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50 House Buying Tips

How to buy a new property
Fifty tips sign

It's the biggest purchase of your life, and small mistakes can cost large. So we've drawn up a house-buying battleplan, with 50 top tips'n'tricks.

This guide includes how to squeeze sellers for info, hidden costs, a deal-breaker's checklist, tips on solicitors/surveyors and 10 last-ditch questions to ask.

We've made every effort to ensure this guide's accuracy, yet it doesn't constitute legal advice tailored to your circumstances. If you act on it, you do so at your own risk.

Huge thanks to Clarke Mairs LLP, Crosse + Crosse Solicitors, L&C* & Thomas Eggar, as well as all the forumites who suggested tips.

Fifty tips sign

It's the biggest purchase of your life, and small mistakes can cost large. So we've drawn up a house-buying battleplan, with 50 top tips'n'tricks.

This guide includes how to squeeze sellers for info, hidden costs, a deal-breaker's checklist and 10 last-ditch questions to ask.

We've made every effort to ensure this guide's accuracy, yet it doesn't constitute legal advice tailored to your circumstances. If you act on it, you do so at your own risk.

Huge thanks to Clarke Mairs LLP, Crosse + Crosse Solicitors, L&C* & Thomas Eggar, as well as all the forumites who suggested tips.

Should you buy?

If house price mania had a World Cup, Britain would lift the trophy. House prices are on the up again after several years of relative calm, adding more pressure to anyone trying to buy. Yet buyers need to pause and ask what, when and whether to buy.

Free mortgage deposit calculator

A mortgage is most people's biggest single outlay, and small differences in how much you borrow can have a massive effect.

Work out the true cost of buying

Legal feesIt's not as easy as get a mortgage, grab the keys and, bish bash bosh, you're in. Buying a home's almost guaranteed to cost more than you think. Here's what to factor in.

Don't just take the max they'll lend you

Find out how much you can borrow before you start hunting. But don't just trust what lenders say you can afford to borrow. After all, struggle to repay and some may gleefully give you credit cards to make up the shortfall.

Free house sale price tools

The web's become a goldmine of info to interrogate any property. Once only the preserve of agents and brokers, now done right, you can get price information free.

Typical timeline (for England and Wales)

  • Find a property:

    Research the area, scour estate agents and search websites.

  • Put in an offer:

    Tell the seller what you're willing to pay and any conditions.

  • Offer to exchange: 2 to 6 weeks

  • It's accepted:

    Now get a survey to check the property's condition. Your solicitor checks any legal issues

  • Exchange:

    You pay your deposit and can't back out without major cost.

  • Exchange to sale: instantly to 4 weeks

  • Completion:

    You hand over the rest of the cash in exchange for the keys and deeds. The property's now legally yours.

Boost your credit score

Boost your credit scoreDon't apply for mortgages before checking your credit files held at Experian, Equifax and CallCredit are error-free.

Arrange a mortgage in principle

Few lenders offer actual mortgages if you've no property in place - they offer a ‘mortgage in principle' (MIP). This provisionally lets you know how much you can borrow, subject to finding a suitable property in a specified time.

House prices are markets, just like shares

Martin's warning:

Remember, no one can tell you what's going to happen to house prices, though many will try.

I remember doing an ITV News debate with a senior estate agent and a City economist. The first predicted strong house price growth, the other a 30% crash. I said: "Anyone who tells you they know what will happen is talking nonsense. No one knows." To which they both said, "rubbish!"

Free printed MSE mortgage guides

Remortgaging is the single biggest MoneySaving activity possible: the financial equivalent of liposuction. For every 1% in interest you cut on a £100,000 outstanding mortgage, you save £80 a month.

Check out the neighbourhood

No matter how plush the pad, MoneySavers are unanimous that location counts. You can't move a home to another spot, but you can do it up.

Use the right property finders

Gone are the days when peering into estate agents' windows was the only way to see how much folks were advertising a house for.

