Make a list of all the things that would be definite no-nos for you. For example, some people would never consider buying a property that had evidence of damp, and others may be perfectly happy to buy it, using it as a negotiation tool, and deal with it once the sale is completed. So, as well as damp, here are some other things you may want to look out for, starting with the outside:
Brickwork, pointing, gutters and the roof – look for cracks, mould, rot and missing roof tiles.
Check the direction – Does the balcony really face south, as the agent promised?
Nosey in next door– have a good look at the state of both the property and garden of adjoining properties. If you can, try to have a chat with the locals. But, try not to choose those that live directly next door, as they may not be as honest about the current owners as you’d like.
One bar or four? – always check that there’s phone signal and the speed of the internet connection. It’s not important to some people, but if you work from home, for example, you may really need a speedy connection, so this could be a deal breaker.
Can’t swing a cat – do you like to have lots of room to move around when you cook. If you do, it might be worth acting out making a meal – like charades – to make sure that you have enough room. The same goes for all the rooms, act out what you normally do to see if the size fits.
Check sockets –try all the electricity sockets and light switches to make sure they work. Depending on the age of the property, ask if and when the wiring was last checked or replaced.
Power! – how many power points do you need? With today’s tech obsession, you may need more than you think. Check the number of points and the location too.
Walls and ceilings– look for brown patches, evidence of water leaks and cracks.
Door and windows – open and close all the doors and windows to make sure they work properly. Also have a look at what kind of locks there are on the external doors. They’ll have to be 5-lever mortice locks, often called a deadlock, to meet UK insurance standards.
Lofts and cellars – if the flat has either of these, make sure you check them for the usual culprits – damp and rot.
Leasehold or freehold?
When you buy a property that’s leasehold, you are only renting the land that it sits on, someone else actually owns it. You’ll usually have to pat the freeholder an annual fee – this is call Ground Rent. It is worth checking what the Ground Rent is and also how long is left on the lease. If the lease is about to run out, you may find it harder to get a mortgage on the property. Ideally, you want at least 50 years left on the lease – but the longer the better. Leasehold extensions are often expensive to buy, despite what the agent might tell you.
Leaseholders often have to pay service charges too. These are paid to the freeholder, aka the landlord, and should be for things like maintenance to the gardens, roof and communal areas. It’s a good idea to speak to other people in the block to find out how quickly issues are dealt with and if they think the service charge is fair or not.
It’s also worth seeing if you can buy the freehold (or share of freehold) from the landlord, as in England and Wales you’d usually be able to purchase it at a fair price. This could save you thousands in fees and charges.
Make sure you get the answers to the two points above covered in writing.
It’s tempting to let the estate agent deal with everything, especially if you’re not that familiar (who is?) with the legal processes of buying a property – which is called conveyancing. But, shopping around, including online, for alternative firms to complete the legal aspects of the sale could save you thousands.
Gazumping and what to do about it
One of the easiest things you can do about gazumping is to ask the seller to take the property off the market once an offer has been put in. This is important because, at any point up to the exchange of contracts, either party is able to pull out of the sale. So if the property stays on the market, potentially, the seller could accept your offer and then reject it later if another buyers comes along offering more.
Watch out for the extras!
Buying your place is going to be pricey enough – but your mortgage lender may also encourage you to buy their life insurance and home insurance. These might not be the best deal, and you aren’t obliged to buy from them, so just shop around as you would for any other insurance. Remember if your flat is leasehold then the freeholder is responsible for insuring the fabric of the building itself – but you may want to buy contents insurance.
And there you have it. Follow these guidelines and you’ll not go far wrong. If you need any more help, we’ve got loads more useful stuff, so have a look around.
Disclaimer: All information and links are correct at the time of publishing.