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50 House Buying Tips How to buy a new property

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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.

01

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.

Buyers should concentrate on whether buying is affordable and the right decision in the long-term, rather than panic over house prices or cave in to the UK's 'must-own, must-own' mentality.

Few people accurately predicted the end of the house-price boom in 2007 and no-one really knows what is going to happen to house prices over the next few years. It is better to concentrate on bigger-picture financial security than risk financial ruin in a desperate attempt to get on the housing ladder.

02

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. Our Mortgage Deposit Calculator asks questions to determine when you'll have the dough for a decent deposit. Then see the Top Savings Accounts guide to maximise the interest.

As for deposit size, Government schemes such as Help to Buy have helped increase the choice of mortgages for people with 5% to put down - but borrowers pay a premium at this level. Deals become more competitive at 10% or 15%, and for the really decent rates you need 25%.

03

Work out the true cost of buying

It'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.

  • Mortgage arrangement fee. Expect to pay your lender an arrangement fee. They vary but £1,000 is typical. In some cases this is non-refundable, even if the purchase falls through.

  • Valuation fee. This is the fee lenders charge for a valuation to check the property exists and that it also offers sufficient security for the loan. The cost varies according to lender and purchase price, but budget for £300.

  • Legal fees
  • Legal fees. Many lenders will contribute to legal fees, although in that case you would have to use a solicitor approved by them. If you pay for your own conveyancing, you're looking at about £500-£800, depending on purchase price.

  • Stamp duty. Buy a property for more than £125,000 and you're likely to have to pay a percentage of its price to the taxman. The easy way to find out how much is to use our Stamp Duty Calculator.

  • Surveys. These are another costly aspect to any purchase, with a typical survey costing £400 to £700. Many people pay for surveys on purchases that fall through, so budget for two or three.

  • Removal costs. Unless you can pile your belongings into the back of a car, factor in a removal van. These start at £100 for small local moves, but can easily run to £1,000 for shifting a family's worldly goods long distances.

  • Home repairs
  • Home repairs. From flaky paintwork to leaky sinks, put aside some cash for unexpected property maintenance. As MoneySaver Delphinum says: “If it's an old house, expect Frank Spencer to have done every piece of DIY work. Expect to undo everything and do 10 other things you didn't expect to do before you start a job."

  • Furniture and extras. Currently renting a furnished place? Remember you'll need to buy everything from beds and sofas to lawnmowers and carpets.

    Then there are the boring but essential extras: light bulbs, lamp shades, toilet brush, washing up bowl, door mats, hooks and extension leads. See how to furnish your pad for free on Freecycle and Freegle.

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04

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.

Try our Mortgage Calculator to see how much you can borrow and see the reality of monthly repayments, including interest. Then use the Budget Planner tool to work out what you can afford to repay while leading the lifestyle you want. If these show you can't afford a property, don't ignore it.

Only look at properties within your budget and avoid those even a fraction over. If not, you'll either break your resolve or be disappointed.

05

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.

To see what any home anywhere went for going back a good few years, try sold-price property sites such as Nethouseprices and Zoopla.

To help answer the question "72 Lois Lane went for £210,000, but was it a neglected bedsit or a plush 3-bed with kitchen island and walnut floors?", home search site giant Rightmove matches up sold prices with detailed old property ads, including pics, asking prices, descriptions and floor plans.

For 30+ tools to review a home, including sites to assess crime or flood risks, see the Free House Price Valuations guide.

06

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.

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.

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

07

Boost your credit score

Are you a reject? Don't apply for mortgages before checking your credit files held at Experian, Equifax and CallCredit are error-free.

Boost your credit score

Small mistakes can cause rejection. For example, active accounts registered to old/wrong addresses can hurt badly, so whip through your credit files and ensure any active account (even historic and unused) is registered at the correct address.

It's possible to check your files for FREE via a web loophole. For full details and how to correct errors, see the Credit Rating guide. And for a checklist of things to look out for before applying, see Boost Mortgage Chances.