Squeeze 'em for info

Before putting in an offer, pose as many questions as possible - and get important answers in writing. Nothing is too silly. Even if they don't tell the truth, you may notice them squirming when you broach certain subjects.

Take snaps when viewing

Take photos on your mobile, as they'll be a useful reference point when all the homes blur into one.

View at different times of day

View the place three times at different times of the day to get an idea of what the flat and neighbourhood are like.

Get alerts on favourite streets

If you want something in a specific area or street, set an alert on Rightmove and it will email each time a vendor lists a property. Simply type a postcode or area and click 'save search'.

Use our checklist to spot deal-breakers

Check the doors & windowsDon't waste megabucks on a survey only to discover obvious problems. For second or third viewings, take an expert or realistic mate to give their honest opinion of the property and price.

Knock, knock, knocking on neighbours' doors

Neighbours may offer tip-offs on the area or home, but it's also a chance for you to get the measure of them.

Find homes where sellers DROP prices

Secret web weapons let you track when sellers put particular properties on the market, plus when and how much they cut asking prices.

Got a top house-buying tip that we haven't listed? Tell us in the House-buying tips discussion.

Consider resale potential

If you don't want to live in the property until you die, consider ease of resale.

Stamp Duty Calculator - what will you have to pay?

Stamp duty calculatorBuy a home and you're likely to owe stamp duty (it's called that because the document used to require a stamp to make the transaction legal). It's one of the biggest lump-sum taxes.

Look for at least 83 years on the lease

Look for 83 years on the leaseIf you own a leasehold flat, you effectively rent it for a period of time. When flats have 80 years or less left, extensions become very costly and homes much more difficult to sell. Under 60 years, it's a nightmare. If you're a flat-hunter, alarm bells should scream if a lease is nearing, or below, 80 years.

Can you do a private deal?

Write a nice letter explaining you're keen to buy and post it to homes on streets you like.

Monitor for-sale listings on the go

Rightmove's free iPhone and Android apps use GPS technology to pinpoint pads for sale near where you're standing. Just download the app, click ‘get my current location' and it shows a list of gaffs up for grabs.

Beware rip-off service charges

Beware rip-off service chargesWhen you own a leasehold flat, the freeholder (or landlord) is usually responsible for insuring the building and maintaining communal areas.

Find cheaper conveyancers

Conveyancing's the legal process that transfers property from one person to another. As well as solicitors, there are licensed conveyancers, who are specialist property lawyers.

Check what's being built in the area

Will that picture-postcard sea view be replaced by a high rise in a couple of months? For England and Wales, the Government's Planning Portal helps avoid nasty surprises by directing you to planning applications made in your area. You can search by postcode and area.

How much to offer?

If you're wringing your hands over how much to offer, consider asking the MoneySavers on this site's House Buying, Selling & Renting board.

Ask for them to 'take it off the market'

Make your offer on the condition that the seller “takes the home off the market". This cuts the chance of gazumping, where the seller accepts another higher offer after the sale has been agreed. Until contracts are exchanged, either party can pull out at any time.

Chase your solicitor

To put it politely, some solicitors "work at their own pace". Make regular phone calls to get papers processed quicker. Remember, you're paying them. If they don't meet your expectations, try writing to a senior partner.

Can you buy the freehold?

Considering buying a leasehold flat? Some freeholders charge £10,000s in management fees for things you could do for a fraction of that. Yet in England and Wales, owners are often entitled to buy freeholds at a fair price - reducing outgoings and potentially adding to the sale value.

Get fixtures and fittings in writing

Fixtures & fittingsTo avoid getting the keys to a stripped-bare house, ask the seller for a list of all fixtures and fittings included in the purchase, right down to the light fittings, the TV aerial cable screws, the black bin and the fire grate. Yes, one unlucky forumite found all these ripped out.

Know when and if you can pull out

You can pull out from the purchase at any time before contracts are exchanged. After this, you can't change your mind without massive costs.

