• Go to your Building Society, financial adviser, surf the net, find out what you can afford to borrow. This is what you can comfortably afford to borrow without counting next year's bonus and your inheritance when your great aunt dies. From your chosen lender obtain a 'mortgage in principle' figure (this is the amount they will lend subject to the property you are after).

  • Find out how much money you have saved, and/or can be put towards the purchase.

  • This gives you what you can afford, stick to it. A fatal error is to set your price, look at a property only a few thousand more and suddenly that's your starting price. You end up gazumping yourself and in the cold light of day, not being able to afford the property.

  • Focus on the area you want to live in. Find out about the transport, schools, shops, redevelopment, try to get a 'feel' for the area, is it going up or down. Try the shops, the pub, the post office, all will give you an idea of the area. If you are after a particular school check its preferred admittance boundaries and places available.

  • Find a solicitor or a conveyancing firm. Talk to the person that will be handling your move. They are vital and you need to be able to trust them and understand them. Don't be fobbed off with a cheap quote and being told the person that will act for you is really busy and can't talk to you. They need your custom, if they cannot talk to you at the beginning they never will. Go elsewhere.

  • With the aid of the building society and solicitor contact a local surveyor. Find out the cost of a survey in the area and what sort of survey they are able to carry out. Do make sure the surveyor is qualified.

  • Now a little mathematics. Having found out how much you can borrow, (mortgage in principle figure) add to your savings, minus solicitors fees, minus stamp duty, minus removal costs, minus days off work, etc this will give you what you can afford.

  • If you advise the agents that you have all this ready you will become his/hers greatest friend, a red hot purchaser. You will get the first phone calls on the properties, you will get the out of hours viewing. They know you are reasonably serious and will want to sell you a property before another agent does.

Before you buy