This information applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland
How much can you afford
The first thing you need to do is decide how much you can afford. You will need to look at how much money you have available yourself and how much you can borrow. There are a number of different financial institutions which offer loans to people buying a property, for example, building societies and banks. You should find out if you are able to borrow money and if so, how much.
Some building societies now provide buyers with a certificate that states that a loan will be available provided the property is satisfactory. You may be able to get this certificate before you start looking for a property. Building societies state that this certificate may help you to have your offer accepted by the seller.
Before finally deciding how much to spend on a property, you need to be sure you will have enough money to pay for all the additional costs. These include:-
- survey fees
- valuation fees
- Stamp Duty Land Tax. This is payable on properties costing more than £125,000 and is at least 1% of the purchase price (in a limited number of areas, designated as 'disadvantaged', it is only payable on properties costing £150 000 or more)
- land registry fee
- local authority search
- fees, if any, charged by the mortgage lender or someone who arranges the mortgage, for example, a mortgage broker
- the buyer’s solicitor’s costs
- removal expenses
- any final bills, for example, gas and electricity, from your present home which will have to be paid when you move.
For more information about Stamp Duty Land Tax, go to the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) website at www.hmrc.gov.uk/so, or ring the HMRC Stamp Office enquiry line on: 0845 603 0135.
You should be aware that if you start the process of buying a property and then the sale falls through you may have already paid for a valuation and/or a survey. If the solicitor has started any legal work you may also have to pay for the work done.
You should also take into account the running expenses of the property you wish to buy. These may include:-
- heating bills
- community charge/council tax (in England and Wales)
- water rates (in England and Wales)
- ground rent, if the property is leasehold
- service charges, if the property is a leasehold flat
- insurance costs, including life insurance, buildings and contents insurance.
You will also have to pay a deposit on exchange of contracts, up to 10% of the purchase price, a few weeks before the purchase is completed and the money is received from the mortgage lender.
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How to find a property
There are a number of ways in which you could find a property to buy:-
- using estate agents
- looking at the property pages in local newspapers
- contacting house building companies for details of new properties being built in the area
- looking on the internet.
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Deciding on a property
When you find a property you should arrange to look round it to make sure it is what you will need and to get some idea of whether or not you will have to spend any additional money on the property, for example, for repairs or decoration. It is common for a potential buyer to visit a property two or three times before deciding to make an offer.
Is the property leasehold, freehold or commonhold
If the property is freehold, this means that the land on which the property is built is part of the sale and no ground rent or service charge is payable.
A property may be leasehold, which means that the land on which the property is built is not part of the sale. You have to pay ground rent to the owner of the land - who is called the freeholder.
The length of a lease can vary and you should check that the length of the lease on the property you are interested in buying is acceptable to the mortgage lender. You should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
In addition to ground rent on a leasehold property, you may have to pay an annual service charge. This usually happens with a flat. The service charge covers such items as maintenance and repairs to the buildings, cleaning of common parts and looking after the grounds.
A group of leaseholders living in the same building may have a right to jointly buy the freehold of the building or take over its management.
In England and Wales, you can get further advice about leasehold from:-
The Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE)
31 Worship Street
Tel: 020 7374 5380 Or 0845 345 1993 (9.30am to 3.30pm Monday to Friday)
Fax: 020 7374 5373
If the property is commonhold, this means that you can buy the freehold of a flat and own common parts of the building jointly with the owners of other flats in the building (known as a commonhold association).
In commonhold a ground rent or service charge is not payable. However, a share of the commonhold association's expenditure on maintenance, insurance and administration will be payable for the common parts of the building.
Further information about commonhold is available from LEASE – see above under leasehold property for details.
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Making an offer
When you decide you would like to buy a particular property you do not necessarily have to pay the price being asked for it by the owners. You can offer less if, for example, you thinks there are repairs to be done which will cost money.
If the property is being sold through an estate agent, you should tell the estate agent what you are prepared to pay for the property. The estate agent will then put this offer to the owners.
If the owners do not accept the first offer put to them by you, you can decide to make an increased offer. There is no limit on the number of times you can make offers on a property. If you make a written offer it will always be made subject to contract. This means that you will not be committed to the purchase before finding out more about the state of the property. If you make an oral offer this is never legally binding.
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When the offer has been accepted
When your offer for the property has been accepted you will have to consider the following:-
- whether a holding deposit is payable
- arranging a mortgage - see below
- whether a survey is necessary - see below
- who will do the necessary legal work - see below
- whether you want to buy with someone else - see below.
