House prices are sometimes like an unruly toddler. You expect them to go one way and they turn round and announce, nope I’m going the other way. Following lockdown, house prices were expected to tumble, the only debate being over just how much they would fall. The government’s introduction of the stamp duty (SDLT) holiday, like the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, was no doubt introduced to help stem the negative drop of property prices or at least try to galvanise an inert sector. Instead the holiday has only contributed to a bull market with suppressed buyers more interested in a decent garden that economic doom mongering.
So QPB has prepared this A to Z checklist of the stages of buying a new property (and because there are only 11 sections) lets call it the A to K checklist. Here we go:
Before making offers, it goes without saying that it is worth giving consideration to how much you can afford. The amount of deposits required by mortgagees seems to be constantly changing, as are the rules about receiving funds from the bank of mum and dad, if you are lucky enough to have such well off and benevolent parents.
Therefore best to start sorting possible mortgage deals first, to avoid later disappointment. You can call all the banks and lenders to see how much you can borrow. One tip though, is that you could end up being on the phone for endless hours only to find out that you cannot get a mortgage with that lender as in their last question it transpires that you cannot run 100 metres fast enough for their requirements. Therefore I find it is always better to engage an independent mortgage broker, at least they can do the leg work for you and may cut out wasted time.
Ideally you could get a ‘Mortgage in Principle’ (MIP) from a lender in advance of approaching estate agents. Without it in hand, many estate agents claim you need to be vetted as a genuine buyer, which actually means being passed to their mortgage broker to get your mortgage business. They can be often quite pushy here. Indeed my own mortgage broker was even forced to meet with an estate agent’s mortgage broker to discuss possible mortgage deals, even though he told then that was his actual job!
Xmas shopping with a specific list of what you are going to buy is a pleasurable experience. Xmas shopping without a pre-prepared list (which is what I do) can be a demoralising experience, aimlessly walking around like a rabbit in the headlights for many hours without buying anything, before going home with sore feet. Property viewings are no different.
Decide beforehand what you must have and what you would like to have in a property. Some properties may look enticing on Rightmove to view, but if they are not ever going to be practical for you, its not worth wasting valuable time or confusing yourself, by going to see them.
Likewise try to decide on a location and check out the transport links there. Sure following lockdown, everybody wants to live in the countryside by a babbling brook, but the allure may change if you have to get up and 5 am each morning to wait on rainy platforms to take 3 trains and a tractor to work.
It's always nice to have a good view. Set up a property alert on the property websites matching your criteria and then start arranging viewings. I find it’s best to book them quite a few days in advance when agents have more availability. That way, it becomes easier to pack in more viewings of other properties around the same time with that same agent or other agents.
Viewings are important as properties often don’t appear in the flesh as they may appear online. Many who have experienced dating sites may testify to the same. Virtual viewings are becoming all the rage, but there is nothing better than actually physically being at the property. You can get a feel for the property, the neighbours and the street. Instinct is very useful when doing propertyviewings, some places just do not feel right.
And don’t just let the agents stand in the corner just looking at their phones. Its always good to ask them questions while there, such as what are the circumstances of the seller, how long has it been on the market, has it had any offers and will the seller take an offer. They may hold back in giving you the answers but they may not. Sometimes they give away telltale signs in their answers of how desperate the seller may be.
Also ask them to send you the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property. And if the property is leasehold, ascertain who the freeholder and managing agent are and how much are the ground fees and service charges. And one key question is to ask them how long the lease is on the property as often such detail does not appear on the agent’s particulars. Bear in mind that leases near to or less than 80 years remaining may lead to you struggling to get a mortgage on the property and can be seen as depreciating assets.
And if you like the property, do not feel afraid of knocking on the neighbours doors and asking if they enjoy living in the block or the street. Indeed I was going to buy a house one time, and it was only by speaking with the neighbours, did I find out that the street was a no go zone after night. Of course the neighbour may have been lying, as may have thought I looked shifty and did not want me in her street.
If you like a place, arrange a second viewing. One good tip is to arrange a second viewing in the evening if your first was in the day time and vice versa. While there, do a few tests like flushing the toilet, turning on the lights etc. and checking the heating.
And don’t forget to research into the running costs of the property such as council tax, crime rates in the area, parking arrangements and, as before, transport links.
Check online to see what properties have sold for in the street or nearby. The property market is dominated by comparables. Knowing say that next door sold recently for £25K less than your property and had another bedroom, is excellent ammunition when making offers lowing than asking price.
When it comes to making an offer, put it in writing. Twice, I have agreed to buy properties with all the furniture, only for the sellers to remove all the items, then trying to assert they were never part of the deal. Luckily on both occasions I had the original emails with the offers, which clearly stated the deals were to include the furniture.
Very rarely do sellers accept the first offer, so expect some back and forth and argy bargy. Bear this is mind when making your offer and plan your strategy to the ideal number you eventually want to get to.
Once you have made an offer that might be acceptable, it will be worth engaging a solicitor. They will want certain KYC (Know Your Client) information from you e.g. copies of passport etc., so it is always good to have this done in advance. In that way as soon as your offer is accepted, you can tell the agent the identity of your solicitor. Indeed they may have even asked you that already to ascertain how serious you are as a buyer. The solicitor may turn round and say come back once you have had an offer accepted, but there is no harm engaging with them beforehand.
Like all professionals there are good and bad conveyancers. I would certainly seek recommendations for a solicitor rather than choosing one from a google search.