08

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.

Proof of your deposit and MIP can give you a big advantage when putting in an offer. It may mean a credit check, though one mark on your file isn't too big a deal (see the Credit Rating guide). It's best to talk to a decent mortgage broker who'll often be able to help give an idea of what you can borrow.

Do bear in mind MIPs give absolutely no guarantees - they are subject to valuation. Mortgage rates shift daily, so always check whether a better deal's become available.

09

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 to house prices is talking nonsense. No one knows.' To which they both said, 'rubbish!'

"Property is an asset just like any other. Just as no one can always
guarantee to call the stock market right, the same's true of property."

10

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.

To see if you can slash the cost of your mortgage, read our free printed guides.

11

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.

So prowl the neighbourhood on foot, hunting for clues. Visit the parks and pubs at different times of day. Are cars clean and well-maintained? Do you like the local shops? Are walls scrawled with graffiti?

Get the lowdown from locals and ask a local bobby or Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator. If you're a total newcomer, stay in a local bed and breakfast to get a real feel for the area.

Police crime-mapping websites show local hotspots and break down recorded crimes such as burglary and anti-social behaviour. Elsewhere, there's free information on school league tables and even noise level checks. See Free House Price Valuations for a full list.

12

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.

There's a plethora of property search sites out there. Remember asking prices are often wildly optimistic, showing what the seller wants for the property, not what they'll get.

Some homes are sold before they appear on the sites, so get pally with a local estate agents to hear as soon as a place hits their books.

Rightmove
Rightmove

The Mac Daddy of home search websites, Rightmove, is the best place to compare homes on the market. As well as boasting a dizzying number of properties up for grabs, it plots listings on a Google map for ease.

Zoopla
Zoopla

Zoopla also lets you match up sold prices with old property ads, including pics, asking prices, descriptions and floor plans. Go to Zoopla's sold prices section, search for an area and click on a property for historic listings.

Home.co.uk
Home.co.uk

MoneySavers also rate Home.co.uk. The site can be clunky, but includes reams of data alongside listings, including how the asking price compares with others in the town and postcode.

13

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.

Here are our top 20 searching questions to ask:

  1. How many viewings has it had?

  2. How many offers has it had?

  3. How long has it been on the market?

  4. Can I see electrical and gas installation checks/reports?

  5. How long is the lease (if it has one)?

  6. Have there been any neighbour disputes?

  7. Why are the vendors moving and are they sure they want to sell now?

  8. What renovations have been done?

  9. How old is the boiler and when was it last inspected?

  10. When was it last rewired?

  11. Where are the vendors moving to - is there a chain?

  12. If a flat, how much are service charges and ground rent? (Read more on charges.)

  13. Who lives upstairs/downstairs/next door?

  14. How long has the seller lived there?

  15. What's included in the sale? White goods? Curtains? Wood burner?

  16. Are there any parking issues?

  17. If there's a real fire, is it safe to use?

  18. Have there been any subsidence problems?

  19. What's the council tax band? (Also check this yourself.)

  20. Has anyone ever been murdered here? (Google the address too.)

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14

Take snaps when viewing

Take photos on your mobile, as they'll be a useful reference point when all the homes blur into one. Do check with the estate agent first, but don't feel like you're being cheeky.

As one house-seller on the forum, Gorgeous George, says:

"If I thought letting a potential buyer take some pics might clinch the sale, I'd have special lighting set up by the BBC."

15

View at different times of day

View the place three times at different times of the day. Daylight makes spotting flaws easier, but the pounding music which will make your life hell may not begin until the neighbours get back from work.

MoneySaver InTheRed2009 wishes they'd known this advice:

“I viewed my flat just once before buying, and within an hour of actually moving in the music started thumping through from upstairs. This is still an ongoing problem. I viewed just once, during the day, and it was quiet, so assumed there was no problem."

16

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'.

17

Use our checklist to spot deal-breakers

Don'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.

