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Property FAQ

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Q. I have seen a house that I want to buy with an estate agent. I need to sell my house before I buy and the seller’s agent is putting some pressure on me to put my house with them for sale and take it off the market with the agent I am already with. I do not want to lose the house they are selling and feel that changing agents may clinch the deal, however I am very happy with the service I am getting from my existing agent. What should I do?

 

I feel very sympathetic to your dilemma. I have come across this a few times over the years and in my experience the solution depends on taking an objective view of the situation including looking at the situation from the sellers perspective. My initial instinct would be to succumb to the pressure and instruct the selling agent, however in practice this is still no guarantee of the right outcome. The agent would then have both your houses to sell and an equal duty to both you and the owners of your target property to keep you fully informed. It could be that another buyer could appear through them for the same property and this could frustrate the flow of full and frank disclosure, which you should expect from your appointed agent. No, my view is that you should politely but firmly decline the agent’s approach and keep your sale as a separate matter.

Consider whether you have currently instructed the right agent. Are they likely to have enough buyers to get you a sale? Is your selling price realistic? Try to keep the sellers fully informed directly about your sale position, particularly with any positive news on your side ie: buyers making offers, surveys being carried out etc. If you feel the selling agent is not conveying the facts as you see them then copy your letters to, or telephone the seller. There is no law or rule that says that a seller cannot talk direct to a buyer or vice-versa, merely a convention. A good selling agent will not be unduly worried about this direct flow of information.

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Q. I put my house on the market with an estate agent in late March and the estate agent put a for sale board up outside my house. They have sent a couple of people to look at the house and both of them are interested. A friend of mine who had not been to the agent came round and said that she wants it at the full price. If I sell to her do I have to pay the Estate agents fees and should I tell the agent?

 

Lucky you! The biggest point that you will need to consider would be not "Do I have to pay the agent?" but "What am I actually gaining by avoiding the agents fees?" I have seen this situation so many times in my many years. On many occasions the "private buyer" has often expected the seller to take an offer at the asking price less the agents fees! The mind boggles. So consider the following questions carefully:- Is your private buyer able to afford to buy the house? Do they have a house to sell? Is it sold? If it is, who to? How long is the chain? Have their buyers had a survey carried out? Have solicitors been instructed? Your natural instinct to save money and by pass the agent may not be in your best interests and may just cheese the agent off and the chances that you might need their services again someday. However as in most things in life take a balanced view. If you are happy with your buyers status then give them a deadline to exchange contracts. Do keep the agent informed.

The other part of the answer is more serious. Are you absolutely sure that the agent played no role in the sale and might be entitled to claim a fee? Look at your written or verbal contract with the agent. Most agents stipulate in their contracts that "in the event of the company being responsible for introducing a buyer who proceeds to completion either directly or indirectly." Could your private buyer have seen it in the paper or seen a for sale board or be registered with the estate agent and actually received sale particulars and perhaps not been completely frank with you? Are you being fair to the agent? Again this is up to your conscience! Be careful and don’t spend the agent’s fee on a Caribbean holiday until you are completely sure that there will not be a claim. Perhaps you may negotiate a split fee with the agent if in doubt. Good luck....back to top


 

Q. If you get a solicitor or a licensed conveyancer to handle this for you, can they be held legally responsible if they fail to process your business properly.

I have read what you say about it being OK to do it yourself and I wonder how easy it would be for a reasonably intelligent person with plenty of time to spare.

 

It is a sad fact that house owners doing their own conveyancing are rare. This is a pity because in theory you are quite right that it isn’t rocket science, however it is beyond the wit and patience of most house sellers and buyers. If I was buying a house I would want to use a solicitor simply because I would worry that if I made a mistake through inexperience or lack of diligence then I would have to bear a huge potential financial loss. Solicitors can be held responsible and must have professional Indemnity insurance in case of negligence claims. This should offer you protection enough. If you are selling a house there is perhaps less risk in doing it your self, however I would consider the work involved and therefore the financial savings to be far less. Not forgetting that we offer very competitive arrangements with legal practitioners for such work! back to top


Q. I viewed a house in Somerset last week, which the agent told me I would like. When I arrived, it was 50 yards from a busy main road, which was not clear from the photograph on the sales blurb and three of the four bedrooms were tiny. I feel very angry that I travelled 150 miles just to see a property that was so unsuitable. I feel that it’s the agent’s fault. Can I get some compensation from them for my time and expense?

