play.  An almost empty garage has been a bonus and it turned the backyard/garden from a selling liability to a nice little asset.

The total cost for the garden makeover this Spring was about a week of work and came in under 500 pounds.  (Assuming the increased water bill from the power washer doesn't kill us.)

Compost Bin:  £5
Paint:  £5 (on clearance from Homebase, bought months ago!)
Tree Surgeon: £120
Handyman (including supplies):  £150
Garage Door Repair:  £85
New Garage Door Lock:  £17
Pizza for missionaries: £30
Gravel:  £11

Total:  £423