Find your perfect London apartment
Guest post by Annie Button
It’s no secret that moving to a new home is one of the most stressful experiences that we put ourselves through. When you’re trying to buy somewhere in London – one of the most expensive and competitive real estate markets in the world – you might as well multiply this experience by fifty.
For anyone preparing to step onto the London property ladder, or trying to make their way onto the next rung, here are four tips for finding the flat of your dreams and staying in control of the process.
#1 | Research areas and understand values
While it’s true that London is significantly more expensive than other areas of the UK, don’t assume that there’s the same margin all over the city. Property values vary hugely in different parts and even being one street further away from a bus stop or tube station will impact the asking price.
Carrying out a bit of research into the recent sale prices of flats in your preferred area – as well as looking in “up and coming” areas nearby – will give you a better idea of what sellers are realistically expecting and how your budget compares.
If you’re not sure what it is that’s adding to (or detracting from) a property’s value, go and visit the location in person. Scoping out the types of businesses nearby or the kind of clientele at the nearest pub can reveal details about the area that you won’t find on a listing.
Don’t overlook the obvious, either. Lots of people avoid lower ground-floor flats, thinking that they’re dark and cramped, however you can often find them with high ceilings and garden access to the rear… for substantially less than the flats above them. You might also think that living further out will save you money in the long run, but add up how much time you spend walking (or the extra cost of transport) and do the maths properly.
#2 | Make the agent work for their commission
Given the level of demand in London, it’s likely that you’re only going to get one chance to view the inside of the property before you have to make a quick decision about whether to make an offer or lose the flat to another keen buyer. This is why it’s so important to quiz the estate agent about anything that would sway your decision one way or the other (and influence how much you’re willing to pay).
- Why are the owners selling? You might not get a truthful answer, but it’s worth a try.
- What exactly is included in the listing – will you get white goods, light fittings etc.? What about any furniture?
- How long have they been there? Long-term owners might have been delaying essential maintenance, while a series of short-term owners suggests an unseen issue.
- Has it had any major renovations? Be wary in case the sellers trying to hide water damage, but if they simply want to sell quickly, you might be able to get a good deal.
- How long has it been on the market? If it’s been a while, can you see what is putting buyers off?
- What are the bills like? The estate agent should be able to tell you the council tax band and provide you with the EPC to estimate energy bills.
Although the agent may not be able to give you a full picture, if they seem hesitant or gloss over certain details, it may be a red flag. Go with your gut, and don’t just take the agent’s word for it if you think there’s a problem.
#3 | Don’t forget about ‘caveat emptor’
The UK market operates under the premise of caveat emptor, or “buyer beware”. It means that the seller isn’t legally obliged to disclose most defects within a property and that it’s up to you, as the buyer, to uncover them. It’s obviously in the interest of the estate agent to downplay and known problems, so keep an eye out for cracks, damp patches, problems with the electrics and any other concerns.
You might want to look over a viewing checklist before visiting for the first time and, even if it looks good, have a professional surveyor inspect it before exchanging contracts.
#4 | Understand the leasehold
If you’re buying a flat anywhere in the UK – but especially in London – it’s important to check whether the flat is leasehold or if you’d be getting a share of the freehold. Most flats in the capital will be the former and, although it’s not always a bad thing, it does mean that there are some potential pitfalls to check first. For example, making sure there’s a substantial amount of time left on the lease (less than 90 years may be a concern). Again, a surveyor would be the most qualified person to discuss the details of your lease with.
Ultimately, buying a flat in London may be stressful, but doesn’t have to be any more exhausting than anywhere else. The most important thing is to be prepared so that you know as quickly as possible whether you want to make an offer or walk away.