Buying A Property
Buying a property is likely to be the single biggest personal investment you ever make. Getting the right place is obviously paramount, but so is getting it for the right price.
In recent years, this has been a challenging market and it is easy to feel daunted when entering it. However, I believe this is unnecessary, as house prices are often negotiable, and it is always perfectly possible to get good deals. My only word of warning would be that you should recognise how much emotion is involved when choosing a property. And the more emotionally attached you are to a place, the harder it is to negotiate, as the stakes are higher than mere bricks and mortar. So, decide in your own mind whether you are prepared to negotiate and potentially lose out, if the deal is not right for you.
The demand for property will fluctuate and also plays a part in how much you can bargain. You can of course leave it up to the estate agent, but taking control of your own negotiation can have its advantages – not least the fact that emotionally and financially it is in your interests to get the price you want. You can either decide to negotiate the property personally, direct with the sellers (that is assuming they are happy with this), or ‘manage’ the estate agent, giving them instructions on how to pursue your purchase.
If you decide to do a private purchase, then this has its advantages for both parties, as there is no commission to be paid to an estate agent. There are plenty of websites that will give you advice on how to go about this.
Whichever route you decide to take, this chapter will allow you to plan the purchase of your property, understand what will help you calculate any potential movements in price, and be armed with ideas of what you could add into the deal before you agree.
SETTING THE SCENE
You are walking around a three-bedroom semi-detached house, with an estate agent by your side.
You: ‘Well, I have to say this is the only house we’ve seen that fits the bill. If we are to complete on our own property, and accept the offer, we are going to have to sort this out quickly.’
Your partner: ‘I agree. Look at the size of this room; my chest of drawers will fit nicely into that corner. Bagsey I sleep by the window!’
You: ‘I wonder if they would sell us the curtains – what do you think, Graham?’
Graham, the estate agent: ‘I’ll ask Mrs Askew, but I know they really like them and wanted to take them with them.’
You: ‘Do you think the asking price is negotiable?’
Graham: ‘It’s a really sought after property and area, and we have had two couples come back for a second viewing already today. I suggest you get your offer in now before anyone else does.’
You: ‘What do you think, darling?
Your partner: ‘I love it and we need to complete soon, otherwise we are in danger of losing the offer on our house.’
Assessing the above
- 1.Beware of appearing too keen, whether in front of the estate agent or indeed the sellers. Telling them it ideally ‘fits the bill’ is like saying ‘where do you want me to sign?’ Remain interested, but not totally committed. It’s obvious when you make an offer that you are keen, as you wouldn’t fork out hundreds of thousands of pounds on something you were indifferent about.
- 2.Don’t back yourself into a corner. Showing that you have to buy quickly (in this case your own sale will fall through if you don’t purchase soon) is like flashing pound signs to the seller. It can come over as if you are much more likely to extend your offer to your limits in order to do a deal. Again, keep this information to yourself as much as possible, or say that you are happy, if it suits the sellers, for a quick sale.
- 3.Designing your room in front of the sellers is giving away vital clues. Openly creating your image of beauty will let them believe you are very keen and therefore much more likely to pay the asking price.
- 4.Why buy the curtains if they could be included in the price? Curtains, wardrobes, carpets and kitchen units can be very valuable to you when you purchase a property, saving you hundreds of pounds when you could do with the money in your pocket. However, these are often of significantly less value to the seller as they may not fit nicely into their new property. Hold back on fixtures and fittings until you are into the negotiation.
- 5.What salesmen don’t say is often as important as what they do say. When you asked Graham whether the price was negotiable, what he didn’t say was ‘no’. He answered it with a statement about the property being sought after. You can always ask the question again, to get a ‘yes or no’ answer. In fairness, the answer could be ‘possibly’!
THE BENEFITS OF NEGOTIATING
- 1.Gaining a better price for the house you want to buy and possibly saving you tens of thousands of pounds. If you are selling a property as well, make sure you read the next chapter.
- 2.If you decide to ‘go it alone’ and buy privately, then you and the sellers could save the estate agency commission. Estate agents usually take a percentage of the final sale (percentages vary) and this adds up to thousands of pounds. If a seller is deciding to sell privately, then you should also be able to benefit from this.
