Do Your Homework
What are your priorities when looking for a new home? How will you get to work, where will the children attend school, where’s the nearest park, or where will you shop/relax? If you work from home, what is the local broadband speed? All these factors will help answer the ‘where’ question. If some of the questions can be answered more satisfactorily than others, you could consider ranking the locations by category – perhaps 4 out of 10 for accessibility to the nearest gym (five miles away), but 9 out of 10 for the plethora of restaurants just round the corner...you get the idea!
Qualitative factors can then be allowed to come into play – what does the area feel like, are the local properties well cared for, would you let your kids walk to the shop on their own? Could you see yourself living there?
If you are new to the area, make sure you talk to as many people as possible about the area you are considering. Areas that look perfectly salubrious could have reputations which undermine their appeal, and that council tip two miles away could be a source of deeply unpleasant odours on the rare occasion that the wind blows from the east.
If you are serious about the area, do get out of your car and walk the patch. It is so easy to miss things when you whistle past in second gear. That car on the forecourt of the house opposite might look serviceable, but on closer inspection it could have been sat rotting for the last five years – and it’ll still be there every morning when you open the curtains!
Prepare Your Budget
Of course a location which scores 10/10 for all your criteria is also likely to be ranked pretty highly by others, and that could well mean that prices in the immediate area are higher than your budget permits - which is where the need for compromise arises. If you are going to have to give something up, what would it be? Which of the criteria is most important to you?
Set your budget realistically, and don’t forget to allow for the many costs of purchase, not least;
- Stamp Duty Land Tax;
- Solicitors’ fees and searches;
- Land Registry fees;
- Building Survey;
- Bank Valuation;
- Mortgage arrangement fee;
- Mortgage indemnity fee;
If the chosen property needs any work, try to seek quotations before you commit.
Making an Offer
When you find the property of your dreams, you will need to make an offer. It need not be the price quoted – be confident in offering what YOU feel is the right sum. Don’t be disappointed if your first offer is rejected – most are! Vendors and their agents know that most people do not offer their best bid at the outset, and they will probably come back with a counter-proposal. Be prepared to play the game!
The agent will want to know the proposed timescale for your purchase. If you still have an existing property to sell, the agent is unlikely to recommend your bid for acceptance, as it could be months before you have a buyer for your own. If your sale is in solicitor’s hands, it will give the vendor more confidence that you are in a position to buy. Of course if you have already sold you are in the strongest position of all, and this could work to your advantage if there are other bidders for the property.
The vendor’s agent is legally obliged to report all offers received to his client. Before he does this, he will also want to know how you are proposing to finance the purchase, and evidence of an in-principle offer from a bank or building society will give the vendor confidence that you are in a position to buy. You are recommended to have the funding offer in place, both in order to add weight to your bid and to prevent undue delays during the purchase.
The Sales Memorandum
Once the price is agreed, the agent will ask for your full contact details, and those of your solicitor/conveyancer, along with details of your proposed mortgagee. He/she will then issue a draft memorandum of sale. This sets out the price agreed, what is to be included in the sale and the agreed time-scales. Do read this carefully, as it will form the basis of the instructions to both sides’ solicitors.
Into Solicitors' Hands
Once instructed, the vendor’s solicitor will prepare the sale contract and forward it to your solicitor, who will begin the process of reviewing the legal documentation, raising enquiries and making searches of the various statutory bodies.
It is usual for the sale process to take 4-5 weeks to reach an exchange of contracts, with the completion date set roughly a month thereafter. You will need to have the dates clear in your mind, and make sure they align with the completion date of your own sale. Remember, once you have exchanged contracts you are legally bound to buy the property, on the date agreed.
Your mortgagee will require a valuation to be undertaken. The vendor will want to see that this is organised and undertaken promptly – usually within the first couple of weeks. Undue delays will sap vendors’ confidence and make them worry that perhaps you are struggling to raise the necessary funds, so do press the bank to act promptly.
Once the legal investigations are complete and the contract is agreed, the solicitor will ask you to sign the contract and forward to them the deposit for the purchase. This is usually 10% of the purchase price, which will be telegraphically transferred to the vendor’s solicitor on the day of exchange. At that point, you are legally bound to buy the property, the vendor is legally bound to sell it to you, and the completion date is set.
Woohoo We've Exchanged!
Great news! Exchange of contracts brings certainty. You now know that your purchase is going to happen, and when, and you can plan accordingly. Book the removers as far in advance as possible, and don’t forget to let everyone know you are moving! Notify utility providers, take final meter readings and make arrangements to take over the services at the property you are moving to.
On the day of completion, your mortgage providers will instruct your solicitor to release the balance of the purchase price to the vendor’s solicitor and upon receipt the solicitor will notify the sales agent that he/she can release the keys to you.
Don’t forget to insure your new home immediately. We suggest you organise this a day or two prior, and make sure you are happy that the building sum insured is correct. This should represent the cost of rebuilding the property in the event of a total loss. It is NOT the price you have just paid for the property, since that includes the value of the land. Many people confuse the two, and end up paying significantly higher insurance premiums as a result.
If you are buying a leasehold flat, your freeholder probably insures the building’s structure, but that won’t cover your contents and personal effects. Make sure you check and understand what is already covered and obtain additional insurance as required.
Good luck in your new home, and happy decorating!