Expert reveals the questions every first-time buyer should ask developers

House prices have been steadily rising for years, and the pandemic has added even more urgency, as buyers rushed to take advantage of the government-backed stamp duty holiday and snap up a home.

It could be argued it’s not a buyer’s market right now, which leads inexperienced purchasers to make rash decisions to bag the property they want.

But when you’re making what may be the biggest purchase of your life, you need to be level-headed and ensure you’re getting the best deal.

Research suggests half of UK homebuyers who bought during the pandemic regret the amount they paid, and 94% of them claim they felt rushed through the process, highlighting just how necessary due diligence is – particularly for first-time buyers.

Many Help to Buy and shared ownership schemes rely on first-timers going for newly built homes, so knowing how to deal with developers is the first step to buying right (and avoiding any issues after you move in).

With that in mind, Matthew Firth – managing director of the award-winning, Essex-based property developer, Granville Developments – has provided his professional insight into this issue.

Here, he gives us his must-asks for first-time buyers, delving into the most commonly asked questions his company receives, as well as the questions he thinks more people should be asking:

What else have you built?

‘No matter how established the developer is, it’s always important to explore their previous work when considering a new development.

‘If they have any finished developments that are close enough to visit, it would definitely be worth taking a look! If you’re able to do this, I would even suggest that you politely, and unobtrusively, ask any available homeowners in the area about their experience with the developer.

‘Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to make sure they have a good track record before committing to a purchase.’

What will my new-build home include?

‘While your new-build is likely to start as nothing more than a foundation – or, if you’re lucky, the framework of the house – it certainly won’t stay that way.

‘There will be very little to see initially, making it essential to request a comprehensive list of everything that will be included in the finished property.

‘This question encompasses lots of little questions, such as, how will the garden be landscaped? What appliances will be included? Should you be buying a new-build flat, you should find out whether your purchase will include a dedicated parking space.

‘Make sure to get all of your findings down in writing before signing a contract, as this will help you to avoid any discrepancies further down the line.’

What does the new home warranty include?

‘National House Building Council (NHBC) warranties are applied to over 80% of newly built homes in the UK, providing the nation’s new-build buyers with great peace of mind.

‘These warranties, and others like it, however, are fundamentally insurance policies. This means that, while they are likely to apply across the first 10 years of your purchase, you will need to make a claim and the following payout will not always be guaranteed.

‘Your developer will be able to specify exactly what’s included in your new home’s warranty, as well as verify that your snagging list can be rectified.

‘I also recommend that you make sure to always have access to any guarantees or warranties applying to the white goods – such as the refrigerator and washing machine – that are included with the purchase of your home.’

Am I buying a freehold or leasehold property?

‘It’s almost certain that a new-build flat will be a leasehold property, meaning you have a lease from the freeholder. This allows you to use the property for a predetermined amount of time – typically spanning between 90-999 years on a new-build.

‘A ban on the sale of leasehold new-build houses was instituted by the government in 2019, but there’s still a chance that the new-build flat you’re buying could be freehold. Make sure to ask your developer, just in case.’

Have you sold any other properties in the development? If so, who bought them?

‘This question is worth asking regardless of whether you’re purchasing a new-build or an established property. Your neighbours could be young professionals, families or anything in between, but knowing this before you buy is certainly recommended.

‘There’s even a chance that a property investor has purchased several of the surrounding homes, with a plan to rent them out. Ultimately, in order to paint a clearer picture of the future you will have with your potential home, make sure to ask your developer how many units have been sold and who has purchased them.’

What help is available when purchasing a new-build?

‘Asking for help when you need it is never a bad decision, especially when buying a new home, as this is likely to be one of, if not the, biggest expenses you will make in your lifetime.

‘Site staff will be able to go through different schemes with you, such as low deposits and help to buy, in order to point you in the right direction.

‘I also advise seeking out an independent mortgage advisor; something your developer should be able to help with. They will be able to supply impartial advice, which will be invaluable in identifying which mortgage you should be utilising.’

Will you establish a long stop completion date?

‘One of the leading worries when purchasing an off-plan new-build is the possibility that it will not be ready as soon as you had hoped. Further than being irritating, this can also cause issues with mortgage companies, due to their offer typically being valid for a maximum of six months.

‘Should your new-build home be delayed, this would require you to reapply for a mortgage. To negate this, make sure to ask your home builder to insert a completion date into your sale contract. This will entitle you to compensation if the completion of your property is delayed beyond the given date.’

Are there any restrictive covenants?

‘Homeowners are prevented from altering the appearance of their property, to ensure the development remains uniform, through the implementation of restrictive covenants.

‘It is of utmost importance that you find out whether you will be affected by this restrictive rule prior to purchasing your new-build, otherwise you will not be able to make any changes to the appearance of your property in the future.

‘Not only this, restrictive covenants can also impact your ability to sell the property further down the line, so make sure this is cleared up ASAP!’

Do you have any plans to extend the development?

‘Imagine you purchase your ideal home, live in absolute bliss for a year, enjoying the beautiful view you were promised from your south-facing garden… only to discover that the developer is extending the development, replacing your view with somebody else’s house.

‘Before you commit to your purchase, make sure to confirm with your developer whether any other phases are planned for the future.’

Can I purchase my own materials and appliances?

‘Is the new-build you’re almost set on just one tiny detail away from being perfect? Does the house of your dreams come with a glossy, marble countertop, or a particular fridge; something not offered by the developer?

‘If so, don’t hesitate to ask whether you can purchase your own appliances and materials for the home builder to install. While it might not always be a possibility, you’ll never find out if you don’t ask.’

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