We thought it would take between four to six weeks to find a suitable house. It took us five. Months.
And even then ‘suitable’ was only appropriate if used in the temporary sense. We started looking online in March 2014, registering with all the well known online property search engines. Before long, we realised it was only really worth focusing on Zoopla and Rightmove, as they had by far the most properties and were most regularly updated.
We sometimes wondered whether it would make sense to only focus on one of these two main websites, as almost everything advertised on one was covered by the other. But it was the ‘almost everything’ that frightened us off from doing so. What if that one property that was just right for us was advertised on only one of these websites but not the other? We felt it wasn’t worth the risk, so put up with almost twice the effort (and twice the boredom) of scrolling through countless adverts that we had often already seen on the other website.
One trick which worked quite well for us was that we both logged in to the property search sites under the same login details. This way, we would each save any interesting properties into the same list and therefore both be able to review all of our combined finds. But in reality we hardly ever went back to the saved properties list … because if it really was of interest to us, the very first thing to do was contact the estate agent and arrange a viewing. When we were hunting in 2014, the housing market in and around London was definitely not one where you had the luxury of saving interesting properties for review at a later date!
How We Hunted
Some of the key things we did during our house hunt:
- Registered on Zoopla and Rightmove. Made sure we defined all the appropriate criteria for searches. We soon realised it was important to be not too restrictive in those criteria as what often started out as a ‘must have’ soon became a ‘could do without’ due to the lack or competition for available houses at the budget we had set ourselves. One we had carefully designed our search criteria, we then carefully defined the search areas we were happy with and saved each one as a separate defined area. We ended up with several distinct search locations within London and Surrey, such as “Guildford”, “Richmond”, “Central London” and so on. After some pretty disappointing experiences, we became much more careful about the precise drawing of the search boundaries, often only doing it after visiting the area and speaking to agents, to make sure we excluded areas generally regarded as less favourable. This saved us from viewing trips for houses which looked great online only to find they were at the edge (or even within) a cemetery for example (yes, we did end up driving 30 minutes to view a house, only to be told on arrival that yes, it was within the cemetery grounds as it had previously been the caretakers house – the back garden was literally a graveyard, without even a boundary wall!). Once we had defined our areas and search criteria, we made sure we subscribed to immediate email alerts for any new additions within those criteria.
- Registered with as many of the local agents as we thought we could manage handling calls and numerous emails from regarding properties that would often clearly be well outside our defined criteria. More on our dealings with estate agents in a dedicated post!
- Created a simple Excel spreadsheet to identify the asking price per square metre of each house we were genuinely interested in. It could of course also be per square foot, but we are PerSqM after all! This provided a quick and easy way to see if the house was being priced roughly within the same range as others in the same area. Send us an email if you would like a free template to use for your own search.
- We were very methodical and regular in our approach. Without fail we contacted all our preferred estate agents every two weeks on the dot. It was clear that the first few times they heard from us, they were a bit disinterested or even frustrated as they had nothing more to tell us. But after two or three weeks, we saw a clear shift in their approach to us. They had, from our repeated badgering, realised we were indeed very serious about our house purchase. Agents suffer very many people who are not so serious, so their lack of enthusiasm at times can be forgiven. Once this threshold had been passed, we noticed an uptick in the response rate.
We kept an open mind and were relatively flexible, whilst having very clear boundaries. For example, we absolutely had decided we wanted the location of the house to be right in the middle of a prime area and recognised that meant that everything else about the house would probably not quite be what we were after. We did consider for a while the complete opposite, i.e. our dream house (in terms of size and style) in a non-prime location but decided getting the house aesthetics and space absolutely right could be done over time however once purchased the rating of the location of course could only be changed by moving again (or crossing fingers and hoping we had correctly picked an up-and-coming one!).
Above all, we stayed calm. House buying, especially in an active and competitive market such as London, was incredibly stressful. We found our own method to pull us away from that frenzy for a few precious moments, when it mattered most:
Many people commented that we were crazy having a baby and moving house at the same time. However, in reality, the pregnancy was actually a calming factor. So many times we would be in the midst of some house hunting disappointment and then looking down at the growing belly of joy would immediately put things back into perspective. As much as buying a house is a major life moment, some things clearly matter much more.
Keep Calm & Keep Hunting – easier said than done, but entirely possible with a bit of determination.
It would be unfair not to comment on some of our estate agent experiences as this formed such a large part of our house hunting period. There were some funny bits, some exciting bits and definitely some incredibly frustrating bits. Read about them here – we would love to hear about some of your experiences too!