Top 10 Tips for Buying a House

buying house solicitor residential conveyancing

1.  Find the right property

  • Make friends with your local estate agents. Some homes are sold before they appear on the sites, make sure you are notified as soon as a property fitting your criteria hits their books.
  • There's a wealth of property search sites out there. Use them for research purposes, compare prices and get to know the area. Remember asking prices are often wildly optimistic, showing what the seller wants for the property, not what they'll get.


2. Viewing

  • Visit the property at different times of the day
  • Take some photos (you may need to ask the estate agents first)
  • Don’t be shy, ask as many questions as you like, for example,
    • How many viewings has it had?
    • How many offers has it had?
    • Have there been any neighbour disputes?
    • Why are the sellers moving?
    • What renovations have been done?
    • How old is the boiler and when was it last inspected?
    • When was the house last rewired?
    • How long has the seller lived there?
    • What’s included in the sale: white goods, curtains, carpets, etc?
    • Are there any parking issues?
    • Has the property be burgled before?


3. Let the Buyer Beware

This is the cast-iron principle in home buying, so you must check everything and be satisfied before committing yourself to buy.

  • You are recommended to instruct a surveyor to carry out a Homebuyer Survey Report, especially if the property is very old.
  • Don’t waste megabucks on a survey only to discover obvious problems. For second and third viewings, take an expert or a friend with DIY experience to give their honest opinion of the property and price.
  • Small issues such as a broken kitchen drawer needn’t be a deal-breaker. But make a list, so you can ask the seller to fix small problems before you get the keys.
  • If buying a flat or terrace, alarm bells should ring if the neighbours’ properties are rundown. Their problems can quickly become yours.


4. Knock on the neighbour’s door

  • Choose to be friendly with your neighbour, they are not your enemy. You never know when you may need them for a favour.
  • It is always advisable to have a chat with the neighbours. They may offer tip-offs on the area or house, but it’s also a chance for you to get the measure of them.


5. Consider re-sale potential

  • If you don't want to live in the property until you die, consider the ease of resale. This may be your dream house, so you can live with walking through the kitchen to get to the bathroom. But will others?
  • If it's been on the market for a while, mull over why it hasn't shifted. Are people put off by the street, a takeaway shop below, lack of parking or a small garden?


6. Consider how much it all costs

Buying a home's almost guaranteed to cost more than you think. Here's what to factor in.

  • Mortgage arrangement fee. Expect to pay your lender an arrangement fee. They vary but £1,000 is typical. In some cases this is non-refundable, even if the house purchase falls through.
  • Valuation fee. This is the fee lenders charge for a valuation to check the property exists and that it also offers sufficient security for the loan. The cost varies according to lender and the purchase price, but budget for £300.
  • Legal fees. Many lenders will contribute to legal fees, although in that case you would have to use a solicitor approved by them. If you pay for your own conveyancing, you're looking at about £500-£800, depending on purchase price.
  • Stamp duty. Buy a property for more than £125,000 and you're likely to have to pay a percentage of its price to the taxman.
  • Surveys. These are another costly aspect to any purchase, with a typical survey costing £400 to £700. Many people pay for surveys on purchases that fall through, so budget for two or three.
  • Removal costs. Unless you can pile your belongings into the back of a car, factor in a removal van. These start at £100 for small local moves, but can easily run to £1,000 for shifting a family's worldly goods long distances.
  • House repairs. From flaky paintwork to leaky sinks, put aside some cash for unexpected property maintenance.
  • Furniture and extras. Currently renting a furnished place? Remember you'll need to buy everything from beds and sofas to lawnmowers and carpets.

Then there are the boring but essential extras: light bulbs, lamp shades, toilet brush, washing up bowl, door mats, hooks and extension leads.


7. Making an offer

After all the research, viewing, negotiation, discussion, to-ing and fro-ing, you are ready to put an offer to the seller. Tell them what you are willing to pay, not what they are asking for.


8. How long does it take?: Typical timeline (for England and Wales)

  • 6 weeks to 8 months

Find a property: Research the area, scour estate agents and search websites.

Put in an offer: Tell the seller what you're willing to pay and any conditions.

  • 2 to 6 weeks

It's accepted: Now get a survey to check the property's condition. Your solicitor checks any legal issues.

Exchange: You pay your deposit and can't back out without major cost.

  • 1 to 4 weeks

Completion: You hand over the rest of the cash in exchange for the keys and deeds. The property's now legally yours.


9. Choose the right solicitors

Conveyancing is the legal process that transfers property from one person to another. As well as solicitors, there are licensed conveyancers, who are specialist property lawyers.

It's about searching all the official files for hidden catches and ensuring the purchase is legit. The solicitor does all the legal paperwork, Land Registry and local council searches, drafts the contract and handles the exchange of cash. This is not usually something you can do yourself and usually costs £100 to £1,500.

Here are our dos and don'ts.

  • DON'T automatically use the estate agents' firm. It's probably a commission-based recommendation. Certainly speak to them and use their price as a benchmark.
  • DO ask friends and colleagues for recommendation.
  • DON'T assume they need to be nearby. Consider someone from further afield. It's perfectly possible to use a solicitor in Leeds when you live in central London, and it can be much cheaper.
  • DO ask who will be dealing with your case. Will you have the same person as your contact point throughout the transaction? Check their service standard, for example, how quickly they will return calls or e-mails.
  • DON'T go for rock bottom price if you're in a rush. The cheapest companies often work in bulk and can be slower. If time is an issue, that can be a problem. Pick a company that sounds professional and answers emails promptly.
  • DO check for hidden extras. Ask for a full fee breakdown. Do they include bank money transfer fees, stamp duty forms, land registration fees and drainage and environmental searches? Some firms even charge extra to verify your ID.
  • DON'T automatically use the solicitor who did your divorce. Pick a firm that focuses on conveyancing or at least has a specialist department. Ask how many cases it handled last year. Just because someone did your divorce doesn't mean they can do this job too.
  • DO ask whether the firm is accredited with the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) by the Law Society.
  • DON'T be shy. Ensure you fully understand what your legal adviser will and won't do on your behalf.


10. Moving Day

  • Synchronise your moving in schedule with the seller, especially if they are moving out on the same day.
  • Read the meters.
  • Make sure the seller does not leave any rubbish behind. Skips are expensive.
  • Collect keys from the estate agent rather than from the seller.
  • It is always good practice if you can ask seller to do a proper handover of the property to you so that you know how to work the security system, boiler, etc and see whether all the manuals are left behind for your reference.
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