Hammer out a deal at auction

Hammer out a deal at auctionAuction properties can be cheaper than market values. There are properties out there for under £20,000, but auctions don't always equal bargains. Research and renovations are usually needed.

Get the right survey

Get the right surveyThere are three main types of survey. The first is a homebuyer's report. This normally costs £300-£400 and is suitable for conventional properties less than 50 years old.

Get quotes for work

If the survey finds any nasties, ask a reputable builder for repair costs. Ask the vendor to either fix it before completion or knock the total off the price.

Don't get floody caught out

Flood risk has a significant impact on insurance premiums and a property's value. The Environment Agency (England and Wales) and Environment Protection Agency (Scotland) provide detailed reports on whether and why an area's at risk.

Check 'n' challenge your council tax band

Up to 400,000 homes in England and Scotland may have been in the wrong band since the early 1990s. If so, you can get your band lowered and a backdated payout.

Top ten last-ditch questions to ask sellers

Your life will be easier if you remember to ask the previous owner all the essential questions before they give you the keys. To help, we've compiled a list of top questions to ask:

Instantly compare removal costs

Moving from the family home for the first time needs a car and a couple of mates but most people will need to use a removal firm. Get five local quotes instantly at Reallymoving.com. Check the company belongs to the British Association of Removers.

Grab home insurance quotes before buying

House InsuranceAlways get home insurance quotes before you exchange contracts to ensure suitable cover's available. This could flag up issues, for example if the property's in a flood-risk area.

Dirt bust

The house could be manky when you arrive, so if possible, tackle the grime before moving day. MoneySaver mrs_montgomery says:

When you move in, the place will be FILTHY. If you buy it new it will be full of chips of plaster and dust.

If you buy it from someone else, the cupboards will be grubby and the walls covered in big dirty moving-men fingermarks and scrapes from where they've carried their furniture down the stairs.

mrs_montgomery

Protect your family from gas leaks

Gas leaksFifty people die each year and hundreds more are admitted to A&E due to carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas that has no colour, taste or smell..

Save £100s on gas and electricity

As soon as you move into your new place you'll need to start paying for energy. It can be cheaper to switch rather than sticking with the previous owners' energy supplier. Those on energy providers' standard tariffs can saving £100s a year by switching.

Free sofas, beds, TVs, fridges and more

Free sofas, beds, TVs, fridges & moreFurnishing your new pad? Hundreds of top-quality goodies are available daily for free. It's all about web communities, and the big names are Freecycle and Freegle.

Don't buy your lenders' mortgage life assurance

If you die, mortgage life assurance ensures your dependants needn’t worry about repaying the mortgage. Policies are designed to pay off the remaining debt on repayment mortgages if you die within a set number of years.

Don't fall for your mortgage lender's “and you’ll need our life insurance” pitch. It’s likely you’ll pay massively over the odds. To slash the cost, see Cheap Mortgage Life Assurance.

Give yourself a money overhaul

Moving is the perfect time to grab your finances by the nipples and tweak ‘em hard. You'll be signing up to new services anyway, so could save £1,000s on your previous bills by ensuring you grab everything cheapest.

For starters, find the Cheapest Home Phone and Cheapest Broadband, then try Digital TV Cost Haggling and Water Bills. Those are just the start. For a detailed checklist of over 30 quick ways to cut bills, see the Money Makeover guide.

Bag £700 free insulation

If the home you're moving into isn’t properly insulated, you may be able to get free loft and cavity wall insulation.

Rent your spare room

Rent your spare roomIf you've a spare room, you could rent it out to a lodger and take home £4,250 a year without paying a penny in tax. If you've a desirable property and don't mind paying income tax, you could easily earn more.

Save £100s on boiler cover costs

There’s nothing worse than arriving home when it’s freezing to discover the central heating’s packed up and there’s no hot water. Everything else flies out the window while you frantically search for someone who'll fix it.