Your solicitor will also be acting for your lender. At the same time as engaging the solicitor, now proceed to your formal mortgage application. Be prepared to be sending over every document you have ever had, including your primary school report. Therefore being organised from the outset is always going to help here. Indeed from the time before when you applied for your Mortgage in Principle, it may be worth collating all the standard documents you may need such as 3 months bank statements, 3 pay slips, etc.
The mortgage world is constantly changing, so it may be worth checking your Mortgage in Principle at this juncture to see if better deals have come to the market since the MIP was issued.
Estate agents with then start hounding you to book in a survey, although it is in your interests to hold off paying for anything until you know you have got a mortgage offer.
The question to then consider is whether to commission a survey or save money by not paying for one. Unless you are an experienced surveyor, my recommendation would be to get one. It may be the best money you ever spend in the deal.
Don’t be confused by valuations, believing they are surveys. Valuations are engaged by the lenders simply to ascertain the value of the property and do not look deeply into the structure of the property. The three types of actual surveys are (i) the Home Condition Report (the cheapest), the HomeBuyer Report (in the middle), and the Building Survey (the most expensive). The different types offer different levels of inspection.
Surveys, although may seem costly, do sometimes pay back their cost and some. If there are expensive hidden faults within the property, this will give you an opportunity to renegotiate the agreed price. If you want to do this, I would say it is advisable not to try to reduce the agreed price for every possible fault that comes up in the survey. Indeed surveyors need to cover themselves, so the reports are inherently negative, almost scary. To the unknown this can sometimes appear like you are buying a bombsite.
Instead it works best to be sensible and fair with any request for a reduction on the agreed price. I ignore the smaller points in the survey and if there are any major issues, I send the survey to the agents and say can we split the difference of the remedial works on the big points. If you approach in a spirt of cooperation i.e. neither of us knew about these faults so lets split the costs, you may get a better reaction from the seller rather than bulldozing in saying I want the full cost off of everything the surveyor has picked up, take it or leave it.
A lot of the time in the conveyance period is taken up by the survey and the mortgage approval. Once all done, it is worth keeping the solicitors on their toes. There can be many holds up in a conveyance connected with chains or simply waiting to receive information from the other side or searches back. But there is nothing wrong with chasing solicitors on a regular basis. Solicitors can often have a very large amount of files on the go at any one time, so sadly the tactic of he who screams loudest, does seem to work.
One document filled in by the seller during the conveyance process will be the Fixtures and Fittings form. This will list which items are staying the property and which the seller is taking. So read this form carefully and make sure it is line with your expectations. Often these forms can lead to discussions between the sellers and buyers over items which the buyer will purchase separately for agreed prices, especially if you had already taking a shine to their hot tub for example.
The two stages in conveyances are exchange and completion. At exchange (as the name suggests) signatures are exchanged on the sales agreement. In anticipation of exchange, you would need to have transferred the deposit to your solicitors (typically 5% or 10%). Once exchange happens, should you as the buyer pull out, this deposit would then be passed to the seller i.e. you would lose it. So this is the stage where legally you are on the hook for the deposit.
From exchange you will need to start insuring the property and this is usually required by the mortgagee. Indeed they invariably ask to be included in the insurance policy.
Exchange of contracts is a celebration moment. You are virtually there, so can treat yourself to the first glass of bubbly (champagne or water, I’m not judging). Then it is a case of arranging a date for completion. There can be simultaneous exchange and completions, although most solicitors like at least two weeks between the two dates to do the standard post exchange formalities.
Start researching as soon as possible during the conveyance into removal companies, just in case they are booked up. Always best to get a few quotes and if possible check out the companies on review sites. The cheapest one may not be the best deal. The best review would of course be from a personal recommendation.
Most people want to move on a weekend, and most completions take place on fridays. Therefore don’t forget to ask the removal companies whether booking them earlier in the week would get you a better deal. Bear this in mind when liaising with your solicitor on the exact completion date.
Tips here would be to also check that the removal company has insurance for damage to your goods. And you can also check it on your own insurance policy to see if such damage during transportation is covered.
And in respect of tips for when you are actually moving. Always put a label on each box showing which room that box is going to. But separately pack a box of items that are needed immediately like cleaning materials, tooth brushes, toilet rolls, tea, kettle and the booze. And I wouldn’t pack vital items such as passports. Keep that at hand. And almost goes without saying, but make sure fragile items are carefully wrapped because even the most professional removal companies can damage items not wrapped properly.
Also contact the council, if the removal company do not do it, in case a parking area needs to be arranged.
In advance of completion, you would have had to put the solicitor in funds for the remaining amount required to complete, aside from the mortgage amount and the deposit already transferred. To do this, the solicitor will prepare a completion statement setting out all the owed costs for SDLT, searches, disbursements and their fees.
Small solicitor firms have been increasingly targeted by scammers. So if you receive an email or even letter from your solicitor to pay the completion amount or deposit to a specified bank account, always telephone their office to check that is the right bank account (and don’t take the telephone number from that email of course). There have been many heart breaking stories of individuals who have received scam emails saying pay to a dodgy bank account and lost properties as a result.
On the completion date, your solicitor will move monies to seller’s solicitors and that’s it, you’re done.
Then it’s the fun bit, going to the estate agents and picking up the keys. It doesn’t matter how many properties I have bought, it is always a nice feeling collecting keys. But that is nothing compared to turning the key on your new front door and going in.
And another tip is to check the meter readings on the utilities as soon as you go in, as from that moment, its on your bill. And then inform authorities such as utility companies, Electoral Roll, your employer and Inland Revenue of your new address.
The back to the bubbly (which you carefully packed separately) and start having fun in your home!