 

You have just learned a valuable lesson. The lesson is that you should check the information, before going so far, more carefully. Personally I would have got together at least another three properties to see as well and then perhaps that one would not have been so preoccupying. Estate Agents are paid by the owners of property to sell them and not by buyers to buy them. That said they do have a duty to describe the property accurately and not to mislead buyers. There is a lovely piece of criminal legislation, which has brought turmoil to Estate Agency offices across the land since 1991 called The Property Misdescription Act. Subsequently many Estate Agents have found themselves in Court charged with taking photos of the wrong flats, putting garages into sales details where none existed and saying houses were double glazed when there was perhaps one small window in the whole house which wasn’t. Indeed some buyers even tried to blackmail estate agents into paying substantial out of court compensation where they had found errors in details in return for not pursuing a criminal case.

In your case omitting the fact that the road was there would not in itself be wrong. If the agents said that the garden was a quiet peaceful haven and all that you could hear was the birds tweeting in the bushes then that would be a misdescription under the Act. On the subject of room sizes it could well be that the rooms were incorrectly measured by the agent and in my current experience this is far more of a problem which agents should know enough to avoid. There are two main areas where agents go wrong; one is measuring rooms with sloped ceilings at floor level and another is measuring rooms into recesses where there are massive fireplaces which take up more than two thirds of the wall length. At the end of the day though "Caveat Emptor" ( Buyer beware) applies! Sorry!...

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Q. Why can’t I save agents fees and sell my house myself? I know my house will sell quickly and resent parting with £8,107.50 including VAT for a job I know I could do myself. Why don’t more people think like me?

 

Why do bank robbers rob banks? Because that’s where the money is! So your estate agent is charging you 2% plus VAT on a house sale at £345,000. Well that seems like a lot. It is a lot. Estate Agents are the property market place! (at the moment) Buyers go to estate agents to buy houses. The alternative is to put it in your local free ad or something or get the home made "for sale board" out on the front lawn or have a bumper car boot sale!

My stock response to house sellers who were going to sell their property themselves was usually " Well if you know your house will sell quickly then why don’t you ask more money so it doesn’t." Otherwise I agree with you, there is no point in instructing an agent to sell it. The only way that you could know that the selling fee would be exactly that amount is because you or an estate agent has pre-programmed a selling price into your head. My suggestion is add another £15,000 to the price alternatively you could try one of the discount brokers on the web. back to top


Q. I am looking for a house and feel like a third class citizen when I visit an estate agent? The comments I get are "Well if you had just been here earlier" and "Property is really moving very quickly here and we only put you on the mailing list if you have sold your own property" and other confidence building comments.

Estate Agents are acting for and paid by the seller. This means that they can seem dismissive of buyers who are not always very understanding when faced with "brusqueness". When after all you are a customer who wants to pay a lot of money for something they are selling it can seem a bit strange and un-welcoming. A good agent will always make a buyer welcome, as a good agent understands that a buyer is usually also a seller. It is not in their interests to deter buyers from embarking on the process by taking extraordinary steps to elaborate on how difficult the market is. Do not stand for it, the market is not that bad otherwise COMPLAIN!...

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Q. What exactly is Stamp Duty and who gets it?

 

Stamp duty is payable by the buyer through solicitors upon completion as a way of raising money for the government based on the purchase price of the property. The only good news is that in Europe generally they pay more than we do to purchase property.

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Q. I have just had my surveyor’s report on a house that I am buying and it has been valued at a lot less than I am paying. Does the owner have to reduce the price to sell the house to me? Should I pull out of the purchase?

 

This depends on several factors, not the least being the surveyors reason for the down valuation. If the surveyor is saying that the property is simply overpriced when compared to comparable properties in the area, then he will have obtained evidence from local sources to support his assertion which you should be able to see. If however he feels that there are structural or decorative reasons for the valuation or a combination of both then your position is more complex. In both cases the first step would be to look at his report and speak to him or her.

In the case of the undervaluation you could try and get your own evidence by talking to local agents and obtaining from them paper proof of actual transactions that have gone through at higher levels confirming that the property is worth what you are paying. You could then try to persuade the surveyor to change his or her mind.

In the case of a physical problem with the property you should engage contractors to inspect the property on your behalf to establish the actual cost of remedial work which once shown to the surveyor might make him raise his property valuation. You should also take the advice of the surveyor, which may well be to walk away.

It is always advisable to have a survey carried out by a surveyor appointed and paid for by you. This way you have a right to claim against the surveyor or their insurers if they are negligent. You should always be aware that a survey that is paid for by you but carried out for the lending institution from which you are borrowing has no real legal responsibility to you. A straightforward building society or bank valuation is normally not enough, but a separate report is well worth the second view.

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Q. I am lucky to have some money from my fathers will and am considering the buy to let property investment market. In your opinion, is this a sound investment?

