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Before you start looking for a specific property, it makes sense to choose a defined area and check it out. Try to visit a couple of times, look at all of the transport links, investigate local schools if appropriate, and look up other amenities that are important to you.

  • The first step
  • Viewing property
  • Making an offer
  • Surveys
  • Legal work
  • Home Information Packs (HIPs)

  • The first step

    Then sign up with a number of local estate agents and give them as tight a brief as possible. Tell them what your maximum budget is (they will almost always try to get you to view properties which exceed your budget, but remain firm). Tell them exactly which area you want to live in, what the property MUST have (eg minimum number of bedrooms) and what you would like it to have (eg south-facing garden).

    Viewing property is a time-consuming business, and you do not want to waste precious time being dragged around properties that don't interest you.

    Viewing property

    The golden rule is: take your time. Do not be rushed or pressured, or put off if the current owner is hovering. Try to visit the property a number of times, at different times of the day.

    Keep your eyes open for any obvious defects, such as damp, and don't be afraid to ask the owner for utility bills to get an idea of how much the property costs to run.

    Making an offer

    Remember that the sale price is what the seller hops to get, not what they realistically expect. Many buyers will put in an initial offer of 10% under asking price - you can always increase the offer if they reject you at first. But your second offer should be a final, serious one.

    Also, bear in mind that popular properties may go for asking price - or even above asking price - when the market is booming.

    Make your offer subject to contract and subject to survey, so you can withdraw if problems arise.

    If your offer is expected you may be asked for a deposit, but you are not obliged to pay it at this stage.


    Contact your lender. They will send out a valuer, or carry out an automatic valuation, to ensure that the property is worth at least the amount they are lending. You often have to pay for this valuation (typically about £300 on a £100,000 property).

    The valuation is cursory, however, so you should also commission your own Homebuyers Report, which will cost about £200 extra. If the property is older, you could have a comprehensive buildings survey carried out, which will inspect every nook and cranny.

    Legal work

    Buying a home is a legal process, and a solicitor or conveyancer is usually used. The legal process of transferring property is called conveyancing.

    The solicitor or conveyancer checks all the legal documents such as the title deeds. They also check with the local authority that nothing will impact on the value of your property. They will also check the lease of a leasehold flat, and what is included in the sale.

    Once everything is in order, you sign a contract, which is exchanged with the seller, who signs an identical contract. You have to pay a non-refundable 10% deposit on exchange. You are now responsible for insuring the property, so you must arrange buildings insurance, unless you are buying a leasehold flat in which case the freeholder is responsible for the insurance.

    A date can now be set for completion, which is usually within four weeks. On completion day, the legal ends are tied up, you collect the keys and move in.

    Home Information Packs (HIPs)

    Home Information Packs (HIPs), also known as sellerâs packs, were conceived with the intention of speeding up the house-buying process and eradicating gazumping â being outbid for a property before you exchange. A seller must pay around £500 to have a HIP compiled before putting their house on the market.

    The packs contain an Energy Performance Certificate with green advice on how to cut carbon emissions and reduce fuel bills. The certificate itself shows the energy efficiency of a property by measuring its average energy use per square metre of floor area. Other documents include a sale statement, searches and evidence of title.

    HIPs were originally penciled in for introduction in June 2007, but their implementation has been somewhat protracted. Despite having been mooted for the best part of a decade, the roll-out of the packs was delayed, and even then only applied to properties with four bedrooms or more. From September 2007, houses with three or bedrooms were included, but a date for complete implementation of HIPs across all properties has yet to be confirmed.

    The usefulness of the packs has been questioned, particular since some of the more worthy components have been axed. Opposition to the packs from some quarters has been vehement. Perhaps the most vocal resistance has come from the Conservative Party, which has pledged to scrap the packs should it come into power. The protracted implementation of the packs has also done little to win favour.

    Although fairly expensive, the upfront cost of a pack may be less than quoted as estate agents, mortgage lenders, brokers and conveyancers are likely to offer deals to sellers in return for their custom.

    The introduction of the packs was expected to cause a spike in the amount of properties available on the market as people rushed to sell before they were brought in and anecdotal evidence suggests this may have been the case.
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