Small issues such as a broken kitchen drawer needn't be a deal-breaker. But make a list, so you can ask the seller to fix before you get the keys.

  • Spot damp. Case the joint for wet spots, mould, peely wallpaper and condensation on windows. Check inside cupboards too. Use your nose - does it smell musty?

  • Look up at ceilings. Look for cracks, brown stains, slow drips and problem leaks.

  • Check the doors & windows
  • Open doors and windows. Also shut every door behind you as you're being shown around to make sure they all work. Open cupboards and drawers with a smile and say: "I do hope you don't mind." Remember, you're giving them £100,000s.

  • Flick switches. Turn lights on and off, especially those with older switches. Fire up the cooker. Also check the wiring's age, as updating electrics can cost large.

  • Count power points. Make a floorplan and mark out power point locations in each room, testing sockets too.

  • Inspect the plumbing. Flush toilets and turn taps on. Check cupboards underneath sinks are dry. Check water pressure and that it gets hot. If you're feeling brave, go outside, lift the drain covers, then get someone to flush the loo and check the drain's flow.

  • Feel the heat. Ask the seller to switch on the boiler and turn on the central heating. Check the radiators for leaks and rust, and make sure they all get hot right across the surface.

  • Locks are key
  • Locks are key. Ensure door locks are up to insurance standards. Most policies insist that front and back doors be fitted with a five lever mortice deadlock. Check windows for locks and the front door for break-in signs.

  • Watch out for woodchip. Buying somewhere with woodchip or other textured wallpaper slapped all over it usually means excavating through layers of paper. And probably pulling half the plaster off.

  • Lift mats and rugs. Check for stains and other nasties lurking underneath.

  • Turn on your phone. Check for a signal to confirm it's not a mobile dead zone.

  • Audit the attic. Inspecting the loft in daylight is a great way to gauge the state of the property's woodwork. Check timbers for rot, as well as cracks or holes.

  • Observe outside walls. Check for wall cracks, mould and rotten woodwork.

  • Hit the roof. Take binoculars and check for missing/slipped tiles. Eye up the gutters and woodwork for potential problems. If possible, go on a rainy day, to see if the gutters leak.

  • Avoid kitchen nightmares. In the kitchen, mime preparing a dinner. Is there enough room?

  • Take a compass. Check if estate agents' promises of a sunny south facing garden are true.

  • Pry next door. If buying a flat or terrace, alarm bells should ring if neighbours' properties are rundown. Their problems can quickly become your problems.

  • Vet the seller. If they strike you as unreliable, think twice. A property's not good value if the vendor doesn't want to sell it. You could waste thousands in fees.

18

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.

Check how well maintained their home is - look for junk abandoned at the front and gardens engulfed by weeds.

Also chat to neighbours nearby, but not next to, the property. They'll be honest about what the area is like and are less likely to be either pally with the sellers or anxious to get rid of them.

19

Tools to 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.

One MoneySaver describes Property-Bee as "probably the most fun you'll have online". A free add-on for web browser Firefox, it show sellers on Rightmove who've altered listings. This includes price cuts, so you can see whether lack of demand means they might be willing to accept less.

Also try Propertysnake, which lists homes that have recently dropped asking prices and by how much. Type in a postcode to see who's having trouble offloading their house and what percentage they've trimmed the price by. For more free tools, see the Free House Price Valuations guide.

20

Consider resale potential

If you don't want to live in the property until you die, consider ease of resale. This may be your dream home, so you can live with walking through the kitchen to get to the bathroom. But will others?

If it's been hanging around on the market for a while, mull over why it hasn't shifted. Are people put off by the street, a takeaway shop below, lack of parking or weeny garden?

21

Stamp Duty Calculator - what will you have to pay?

Buy 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.

Stamp duty calculator

The easy way to find out how much is to use our Stamp Duty Calculator. Remember you only pay stamp duty on the property itself, not the fixtures and fittings, provided the amount you pay for them is a reasonable market value. This is especially handy if you're a touch over a stamp duty level, for example, £252,000.