 

Rental amounts are quite high and look to remain so for some time so good profit can be made. The buy to let market has in some areas become overheated with the consequence that there were too many properties on the market to rent and not enough demand from tenants. However in other areas there is a huge demand for rental properties therefore specific advice cannot be given in the context of this Q and A session, but generally, buy cheap because if it does not rent quickly you may need to sell it quickly. Secondly, do not think that it is sufficient for the rent to cover the mortgage payments, as the equity in the property is as important. Lastly buy a cheap property, as rental yields tend to be better in general percentage terms. back to top


Q. What will be the effect of the current decline in Technology shares on the housing market?

 

Tech shares are up and down at present. At the end of the day the most important influence on the property market has been and will probably continue to be Inflation and interest rates. However remember that the property market is cyclical and for those of us in it for the long term it produces some good gains. back to top


Q. Do solicitors drag out the conveyancing process to get more money?

 

This seems like a comment from somebody who has had a difficult sale or purchase, please remember that conveying a property transaction involves a large number of parties providing information which must be fully read and understood. A lot of solicitors are proactive and chase their clients sales very hard, however with the best will in the world and a long chain with several buyers and sellers, getting the timing right is often difficult. Remember to use your estate agent to chase the sale along and talk to those involved up and down the chain. This way you can help your solicitor get to the parts that could not otherwise be reached! ...back to top


Q. I am moving to the UK for a six-month (or more) secondment for a Japanese Bank based in London. I may be staying for longer than six months. Should I buy a house or rent one?

 

If you feel you know the market well enough, then do not be afraid and go for it. Try and buy something modern and freehold and not a old property in need of work or a flat with a complicated or dodgy or short lease. Property rental is safe as you can walk away at the end and it is hassle free. back to top


Q. I am probably going to sell my house in the Summer. I have been reading about these sellers information packs which we now have to prepare before you sell a house. What do they cost and how do they work?

 

The "pack" consists of:-

Title documents,

  1. answers to standard pre-contract enquiries,
  2. replies to search enquiries,
  3. planning and building regulation consents,
  4. warranties and guarantees,
  5. draft sale agreement,
  6. In the case of a leasehold property; the details of the lease length service charges etc Insurance and management charges

My first sale happened a while ago and went through in three weeks as opposed to the average eight at present. The main bone of contention seems to be who pays, and the onus is now placed on the seller which is where the house move process is initiated and perhaps this may have a negative effect on numbers of marketeers.

The short answer in my humble opinion is that it doesn’t work very well. The problem is that the seller has to pay up front quite a substantial cost, and this will I think deter not just time wasters from marketing their property, but ordinary sellers as well. My advice is do not trouble yourself with it at present, there are a lot of people in the Industry who are currently having their say against it.

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Q. My fiance and I have decided, in light of the increasing rises in property prices, to buy something that is quite run down/derelict and renovate at our own pace. Unfortunately, there is no easy way of finding houses that are currently empty except for driving around and if we find something, contacting the Land Registry. Even this doesn't work all the time as not all properties are listed. I just wondered if you could give any advice on how to go about buying a property like this, or if it is possible for you to get properties of this nature listed on your web pages?

Fundamentally you are probably generally adopting the right approach. There is no actual list of run down properties, that I am aware of except perhaps auction catalogues and probably walking around the area is the best way of tackling the search problem. You can make this into quite a fun thing to do, particularly with a bit of planning in advance.

Some advice:-

Step one: get a map of your area of search and outline the area that you are willing to consider.

Step two: Cross off the map roads which are unsuitable; perhaps because you know they do not have old houses on them or because they are too far from shops etc..

Step Three: Plan a route which takes you as economically as possible through the shortlisted roads and drive to the first road.

Step Four: Park the car. (You will see ten times more by walking!)

Step Five: WALK the suitable roads taking note of properties which may be suitable.

Step Six: If you see an empty property, knock on the neighbours door and ask about it.

Step Seven: Stop in to the local pub for a refreshing drink and a chat to the landlord and regulars about the area and property for sale.

Step Eight: Go to the local council planning office and ask to see the planning applications for the properties that you are interested in. You are entitled to look at these, but make an appointment first. You can ask to see the planning history of any property. If it is an old property there will almost certainly be records of extensions or other changes. This will tell you a great deal about individual properties, and can reveal useful information such as correspondence from the owner or the owners agents or architects to the planning authorities which may assist you in tracking down an absent owner.

Step Nine: Try calling on the local solicitors in the area who may be dealing with the estate of the owner of a subject property, or who will be able to advise you of the estate agent who will be (is) handling the sale. It may be less useful to go to the land registry in the first instance, so try the other options first.

