Buying a brand new home can feel extra special – but it also comes with its own set of challenges. Here are my top 9 tips to help you through the process.
1. Negotiate on price
Buying off plan refers to when you purchase a new home before building has been completed (or, in some cases, has even begun). But what is the right price for a property that doesn’t exist yet?
The answer will depend on a number of factors.
Generally, the earlier you arrive at a given development, the better deal you’ll get – and of course the more choice you’ll have. The number of buyers interested in the development will also impact the price, as will the state of the wider property market.
Do your homework by comparing prices with similar developments in the area and seeking advice from local estate agents. Then...negotiate! No sale price is set in stone.
Finally, never assume the property will be worth more by the time it's completed.
2. Find out exactly what you’re getting
The nature of buying off plan means there's nothing to see yet – so make sure you find out what you'll get for your money. Does the price include turf for the garden for example? What about white goods or a parking space? Think about ongoing costs too. If you are buying within an apartment block, what are the annual service charges and ground rent?
3. Look beyond the show home
Developers build show homes or units to use as a selling tool. But this is only an indication of what you’re buying so take it with a pinch of salt. Your own home of course will be in a different plot, on a different floor – or even in a different building – all of which will alter the light and noise levels considerably. Keep in mind also that while the show home will have skeleton furniture, it will otherwise be empty which will inevitably make it appear more spacious.
4. Find out how many other units have been sold – and who to
You don't want to be the only resident of the block – or worse – surrounded by a building site for the next 12 months, so find out how much of the development has been sold. Ask also about the ratio of owner-occupiers to investors. You may soon tire of being the only permanent resident among a load of transient tenants.
5. Check the builder is signed up to a warranty scheme
Whether you’re buying off plan or new, making sure your builder is part of a warranty scheme is crucial. NHBC’s Buildmark is the largest of these schemes but other examples include Premier Guarantee and LABC Warranty.
A warranty scheme will offer you protection if your builder goes bust after you’ve paid the deposit – very important given the fact this can amount to 30% of the property value. It will also ensure the home has been built to agreed standards and provide a third party resolution service in the event of disagreements.
Never proceed with a sale if your builder does not offer a recognised warranty. And make sure you cross-reference it with the warranty supplier and understand what it covers you for.
6. Swot up on the Consumer Code for Home Builders
So long as your builder or developer offers a warranty, it will also have to adhere to the Consumer Code for Home Builders. Having only launched in 2010, many people are unaware of this Code but its sole purpose is to protect buyers of off plan and new-build homes.
One of the most useful parts of the Code is that it forces the builder to provide realistic information of when your home will be completed.
If there is an unreasonable delay to the completion date that is stated in the Contract of Sale (the document you sign when you exchange contracts and pay your deposit), the builder must refund your money and any fees in full.
An ‘unreasonable’ delay is typically defined as six months for a house and 12 months for an apartment (so long as the contract was signed early, ie before the building was made weatherproof). The clock starts ticking from the completion date stated in the Contract of Sale.
7. Don’t change jobs before you complete
Mortgage offers tend to have a three or six month shelf life and if yours runs out before your home is completed, you will have to reapply. But a lender could refuse you the second time around – especially if your circumstances have changed. So it’s wise to stay put in your job and steer well clear of any new financial commitments until you are safely in your new home.
8. Conduct a snagging survey
Snagging refers to teething problems of a new-build home – for example cracks which appear in settling walls or lose guttering. That’s why, at some point between exchange and completion, you’ll need to conduct a snagging survey and make sure everything’s fixed before moving in. If you do it yourself, use a print-off checklist like this one from the NHBC. Alternatively you can search online for a specialist company to do it for you.
9. See what extras you can get...
You might only buy a new-build home once in your life and there are no prizes for being polite. So see what extras you can get thrown in – additional light fittings or plug sockets for example. You might even have a chance to choose colour schemes or flooring. But if you don’t ask, you won’t get.