Stamp duty - the UK's most ridiculous tax

It's not that there's a tax on property that's still, but how it works. With other taxes, you only pay higher rates on amounts above a threshold. Here, you pay it on the whole amount.

So buy a property for £250,000 and you pay 1% (£2,500). But buy one for £250,001, and you'll pay 3% on the WHOLE amount (£7,500). See Martin's blog for more on The UK's Worst Tax.

22

Look for at least 83 years on the lease

If 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.

Look for 83 years on the lease

Don't just accept estate agents' promises of easy extensions. You have to have owned the flat for two years before you can extend. A seller can get the ball rolling and pass the rights to the purchaser.

If a buyer waits until they've completed the purchase, it'll be another two years before they've a right to extend. It takes between three and 12 months to extend a lease, so look for properties with at least 83 years to run.

Don't rely on solicitors to point out short leases. You'd expect them to shout: "Not on your nelly - this will cost you £15,000 to extend or you won't be able to sell it." Yet after publishing our Lease Extension guide, we were shocked by stories from buyers who said solicitors didn't spell it out.

Forumite Norm says:

"I bought six years ago and now my lease has 60 years left. I cannot recall or find anything in the paperwork from the purchase advising me that the lease would need to be extended or that this would be expensive.

"I was a first-time buyer and totally reliant on the conveyancer's advice. I feel they should have strongly highlighted this problem. I would not have bought this property knowing in five years I would have to pay £10-12,000 to extend."

For a full explanation and how much it might cost, see our Lease Extension calculator and guide. Also see Can you buy the freehold? below.

23

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. Not only could you nab somewhere before others hear about it, but the seller may give a discount, as they save on estate agent fees.

This really does work. MoneySaver HypnoNu says:

"We bought our current house privately. We just flyered a load of houses with a photocopied handwritten letter and got a fair few responses. We went to see the house we're in now, and bought directly from the vendor without the house ever going on the market. It's worth a shot!"

24

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.

25

Beware rip-off service charges

When you own a leasehold flat, the freeholder (or landlord) is usually responsible for insuring the building and maintaining communal areas.

Leaseholders must pay ground rent (usually small) and service charges (often a fair whack) to the freeholder. Unfair service charges are rife - papers run stories of freeholders who charge £100,000s for work costing £50,000.

Freeholders and property management companies are prone to pick costly providers. In fact, they often grab products and insurance policies that pay the most commission. While you can go to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal to challenge unfair charges, it costs £1,000s.

Beware rip-off service charges

So flat hunters should always get ground rent and service charges in writing before buying.

Also check the fees the freeholder charges for any consents, such as alterations, and to register or transfer mortgages. These can be significant extra costs people don't see coming.

Google the property management company to check for complaints, and ask flat-owners in the same block if they think service charges are fair. Do they have any gripes, for example, excessive service charges, substandard work or aggressive charge collecting?

If you're buying a flat, arm yourself with info by reading the Extend Your Lease and Buy Your Freehold guides.

26

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.

It's about searching all the official files for hidden catches and ensuring the purchase is legit. They do all the legal paperwork, Land Registry and local council searches, draft the contract and handle the exchange of cash. This is not usually something you can do yourself and usually costs £100 to £1,500.

Here are our dos and don'ts.

  • DON'T automatically use the estate agents' firm. It's probably a commission-based recommendation. Certainly speak to them and use their price as a benchmark.
  • DO get maximum quotes in minimum time. Answer a few questions at Reallymoving.com and it emails you at least four quotes from firms in your area. The Law Society's Find a Solicitor tool also has a section on housing and property (look for accredited firms). Ask pals for recommendations.
  • DON'T assume they need to be nearby. Consider someone from further afield. It's perfectly possible to use a solicitor in Newcastle when you live in central London, and it can be much cheaper.
  • DO check out the web. Some MoneySavers rate cheap'n'cheerful internet-based conveyancers that do it all via the phone and net.

