Top tips for buying a new home

Moving house is one of the most stressful things we’ll do in our lives. Whether your family needs have changed, or you just have itchy feet, it can be a long journey from finding the home of your dreams to moving day. Be prepared, and read our top ten house-buying tips to help make the process a little easier.
View of tiled roof tops with 'For Sale' sign in front of house. Pink blossom shows in foreground.

1. Write a wish list

Firstly consider why you’re moving. If you already have a home but it doesn’t meet your needs, can it be extended, or can the room layout be changed? By spending money on your existing home you could add value. If you do need to move, have a list of fundamental needs ready. If it’s a bigger garden or a driveway you need, this will stop you being seduced by that small terraced home with no parking but an amazing kitchen.

Mortgage loan agreement papers with house keys sat on top

2. Sort out your finances

    • solicitors fees
    • stamp duty on properties over £125,000 (more about this later)
    • mortgage arrangement fees or financial advisor fees
    • removal fees
    • surveys
    • land search fees, and
    • fixture and furniture costs if you’re a first-time buyer.
You can use a mortgage calculator to get an idea of your monthly repayments, but it’s always a good idea to speak to an Independent Financial Advisor (IFA) or a mortgage advisor before you start house-hunting. Knowing exactly what you can offer on a home could not only save disappointment later on in securing your mortgage, but will give you a good negotiation benchmark. Buying with a friend can be an option, but do your homework and swot up on your tenancy options. The Citizens Advice Bureau explains more.

3. Consider new vs old

Whilst that gorgeous Georgian townhouse can look fabulous, go into buying an old property with your eyes wide open. They can offer more space, and lovely features, but can often need significant work. Your survey will highlight any concerns, but you may be advised to have additional surveys (for example damp or electrical surveys) on older properties. A new build home can offer you some great benefits: A ten year NHBC warranty, energy efficiency and no onward chain. It’s often possible to get Help to Buy or New Buy funding on new homes (which allow you to buy with as little as 5% deposit), and negotiate on fixtures and fittings. And if you have a home to sell you may be able to part-exchange your house for a new one. If you’re considering a flat or apartment, ensure you fully understand the implications of a leasehold property (which means you’re effectively renting the land the property sits on), and how many years are left on the lease. You’ll also need to factor in ground rent and service charges to your monthly outgoings. Find out more on leasehold vs freehold

4. Check the location

It sounds obvious, but the location is the one thing you cannot change. It’s usually better to have the worst home in the best neighbourhood than the best home in the worst neighbourhood. Do you need to be in a school catchment area (or will you be in the next couple of years?), or want the option of walking to the shops? Do your research, especially if you’re moving into a new neighbourhood. Many towns now have their own Facebook pages, be nosy…what issues are the local residents talking about? It’s also worth checking the Council Tax band and likely Home Insurance costs on the property to help plan your finances.

5. Understand Stamp Duty

Stamp Duty – which is a tax on the purchase price of the property – has just been revised and from December 4 2014 most people will save on the previous stamp duty rates. There’s a calculator tool you can use when looking at property to find out how much you’ll need to pay. There may be exceptions for certain areas, and duty prices can change. You can find out more at gov.uk.

6. Read the small print

To be sure of what you’re buying, pay attention to the information provided by the vendor to your solicitor or conveyancer. Of course, you can ask questions when you view the house, but it’s essential to have the information in black and white before you seal the deal. A property information form will declare boundary lines, shared access arrangements and even any neighbourly disputes. Fixtures and fittings – this list will tell you exactly what’s included with your purchase. You might be hankering after that range cooker, but it’s amazing how many of them aren’t included in the sale. EPC – Energy Performance Certificate (which replaced the Home Information Pack). This gives the home an energy efficiency rating on a scale from A-G, with G being the least efficient, and will give you an idea of how costly the home could be to run. Building regulations – ensure any improvements made by the seller have been signed off by building regulations and were granted planning permission. Electrical safety certificates should also have been provided.

7. Understand the legals

Don’t feel pressurised in using the solicitors or conveyancers recommended by the estate agent, it’s your choice. Recommendation through a friend is often a good way to choose, and with a smaller solicitor firm you’ll be more likely to have a named contact. They will instruct Land Registry Searches on your behalf, as well as drawing up contracts once they’re satisfied with all the required paperwork and checked search results. A survey is carried out to ensure the property is worth what you are paying for it, and is required by the mortgage lender before they’ll issue a mortgage offer. The lender will usually instruct a surveyor on your behalf.

8. Don’t break the chain

Depending on how many people are in the chain, the process to get to exchange of contracts can take several weeks, so be patient. Don’t be afraid to call your solicitor to check on progress, after all that’s what you are paying them for. They will usually be better placed that the estate agent to answer your questions.

9. Be a savvy seller

If you also have a home to sell, this can hold up the chain. If you’ve had several viewings but no offers, don’t be afraid to ask your estate agent for honest feedback on why they feel it’s not selling. If you think the agent has lost momentum, you’re perfectly at liberty to change agents or to go on the market with more than one agent. Don’t forget to haggle on the commission fee with estate agents too, they’re not all bad!

10. Get moving

It’s a golden moment when you finally get those keys in your hand! But the real key to a stress-free move is organisation! If you have the budget, some removal firms will pack and unpack for you, saving a lot of work. If you’re packing yourself, make checklists – and don’t wait until the moving date to discover you need to clear out the loft! Label boxes as you go for easy unpacking at the other end. Hoard newspapers and bubble wrap in advance for packing, and collect boxes from the local supermarket. On move day you’ll need to be out by lunchtime (usually completion takes place mid to late morning), so be organised, and don’t forget to take final readings on the gas and electricity meters before you go! Read more tips on moving home.

First published on 09/09/2013

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