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Q:We have been trying to move house since September, the chains keep falling apart on us.
We are desperately hoping to be successful this time. We had an offer accepted on a house in April, we were due to exchange last week when the person at the bottom of the chain (our buyers' buyers) pulled out.
Now we are trying to find new buyers in a hurry rather than wait for our current ones to find a new buyer.
Our vendor is getting impatient and is thinking about putting the house back on the market. We really don't want him to do this but short of taking out a bridging loan to secure the property (which we have been warned against) is there any other way we can keep him sweet. We were wondering if we could pay him a sum of money each week he waits for us and then take this off the final amount paid for the house. Is this possible? Do you have any other suggestions for us?
Please help us to make this move.

A: The tone of your e mail is extremely desperate and therefore the ideal situation would be for you to remove the pressure from yourself and understand and accept that actually houses are like buses, there will always be another one along in a minute. Difficult to do in practice, but try.
I feel very sympathetic to you and would suggest as follows:-
FORGET BRIDGING.
FORGET PAYING MONEY EVERY WEEK to the vendor
The good news at present seems to be that the property is presently off the market. You should therefore concentrate on selling your property and are absolutely right to be fully re-marketing it.
Talk to your estate agent and ask them how you can help them help you to get a buyer quickly. Consider reducing the price if you can. Consider instructing another agent, taking care to check the terms of contract with the existing agent. Is there an agent involved or are you dealing direct with the seller? Make an appointment to see the seller and tell him face to face what you are doing to get things moving. Let your estate agent tell him as well.

 

Q:I read one of your responses that includes details about the Property Mis-description Act and I wondered if that Act applies to my situation. Basically I was sent details of a flat I liked and went to view it. I loved it so put in an offer - at no time up to this time did the property details mention the length of the lease and I had to ask the agent after putting in the offer how long the lease was - it turned out to be 73 years - which is short and a potential investment risk to myself unless I pay to get it extended.
I felt at the time that they had deliberately concealed the length of the lease from me - by not showing it on the full property details and by not volunteering the information (I had to ask). I feel they tried to take advantage of the fact I was a first time buyer and it was not until a solicitor (whom I had phoned to get a quote for conveyancing) said that the lease was short and I needed to extend it did I realise there was a problem. At this stage I went back to agent who brushed my concerns aside and said it was a matter for the solicitors and I could sort it out later. I was concerned they had not taken the length of leases in consideration when valuing the property - these concerns were again brushed aside and the agent tried to tell me they only value bricks and mortar. He also had the gall to tell me that a short lease was just like buying a house with a tumbledown garage - how god knows as at least I would have seen the tumbledown garage instead of it being concealed from me like the lease it. What do you think? Am I expecting too much from an agent or is this a case or misdescription and trying to take advantage of a novice first time buyer?

A: Fundamentally from my non legal view point I do not think that the agents have committed an offence. The Act says that the agent has to misdescribe (in words spoken or in writing) the property and just withholding information does not on its own constitute a misleading statement.
The agent presumably did not say the lease was 75 years long or that it as freehold (either of which could be a breach of the act). All they have done is not declare the actual length which I agree is shorter than some.
HOWEVER,
I agree with you that in the level of the market that they are in they could have done more to establish the lease length not just to avoid your disappointment but to actually help them promote the property properly. After all, even with the short lease it could still be a cheap property if the freehold was available and cheap enough.

 

Q:I am currently in the process of buying a flat. It is situated close to a railway line. I instructed my solicitor to go ahead with the land searches and asked him to specifically check to see if any plans were being made to widen the railway line etc.
My solicitor informed me that he was unable to do this as it was out of his remit. I was under the impression that this is what I am paying him for? He advised me to contact British Rail and ask them directly. Can you advise what I can expect from my solicitor when buying a house. I am a first time buyer.

A land search only applies to the particular area of land being purchased and therefore it could be your solicitor is referring to that. It should include, however, any railways within 250 metres of your flat, and will give you a contact number in Railtrack if the search brings up any plans to widen the track.
I am somewhat surprised at your solicitors attitude to your legitimate request and would suggest you re-approach him or another partner in the firm. I would have thought he would be capable and willing to do it for you as it is in my non legal view, a perfectly relevant matter to your purchase. Maybe what he was trying to say, rather badly, was that such is rare but he should really just simply do all he can to help you!

 

Q:I am buying a flat with my girlfriend which has 87 years left on the lease is this ok or should there be more, and how easy is it to buy the freehold?


Every property is different and an 87 year long lease is normally ok. However this does much depend upon the particular flat in question and you should seek the specific advice of your solicitor.
More and more properties are sold with a "share of the freehold" which effectively means that the owners of the flats in the block have bought the freehold of the building and have a share in it (usually split equally amongst the tenants and held in a company registered for the purpose of managing the block)
The process by which a freehold is acquired or not depends on the particular case and other factors such as how many tenants are willing to purchase and certainly I would seek legal advice about the likely cost of doing so before proceeding with the purchase at all.