- 3.Potentially valuable added extras: curtains, carpets, wardrobes, etc.
- 4.As part of the deal, arrange permission to measure up the property before you complete.
FINDING THE RIGHT PLACE – PREPARATION
List what’s important to you in a home; what is a must-have and a nice-to-have.
It is easy to fall in love with a property and convince yourself it must be the place to buy; however, often, if you look around there are a few other places that may fit your criteria, and aesthetic changes could bring them up to the standards you want.
Another benefit of looking around is that it will help you establish the price range that is available. If for example, the three-bedroom, two-bathroom property you desire is £295,000, but a similar one down the road is on the market for £275,000, you may be able to use this information as a bargaining tool.
Once you have explored the market, cross check your potential properties with your list of criteria and list them in preference order.
THE CONVERSATIONS WITH AN ESTATE AGENT
It’s important to remember that estate agents are business people, and with this in mind, it’s worth thinking about what they are trying to achieve. They vary in their approach; however, they earn money from the sale of a property, not to have it on their books for months on end, only earning commission/bonus when the deal goes through. They are profesional salespeople and will listen out for buying signals that you offer; they will also ‘sell’ the virtues of the house and its surrounds, and are not paid to point out the pitfalls.
However, they are not normally used to skilled negotiators dealing with them in the residential market, so use what you want from the tips below.
WHEN SEEING THE PROPERTY FOR THE FIRST TIME
- 1.Begin with the end result in mind. You want to buy your property at a good price. Make sure the estate agent/seller is aware you are looking at several houses or flats that suit your needs and desires, and that this property falls into that category. This will assure them that you are serious about potentially purchasing, but are prepared to keep your options open and are not relying on one house in particular.
- 2.Show interest, but don’t give away those buying signals! (See Glossary and Chapter 3.) As we said earlier, avoid letting them know that you are certainly intending to buy by measuring up and ‘visualising’ how things will look. These are just two signs that are potential give-aways. Others include how you would change the garden; working out how quickly you would get to work compared with your previous location; the schools being so much better and whether you stand a chance of getting your children into them.
- 3.Keep in mind that the owners could still be emotionally attached to their home. This can make a difference. If people are faced with the choice of selling it to someone who reassures them that their home is going to a good couple/family who will love it and look after it, compared with an indifferent lot, they are much more likely to want the former, and could sell to you at a lower price. Certainly, at the very least, if they have two identical offers, it is highly likely they will sell to the people they like more.
- 4.Chat to the owner/estate agent and fact-find. Gaining rapport (see Chapter 3) can really help you to find out useful information. See the list below for a few examples.
Be careful to make sure it doesn’t sound like an interrogation! Allow time between questions.
‘It’s a lovely area, are you just upgrading to a bigger house?’ ‘Where are you moving to?’ ‘Have you found a place to stay?’ ‘Are you moving with work?’ ‘What do you do?’
These questions could help you to find out whether the move is needed quickly or not. Urgency is a big factor in price. It also shows that you are interested (beware of going too far and sounding nosey!).
You: ‘It’s a nice area, are you just upgrading to a bigger house?’
Again, this indicates that the sellers are happy with a property and the wedding is not that far away. We know how hard they can be to plan (see Chapter 7).
Example conversations that help you find out information such as the need to sell quickly.
OFFERING A PRICE
Now you have had a good look around, you can whittle down your list to perhaps two or three places. Alternatively, there may be just one property you are interested in – if the price is right. In either case, read on ...
- 1.Have in mind how much you are willing to pay. Think of the maximum you are prepared to go to and also your opening offer (which, if you are negotiating, should be lower than your maximum). Could you pay more if they throw in the fixtures and fittings (carpets, wardrobes, curtains, etc.)? If you have more than one property to choose from, do this exercise for all of them.
