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Guide to buying a home; our top tips for current owners and first time buyers

View profile for Sabrina Skerritt
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Buying a property is an exciting and momentous life milestone. Whether you are looking for a new home for an expanding family, or you are looking to start your climb up the property ladder, buying a home can be a complicated one and it’s important to understand the steps that will see you settle in to your dream property. In this guide, Conveyancing Executive, Sabrina Skerritt, details the three stages to buying a property, shares her top tips and details how we can help you if you’re a first time buyer.

What are the stages to buying a home?

When buying a home, the stages included in the process are relatively similar to those involved in selling one, but there are distinct differences. “Before we can get you moved into a property, there are three stages to go through to make sure what you’re looking at buying really is your dream property,” explains Sabrina. “If you’ve sold a property before, you’ll be familiar with some of the work that needs to be done, but if you’re a first time buyer, the process can be a bit confusing and daunting. That’s where we come in.”

  • The first stage is about gathering information on the property you are looking to buy, which will help us give you the best advice. This will include documents such as the contract, title deeds, property information forms and relevant guarantees and certificates, where available, for any works that may have been carried out at the property. We will also require copies of your ID.  Due to legislation regarding money laundering, we will need to acquire details regarding the money you are putting towards the purchase, including any that is being gifted to you by family or friends.
  • The second stage will see you and the seller exchange contracts. Once we have reviewed the contract paperwork received from your seller’s solicitors, we will raise any enquiries we feel necessary. It’s important that you let us know if there are any specific questions you would like answered so we can raise these on your behalf. We will also apply for searches such as environmental, water and drainage to give you additional information on these aspects. If you are getting a mortgage, then your lender will send us a copy of your offer. In the run up to the exchange, we will have discussed with you all of the aspects of your transaction and sent you any documents to sign that will bind you to the purchase upon exchange of contracts. We will have discussed feasible moving dates with you and asked for deposit monies in readiness for exchange of contracts.  

“If there are a large number of people in the chain, it can sometimes be difficult to find a date that suits every party,” explains Sabrina. “We will do everything we can to arrange a date that works for you, but you must also bear in mind there can be quite a lot of negotiation required. Once all parties in the chain are ready, we will call you to run through the details of the contract one last time, and exchange.”

  • The third stage is completion, which is when you will move into your new home! Once exchange has taken place we will make the last few checks, and will collect any outstanding balance due from you to complete the purchase. On the day of completion, the money will then be transferred to the seller's solicitors. Once they have received the monies, they will release the keys to the estate agents (usually around lunchtime) for you to collect. Then all that’s left is for you to move in, unpack and enjoy your new home.

What should I keep in mind when buying a home?

"Buying a property is a big financial commitment, so preparing appropriately is vital to making sure you end up in your dream home," comments Sabrina.

When searching for properties and viewing them, there are a number of tips you should keep in mind to ensure you avoid any unexpected surprises further down the line. These include:

  • Only consider a home you can afford

This sounds obvious, but a common mistake buyers can make is looking for properties right at the top of their price range. This may seem like a good idea at first, but with the unexpected turns that life can sometimes take, it could lead to you finding it difficult to make the mortgage payments in the future. Finding a mortgage advisor with a good reputation is a simple way to avoid this, as they can give you a realistic estimation of what you could afford in repayments each month.

  • Do thorough research into the property market

Being aware of how other properties in the area have sold will put you in an excellent position when it comes to making an offer. If a seller is asking for above what most others in the area are, pointing it out could encourage them to lower their price. You should also make sure you have considered every possible location you would like to live, and factors like nearby schools and commuting links are going to be a huge influence.

  • What are your first impressions of the property?

When viewing a property, if it is untidy or the interior is not decorated to your taste, try to view it as a blank canvas as you may pass up what could be your dream property because of fixable issues. If you are seriously considering buying the property, you should also keep track of anything that is faulty in it as this potentially could be used to negotiate on the price. "Taking note of things like damp, ceiling issues and the condition of outside walls will help you get a sense of what areas may need work and will ultimately add to your costs when repairing," explains Sabrina.

  • View the property multiple times

"A property is many people’s most expensive asset, yet the majority of buyers spend no more than a total of 20 minutes viewing a property before they decide to make an offer,” explains Sabrina. "Viewings can be exciting and it’s very easy to get carried away if a property is presented well. Don't be afraid to view a property more than once to get a good sense of it and make sure you didn't miss anything.”

It’s also a good idea to make sure viewings are at different times of the day if possible; going in the middle of the day might mean you miss noisy neighbours who are at work, and going in the evening will give you a true idea of the parking and traffic levels as well as noise pollution.

  • Don't take the lender's word for it

A survey carried out by the mortgage lender is just to make sure the property is secure enough to qualify for the loan. Commissioning your own independent survey will ensure that any real faults or issues with the property are found. In general, a Home Buyer's Report will be adequate, but if you are buying an older or more unusual home, for example a barn conversion, a full structural survey will be more suitable.

  • What sort of maintenance and upkeep will you have to do?

