Whether or not you’ve bought a home or property before, the journey can be fraught with obstacles. Our Buyer’s Guide gives an overview of the main stages. Never be afraid to ask for guidance from professionals if you have any queries.
Finding Your New Home
Regardless of how far you’re moving, whether it’s within the same town or village you’re living in at the moment, or moving miles away, finding a new home requires more than registering with the portals like Rightmove, Zoopla, and Prime Location, visiting estate agents and selecting properties.
Begin by making a list of what’s important to you (and the family) taking into account commuting times to work, schools and colleges, local transport, shopping facilities, leisure and entertainment. What type of accommodation do you need? One/Two bedrooms, outside space for Fido, shower or bath? Do you want a garden, or will a balcony do?
Next, establish the potential properties in your price range by saving to your ‘favourites’ in your property portal. Compare prices, accommodation and whether there is outside space - selecting the area is then much easier and you can begin your search for the right home at the right price by contacting estate agents to book you in for viewings.
Agents that you contact will ask you a series of questions to establish and review your requirements and then send or give you details of properties that match your needs. Once you’ve looked at all the details, you will be able to select which properties to view.
A word of warning – you may have to COMPROMISE on some of the items on your wish-list!
Take time and care viewing the properties you have selected to visit. Whilst a surveyor can provide a more detailed report later in the process, your vigilance in spotting obvious defects will help to avoid costly mistakes.
We always recommend a minimum of at least two viewings at different times of the day to check for traffic flow, how the light affects the property, and how busy the street is with pedestrians.
Once you’ve registered your property requirements on the portals, you should start receiving details in your inbox.
We’re talking here about what to watch out for, alerting you to problems that occur with property:
Structural: sagging roof line, bulging, stained or cracked walls, cracking brickwork, lack of, or insufficient, insulation in the loft, around pipes and elsewhere. You need to work out your finance carefully to ensure you have funds to put these issues right (and have a contingency for the unexpected!)
Energy Bills: Ask the Seller for an indication of average gas and electricity bills, so you’ll know what to budget for each month.
Heating & Wiring: central heating – has the boiler been regularly serviced? How recently has the property been re-wired? Are electrical fittings up-to-date?
Rot: creaks and uneven floor boards may be a sign of rot. Are the window frames rotting? Do other houses in the street have a similar problem?
Water pressure: low water pressure is not uncommon, try all the taps, water pressure isn't always rectifiable.
Parking difficulties in a busy street or access to the garage. Community centres, pubs, schools, churches in the street can also provide noisy traffic and parking difficulties. Do lorries thunder by? Do school buses use the road several times a day? Is the property in a one-way street, meaning you’ll have to travel further to arrive home?
No guarantees: does the property have guarantees for damp and timber if the home is less than 10 years old ie does it have a National House Builders Confederation (NHBC) guarantee? Is the property constructed in timber frame or pre-fabricated? Is there evidence of subsidence in the area which may have damaged the property? Cracks in walls, uneven floors and badly fitting doors and windows may be an indication of subsidence.
Noisy neighbours: return to the property at different times of the day and week - most areas are quiet on a Sunday morning but not necessarily on a Monday! Is there a football playing field nearby where teams practice or play on a Sunday morning? Ask general questions about the neighbours – and you may be able to read between the lines…
Leaks: it may seem strange advising you to view a property when it’s raining or pouring but we advise viewing in poor weather - properties can look very good in sunshine and under blue skies, but in wet weather, any leaks will become evident particularly in loft space. You may see water gushing from broken gutters and drain-pipes.
Check properties which:
Whilst the asking price probably takes the above into account, if you decide to purchase a home that falls within one or more of these categories, consider the implications very carefully (you may have problems yourself when you come to sell).
Making an Offer
You’ve poured over the Sales Particulars, viewed at least twice, and have decided you’d like to put an offer on the property – congratulations - your offer is made 'subject to contract and satisfactory survey' to the Seller's estate agent. Sellers will generally consider an offer that is below the asking price. However, before deciding on a figure, check:
Why are the current owners selling?
This may reveal local factors that will not appear on any formal search. Maybe the Sellers are not really serious about selling and are just ‘testing the market’. You’ll have wasted a whole lot of time and effort (and money) if this purchase is going nowhere.)
Time on the Market
Various factors are responsible for a property remaining on the market for longer than expected eg overpricing, adverse survey reports, lack of demand, overheated market. There may also be a genuine reason such as a broken chain. Ask the questions and weigh up the answers.
Has the property had any price reductions?
