Where should I live? How to compromise when finding a property

couple moving boxes into a home

Nine in 10 people are happy with the compromises they make when buying a home

Have you found that the type of property you want to buy isn’t available for your budget? Here, we suggest compromises to consider - and what others in your situation usually do.

Firstly, don’t despair. When we surveyed people who’d recently moved house*, seven in ten said that they had compromised on the property they bought, and 89% of those people said that they were satisfied with the compromises they’d made - so buying a property that doesn’t tick every single box on your wish list isn’t the end of the world.

So, considering how common the need to compromise is, why do people find it so hard to accept?

A frequent problem for house hunters is that they base their property search on a budget that hasn't been calculated in enough detail to get a realistic idea of what they can afford. When they've found their dream property, they often find that mortgage lenders are unwilling to give them as much money as they'd assumed they would get.

One key way to avoid this heartache is to secure a mortgage agreement in principle (AIP) before you start your search. To speak with an expert, who will assess your personal circumstances to give you an accurate budget to work with, and obtain an AIP for you if you want one, call Which? Mortgage Advisers on 0808 252 7987.

The most common compromises people make

Ask yourself the five questions below to find something that works for both your lifestyle and budget:

1. Has the property got potential for improvement?

According to the Which? 2015 national house-moving survey*, the condition of the property is one of the most common compromises that people make when buying. Of the 1,990 general public members we surveyed, one in four (26%) said they made a compromise on the overall condition of the property.

If you can afford to make improvements once you've moved in, even if you have to save for a while before starting, the work may well pay for itself when the time comes to sell as it will often add value to your home.

For example, older properties often have lots of small rooms rather than fewer large rooms, which isn't as popular nowadays due to the trend for open-plan living. Knocking down a wall between a poky kitchen and rarely used dining room to create an open-plan kitchen/diner could make a real difference to how suitable the property is for your lifestyle. One in five (21%) of our survey's respondents made a compromise on the layout of their property.

Extending is another key improvement you could consider, subject to space and planning permission. Property size was something that 19% of our respondents compromised on.

2. Do I need that extra bedroom?

If you can only afford a two-bedroom house but you want three bedrooms, think about whether there are any solutions that could make a two-bed property work for you.

Do you really need an extra bedroom to use as a study? Perhaps, with a bit of creative thinking, you could adapt space elsewhere in the property or build an office in the garden.

It’s also amazing how many of us spend thousands of pounds extra just so we can have a guest bedroom which only ends up accommodating people a few times a year. It’ll probably work out cheaper to put guests up at a nearby B&B or, if there's space, use a sofa bed or air bed in the sitting room.

And, if the property you buy has a loft with potential for conversion, you could buy now and then renovate when you have the funds to do so.

One in ten (12%) of our survey’s respondents made a compromise on the number of bedrooms in their property. Meanwhile, one in seven (14%) compromised on the number of bathrooms and one in five (19%) compromised on parking arrangements.  

Watering can

If you can't afford a property with a garden, look into whether you could rent an allotment

3. Could I borrow or rent a garden?

If you’d hoped for a house with a garden but can only stretch to a flat, there are alternatives. Renting an allotment may be an ideal solution - but check waiting list times.

The freeholders whose communal space you live in may be happy to let you create your own garden area if you ask. Alternatively, an elderly or poorly neighbour who can't tend to their garden might love to share it with you to help with its upkeep.

One in five (21%) of our survey’s respondents compromised on the external space surrounding the property. This may be a savvy move, given that British weather means many people only use their gardens for a few months each year.

4. Am I being flexible enough on location?

Whenever you buy, a compromise between property and location is always on the cards, as property prices vary hugely from one area to another. One way to afford the lifestyle of a more expensive area without paying premium house prices is to buy slightly further afield (especially if it's an up and coming area with potential to make your money grow), or in areas previously dominated by council housing. These properties are generally built to a good standard and many are now privately owned.

It’s also worth being a bit more flexible about your commuting requirements. In London, for example, Savills' research estimates that properties more than half a mile from the tube or train can be 20% cheaper.

In our survey, a fifth (21%) of respondents said that they had compromised on their ideal location, while 15% said that they had made compromises which affected their commuting time or cost.

Meanwhile, 16% had compromised on surrounding amenities, while an almost identical figure said that they’d compromised on noise levels in their neighbourhood. Only 8% said that they’d compromised on local crime levels, while just 6% compromised on proximity to good schools.

5. What help could I get with securing a mortgage?

If you just can't afford to take out a mortgage on your own, ask the local council or housing association about shared ownership schemes, which enable you to buy between 25% and 75% of a new-build or older property then pay rent on the rest.

If you’ve saved up a 5% deposit but are struggling to get approved for a mortgage, it’s also worth looking into the Help to Buy scheme, where the government will either lend you money or guarantee your mortgage.

Video case study: Kelly's story

Mum-of-two Kelly talks about the things she wishes she'd known about selling and buying a house in a competitive market, how to handle estate agents and the compromises she made to speed the process up. 


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Video transcript

After we sold our house back in December last year, it went through quite quickly we never actually officially marketed the property. So as the property market around where we live is so competitive, we weren't able to view any properties that we wanted to buy, until we would have enough for our own house.

We were lucky that the people that were made the offer on our house, the first time buyers they prepared to wait for us and we were patient enough to wait until we found our perfect home. And ended up taking us six months or so to find the house. By that time, the house prices had increased massively where we live, which meant that we needed more money from them to be able to buy the house that we wanted, because that had increased in value.

So, we ended up having another couple come in and offer more money which enabled us to buy the house. So fortunately, we went with them which was really difficult decision because we'd come quite emotionally attached to the first couple. So my tip could be to try and leave the negotiating and the relationship of the buyers and the sellers to the estate agent because I think it would make things cleaner in the long run.

We initially wanted a detached house, with a drive, with lots of parking I went into a [xx] terraced house which was a newly built. So I wish they would be probably more eco-minded from the beginning, and look at houses that didn't fit our strict criteria sooner, because actually the one we found works really well for us as a family.

Our estate agents were quite high pressure I think, because there was shortage of houses at the time when we were looking to buy. They were quite keen to get a fare on that book because I think, and they were constantly saying that we were the ones that were behind who didn't think that we need to send these information immediately and I didn't think we were given that much time to think about the things they were asking from us.

In hindsight I probably take a step back from every phone call I had with them and asked just for a couple of minutes to think about what they were saying, probably call my husband and asked him to help me with this decision rather than just feeling pressurized to say yes or no in a firm straight way.

The most surprising thing when we moved into the house, was the amount of things that take with them when they had left. These were things like were curtain bows, toy backs, mirrors that were fitted at the sinks in the bathroom, and these are things that we had thought were going to be left behind when we had gone to picture the fitting forms with them. We'd negotiated with them to leave some of the white goods, and then we had also agreed verbally to fix a key [xx] front gate and to go through and to cut the grass in the garden which had massively overgrown, but none of those things they did.

So I found that it cost us quite a lot more than we had budgeted to put right the things that weren't when we moved in. This process is definitely been worth it, it was stressful at times there were days we didn't think would exchange leave alone complete. I don't know if this is our dream home is definitely a step in the right direction to buying a dream house and we're really happy here.

*Our research

In June 2015, we surveyed 1,990 members of the general public who had either bought or sold a house in the past five years. The group was based on a nationally representative sample of the UK.

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