6 Important Checks Before You Buy A Flat In London

What to check before buying a flat in London
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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.

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 first step is vital, as it will give you an understanding of the market.

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 you’re 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 establishes you as a credible buyer.

2) Check the length and terms of the Lease

What to check when buying a flat in London - the Terms Of Property 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.

The issue of short-lease flats (below 70 years) is an important one to check, as they 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 long 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 consideration when looking at what to check when buying a flat in London.

If you are dependent 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.

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4) Check out your local neighbourhood

London 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. A

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.

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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 this what to check when buying a flat in London guide – plays 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 that 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.

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.

Author

  • Jason Taylor

    Jason is a former estate agent who now splits his time between managing his own property investment portfolio and writing for Property Road.

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