For most people, buying a house is the most expensive purchase we will ever make. It’s perhaps no surprise that adults have rated purchasing a home as more stressful than divorce, bankruptcy or even bereavement. Whether you’re taking your first step onto the housing ladder or you’re purchasing your second or third home, knowing these tricks and potential pitfalls will help the transaction to go more smoothly.
1. Remember that estate agents represent vendors
It’s an obvious statement, but don’t be fooled by the super-friendly estate agent who seems to be bending over backwards to please you. It is the Seller paying the agency – and some agents work on a no-sale no-fee basis whilst the rest know that more ‘Sold’ boards in the area will attract yet more customers. Don’t let them know your maximum budget – they could use this to their client’s advantage during negotiations.
2. Find out the Seller’s position
Some people need to sell quickly and may be more receptive to a lower offer, a cash purchase or a buyer that has no chain. Others may prefer to negotiate with a buyer who is willing to give them more time to sort out their circumstances. Find out why the Vendor is selling and whether they themselves have a chain – it could help you to negotiate.
3. Check the property’s history
Ask the Seller whether they used any other estate agencies before their current one and if so, how long the property was marketed and at what price. You may have to do some sleuthing as they could be reluctant to hand over this information.
You should also ask the agent how long the property has been on the market with them and if there have been any offers or price reductions. If there have been offers, ask how much these were for. You can also ask if any previous sales fell through and the reasons why. All of this info will help you negotiate and may bring potential problems to your attention.
4. Take a professional along
If you’ve found a prospective property and plan on renovating or doing any building works, take an architect or builder along with you on the second viewing. If you don’t have a family friend in the trade, ask a local firm if they’d be willing to walk around the house with you – they’ll often be happy to give up a little time if they believe some work may come their way.
5. Watch out for warning signs
Although it’s quite common to freshly paint a property before it goes on the market, it might also indicate a hidden problem – so look out for any signs of damp and ask if the painting was done to cover an issue. You should also ask if the Seller has done any works while they have lived at the property, including changing any windows or doors – whilst your solicitor will search for planning applications and approvals, it may be that the Seller did building work without obtaining the necessary permissions. If you don’t ask the question, the Seller isn’t obliged to tell you about defects – but if you do ask, they must answer all enquiries about the property honestly. If they lie, they risk the possibility of being sued for fraudulent misrepresentation. If you are in any doubt about anything at all that you see in the property, have your solicitor raise the question specifically in writing.
Consider having a full structural survey done, particularly in older homes where infestations, asbestos, condensation, dry rot, knotweed or movement are common issues, in addition to damp.
6. Speak to the neighbours
Your would-be neighbours will be a great source of information about the area and any local problems. Meeting them will also help you decide if you’d like to live next door to them!
You could ask:
- How long they have lived in their property
- What they like most/least about the area.
- Whether all the residents close by get along
- Whether they have ever noticed anything odd about the property you want to buy.
- If the neighbourhood is quiet or noisy.
- If they know of any plans for development in the area. Whilst your solicitor will check for planning applications, they may know of proposals that haven’t got to the planning stage as yet.
You should also ask about flooding – whilst an environmental search can tell you about problems generally, your neighbours should be able to tell you if they’ve seen problems at this specific property. Don’t skimp on making enquiries if you plan on renting the property out – whilst you might care less about the area, you’ll find it difficult to find a tenant if there are local problems.
7. Research the lease
If you’re buying a leasehold property, find out what the likely cost is of extending the lease length. The Vendor may know this already but if not, you could make any offer conditional on serving a Section 42 notice on the freeholder. This notice advises the freeholder what premium you would be willing to pay for a lease extension, based on a valuation of the lease. They then have 2 months to respond with a counter notice either accepting or rejecting your offer (and noting what premium would be required). A further two months is allowed for negotiation after which the decision can be taken to a Tribunal. You should see legal advice from a solicitor before undertaking this process.
8. Low bid? Give reasons
A low bid might feel like you’re trying it on and there is nothing more frustrating to a genuine seller. However, if you can see genuine defects in the property that need to be fixed, justifying your low bid by explaining these can help.
9. Act fast
If your offer is accepted, act quickly to get your survey completed and the necessary legal work done. If you drag your feet, there’s a higher chance that the sale will fall through.