    Some forumites have had good experiences with the following companies: Easier2move, 1st Property Lawyers and Online Conveyancing. However, nothing is guaranteed - feedback (as with all solicitors) varies, so please do your own research before using.
  • DON'T go for rock bottom price if you're in a rush. The cheapest companies often work in bulk and can be slower. If time's an issue, that can be a problem. Pick a company that sounds professional and answers emails promptly.
  • DO check for hidden extras. Ask for a full fee breakdown. Do they include bank money transfer fees, stamp duty forms, land registration fees and drainage and environmental searches? Some firms even charge extra to verify your ID. See the Legal Ombudsman's Ten questions to ask your lawyer about costs.
  • DON'T automatically use the solicitor who did your divorce. Pick a firm that focuses on conveyancing or at least has a specialist department. Ask how many cases it handled last year. Just because someone did your divorce doesn't mean they can do this job too.
  • DO ask if they'll chuck in a will for free. A top tip from money_maker: “Get your will done with your solicitor at the time, as some will do it for free since they are already being paid." For more no-cost or low-cost wills, see Free & Cheap Wills.
  • DON'T be shy. Ensure you fully understand what your legal adviser will and won't do on your behalf. See the Legal Ombudsman's Ten questions to ask your lawyer about conveyancing.
  • DO check they are regulated by a professional body. Solicitors are regulated by the Law Society and conveyancers the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. If they are, then they must have a clear complaints procedure in place.
  • DO ask if they've a holiday booked. Will the lawyer be on holiday for any time in the next three months? If they'll be backpacking Peru on your preferred completion date, best go with another option.
  • DO check what needs to be paid if a sale collapses. If a sale falls through, lawyers will often charge a fee for work done even if it was the seller who pulled out. Some firms offer a "no move, no fee" service but this may not cover things like search fees which are paid out on your behalf.
27

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.

28

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. They'll share their experiences and help you dig for clues.

You're likely to get more response if you post a link to the home's advertisement on one of the big property search sites such as Rightmove. Though do remember this is a public forum, and there's a chance you could give away your tactics to the seller.

29

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.

30

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.

MoneySaving lawyer ronnie-the-red says:

"Chase your solicitor. They often won't have picked up the file as often as you think. If you chase, don't worry about bugging the solicitor. Trust me - we need to be bugged.

"Remember you are paying for their services and they are working for you. Don't worry about annoying them, as most clients are fairly annoying!"

31

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.

Buying freehold, if you can, costs about the same as extending your lease by 90 years and you can usually then extend the lease for free, just paying legal fees. For a full how-to, read the Buy Your Freehold guide.

As inspiration, here's MoneySaver westernpromise's experience:

"We bought a share of the freehold because the freeholder was charging us £1,000/year for buildings insurance. When we bought our own, it fell to £300/year. The freehold cost £1,500 per flat, including legal fees. We saved £700 on insurance in the first year.

"We also gained control over maintenance expenses. Before this, the freeholder would dismiss suggestions that she was forcing us to overpay and just hand us a huge bill."

32

Get fixtures and fittings in writing

To 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.

Fixtures & fittings

If you're paying extra for any fittings, remember sellers often price up goods on what they paid originally, which can have little relation to current values. For example, a £2,000 TV might have been their pride and joy when they nailed it to the wall six years ago, but would now cost £300-ish new and less second-hand.

To see if you could buy it new cheaper, use ‘shopbots' – shopping robot comparison services that scan loads of retailers for best prices. The free MegaShopBot tool auto-searches the best shopbots for each type of good.

There's a quick way to glean second-hand items' values on eBay*. Fill in the search box and tick 'completed items' on the left-hand grey bar. It'll come up with a list of prices similar items have already fetched.

33

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.

If the seller pulls out before you exchange contracts, you have no legal right to recover any costs from them. One option is indemnity insurance for wasted costs - consider asking your solicitor about this.

34

Hammer out a deal at auction

Auction 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.