Once the owners have accepted your offer the buyer may be asked to pay a small deposit to the estate agent. This is usually between £500 and £1000. It is meant to show that you are serious about going ahead with the purchase. It is repayable if the sale does not go ahead.
Arranging a mortgage
If you have not already begun to arrange a mortgage, you should start to do this now. It should take about three weeks from the application for the mortgage to the formal offer being made by the lender. However, this time-scale may vary.
Whoever agrees to lend the money will want to have the property valued. This is to make sure that the lender could get the loan back if for any reason you stopped paying your mortgage and the house had to be sold again. The valuation will be done by a surveyor on behalf of the lender but you will have to pay for this valuation. The fee will be payable in advance, usually when the you send a completed mortgage application form to the lender.
If the amount of money to be borrowed is more than a certain percentage of the valuation of the property (usually 75-80%), your lender may make it a condition of the loan that you take out extra insurance to cover the extra amount. You pay a single premium to your lender which is usually added to the loan. This is known as a higher lending charge (or mortgage indemnity guarantee).
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I am pregnant and have just applied for a mortgage. It has been turned down because they say I won't be returning to work after the baby is born. Are they allowed to do this?
A mortgage lender doesn't have to give you a mortgage. However, they must not refuse to lend you a mortgage, or treat you less favourably than other people, simply because of your race, sex, disability, religion or sexuality.
The mortgage lender is not allowed to turn down your application on the grounds of pregnancy. This is sex discrimination and it is against the law. Get advice from an experienced adviser about what to do.
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Arranging a survey
The valuation which is done for whoever is lending the money is not a survey. You should consider whether or not to have an independent survey carried out in addition to the valuation. The survey would not only consider the value of the property but would also examine the structure of the property and should identify any existing or potential problems.
There are two levels of survey that you can choose between:-
- a full structural survey. This is suitable for a property which is large, more than 80/90 years old or in doubtful condition
- an intermediate or ‘house/flat buyers report’ that gives a report on the condition of the parts of the house that are easy to see and to get at and may recommend further tests or investigations, for example, a specialist check for woodworm. This is particularly suitable for properties built this century which appear reasonably sound. It is much cheaper than a full structural survey.
It is possible for you to use the same surveyor who does the valuation to carry out the survey and this may be cheaper. However, you can use a different surveyor if you wish.
If the surveyor reports that there are some problems with the property, you will have to consider whether you still want to go ahead with the purchase or want to negotiate further with the seller about the price. The surveyor will usually advise you as to how any problems they have identified should be dealt with and the likely costs of this. You can find more useful information about property surveys at www.rics.org/Property/ResidentialProperty.
Choosing who is to do the legal work (conveyancing)
The legal process of transferring the ownership of the property from the present owner to the buyer is known as conveyancing. You should decide who you want to do the conveyancing work. You can do it yourself – although this can be complicated – or you can:-
- use a solicitor; or
- use a licensed conveyancer.
Using a solicitor
Woolliscrofts offer a conveyancing service. Although all solicitors can legally do conveyancing, it is advisable to choose a solicitor who has experience of this work.
Buying with someone else
If two or more people are buying the property jointly they will be joint legal owners. The agreement of all legal owners is needed if the property is to be sold, although if there is a dispute an owner can apply for a court order.
As well as the legal ownership of property, there is the beneficial ownership to be considered. This means the shares in the property to which the owners are entitled.
There are two types of beneficial ownership - joint tenants and tenants in common. If you are joint tenants, your property cannot be sold without the agreement of both of you. If one of you dies, their share of the property passes automatically to the other. If you own your property as tenants in common, each of you will have a share in the property that you can dispose of as you like. It is up to you to decide how much each share will be. If one of you dies, you can leave your share to whoever you like.
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Steps in the legal work of buying a property
Although it is impossible to give a precise idea of how long the legal work involved in buying a property takes, it is possible to offer guidelines. From having an offer accepted to exchange of contracts can take up to seven weeks and from exchange of contracts to completion can take up to four weeks. However, if there are any problems the time taken may be longer.
