What to consider when buying a new build house or flat
If you’re looking for a new build home, there’s much to consider if you want to find your perfect property, in the right location, and for the right price. Here we offer 22 top tips on how to search for and choose your next new house or flat...
1) Decide your budget
Before you even begin your search, it’s essential to decide on your budget…and stick to it. ‘Spend creep’ can often happen, especially when that shiny new house is tantalisingly close, and “only another £20,000 more than we’d planned to spend”.
However, once you’ve moved in and the initial ‘new’ buzz begins to wear off, the reality is that you’re likely to be paying a mortgage for many years to come, which in turn will influence your ability to spend on other things, from cars and holidays, to the more mundane weekly shopping. So, have a limit and ensure that when you eventually sign on the line, you haven’t exceeded it.
2) Decide on your preferred type of home
Housing developments in the UK now offer an array of choices, with the main types being:
- Studio apartments
- Coach houses
- Terraced houses
- Semi-detached houses
- Detached houses
Budget should remain the primary factor in helping to guide you in terms of which type of home to opt for. However, do stay open-minded beyond that, as there are many different designs and variations of property nowadays, all laid out to maximise space and appeal to the needs of modern living.
3) Have a list of essential and desirable specifications
As well as the type(s) of brand new home you’ll be looking for, you should also note down what you consider to be the essential and the ‘nice to have’ specifications. Some questions to ask yourself are:
- How many bedrooms do I need?
- How many bathrooms would I like?
- How important is an en-suite?
- What rooms are most important to me?
- Is the garden, and its size, important?
- How much storage space do I require versus what’s provided?
- Do I need a utility room?
- Do I need a garage, or room in the garden for a shed?
Start by thinking about your present home, what qualities you’d also like in the new house or flat, and what elements you don’t currently have but would like in future.
4) Decide on locations
If you can, try to be open-minded about location. If you don’t have ties to a particular part of town – or a particular town – then you’ll have more choice and potentially more bargaining power when it comes to choosing your eventual home.
Also think about the practicalities of living on a particular development and how easy it will be to get where you want to go in the mornings. With larger developments, access routes to and from the immediate area are usually modern and efficient. However, the traffic will invariably spill out onto the existing transport network of the area, and this can lead to pinch points on certain roads or at certain junctions.
If the development is some distance from your existing home, ideally perform a ‘dry run’ at some point, where you try to leave from the development or arrive back there during peak times. It may sound elaborate, but finding out that the commute or school run is harder than expected after spending hundreds of thousands of pounds will be frustrating, to say the least.
5) Find all of your options
Once you’ve narrowed down your desired location(s), searching for new developments is relatively easy via:
- Builder’s websites
- Online searches
- Local newspapers
- Engaging with local estate agents
- Speaking to friends and family
6) Research the development
Find out as much as you can about the particular development(s) you’re interested in:
- How many phases are there in the development?
- Are additional phases planned for future years?
- What stage is the overall development at?
- How many builders are developing homes there?
- How many houses have been sold and how many are ‘for sale’, but unsold?
- If you’re interested in particular plots, how long have these been up for sale?
The novelty of living in a ghost town / building site can wear thin very quickly, especially with dust, dirt and noise, and so finding out about the longevity of the development plans is particularly helpful.
7) Choose the right builder
No builder is perfect, but it’s fair to say that some are better than others. You’re spending a lot of money and so due diligence is advisable. To help you assess the quality of the builder:
- Always ensure the builder is part of a warranty scheme. NHBC’s Buildmark scheme is the most common one in the UK, but there are other reputable ones as well. A good scheme will protect your deposit (in the event that the builder goes bust) and will also help ensure that you are satisfied with the end product.
- Search online for “[Your builder’s name] reviews”.
- Research local online community forums – both for this development and previous ones your builder has been involved in.
- If it’s a larger, ongoing development, try to engage existing residents in conversation, and seek their advice. That might sound a little forward but again, you’re spending a large amount of money and their feedback could be invaluable.
8) Research the amenities
Find out about what facilities are being made available, or are approximate to, the development, for example:
- Shops and chemists
- Public transport links
- Nurseries and schools
- Community centres
- Pubs, cafes and restaurants
- Recreational areas
It can be easy to take for granted amenities that are already in your existing, more established neighbourhood, but ensure that the new development will also have the facilities that you desire.
9) How safe is the area?
You can search here for recent crimes reported within a mile of your potential new postcode, and you can also compare this with another neighbourhood. Naturally no area will be crimefree – even Midsomer has the occasional murder – but it’s useful to get a comparison with other areas you’ve previously lived in, or are alternatively considering.
10) How good are the nurseries and schools?
The quality of education in the local area is naturally a key concern for parents, but in fact it’s something that should be of interest to all prospective homebuyers. This is because the proximity to good schools (or otherwise) can significantly affect house prices. Latest Ofsted reports are therefore highly useful.
11) The doctor will see you now….or not?
Ensure you visit the NHS website and become aware of all of the current doctors’ surgeries that are available in the area. Also, don’t simply rely on a developer’s word that others are being planned. For any existing surgeries, ensure that they have capacity and are taking on patients.
12) Is the area prone to flooding?
Flash floods overwhelming drains, changes in the environment and more densely populated housing developments all mean that the area that you’re interested in could be more prone to flooding. The Environment Agency’s website will be able to give you an indication, by postcode, of which areas are more at risk than others.
13) Who will your neighbours be?
Try to find out approximately how many owner-occupiers will be living in the area, versus how many homes will be let by a landlord. If you’re looking for a sense of community, a high number of tenants moving in and out on a regular basis isn’t going to help create this.
On the whole, tenants will also invest much less in their rented homes and will often pay less attention to things like the garden, and so this is worth bearing in mind.