If you're considering bidding, go to a couple of auctions first to get a feel for the process. Visit properties several times. You must get a survey to reveal any horrors - there could well be hidden defects that meant the seller had to go to auction.

Hammer out a deal at auction

Always enlist a solicitor to inspect the auction pack. If you buy a property with major legal issues that need sorting, it may not be the bargain you thought it would be.

Plus do confirm the previous tenants have handed over the keys and the property is unoccupied. If the repossessed property was previously owned by a buy-to-let landlord, it's possible that the property may be resold with a tenant in situ.

Remember that the contract comes into force on the fall of the auctioneer's hammer, so you cannot pull out without huge cost after the auction.

You need finance in place before bidding

Unless you're lucky enough to be a cash buyer, you'll need to get finance in place before bidding. Call your broker and get a 'mortgage promise', which lets you know the maximum amount you can borrow.

This isn't a formal mortgage though - most lenders will not give this until you have found a specific property and they've sent a valuer round. If the mortgage company disagrees with your valuation, they may not approve the deal.

Most auctions require a 10% deposit on the day. Take a cheque book and two proofs of ID. You have between 14 days to six weeks, depending on the auctioneer, to produce the cash and complete.

Miss the deadline, and you lose the deposit. If you need to shift your current home to buy the new one, you should complete the sale before bidding.

35

Get the right survey

There 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 the right survey

For older or quirkier residences, consider a full structural survey. These are super-detailed, covering everything, and can cost up to £1,000, but often they're well worth the expense. It could well give you ammunition to haggle down the price.

Forumite moonstick's tale shows why you shouldn't rely on the bank's quick valuation report:

"I've just bought my first house, a 1940s semi. On the day I moved in, I noticed the back of the master bedroom has a significant slope where it had been extended. I had a joiner come round to look at it – he said it was a structural defect.

"When I applied for the mortgage, the bank did a valuation survey, which stated the house was in good condition. It'll probably cost a good few grand to fix."

Sadly, even those buying new builds still have to get out their wallets. Snagging surveys pinpoint defects and unfinished bits, so you can push the developer to correct them before completion.

It's also worth accompanying the surveyor. They are likely to say far more verbally than they'd write in a report. To get instant quotes from surveyors in your area, fill in your details at Reallymoving.com. You have to give your email address.

36

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.

Do get a second opinion, especially with damp. What might seem like minor work can be complex and expensive, as forumite Canny-cat's story shows:

"Our survey told us the house had a minor case of damp that would cost £400 to solve. It seemed so minor that we didn't even bother to renegotiate with the seller. Once we'd moved in, we discovered the full extent of the damp problem and paid over £4,000, plus associated redecoration costs, on tanking the entire ground floor.

"The sellers had the walls skimmed shortly before putting on sale, so that you couldn't notice the damp for a few months. Then the metal wall fixings and sockets started rusting, the plaster started to salt and bubble, and I developed asthma."

37

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.

These free sites quickly reveal how vulnerable a property is, possibly saving years of stress. Don't learn it the hard way, like forumite spannerzone:

Having been flooded, I'd never buy in a risk zone again. My concerns would be getting insurance as well as the potential life-changing mess that a bad flood can cause.

"It seemed highly unlikely flooding would ever happen to me, so I never gave it any real thought. The day it flooded and every single item I owned got ruined was somewhat of an eye opener, I must say."

38

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.

First see if neighbours in identical or similar properties are in lower bands, via the Valuation Office Agency or Scottish Assessors Association. Then use the web to value your house for free, and convert it back to its key 1991 price. See the Council Tax Reclaiming guide for a special calculator and how to safely reclaim.

39

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:

  1. Where's the main stopcock (to shut off the water)?

  2. Where are the gas and electricity meters?

  3. Do any surfaces need special cleaning products, for example wooden floors?

  4. What day do the dustmen come?

  5. Do you have any old tins of paint in the same colour as the walls?

  6. Do you have any instruction manuals or warranties on electrical items?

  7. Where did the kitchen and bathroom tiles come from?

  8. Where did any fixed furniture come from, eg, kitchen cabinets?

  9. Who supplies the energy, broadband and home phone?

  10. Where is the thermostat?

40

Instantly compare removal costs

If you're moving from your parents with no furniture, a car and a couple of mates will suffice. Most other people will need to enlist a removal firm.

