Do you want to get onto the housing ladder? If the answer’s ‘yes’, then here's what you should ask and why.
You’ve saved a deposit, found your ideal home...and now it's time to look at the small print.
“First-time buyers often believe that once they’ve decided on their chosen property, they can relax a little,” says David Formby, conveyancing solicitor at Kirwans law firm.
“However, if anything, this is when the work needs to step up a gear. From double-checking budgets, to conducting property and neighbourhood research, there are lots of enquiries that buyers need to make to ensure they don’t run into problems further down the line.”
Here are David’s tips on the top eight questions that every first-time buyer should ask:
1) How much can I realistically afford to borrow?
When buying a property the first question is usually: “How much can I borrow?”. Actually, it should be: “How much can I afford to borrow?”
A future change in your circumstances could lead to you struggling to afford mortgage repayments. So try to estimate what your other bills will be, think about what might happen if you lost your job or interest rates increased, and factor in a buffer zone to accommodate unexpected expenses. Then consider again how much you could realistically afford to borrow.
Can you afford a mortgage? Get expert affordability advice here
2) Am I buying in the right area?
It’s the age-old dilemma. It’s wise to choose the best property you can afford, in the best area you can afford.
It's worth considering up-and-coming areas. Are new properties being built there? Are businesses investing in the area? These are signs that the area could be on the up – and that you could see a great return on your investment as a result.
3) Why has the vendor decided to sell?
It’s important to ask the question. Is the vendor's reason for moving related to the property or neighbours, for example? Is it something that could impact you in the future? Vendors can be economical with the truth when it comes to explaining why they are selling so be wary of answers that don’t add up.
4) How long has the property been on the market?
If the property has only recently gone on sale and is generating interest, it could be that you’ll need to make an offer fairly quickly in order to avoid losing out to other buyers. If it’s been on the market for a while, the vendor may be willing to look at a price reduction, so sound out the estate agent about the possibility.
There’s another reason, too, why you should find out how long the property has been on the market: to discover whether there is an issue that’s preventing the property from selling. Discuss this with the estate agent – if they know that a previous survey has flagged up structural problems, for example, they are obliged to let you know.
5) Which survey should I choose?
A survey - a health check on a property - can flag up problems that may cost a small fortune to put right later. If problems are spotted, you may want to reconsider buying the property. Alternatively, you could negotiate a price reduction to accommodate the cost of repair work, or the vendor may agree to do the repairs themselves before completion.
There are different types of surveys available, depending on the type of property you buy, how much detail you want and the budget you have in mind.
If you're buying a new-build home, for example, you could opt for a RICS condition report as the property is likely to be covered by the NHBC certificate or Buildmark. However, do check this before committing to a purchase.
For more information, read Zoopla's guide, What survey do I need?
6) What do I need to look out for in the survey?
Any structural issues and mentions of damp or mould need further investigation because they could be indicative of more serious issues. Similarly, problems with the foundation, flashing damage, along with points raised in relation to standing water or the electrical supply will also require a second opinion. Always ask the author of the survey if you are unsure.
7) Has the seller ever had any problems with their neighbours?
If an official complaint has not been made, then the vendor can deny an issue. If the vendor has had to write to the neighbour about a problem, or complain to the council or another official body about them, then they will have to declare the dispute on the Seller’s Property Information Form (SPIF) that you will receive from your solicitor.
If you suspect, after purchasing the house, that the vendor failed to properly declare an issue, seek legal advice, as you could potentially take action against them for a number of years after the sale has gone through.
Ask the agents too; if they know that there is an anti-social neighbour living next door, for example, they should let you know.
8) Have any planning applications for nearby land or properties been submitted?
It’s vital that you do thorough checks to avoid any surprises further down the line. Instruct your conveyancing solicitor to do a planning search. It might cost a little extra, but it’s worth it to know those farmer’s fields opposite aren’t about to have a nightclub built on them.
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