The London property market moves very fast, and the heady mix of premium prices and stiff competition for in-demand properties is definitely not for the faint-hearted – so here’s our guide on what to check when buying a flat in London.
Whether you’re looking to buy your first flat in the capital, are hunting for a bigger home or considering an investment property, it’s unwise to rush into purchasing the first flat that makes your heart beat faster.
In fact, unless you’re a seasoned property pro, it’s highly recommended that you do your homework and take professional advice long before you knock on the door of your nearest estate agent.
Here are 6 tips to help you get property savvy in London.
1) Check property prices in your preferred area
Compared to many other cities in the world, flats in London can be eyewateringly expensive. Even if you factor in the recent price stagnation brought about by the uncertainties around Brexit, housing in the capital is anything but cheap.
This makes it all the more important that you thoroughly research the market for flats in your chosen area. Check recent sale prices for comparable properties. Get a feel for the speed of the market. Look at overall price trends throughout the year. This is just the first step when looking at what to check when buying a flat in London.
I’ve always been surprised at just how much the price of two otherwise similar flats can vary simply because one is a few streets away from the other. So, when you’re checking, try and check comparable flats as close to the flat your considering as possible, preferably on the same street.
Consider neighbouring areas as more affordable alternatives. All the information gleaned should help you put together a reasonable offer on your chosen flat that constitutes establishes you as a credible buyer.
2) Check the length and terms of the Lease
The vast majority of flats in London are sold as leasehold, and understanding what this means is essential for any prospective property owner.
For starters, the value of the flat will depend on how many years are left on the Lease. Alarm bells should start ringing if there are less than 90 years to go. Although you have a statutory right to extend your Lease by another 90 years, the cost of doing so will rise rapidly – here’s a handy calculator to show you how it works.
Also, the first question to ask when asking: ‘What to check when buying a flat in London’ is the issue of short-lease flats (below 70 years) which are virtually unmortgageable. We’ve seen flats come to the market that look almost too good to be true in terms of price, only for us to find out that the low price is simply because there’s not much time left on the leasehold.
Given the cost of a lease extension can be quite high, we’ve usually found the hassle and cost of going through the process to extend the lease doesn’t make the bargain price worthwhile.
Other terms to be particularly aware of include the annual ground rent and specific clauses regarding noise, the use of the building, and pets.
3) Check transport links and the dreaded commute
If you’re lucky enough to find a great flat at a bargain price, could its location be the catch? Getting around London will inevitably involve the use of public transport, so make sure you check the walking distance to your nearest train or tube station, or bus stop.
Why not do a test journey to check the length of the new commute (ideally during rush hour) to see how good the connections are and how it would realistically take to get to work?
Will a cheaper property with a longer commute make sense in terms of financial savings and in terms of your quality of life? This is an important answer when looking at what to check when buying a flat in London.
If you are depending on newly developed transport links in the capital, are they actually open? Would you be able to use the car instead, and is there parking?
Good transport links were always top of our list when looking for a flat. It’s easy to assume that London is well connected wherever you live, but that’s not necessarily true.
You’ll also want to consider what the areas are like that you have to pass through on your way to the nearest bus stop or tube station, especially if you’re likely to use public transport after dark.
4) Check out your local neighbourhood
Even the best flat in the world may not be the right place for you to live if you don’t like the area or the other people who live there.
Take a keen interest in local amenities – pubs and restaurants, parks and green spaces, shopping and entertainment, nurseries and schools etc. Again, this is another crucial issue when looking at what to check when buying a flat in London.
What sort of people frequent the local pub? Where is the nearest newsagent or supermarket? What kind of businesses are there nearby?
There are so many different factors that contribute to the desirability and suitability of an area, and it’s these little details coming together that can reveal a great deal about the daily life of an area.
I’ve lived in areas that are mostly young families, and areas that are mostly more affluent older people and they definitely gave off different vibes.
It’s not just about which area you’ll feel the most comfortable in, the demographics of the area will also affect the type and number of local facilities such as bars and shops.
5) Get the most out of your estate agent
Once you have a pretty clear idea of the sort of flat you’re looking for, it’s time to make contact with an experienced estate agent.
