The property buyer’s essential checklist

Published: 06/03/2013

There is a reason why buying a house or flat is considered one of the most stressful things we do in our lives regardless of if you’re a first time buyer or seasoned landlord with a portfolio of properties.

When it comes to buying a property there is so much you need to consider - decisions that go beyond the mere cosmetics of the property - that if not properly addressed prior to the exchange of contracts stage could have a significant impact on any potential future development or finances.

Sorry – this all sounds rather dramatic! Let’s not forget that buying a property is also a very exciting time but it is essential that as a buyer you understand the big picture. That’s why, in order to ensure you do, we have produced, with the help of the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), an essential checklist for any wannabe property buyer.

Is the property a leasehold or freehold?

A leasehold property is, in reality, a long term rental as the owner has purchased the right to live in or rent out the property for a set period of time, typically 99 or 125 years, and not the land on which the property stands.

Whilst this is a standard type of property ownership – in fact the majority of flats are leasehold - it can cause issues down the line. For example when the length of the lease slips below 80 years the leaseholder is likely to have difficulties in remortgaging or selling the property and in order to overcome this would need to either extend the lease or buy the freehold, both of which can prove costly.

Holding a freehold title means outright ownership of the property and land on which it stands, with no time limits.

Do you have full access?

Yes we appreciate that this sounds like a silly question – I’ve bought the property, it’s mine so of course I have access! However believe it or not automatic access is not a given and must be something that is thoroughly checked before committing to the purchase. For example if you require access through a shared drive or alleyway it is essential to check your rights. Reliance on goodwill is risky!

Does it have planning permission and/or building regulations consent?

It is understandable to presume that because a property has an extension or conversion the previous owner sought permission. However you would be surprised how often this isn’t the case and should the work not have received permission, not only would you lose a potential feature the financial burden would then be on you to return it to its original state.

What are its legal boundaries?

Sometimes a fence or wall does not provide an exact representation of a property’s boundaries; they may not even be listed on the title deeds. It is therefore highly advisable that you seek clarification with the estate agent upon viewing the property, and ask your lawyer to check who has legal responsibility for each wall or fence.

Is anything listed?

Owning a piece of history is always attractive but acquiring a Listed Building comes with legal responsibilities and it isn’t just a building itself which can be listed; features such as fireplaces, windows and doors within it can also bear such a status. Should you be considering any kind of current or future renovation, it is a good to check what the listing covers as this could influence your overall decision.

Who is responsible for the property maintenance?

This relates primarily to those who live in a shared block as there are many ways in which this type of property can be maintained. For example it could be managed by an external agent or collectively by the other leaseholders both of which could have a financial impact on the purchase.

Are there any future plans?

There is a lot in the news at present surrounding the properties affected by the agreed high speed rail network (HS2) and its impact on property prices. All future homeowners should learn a lesson from this example and find out if there are any planned developments in the nearby vicinity. Such information is now obligatory so that buyers have all the information they need to make an informed decision.

For further advice on any of these issues, contact our legal property specialists.

Content correct at time of publication

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