The home buying process

Getting started

Before starting to look for a house it is advisable to ascertain how much money you can borrow in the first place. You can do this by asking for a "mortgage agreement in principle" before you even start looking at property. This will give not only give you a better idea of your budget, it will also speed up your mortgage application later on in the process.

Alexander Hall can help you with this at any time and will arrange for one of their mortgage brokers to give you all the information you need and guide you through the entire process.

Finding a property

Viewing properties can be time consuming and frustrating. You can cut down wasted time by listing your exact requirements, so that you only view properties that are really likely to be suitable for you.

Below are some things to consider before viewing a property:

Location

Think about which areas are central to your lifestyle:

  • do you need to have easy access out of London in a certain direction?
  • do you need to take into consideration where you work, children's schools, etc?

Type of property

  • if you have a dog, do you need a basement or ground floor property with outside space?
  • if you find stairs difficult, does the property (i.e. a flat) need a lift?
  • would you specifically like your own front door?

Age/style of property desired

Are there any types of property that you are particularly keen on, or any types that you specifically would not like (Victorian, Edwardian, modern build, mansion block etc).

Are you prepared to carry out repairs/modifications or restore/redecorate?

If so, what is your overall budget including cost of refurbishments. You may like to take an architect round a property that needs repairs to get an idea of how much would need to be spent on refurbishments.

Local shops, amenities and schools

Look at how accessible you would be from local amenities:

  • shops
  • schools
  • the gym & health centres
  • the parks etc.

Transport links

Think about how you would get to and from certain areas, whether it be for work, schools, shopping or other reasons.

Viewing a property

Try to view your property and the surrounding area at different times of the day as areas can change during the course of the day. For example, there could be a noisy local pub yet if you only visit the house during the day you will be unlikely to find this out until you move in, or, visit the property during peak traffic times to see if the road becomes a "rat run" or "short cut".

Even if you are not a property expert, look out for obvious signs of potential problems as you go round. You can assess the initial condition of the roof from the road; or when going round a property you can look for bulging, cracking or strange angled walls, rotten woodwork and signs of damp. These signs should be easy to spot and, if you notice them, don't be afraid ask the owner about them. More detailed problems can be picked out when you have a survey done.

Also, if possible try to take a friend along with you on the viewing. Having someone who is not emotionally connected to the purchase can be beneficial as they often spot things you may miss.

Making an offer

Once you've found a suitable property put in an offer as soon as possible.

Do not be afraid to offer below the asking price. The seller may be inclined to take a lower offer. However, it is important to make an offer "subject to survey and contract" as this allows you to withdraw if problems arise from the survey or within the contract. If your offer is accepted the estate agent may ask you for a deposit, however you are not obliged to hand this over at this stage. It is advisable to consult your solicitor on these matters. This is also the time to instruct your mortgage broker to proceed with your mortgage application and make arrangements for a survey of the property.

Survey

A survey is carried out on the property by a surveyor on behalf of the mortgage lender to identify any structural problems and advise on the property's value. You will have the chance to renegotiate the price of the house if the survey highlights any issues. In addition, your solicitor will also check the items that are included in the sale of your property.

Legal

When purchasing a property a solicitor or licensed conveyancer will be required to handle all the legal paperwork involved. It is advisable to use a professional who knows the local area that you are moving to and specialises in conveyancing - the process of transferring legal ownership of property.

Draft Contract

The draft contract is written by the seller's solicitor and sent to your solicitor. After receiving the contract your solicitor will start preliminary enquiries and make a Land Registry search and check other legal documents such as the title deeds to the property.

Local Authority Search

Your solicitor will submit a local authority search to the local borough council. This will reveal, for example, planning consents granted for the property and any local issues. You will have the chance to renegotiate the price of the house if anything untoward turns up in the searches.

Contract Approval

Once results of the local search and answers to the preliminary enquires are received, the draft contract is approved by your solicitor, providing there are no other outstanding enquires.

Sale Agreed

Once your offer, based on the findings of the survey, is accepted, you will need to instruct your solicitor to proceed immediately. At this stage always ensure that exchange and completion dates are agreed.

Formal Mortgage Offer

This document will be sent to your solicitor for you to carefully check through and sign. Once signed and returned your mortgage is in place and you are ready to exchange contracts.

Exchange of Contracts

The contract is signed by you and the seller. The deposit (usually 10% of the purchase price) is electronically transferred or paid by the buyer's solicitor in the form of a banker's draft. The completion date is set.

Once you have signed and exchanged contracts with the seller you will have to pay a 10% non-returnable deposit. At this stage you are committed to the purchase. If you pull out after you have exchanged contracts you will have to forfeit the deposit. At exchange of contracts you are responsible for insuring the property and therefore must ensure you arrange buildings insurance cover.

Completion

This is usually a few days to a few weeks after exchange of contracts, depending on each party's personal requirements. The remaining money owed (usually 90%) is now transferred from your solicitor's account to the seller's solicitor's account.

On completion day the legal ends are tied up, you collect the keys and move into your new home.