To get five local quotes instantly, head to Reallymoving.com and fill in an online form. Do also check that the company belongs to the British Association of Removers.

41

Grab home insurance quotes before buying

Always 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.

House Insurance

Don't think you must use your mortgage provider's cover. If you pay for buildings and/or contents insurance alongside your mortgage, it's often awful value.

No one home insurer's cheapest, so the key's bagging as many quotes as possible. To find the cheapest, combine the top comparisons listed in our Cheap Home Insurance guide.

42

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."

43

Protect your family from gas leaks

Fifty 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..

Gas leaks

Before you move in, make sure you get a copy of the annual Gas Safety Certificate, which shows that all gas appliances have had a service by an engineer listed on the Gas Safe Register.

Forumite November's experience is a case in point:

“Just after we moved in I had to call Transco in the middle of the night. We thought we had flu. We had carbon monoxide poisoning and were alive due to a faulty cat flap venting out most of the gas.

"The system was condemned. It was a very lucky escape - it never occurred to me to check the gas certificate."

44

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.

You can still compare, even if you don't have previous bills from your new house. Just use tell our Cheap Energy Club some info about the new house and whether you're a high, medium or low user. It'll show the cheapest tariff for you and give up to £30 cashback.

This won't be 100% accurate as it makes some assumptions, but it will give you good options, likely to be far cheaper than the default standard tariff you'll be put on when you moved in.

Finally, don't forget to take meter readings when you move in.

45

Free sofas, beds, TVs, fridges and more

Furnishing 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.

Free sofas, beds, TVs, fridges & more

What's the catch? There isn't one. Instead of dumping goods or eBaying them, people harness the web's power to offer them to their local communities. So as well as getting kitted out for nowt, the environment benefits as unwanted items aren't flung into landfills.

Of course, there is some moth-bitten tat out there. But there's also top-quality stuff people just don't use anymore. Bagging the best is all about the etiquette - you need to give yourself and keep your eyes peeled. For a full step-by-step guide, see Freecycle & Freegle Tips.

46

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.

47

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.

Also, remember, when you move, you don’t automatically get registered to vote at your new address. The registration process has recently changed so that, rather than one person registering all members of a household, each individual needs to register themselves. You can register on the gov.uk site.

48

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. The total cost of both, including building work, can be worth £700, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

For full terms and conditions, including a list of which homes qualify, see Free Insulation.

49

Rent your spare room

If there's a spare room in your place, you could rent it out to a full-time 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 on anything above this, you could easily earn more.

If you're renting a room out, then you have two options to legitimately reduce tax - but you must choose one:

  • The Rent A Room scheme: The Rent A Room scheme means you can take in a lodger to live in a furnished room in your home. It has a special exemption meaning you won't have to pay tax on the first £4,250 you make each year.

    Rent your spare room

    This is a huge tax break for most people and really ups the gain. Better still, as a landlord you'll be expected to ask for a month in advance, which means ready cash comes in quickly.

  • Deducting expenses: Alternatively, HMRC allows landlords to deduct mortgage interest costs and certain other expenses from any rental income. This can be a bigger saving in some cases. See Gov.uk for full info.

If you don't want to do it full-time, you can play guesthouse. Airbnb and Wimdu let you to list your spare room online, and take in travellers looking for a cheap place to stay. You can set the nightly cost, undercutting the local hotels, and you might just get to work on your language skills too.

For 60 ways to bring in extra cash, see the full Boost Your Income guide.

50

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.

Instead of waiting until it gives up the ghost and paying over the odds for emergency repair costs, make getting your boiler cover sorted part of the moving-in process.

Don't just stick with your energy provider; our Cheap Boiler Cover guide may save you £100s.

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