A large garden is often a popular feature when looking for a new home, but they do need a lot of upkeep. This could lead to the garden becoming overgrown, or even the additional cost of a gardener you hadn't initially considered. Also, when was the last time the electrics and boiler were checked? Have they been replaced recently? If not, this could mean they will soon need it, again meaning further costs.

It is important that you know whether the property you are considering buying is a leasehold (flat) or freehold (house) as there are many differences between the two. There are responsibilities and additional fees that come with buying leasehold and you should make sure that you know what they are before moving forward with the transaction.

  • Make your offer reasonable

While it is normal to offer below the asking price, you should consider the fact that the seller may have other offers on the table. Putting forward an offer that is more realistic, fair and closer to the asking price will give you the edge over others.

  • Are you moving in with anyone else?

Before exchanging, it is prudent to make plans for the future. If you are buying the property with your partner, but aren't married, you should decide how you would like to hold the property; either jointly, in unequal shares to protect the deposits that have been put towards the property, or having a cohabitation agreement arranged. "If you are at the stage in your relationship where you and your partner are buying a property together, you will most likely think that the relationship won’t end, but it does happen unfortunately," explains Sabrina. "Having an arrangement that clearly states each person's role and input in the purchase of the property is a great way to avoid any potential disagreements in the future."

  • Make a Will

Buying a property will mean you have an asset that will need protection. Having a Will written is the best way to do so.

"There is a lot to consider when buying a property," comments Sabrina. "Following these tips will help you find a property that's right for you and your family, and keep you happy in that home for years to come."

What if I'm a first time buyer?

"As a first time buyer, you’ll likely have no prior experience of the conveyancing process, and so it can be hard to know where to start,” explains Sabrina. “With our top tips below, you will soon be well on your way to moving into your first home."

  • What sort of deposit do I need?

Saving the money for a deposit is the first, and often biggest, step towards buying your first property. The bigger the deposit will mean the lower your mortgage loan will be and the more mortgage offers that will be available to you. Generally, most mortgage lenders will stipulate that you need a deposit of at least 5% of the property's purchase price in order to receive a mortgage offer.

  • Research all available mortgage deals

Taking the time to look into different mortgage deals will help you get the best one to suit your circumstances, but there are many available and it can often be difficult to figure out which one that is. Although there are comparison sites to help you understand the offers, a mortgage broker is the best way to be sure you get the best deal, although it could add to your total costs.

  • Is there any help available if I can't save enough for a deposit?

A common issue in recent years has been the difficulty first time buyers are having in saving up a full deposit. There are a number of Government schemes that have been set up to help, with a Help to Buy ISA being the most popular. Help to Buy ISA’s can no longer be opened, however those with accounts already opened can benefit from the 25% Government bonus on accounts with a minimum of £1,600.00. The maximum bonus the Government will provide is £3,000.00. There are other schemes available such as Lifetime ISA, Forces Help to Buy, Equity Loan and shared ownership.

How should I prepare to move?

"While the process of buying a new home can often feel like it takes a while, you don't want the moment of moving into your new property to arrive and not be prepared," explains Sabrina. "Here, to help you be ready for moving day, we've put together a handy checklist."

Around four weeks before you move, you will want to make a start on packing. To do so, you should order the following things:

  • Boxes,
  • Labels,
  • Packing tape.

Moving is a great way to get rid of clutter, which will also make your move easier. You should clear out the following:

  • Shed or garage,
  • Any spare room(s), your attic or basement,
  • Any storage cupboards you may have.

You should also notify any utilities of the move, including:

  • Electricity,
  • Water,
  • Council Tax,
  • Gas,
  • TV Licence,
  • Broadband,
  • Car breakdown cover,
  • DVLA,
  • Car insurance,
  • Banks or building societies,
  • Doctor,
  • Your employer,
  • Your pension provider.

In the last few days before moving, there are a number of important things to organise:

  • Make arrangements for new locks to be installed at your new property,
  • Ensure the keys for your old property are available or given to the estate agents and provide any alarm codes if needed,
  • Pack any valuables and important documents.

Packing a smaller bag with the below items can help keep you going until everything is in place:

  • Cleaning materials,
  • Lightbulbs,
  • Snacks,
  • Rubbish bags,
  • Basic tools,
  • Mobile phone charger,
  • Toilet rolls.

On the day of the move, make sure to leave the manuals behind for any appliances, take meter readings and make sure all windows and doors are locked. Lastly, when you are unpacked and settled in your new home, make sure to enjoy it!

"When buying a property, it can feel like there is a lot to be done before you can actually move into your new home," concludes Sabrina. "Finding the right Conveyancer or Solicitor to guide you through it is the best way to ensure a smooth and stress free process that will have you settling in to your new home as soon as possible."

To speak to Sabrina about purchasing a property, your first home, or to answer any other questions you may have regarding the above information, you can email her at sabrinaskerritt@warnergoodman.co.uk. You can also contact any one of our Property teams using the details below:

Fareham: 01329 288121
Southampton: 023 8063 9311
Portsmouth:  023 9275 3575
Chandler’s Ford: 023 8071 7467
Waterlooville: 023 9277 6569
Emailconveyancingquote@warnergoodman.co.uk

Alternatively, you may find the following links useful:

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.