- 2.In the case of you only offering a price on one property, think of what you are going to say to the estate agent or seller about the reason for your offer. For example, ‘I would like to make an offer of £275,000 (advertised price of £295,000). The good news is I have a confirmed offer on my current house and I am prepared to go ahead now if you agree on the price.’ Or alternatively: ‘I am prepared to offer the asking price if all the fixtures and fittings are included.’ Both these statements make your offer conditional, i.e. you are prepared to pay this rate if they agree to your terms.
- 3.If you have more than one property in mind, call them all. It is a personal choice which you approach first; however, let’s assume you start by calling your second choice (out of two). You can sound them out in terms of interest to negotiate. See below for an example conversation. Remember to prepare beforehand what you are going to say, using relevant information that you have already gathered, including your market knowledge and awareness of how keen the sellers are to complete quickly. This ensures that you gain maximum impact with the seller/estate agent.
‘Hi Melanie. I have given your property serious thought, and to be honest it’s down to two choices, and yours is one of them. If I were to offer you £275,000, would you accept? There are no guarantees, but I will give you a straight yes or no within 24 hours.’
‘Well Dave, we will still keep it on the market, but if no-one makes an offer between now and then, I will accept £280,000. Can you let me know as soon as possible?’
An example of a sounding out offer. No guarantees by either party, but a genuine offer if the conditions are met.
‘Hi Geoff. We have whittled down our choice to two houses which we like equally; it’s now down to price. We have a buyer for our existing property who wants to sign the deal right away. If you agree to £275,000 now, then we will agree and call our solicitors immediately.’
‘OK Dave, I am happy to go to £280,000 but that’s as low as we can go.’
An example of a ‘conditional offer’ whereby you are only committed if they agree to your terms.
An example of moving ahead with the above conversation would be as shown on the next page.
The example below also shows how ‘trading variables’ (see Glossary) can help you agree a deal. In this case, Dave decided that he could afford the asking price and would be happy to buy immediately (subject to survey of course!) if the seller would include all the fixtures and fittings (this was included in the ‘like-to-have’ list at the beginning of the chapter). This is a great example of adding in those final touches that can be so valuable in an overall deal (in this case around £5,000).
Dave: ‘That’s too much for the house itself, however if you include the carpets, curtains, wardrobes, kitchen and bathroom units, I will be able to meet your asking price as I have budgeted £5,000 for these items. Also I will get the solicitors on to it straight away.’
Dave is thinking: I know from our previous conversations that they are moving abroad and have no need for these items.
Geoff (seller): ‘OK Dave, you hard bargainer! You have a deal!’
Geoff is thinking: We are moving abroad. We could sell them at auction; however, we need to move quickly and this suits our needs.
An example of bargaining using information previously gained from visiting the house. Both parties gain what they wanted. This is known as a ‘win-win’ deal.
You may also want to negotiate other things. For example: the completion date, or days for you to go over and ‘measure up’ curtains, etc. This is always best done prior to closing the deal and can be incorporated into your conditional offer.
‘If you agree to exchanging by May 22 and completing on June 1, then I will meet your asking price.’
ALWAYS HAVE IT IN WRITING
Once the deal has been struck, ask for an understanding of the agreement to be sent to you, including all that has been agreed. If a ‘for sale’ sign has been put up, make sure this is taken down and a ‘sold’ sign replaces it (or, better still, no sign at all!).
BUYING PRIVATELY – BEFORE THE PROPERTY HITS THE MARKET
Sometimes there is an advantage in buying privately. Firstly, if the market is strong, houses often ‘fly off the shelves’ and go the same day they hit the market. Secondly, it saves the seller estate agents’ fees, and this can help in gaining a better price. More on this in Chapter 5.
A property with a board outside the house already has the sellers committed to the estate agent. However, a good way to find a property not on the market involves a little bit of work. Be creative and think how you can attract people who are thinking of selling but haven’t yet started the process.
Here are a few ideas:
- 1.Create a leaflet that you can put through the letterbox of houses you would consider.
- 2.Advertise in the area’s local newspaper for a property. This obviously begins to involve cost.
- 3.Put an advert in the local shop window, being specific about the type of property you would like to buy.
- 4.Ask friends in the area to which you want to move, to get in touch with you if they know or hear of anyone thinking of moving.