Enquiries made by the solicitor or, in England and Wales, licensed conveyancer
Once you have instructed the solicitor or, in England and Wales, a conveyancer, the seller’s solicitor or the licensed conveyancer draws up a contract which will eventually be signed by you and the seller. However, before the contract can be signed, your solicitor or licensed conveyancer must make sure that there are no problems with the ownership of the property, rights of way, access, or future developments in the area that might affect the property. This is called ‘making enquiries and searches’. The solicitor or licensed conveyancer makes the enquiries and searches as follows:-
- local searches. These are enquiries made to the local authority (or in Northern Ireland, the appropriate government department) about any matters which affect the property which involve the local authority, such as whether there is a compulsory purchase order on the property. Local searches also include questions about any proposed changes or development in the area that might affect the property such as roads, housing, shops. During the local search, the local Land Charges Register (Registry of Deeds in Northern Ireland) is also checked. This gives information about any matter which affects the property such as tree preservation orders, if it is a listed building or in a conservation area; and
- enquiries made to the seller by the solicitor or, in England and Wales, a licensed conveyancer. These are a set of standard questions about the property, boundaries, neighbour disputes and fixtures and fittings that will remain in the property. There may also be additional questions that the solicitor or licensed conveyancer thinks are necessary, such as the transferability of guarantees for any work done on the house, for example, a damp proof course; and
- from the Land Registry.
Arranging to pay the 10% deposit
Whilst the solicitor or, in England and Wales, a licensed conveyancer is making the enquiries, you should sort out how you will pay the deposit that has to be made when the contracts are exchanged. This deposit is usually 10% of the price of the home. However, it is sometimes possible to come to an agreement to pay a smaller deposit. If you are also selling a house it is usually possible to put the 10% deposit on the property being sold towards the deposit on the property you are buying.
If you are unable to provide the 10% deposit it is possible to use a ‘deposit guarantee scheme’. Your solicitor or licensed conveyancer can arrange this with an insurance company.
If raising the deposit may be a problem, you should discuss the options with your solicitor or licensed conveyancer.
To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
Alternatively, you could consider borrowing the money for the deposit from elsewhere, for example, from relatives or a bridging loan from a bank. However, the amount of interest you will have to pay for a bridging loan will be high and you should check how much this arrangement will cost.
Insuring the property
You should make sure that buildings insurance is arranged from the date of exchange, because once contracts have been exchanged you are responsible for the property.
You may be able to get information on buildings insurance from your mortgage lender, solicitor or, in England and Wales, a licensed conveyancer.
To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
Exchange of contracts
The final contract between you and the seller is prepared when:-
- the solicitor (or licensed conveyancer) and you are satisfied with the final outcome of all the enquiries
- any surveyor’s report has been received and any necessary action taken
- the formal mortgage offer has been received
- arrangements about the payment of the 10% deposit have been made
- the date of completion has been agreed.
You and the seller each have a copy of the final contract which you must sign. These signed contracts are then exchanged. At exchange of contracts both you and the seller are legally bound by the contract and the sale of the house has to go ahead. If you drop out, you will lose your deposit.
You should make arrangements for the supply of gas, electricity and telephone service and make sure that the seller is arranging for final meter readings to be made.
Completion of the purchase usually takes place about four weeks after exchange of contracts, although it can be earlier. On the day agreed for completion:-
- the mortgage lender releases the money
- the deeds to the property are handed over to your solicitor or licensed conveyancer
- the seller must hand over the keys and leave the property by an agreed time.
The solicitor or licensed conveyancer (in England and Wales only) will usually send their account to you on, or soon after, the completion date.
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The right to buy and the Statutory House Sales Scheme
Who has the right to buy (or the right to a statutory house sale in Northern Ireland)
As a public sector tenant you will probably have the right to buy if you are a secure tenant of:-
- a local authority
- a non-charitable housing association
- a housing action trust
- in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive or a registered housing association.
You have the right to buy if you have been a public sector tenant for at least two years. However, if your tenancy began on or after 18 January 2005 (in Northern Ireland, after 12 October 2004), you must have been a public sector tenant for at least five years.
As a tenant, you will not have the right to buy if you are:-
- a housing association tenant whose tenancy began on or after 15 January 1989
- a tenant of a property owned by a charity, although you may be entitled to a lump sum grant to help you buy on the open market
- a tenant of sheltered housing or housing specifically designated for older people
- in Northern Ireland, the tenant of a single storey or ground floor property (other than a flat)
- an undischarged bankrupt. If you have rent arrears, you can still apply for the right to buy but you need to clear the arrears before the sale can go ahead.
If you are not sure whether you have the right to buy, you should check with your landlord which category you fit into.
If you are a secure tenant of a local authority, you should be given written information to help you decide about the right to buy. You can also get this information from a government leaflet called Your right to buy your home.
