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.
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.
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, note that short-lease flats (below 70 years) are virtually unmortgageable. 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?
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?
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.
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.
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, 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.
6) Remember caveat emptor – buyer beware
When buying a flat, 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.