As an interior designer, I am regularly asked by potential clients to draw up plans and schemes for properties they do not own. They might have had a head over heels in love first viewing, or be locked in a final offer sealed bid battle, but whatever the situation, if someone doesn't own a property, I politely say no, as such a request is a clear sign that the person in question has gone a bit 'Buyerzilla'.
"But it's my house" they will whisper in the manner of Gollum and his precious ring, and its at that point that you know for sure that they've lost all reason and rationality, and are in the grip of a powerful emotional fever. Just like their cousin the Bridezilla, they're being driven by deep, instinctive desires and worries, only with a Buyerzilla it's not about wanting the perfect wedding day, but rather a home that they might live in for years. So it's a serious, big decision, which is why they need a dose of rational common sense in the form of five key bits of advice.
Make a list - fighting your inner BUYERZILLA
Choosing the right home for you should be a very straight forward and logical. You have a budget and a checklist of priorities and acceptable locations. You've done your research, but then the madness can descend - often at the first sight of property details. The most important financial decision many of us will ever make becomes hugely emotional and engulfs us.
Boring as this may sound, start by writing down your budget and your checklist of genuine needs before the fever of house buying takes over. Stick this list on your fridge door so you have to see it every time you reach for the milk/mineral water/wine. Go back to it when you find yourself wailing "But the wisteria on that cottage is so wonderful!" Was wisteria on your checklist? I didn't think so - no. Was being near to good transport links and that good new school? Yes.
Don't be afraid of an ugly house
For most of us, compromise is all part of the process of house buying. After years of working with buildings, I have totally revised my thinking on what I need from a property. I would rather compromise by buying an ugly house than a bad location. You would be amazed what a decent quality floor and new windows can do to a home. Try to focus on space and potential rather than the hideous pebble dash exterior that could be easily changed with a coat of crisp new render or some fabulous timber cladding. Find the quirky imperfections that you'll grow to love. Remember that often a house is 'ugly' because the architect focused on function over form, and as a result has created a living space that works efficiently and effortlessly -this is particularly true of properties from the 1950's on, when the way we live our lives now began to evolve.
See the light
Natural light is so important and impossible to fake. If the house feels too dark for you, even after visits at different times of day, then don't touch it. Don't believe all that rubbish about big mirrors and white paint, and don't for a moment think that peppering the ceiling with downlights will solve the issue. The minute you switch them on you'll be caught in their unflinching Doctors waiting room glare. If the light's not right - due to low ceilings, or being surrounded by bigger buildings - then move on, not move in.
Take a tape measure
Interior Design is a numbers game, so let me share the 4 most important numbers, which are 600, 1500, 1700 and 1900. These are the measurements for the 600mm depth of kitchen cabinet, appliances and wardrobes. The 1500mm width of a Kingsize bed, the 1900 x 900 of a single bed, and the 1700 x 700 standard bath.
Once you get serious about a house, work out your furniture plan, is it going to really work for you? Again, this is where cold rationality has to triumph over your rampaging Buyerzilla. That charming box room may look out over the lovely garden, and guests will adore throwing back the curtains to see your exquisite borders and lawn - but can that room actually take a bed? Is that box room in actual fact a cupboard? Perfect at parties for hilarious games of sardines, less fun to be asked to sleep inside.
Be practical or find someone who is...
You have completely fallen in love with your dream house and it ticks nearly all of the boxes on that list on the fridge - the survey is underway, and your Buyerzilla is largely under control. At this point, I would advise you (especially the proud, practical men out there), to swallow your pride; find a good builder, preferably one you have worked with before, and PAY for a day of his time.
Don't be tempted to call in a favour - as deadlines will be tight and you will want reliable answers. Pay for a site visit, and a rough estimate for the works you intend to do to the house. To save time, I always have the schedule of works written out for my contractors with a space for them to fill in the price for each job. Good builders are normally very busy and loathe paper work, so if you have done half the work for them you are more likely to get a quick answer.
A good, reliable builder will also run a mile from a fire breathing Buyerzilla - because they know from experience that when they say 'There is no way we can put a downstairs loo into that hallway or put bedrooms in a basement' a Buyerzilla will hear 'Of course I agree with all your crazy plans and I will use these magic tools to conjure up the house of your dreams'. If they give you bad news - listen. Take a breath. Don't bite their heads off. They're not emotionally invested in your potential property - you are. Go back to your list on the fridge door - even at this late stage. Reach for whatever will calm you down (wine usually helps I find) and sadly acknowledge that if the builders say you can't squeeze in whatever it is you want, and this means that the property won't work for you - then once again, move on, not move in.
So those are my top tips on how not to let your inner raging Buyerzilla take over and allow you to make a monstrous property mistake - and all this from someone with two small children and a puppy who bought a 200 year old place with a dodgy roof, many flights of stairs and squirrels living in the loft!