This leaflet is available in a number of different languages, including Urdu, Arabic, Gujerati, Bengali and Welsh.
As a tenant with a right to buy, you will get a discount on the price of the property. If you live in a house the discount will be between 32% and 60%, depending on how long you have lived there. If you live in a flat, the discount will be between 44% and 70%, depending on how long you have lived there. The discount will not exceed the regional upper limits, which, in England and Wales, range from £16,000 to £38,000.
In Northern Ireland, if you have been a secure tenant for 5 years you will get a 20% discount, and a further 2% discount for every additional year you have been a secure tenant. The maximum discount you can get is £34,000.
If you exercise the right to buy and then sell the property within a certain period, you may have to repay some or all of the discount – check the rules with your local authority.
To find out more about how this might apply to you, see the government leaflet Your right to buy your home, or get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
How to pay
As a tenant who wants to exercise your right to buy, you should try to obtain a mortgage from a building society or high street bank. You could also contact a mortgage broker to see if they can arrange a mortgage.
However, if you cannot afford to buy the property outright you can still buy under the rent to mortgage scheme. Under this scheme you can buy a share of the property and make mortgage repayments on the amount you have borrowed for this. The landlord will retain ownership of the remaining share of the property.
How to apply
In England and Wales, if you want to apply for the right to buy you should ask your landlord for the Right to Buy Claim Form (Form RTB1). In Northern Ireland, you should ask for a house sales application form. The landlord must provide it.
The right to acquire (England and Wales only)
As a secure or assured tenant of a registered social landlord, for example, a housing association or a local housing company, you may have the right to buy your home under a different scheme called the ‘right to acquire’. The right to acquire only applies to a limited number of properties, for example, homes built with public funds on or after 1 April 1997.
For more information about the right to acquire, in England you should contact your landlord or the Housing Corporation who can be contacted on telephone number 0845 230 7000 or by visiting www.housingcorp.gov.uk. In Wales, you should contact the Welsh Assembly Government on telephone number 0845 010 3300 (English) or 0845 010 4400 (Welsh), or by visiting www.new.wales.gov.uk.
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If you wish to buy a home you may be able to borrow money to do this. This is called a mortgage. The loan is for a fixed period and you have to pay interest on the loan. If you do not keep up the agreed repayments, the lender can take possession of the property.
Types of mortgages
There are several types of mortgage available. The most common are:-
- repayment mortgage. This is a mortgage in which the capital borrowed is repaid gradually over the period of the loan. The capital is paid in monthly instalments together with an amount of interest. The amount of capital which is repaid gradually increases over the years while the amount of interest goes down
- endowment mortgage. This mortgage consists of two parts: the loan from the lender and an endowment policy taken out with an insurance company. You pay interest on the loan in monthly instalments to the lender but do not actually pay off any of the loan. The endowment policy is paid monthly to the insurance company. At the end of the period of the mortgage, the policy matures and produces a lump sum which should pay off the loan to the lender and may, in some circumstances, produce an additional lump sum. There is a risk that the endowment policy will not be worth enough to pay off the loan at the end of the mortgage period. If you have been told by your endowment provider that your policy will not be enough to pay off your loan, you should seek independent financial advice. You can get information about dealing with endowment policies from the Financial Services Authority (FSA) at www.moneymadeclear.fsa.gov.uk
- pension mortgage. This mortgage is primarily for self-employed people. The monthly payments consist of interest payments on the loan and contributions to a pension scheme. When the borrower retires, there is a lump sum to pay off the loan and a pension
- ISA mortgage. With an ISA mortgage, you pay interest to the lender, and contributions to an Individual Savings Account (ISA) which should pay off the loan
- Islamic mortgage. This is a mortgage in which none of the monthly payments includes interest. Instead, the lender makes a charge for lending you the capital to buy your property which can be recovered in one of a number of different ways, for example, by charging you rent
- the government-backed Open Market HomeBuy scheme in England and Wales, which helps certain people like key workers to borrow extra money to buy a home.
Where to get a mortgage from
A mortgage could be available from a number of different sources. Some of the available options are:-
- building societies
- insurance companies. They only provide endowment mortgages (see above)
- large building companies might arrange mortgages on their own new-build homes
- finance houses
- specialised mortgage companies.
If you intend getting a mortgage you should make sure you investigate the different options available. If in doubt, you may wish to consult an independent financial adviser. For help with finding a financial adviser you could consult a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.