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Questions first-time buyers should ask

by Iain Mason

Published on 6th October 2021

Nobody ever forgets buying their first home. Getting their foot on the property ladder, settling into their new property for the first time, and then staying there for as long as it meets their needs, before they move to the next place.

Questions first-time buyers should ask

Some people go on to being frequent movers, others relocate rarely, but either way that first time of buying your own property will always be special.

However, for first-time buyers, setting out on the road to becoming homeowners can seem a daunting prospect. With average house prices in England standing at £271,000 in July 2021, it is also an expensive one.

The average house price in England increased by 7% over the year to July 2021, down from an increase of 13.2% in the year to June 2021, but a significant rise nonetheless.

So our advice to all first-time buyers is be prepared and go into the process fully informed and with your eyes wide open.

And there are questions first-time buyers should before embarking on the house-hunting process.

What can I afford?

Before you even start looking, make sure you know exactly what funds you have in place in terms of deposit and what you are likely to be able to afford with a mortgage.

There are many lenders out there, so shop around and make sure you can afford the mortgage repayments; they are a big commitment. Remember, too, to take into account other expenses you will need to pay, such as legal fees and moving fees.

Then, when you know your budget, you can start looking. What you won’t want to do is fall in love with a property, and find you can’t afford it.

What is a house survey?

If you’re buying your first home, you’ll need to be familiar with surveys. These are a check up on your property and if you are taking out a mortgage then your lender will insist on a mortgage survey or valuation.

However, many people also opt to pay for a full survey, engaging a professional such as a surveyor to look thoroughly at the property, to see if there are any issues.

Based on the result you may decide not to go ahead with the purchase, or you might use the information to ask the property owner either to resolve any problems or reduce the price, as you will need to fix them once you move in.

Where is the house located?

When you find a property you like, don’t focus solely on the house and its grounds. Take a look around the neighbourhood. What local amenities are there? Is it an easy commute to work? What are the transport links like?

We’d also advise going back to visit at different times and on different days. What may appear to be a peaceful idyll at a weekend could turn out to be amid a hubbub of traffic noise during the weekday rush hour, which may make you think twice.

Is the property freehold or leasehold?

This is an important factor to uncover. A freehold house means you own the property and the land belonging to it outright. If the property is leasehold, then you have right to live there for the term of the lease. This is common with flats, and in recent years has also become a feature of some new house builds.

Accompanying the leases may be ground rent charges, designed to ensure homeowners contribute to the upkeep of communal areas.

You may be very happy with this arrangement, but be sure you understand what the lease means, and what you may be expected to pay not just when you first buy but in future years. It’s really important to seek legal advice, as your lawyer can scrutinise the terms of a lease and explain what this might mean for you.

What is a property search?

To ensure you and your mortgage lender are protected, your legal advisers need to carry out various searches, to find out information about the building and where it stands.

The lawyers will look at the local land charges registers. Local authorities are required to hold a local land charges register, which records obligations affecting properties within their administrative area.

Investigations will also be made into any planning decisions, roadbuilding proposals or rights of way that affect the property. It’s important for you to know that the search is limited to the property and won’t reveal any information about planning proposals for neighbouring properties.

An environmental search is included, for example looking at whether the property is at risk of flooding. A water and drainage search is also carried out. Depending on where the property is, a coal mining search might be needed as well.

How long has the property been on the market?

If it has been listed for some time, perhaps moving from one estate agent’s books, to another, and on to another, there may be a reason why buyers aren’t interested.

Again, it’s worth doing a little investigating. Perhaps it is priced too high for the neighbourhood. Perhaps there is a nearby development planned, which is deterring buyers and, if so, this information should come to light in the search your legal advisers carry out.

Why are they selling?

Try to find out why the owner is selling. They may have reasons such as wanting to downsize, upsize, or relocate due to work. However, if it transpires there is a reason that might deter you from wanting to buy (noisy neighbours, for example) it’s worth doing a little digging to see what you can uncover.

Also, find out how quickly they want or need to sell. If there is pressure on them to move quickly, they may accept a lower offer in order to secure the sale.

What does the sale include?

Remember to check what the owners are leaving behind and what they are taking. For example, are they leaving white goods or a cooker? This is important information, especially when you are budgeting to fit out your first home.

Armed with the answers to these questions, first time buyers should be in a good place to explore the market and find the right property to make into their first home.

For legal help with the conveyancing process for your first home, or if you want the answers to any more questions first-time buyers should ask, please contact Optimum’s property law team. We help people who are buying and selling homes with legal conveyancing advice in Swindon, Cheltenham and the surrounding area.

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