Not all Sellers are prepared to reduce the price of their property and may want the property to remain on the market until they receive a ‘full price’ offer, especially when they haven’t yet found the property of their dreams.
However, if they then find their new home, they may be under pressure to go ‘under offer’ and will then, maybe, accept a price reduction, if they are in a chain and in a hurry to exchange contracts.
Arm yourself with prices of comparable properties for sale or ‘under offer’ in the area. With this information you can make an informed judgement on how much to offer.
Once your offer has been accepted, try to agree with the Seller that the property will be taken ‘off the market’ and that the Agent and the Seller agree that higher offers will not be entertained (gazumping). Ask your Solicitor whether you are in a 'contract race' where the Seller accepts several offers and the first buyer to exchange contracts gets the property.
Once you’re satisfied with the property survey, your Solicitor will manage the conveyancing which until Exchange of Contracts, remains ‘Subject to Contract’ only.
What Will My Solicitor Do?
Keeping The Purchase On Track (or ‘Sales Progression’ in ‘Estate Agency speak’)
Once your offer has been accepted and you’ve instructed your Solicitor to act on your behalf, the hard work begins …
The legal process can be lengthy so your Solicitor and Estate Agent will keep you regularly informed of progress. There are often flurries of activity at the outset, then a lull as the Solicitors carry out their conveyancing work, then another flurry of activity as your agree and settle on Exchange and Completion dates.
If you’ve met the Sellers, then we suggest keeping them up-to-date on the purchase so that they are quite clear that your interest is genuine and you are still proceeding.
Before Exchange of Contracts, you will be asked to agree a date for Legal Completion. This is generally 14 - 28 days after Exchange. Sometimes Exchange and Completion take place simultaneously. Solicitors need at least 7-10 days to release the necessary funds. The shorter the period, the more administrative arrangements you’ll need to have sorted out before exchange.
You are responsible for insuring the property from the date of exchange. If vacant possession occurs before completion, inform your insurers that the property will be empty and make sure you are ‘on risk’.
Commissioning a Survey
There are several types of survey:
Your lender will almost certainly require a mortgage valuation. This confirms that the value of the property covers the mortgage advance you have asked them to provide. This valuation is prepared for your lender, but you may be able to obtain a copy. The survey is usually only a brief visit but may result in recommendations from the surveyor. They will advise on improvements (if any) that they feel are necessary for the property to warrant the mortgage advance. The surveyor may recommend (or your lender may insist) that this work be carried out within a specific period after purchase. Alternatively, your lender may retain a portion of the finance required to purchase the property until the works have been completed.
We recommend that you do not rely solely on the lender's mortgage valuation when you decide to purchase a property; it does not report on defects with the same thoroughness as other types of survey.
More thorough than a mortgage valuation, a Homebuyer's Report includes an inspection of structural aspects, like damp and subsidence; information on the immediate surrounding area and an opinion as to the appropriateness of the offered price. The report will also highlight the main problems found or suspected and may recommend further specialist surveys.
Full Structural Survey
Included in a full structural survey is all the information detailed in a Homebuyer's Report and an indication of the home's construction. The report also recommends how to rectify any defects and gives a very detailed assessment of the condition of the home, but does not usually give an opinion of valuation.
Unless your intended purchase is brand new and covered by a NHBC guarantee, we would recommend that you commission a Homebuyer's Report. The results will give you peace of mind and may enable you to renegotiate the purchase price. For older properties (pre 1900) you should seriously consider commissioning a full structural survey.
Check with your lender before you instruct a surveyor, as most will allow you to combine the instruction with their own mortgage valuation, which could well reduce the cost to you. If your surveyor recommends commissioning further specialist surveys for damp etc., or a full structural report, it may be the time to carefully consider the purchase of that property.
If, after a full investigation of the property's faults, you wish to continue with the purchase, consider renegotiating the sale price to take account of the costs of the defects. The vendor may accept a reasonable reduced offer based upon the cost of the remedial works. You may submit this offer either through your solicitor or directly to the Seller's estate agent yourself.
When Completion Day has been set, agree with the Sellers a time of day for moving in and then make arrangements for the removals. The move in time is usually after 1pm to allow time for the Seller to move out and for Completion monies to reach the Seller's Solicitor.
To ensure the removal company is available on the day you require, we recommend you contact them well in advance, even if you don’t know the exact date. If you’re moving a long way away, in a holiday season or if you expect the packing and move to take more than one day, this is particularly important.
Read the small print on the removal company's terms and conditions – especially the paragraph on insurance eg the claims period may be relatively short after the move, so you’ll need to check for damages/breakages very swiftly.
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