Having built up a wealth of local property knowledge – especially if you are following our what to check when buying a flat in London guide – they play an important role in the market and can be incredibly useful to prospective buyers.
Key questions to ask about individual properties that you’re interested in should include:
- How long has the flat been on the market, and why?
- How long have the current owners been there and why are they selling?
- Have there been any major refurbishments or renovations recently?
- What is included in the listing?
- What are the bills like?
Be prepared to get some, though perhaps not all, of the information you need, and do your own research too.
I’ve always made a habit of asking the estate agent about what other areas I might want to consider. Once I know what is on my ‘must-have’ list, I’ll also let estate agents know and ask them to contact me whenever they get something suitable in.
By doing it this way, you’ll often find yourself hearing about properties that tick all your boxes before they’ve even gone on the market.
6) Remember caveat emptor – buyer beware
When asking about what to check when buying a flat in London, it definitely pays to have your wits about you. The principle of ‘buyer beware’ means that it is up to you to uncover any faults with the property.
While the vendor is legally obliged to truthfully answer all the questions on the Property Information Form, there are other undesirable aspects of the flat the could be glossed over without breaking the law.
The best way to guard against any nasty and potentially expensive post-purchase surprises is to instruct a surveyor.
Choose the most suitable professional property survey for your flat and get a trained eye to flag up anything from damp patches to faulty electrics and even structural movement.
What to check when buying a flat in London
Buying a flat in London can be a daunting task, especially if you are not familiar with the market and the process. There are many things to check and consider before you make an offer on a property, such as the location, the type, the condition, the lease, the transport links, the neighbourhood, and the price. Here’s a quick roundup of the tips we mention in this article about what to check when buying a flat in London:
- Location: London is a huge and diverse city, with different areas offering different lifestyles, amenities and prices. You should research the areas that suit your needs and preferences, such as proximity to your work, family, friends, schools, shops, parks, etc.
- Type: London has a wide range of flats available, from converted townhouses to modern developments, from studios to penthouses, from leasehold to share of freehold. Each type of flat has its own advantages and disadvantages, such as size, layout, features, maintenance, service charges, ground rent, etc. You should decide what type of flat suits your budget, your lifestyle, and your taste, and inspect the flat carefully for any defects, damages, or issues. You should also check the energy performance certificate (EPC) of the flat, which shows how energy efficient it is and how much it costs to run.
- Condition: The condition of the flat is an important of knowing what to check when buying a flat in London since it can affect its value, its appeal and its safety. You should look for any signs of damp, mould, condensation, cracks, leaks, pests or electrical problems. You should also test the taps, the shower, the heating, the appliances, the windows, the doors and the locks.
- Lease: Most flats in London are leasehold, which means you only own the flat for a fixed period of time, usually between 99 and 999 years. The lease is a legal contract between you and the landlord (the freeholder), which sets out the rights and responsibilities of both parties, such as the payment of service charges, ground rent, insurance, repairs, etc. You should check the length and the terms of the lease carefully, as they can affect the value and the saleability of the flat.
- Transport links: London is well-connected by public transport, such as the Tube, the bus, the train, the tram, the DLR, the Overground, the cable car, and the river bus. However, the availability and the convenience of transport links can vary depending on the location of the flat. You should check how easy it is to get to and from the flat, how long it takes, how much it costs, and how reliable it is.
- Neighbourhood: The neighbourhood of the flat can affect your quality of life, your sense of community and your safety. You should check out the local amenities, such as shops, restaurants, pubs, cafes, cinemas, theatres, gyms, libraries, etc. You should also check the local services, such as schools, hospitals, doctors, dentists, etc. You should also talk to the neighbours, the seller, the estate agent, or the local council to get a feel for the area, the people, the culture, and the issues.
Buying a flat in London can be a rewarding and exciting experience, but also a challenging and stressful one. You should do your homework, keep an open mind, and seek professional advice before you decide. You should also remember that buying a flat is not only a financial investment, but also a personal one, so you should choose a flat that you love and that you can call home.