Properties are marketed with either a fixed price or ‘offers over’, which is the lowest price the seller will accept. Check your mortgage and deposit will cover the value of the property you would like to buy.
Be careful not to overstretch yourself. Remember there are many other expenses you will need to cover, including mortgage fees, legal fees and, on properties costing more than £145,000, Land and Buildings Transaction Tax.
Once you have agreed a mortgage ‘in principle’ you may have to pay a booking fee or other fee to reserve it.
Find a solicitor
You’ll need a solicitor before you can make an offer on a property. Solicitors are responsible for putting in the offer, negotiating and checking the contract as well as organising the transfer of the Title and money.
When you have found a property you want to buy, your solicitor will register a ‘note of interest’ with the seller’s agent. This shows that you are interested in the property and want to be kept advised of developments such as the fixing of a closing date to submit offers.
Your solicitor will undertake searches in the property and personal registers to ensure that there is nothing which might prevent the seller from being able to sell the property.
The solicitor will also check with the local authority to see if there are any planning issues that might affect the value of your property and whether any roads next to the property have been adopted by the local authority.
Most solicitors request payment for their work after completion but you may have to pay a deposit, or pay for searches upfront.
If the sale does not go ahead, but you paid for the search upfront, then you’ll have wasted your money, so it’s worth carefully considering this in advance.
You can also instruct your solicitor to carry out the search once the offer has been accepted but this will need to be agreed with the seller as a condition of the sale going ahead.
As a result, the seller may be reluctant to agree to this as the findings may give you a reason to ask the seller to lower their price, or even back out from the sale altogether.
Home Report and survey
Before marketing the property for sale, sellers have to arrange a Home Report to show to buyers interested in their property.
This must include:
Survey – an assessment by a qualified surveyor from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) pointing out the condition of the property, where repairs are needed and a valuation of the property. A mortgage valuation may also be included. The level of information contained in the survey is broadly equal to the Homebuyers report mentioned below
Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) – this reveals how energy efficient the property is and where improvements could be made
Property Questionnaire – sellers have to provide an accurate account of the property including its Council Tax band, any Local Authority notices served on it, alterations made, parking, any history of flooding as well as factoring in arrangements covering any repair and maintenance.
When you receive the Home Report for the property you want to buy, make sure to read it carefully. It will give you a good idea of the running costs of your new home. You can also use it to ask the seller about utility bills.
Your mortgage valuation report
Once you have a mortgage in principle, your lender will arrange for a mortgage valuation to make sure the property you’re buying is worth the price you’re paying. Your mortgage lender may rely on the mortgage valuation contained in the Home Report if it includes one or needs an independent one.
You will also need to decide if you wish to rely on the survey contained in the Home Report or obtain your own survey. The surveyor who prepared the survey contained in the Home Report has a statutory duty of care to the seller who instructed it and to you as the buyer.
If you decide to get your own, there are three types of survey:
Home condition survey – the cheapest and most basic survey. Suitable for new-build and conventional homes, but not useful for spotting any issues with the property.
Homebuyer’s report – a more detailed survey looking thoroughly inside and outside a property. It also includes a valuation. Check whether you can get the valuation and homebuyer’s report done at the same time to cut costs.
Building or structural survey – the most comprehensive survey suitable for an older building or one of non-standard construction (for example, if it’s made of timber or has a thatched roof).
Making an offer
Once you have the survey results, and are happy with what it says, you need to decide how much you’re going to offer. The amount you offer will obviously depend on how much you can afford as well as any competing interest in the property, property prices in the area and anything else you wish to be included in the offer such as fixtures and fittings.
Your solicitor will do this in a formal letter. If there are several competing bids, the seller’s solicitor will open them at the same time on the closing date and ring your solicitor to tell you if you’ve been successful or not.
You may wish to wait until your offer is accepted before having your own survey done, in which case you make your offer subject to survey.
If your offer is accepted
If your offer is accepted, the seller’s solicitor issues a qualified acceptance, which means that the property will be yours if contract details can be worked out. The solicitor will also hand over information about the property such as the title deeds and planning papers.
Go through everything you receive with your solicitor as they may raise queries about the paperwork. Neither you nor the seller is committed yet.
Agreeing the contract
Once all the contract details have been agreed, the two solicitors exchange letters. These letters are known as ‘conclusion of missives’. Both parties are now legally committed to the sale.
After the conclusion of missives you may have to pay a holding deposit to secure the deal. It is not all that common to be required to pay this holding deposit as there are usually penalty fees in the contract to deter either party from backing out at this stage.
Your solicitor will check the title deeds and discuss with you the ‘title burdens’ – conditions attached to owning the property ranging from where rubbish bins can be put to more serious restrictions on how the property can be used and altered.
The seller then signs the transfer of the title deeds, known as the ‘disposition’.
Contact your lender
Next, you or your solicitor should contact your mortgage lender and let them know that the purchase is going ahead along with the proposed date of entry.
This will allow your lender to issue their loan and security instructions to their nominated solicitor. In addition, this will also allow the lender to prepare the release of their loan monies to allow the sale to complete on the date of entry.
The arrangement fee
There is often a fee to set up the mortgage – usually referred to as an arrangement fee. In many cases this can be added to your mortgage, but choosing this option means you’ll pay interest on it for the length of the mortgage. As a result you’ll pay more in the long run than if you paid for it upfront.
Completion and final steps
After your offer has been accepted, the sale will be completed on the date of entry agreed with the seller.
The seller’s solicitor will ask your lender for the remaining money owed (usually 90% if you had to pay a holding deposit) in preparation for the date of entry. If you are a cash buyer you’ll need to pay the rest of the purchase price via your solicitor.
The seller’s solicitor will also prepare the Land Transaction Return for you to sign.
You’ll need to pay your solicitor’s bill at this stage, minus any deposit already paid. . If you haven’t yet paid for searches, their cost will be included in the bill along with other fees paid on your behalf.
They will also arrange for the signed title deeds to be registered with the Land Register.
Your solicitor will complete the transaction by paying the Lands and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) due. This is a new tax introduced on the 1st April 2015 for homes costing more than £145,000 and must be paid within 30 days of completion.