Buying your first property can be a daunting experience. It’s a big decision, so it’s important to get it right. We take you through all the steps involved >>
Unless you have enough money to buy a property outright you’ll need a mortgage. A mortgage is a loan used to buy a property and is normally repayable over 25 years. The loan is ‘secured’ on the property, which means the mortgage lender could repossess your home if you fail to make repayments on time. For this reason it’s vital only to buy a property you can realistically afford.
Before you start, find out how much money you can borrow. A mortgage adviser at a bank will need details of your income, outgoings, savings and credit history – they will then be able to give you an ‘agreement in principle’, which will state, in theory, how much they will be able to lend you. An agreement in principle, however, doesn’t tie you, or the bank, to anything. Instead, it will just give you a rough idea of how much money you’ll be able to borrow.
You’ll also need a deposit, normally at least 10% of the property price. The bigger the deposit, the better the mortgage rate you’ll be offered. Each mortgage product will have a maximum loan-to-value or LTV.
Mortgage Brokers VS Banks
You can apply for a mortgage via a mortgage broker (or financial adviser) or direct from a lender. A broker can look at the deals available and advise you which one would be best for your circumstances. Some mortgage products are only sold through brokers, not directly to customers.
A broker will help you with the paperwork and deal with the lender on your behalf up until completion. You may have to pay them a fee or they may earn commission from the lender – find out how they are paid before committing to anything.
Mortgage advisers in banks will only be able to sell you products offered by that particular bank, so it’s unlikely they will be able to offer you the very best deal for your circumstances. It’s important to shop around. You can compare mortgage deals yourself using websites such as moneysupermarket.com or moneynet.co.uk, then apply directly to your chosen lender.
Some mortgages are fixed-rates. This means you’ll pay the same rate of interest for a certain period of time, and your repayments won’t change. If interest rates go up, you’ll be protected from the increase, but you won’t benefit from any fall in interest rates. Normally at the end of the fixed period your mortgage rate will revert to the lender’s standard variable rate (SVR) for the rest of the term. You can either pay this rate or remortgage to another lender. Remortgaging to another lender will usually mean you have to pay a fee or early redemption charge (ERC).
Variable-rate mortgages are either linked to the lender’s SVR or the Bank of England base rate, and the rate you pay can change. Lenders can change their SVR whenever they want, but they normally only change it when the Bank of England base rate changes.
‘Tracker’ mortgages have repayment rates directly linked to the base rate and are liable to fluctuate, so you need to be sure you could afford higher repayments if rates rise.
Repayment or Interest-only
You can either pay your mortgage on a repayment or interest-only basis. If you choose a repayment mortgage, your monthly payments will pay off some interest and some capital. At the end of the term, you’ll own your home outright.
With an interest-only mortgage you’ll have smaller monthly payments, but these only pay the interest on the loan. At the end of the term you’ll still owe the original mortgage sum. If you take out an interest-only mortgage, you’ll need to have a plan in place (such as an investment) as to how you’ll pay off the capital.
TOP FINANCE TIPS
>> You will need to have at least three months of bank statements, payslips or tax returns, a valid passport and information on any outstanding loans. Banks will look at your outgoings to assess how much you can afford to pay on your mortgage each month.
>> The bigger deposit you have and the better your credit score, the better the mortgage rate you’ll be offered.
>> Work out how much you can afford to repay each month. Look at your income and outgoings, including bills, council tax, food, insurance and travel. If you are buying a leasehold flat, you’ll also have to budget for service charges, so find out how much they will be.
>> Get a credit report from Experian or Equifax, and make sure there are no default accounts, CCJs (county court judgements) or missed payments. If you are making lots of enquiries to find the best deal, make sure the lenders log your enquiry as a ‘quotation’ (soft) search rather than an ‘application’ (hard) search. Too many applications will leave ‘footprints’ on your credit score and can affect your rating. To improve your credit score, make sure you’re on the electoral roll, and pay your bills and any loan repayments on time.