14) ‘Location, location, location’
Where your property is situated will have a future impact on both your quality of life and your ability to sell at a later date. Here are some things to consider:
- Some developments have very few entrances and exits by road. Try to evaluate how much traffic will be passing by your property.
- Be fully aware of any future phases of the development that are planned, and where these are taking place. Again, these will increase traffic flow, from the construction phase onwards.
- If you’re buying a flat, a higher floor means that you’ll be less likely to hear street noise.
- Cul-de-sacs are quieter and usually more desirable.
- Playgrounds and recreational areas can generate noise, even at night.
- Properties near junctions or speed bumps will experience more traffic noise, and can suffer from car headlights regularly illuminating certain rooms.
- Streetlighting can be an issue if it’s in close proximity to your bedroom windows.
- Which way your property faces determines which aspects will get natural light at certain times of the day. For example, south-facing rear gardens are popular, as you’ll enjoy the most of the sun – great for those summer barbecues.
15) Be clear on parking
There is often a shortage of parking in new build developments, which can be frustrating and unsightly, with cars littered wherever space can be found. Try to imagine what it will be like once the development is fully occupied and, wherever possible, secure an allocated space(s). Also evaluate what it will be like for any visitors to your home and whether there is designated visitor parking.
Shared driveways can cause neighbourly tensions and so try to avoid properties where you think this might become an issue.
16) Call first
Make a number of calls to potential sites’ sales offices before visiting anywhere, to check availability. Otherwise, a great deal of time can be wasted visiting a site only to find that they don’t currently have properties suitable for your needs.
17) Don’t drive all the way
As long as it’s safe and you’re permitted to do so, when visiting show homes try parking approximately half a mile from the home and walking from there. Meandering through the nearby streets will give you so much more time and opportunity to get a real sense for the development and, if it’s already partially occupied, what life might be like if you begin living there.
After the visit, the walk back to the car will also give you time to contemplate and / or discuss your thoughts.
18) The gateway to the show home
When you visit a show home, you will often be obliged to pass through the marketing suite. It gives the sales consultant(s) a chance to engage with you, but don’t give them any more information than you wish to disclose.
Equally, remember that this is an opportunity for you to ask lots of questions about the development and learn what you really want to know, rather than just exchanging pleasantries.
After viewing, if you are interested, try to ‘curb your enthusiasm’. If the sales rep knows that you’re keen it will weaken your chances of getting a better deal, and so act less interested than you really are.
19) Don’t fall for the tricks of the show home
It’s common knowledge, but so easy to forget, that any show home is very carefully designed and engineered to sell.
Here are the most common tricks of the trade:
- A professional interior designer has coordinated each room. Look beyond this ‘window dressing’ and remain focussed on the fact that you’ll be buying a ‘blank canvas’.
- The home will deliberately have a minimal amount of furniture, and the furniture will often be smaller, to create the illusion of space.
- Internal doors will sometimes not be fitted, again to generate the impression of more room.
- Light coloured walls and carpets, plus decorative mirrors, deceptively make rooms feel lighter and larger.
- All of the lights will be left on, giving the impression during the tour that there is plenty of natural light, when sometimes there isn’t.
- Decorative elements will be kept to a minimum, and there’ll certainly be much less clutter than any normal household would have.
- Gardens will be large and landscaped (yours almost certainly won’t be, unless you haggle for it) and could also be missing fencing, to make the garden look larger.
- Premium specifications will feature in the kitchen and bathrooms, although these aren’t always provided as standard in your home.
- More space is afforded around the plot.
- Finally, the visitor car park creates a further sense of space, but this land can sometimes be built upon in the final stages of development.
The show house will also, of course, be free from any snagging issues that will invariably come with any brand new home. That said, you can sometimes spot issues upon close inspection and be wary if this is the case. If the builder can’t even get the show home right, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the development.
20) Tap the walls
New properties are particularly susceptible to increased levels of noise travelling through the building, due to the walls generally being less solid than older properties. Sound will also travel more between homes, and this is one of the main causes of complaint amongst new build owners.
When you view, be aware of this. Tap a few walls. See how much you can hear from other rooms. Think about how noisy it could be once other residents are also living nearby.
21) Try to compare like-for-like
Ideally you’ll view the actual property that you’re looking to purchase, but sometimes this won’t be possible, especially if you’re buying off-plan. In these circumstances, try to at least view an equivalent property that’s perhaps nearer to completion. Viewing the show home and then buying a different sized property is a risky strategy, as it’s very difficult to visualise space and situation from plans alone.
If there aren’t any equivalent homes to view on the site, ask the developer whether there are ones to view on other developments of theirs. The homes might be named differently on other sites, but will often have the same layouts – after all, why would the developer go to the hassle and expense of changing designs simply because it’s a different site. It might involve a journey, but you’re making a big investment and it’ll be well worth it.
Alternatively, if the development is older and ‘first generation’ homes are already being sold on, you could even arrange with a local estate agent to view one of those. It’ll also give you an idea of how well the developer’s properties are ageing.
22) Consider renting first
Larger developments will be ongoing for several years and so if you’re struggling to decide, why not take your time and ‘try before you buy’?
Earlier completed phases of the development will usually include properties already available for private rent. Consider renting one of these for six months, which will give you more time to get a feel for what it’s like to live in one of the developer’s homes, and the wider community around you.
And when you’ve decided…
Finally, when you’ve found ‘the one’, it goes without saying that you owe it to yourself to get the very best deal you can. The property itself must be right for you, but so should the price and what’s included. Negotiation isn’t always possible, but it often is, and getting the best deal now could have a significant impact on your short-to-medium term financial future.
You can read more about how to negotiate the best price on a new build in our related article.