Buying a home is a big investment. You need to buy a home you can afford and one you’ll be happy living in.
Location is Key
The first step is to shortlist the locations you feel you’d like to live in, then check if you can afford the house prices in those areas. It’s also worthwhile visiting places you like: it may be that there’s an up-and-coming hot spot just down the road you didn’t know about that’s much more affordable. Ideally, you will have rented in the area before buying, but if this isn’t the case, at least spend some time there, check out the commuting time to work, and visit local pubs, shops and leisure facilities. Visit the area at night, too.
Once you have found the right location, go online and check out what’s on offer. Most properties are listed on property portals such as zoopla.co.uk or estate agents’ own websites.
Most of the properties featured have pictures and descriptions and some have a floor plan. Sign up with as many estate agents as you can (and your local HomeBuy Agent housing associations if you’re looking at shared ownership properties). They should send you new properties that match your description, but it’s worth phoning agents regularly.
Once you see a property you like, arrange a viewing. Most people see at least 10 properties before putting in an offer. It’s worth bringing a friend or relative and also arranging a second viewing to check out any bits you may have missed. Don’t get taken in by the furnishings and décor too much. Remember that a property that is slightly run down can still be a great investment and may only need a touch of paint and a change of furniture.
It’s a buyers’ market, so make use of agents’ legwork in finding properties that fit your requirements. Be aware that estate agents are paid commission by the seller on the sale, so try to inspect the property yourself rather than just the parts the agent shows you. Don’t get sucked in by the hard sell.
TOP RESEARCH TIPS
Research an Area
>> Check online for prices of sold properties in the area, and make sure properties you like fit your budget. You can search for recent sold prices of property in any area at nethouseprices.com, although be aware that prices have dropped significantly in the past year.
>> If you like a property, aerial shots of the area can be viewed at google.com/earth
>> Before you put in an offer, visit the street at different times to make sure it’s safe. Ask neighbours and local shop owners about the area.
Before you Buy
When looking at buying apartments, check exactly what is included in the service charge and how much it is. Also, ask about the terms of the lease and its length. If the lease has less than 80 years left, use this as a negotiating tool and make an offer below the asking price.
Surveys and Valuations
Once your offer is accepted, tell your mortgage lender. They will do a valuation to ensure the property is worth the money being advanced. At the same time, instruct a surveyor to carry out a survey. If this shows problems, find out how much they would cost to rectify and use this information to renegotiate the sale price. Or, tell the seller certain repairs need to be carried out before contracts are exchanged.
After the offer is accepted, you will also need to appoint a solicitor or conveyancer who will oversee the contract, deal with the finances and exchange the deeds. Your solicitor will carry out searches, check the terms of any lease and tell you how much stamp duty you have to pay. The seller will also appoint a solicitor, and the two legal teams will be in regular contact to make sure the purchase goes as smoothly as possible.
Exchange and Completion
Once the mortgage offer is in place, the contract is satisfactory and buildings insurance has been organised, both parties will agree an exchange date. On exchange of contracts, you pay a deposit, and a completion date is set. At this point, there’s no going back – the seller could sue you if you pull out, and you could lose your deposit.
The exchange can be on the same date as the completion, but they are usually a week to 10 days apart. On completion, the final paperwork is done, and the property is legally yours.
From offer to completion usually takes about six weeks to three months, but don’t feel pressured or rush into anything you’re not sure of just because the seller or estate agent wants you to exchange.
TOP BUYING TIPS
A Quick Sale
>> Push the seller to take the property off the market. This will limit the chances of being gazumped (another buyer making a larger offer). The seller can insist on continuing to show the property, especially if you haven’t offered the asking price.
>> Use a recommended solicitor who you know to be reliable and can move fast.
>> Never get pressured into an exchange and completion date without knowing all your finances and documents are in place. If you can’t complete, you may have to pay the seller’s costs.
>> English property law is different to Scottish law: in England, if you put in an offer and then have a change of heart, you can legally back out of the deal or negotiate up until the exchange date. But, in Scotland, an agreed price is binding.