Buying a home

Moving home is a flurry of activity - one day you are visiting prospective houses, the next you are dealing with solicitors, mortgage companies and removal firms.
Here is a useful checklist to help buyers tackle the sometimes stressful business of buying a property:

Location: Think about the type of area you would like to live in. Make sure your chosen locality fits your lifestyle - consider schools, travel links and local amenities. Check the area's property prices by using the internet and talking to estate agents.

House-hunting: To find out about new developments, see the property section of the local press, pick up a local property guide or visit house-builder websites. Write a list of your requirements from the number of bedrooms to outdoor space. Show homes will give you a good idea of size and design.

Check for warranty cover: Most new properties will be protected by a 10-year warranty such as NHBC's Buildmark Cover. To check that your builder is registered with NHBC, use the search facility on its website www.nhbc.co.uk or contact NHBC customer services on 01494 735363. Make sure your solicitor checks that the home is fully covered before agreeing a purchase.

Official business: Make sure that you get all the important items sorted out before you start. It's a good idea to have a mortgage agreed in principle as this shows you are a serious buyer. When you make an offer appoint a solicitor, agree a completion date and arrange home and contents insurance for your new abode.

Logistics: Decide whether you are going to move yourself or use a removal firm. If using a removal firm ask for detailed quotes and compare them for insurance, storage and packing services. Contact your utility companies to let them know when you will leave your old address and when you will move into your new one.

Moving day essentials: Keep all relevant documents with you on moving day. Copies of your contract and important telephone numbers could come in handy. Once you have your keys, the process is nearly complete; you just need to unpack and relax. A good tip for moving day is to keep a kettle and some mugs handy for a quick cup of tea when you arrive - that's almost guaranteed to make you feel at home.

The above checklist comes courtesy of NHBC, the UK's leading warranty and insurance provider for new homes.

Consumer Focus advice

Consumer Focus Scotland, the statutory organisation campaigning for a fair deal for consumers, offers the following advice on buying property:

In Scotland, most houses and flats are sold through a system of "blind bidding". The seller asks for "offers over" or "offers around" the valuation in the single survey report. This indicates the minimum price the seller expects to fetch. How much you will actually have to pay will depend very much on how busy the market is at that particular time and how much competition there is from other potential buyers. Sometimes property is advertised at a fixed price.

If you are interested in a home, the seller or their selling agent (a solicitor or estate agent) must give you a copy of the seller's Home Report within nine calendar days of you asking for it. They can make a reasonable charge to cover the cost of copying the report and posting it to you. It can also be sent electronically.

If any repairs identified in the report are marked as needing future attention or urgent, you should consider whether you can cope with the repair works. If there are lots of similar properties on the market, you could just walk away. If you particularly like the property, you should get estimates for completing the works.

The seller commissions the survey, but you have the right to rely on it. If you lose a significant amount of money because the report isn't accurate or complete enough to meet the legal requirements then you have a right to damages.

If the seller or their solicitor or estate agent won't give you a Home Report, ask the local authority's trading standards service for help. They can take action against the seller or agent.

If several potential buyers "note" (formally notify) their interest in a property, the seller's agent will set a time and date - the closing date - for offers to be made. This should allow enough time for you to arrange finance for the purchase. If you are seriously considering making an offer, make sure your solicitor "notes" your interest with the seller's solicitor or estate agent before you arrange finance, or they may not let you know about any closing date. If a closing date is not set, that may be because of a lack of interest in the property or simply a slow market, and you may be able to negotiate a price.

You and your spouse, civil partner or partner can buy a home together by making an offer in both your names and having the title deeds prepared in your joint names.

Your offer to buy should include a brief description of the property, the proposed date of entry (the date you want to get the keys), the price and any items you wish to buy from the seller. It will also include conditions, which will vary from one transaction to another.

Your offer and the seller's acceptance, which must come from the solicitors of each side, take the form of an exchange of letters known as missives.

The procedure for buying a newly built home differs from buying an existing one. The home advertised may be part of an incomplete estate or may not even have been built yet, and it will usually be offered at a fixed price. Similarly, a conversion or renovation may be offered for sale before the work is complete.

With a newly built or converted home, the builder makes an offer to sell to the buyer. Most builders have a standard form of offer that sets out the conditions on which they are prepared to sell. You should arrange your loan and take legal advice before you accept the builder's offer, because your acceptance is legally binding.

Once the missives are concluded and you have an agreed contract with the seller, your solicitor will carry out the conveyancing, which is the process of transferring the title (ownership) of a property from the seller to the buyer. If you also have a property to sell, the conveyancing involved in buying usually happens in parallel with the conveyancing involved in selling your own home.

Your solicitor will investigate the property and examine the title deeds and any deed of conditions that applies to the property. He or she will, for example:

  • Check the land certificate and the deeds to make sure that the seller actually owns the property, and that the deeds are free from defects and do not contain any unusual or unreasonable conditions that will affect your use of the property.
  • Tell you about any burdens (limitations or legal restrictions) or servitudes (obligations to allow someone to use the land or prevent you making use of it) that affect the property.
  • Make sure that the ground burdens, such as property management fees or maintenance charges for a common garden, are properly divided between you and the seller.
  • Ensure that any existing standard security (mortgage) over the property is paid off when the property is transferred to you.
  • If you are taking out a mortgage, you should make sure that the bank or building society has received your application and that any linked life insurance is in hand. You should also make sure that the property is adequately insured from the date of the conclusion of the missives (not just from when you get the keys).
  • This is when you get possession of the property, and it usually happens on the agreed date of entry. On settlement, your solicitor will:
  • Certify to your lender that the title is good (that the property has been properly put in your name).
  • Get the loan cheque from your lender, and obtain from you your contribution to the purchase price.

In exchange for the cheque for the purchase price, your solicitor receives the disposition (the document that transfers the title of the property from seller to buyer) and other deeds (title documents), and the keys.

The property is then yours. If you have a lender, it will retain the deeds as security over the property. If you don't have a lender, you should ask your solicitor to put the deeds in safekeeping.

There are two elements to the costs of buying a home: professional conveyancing fees and outlays. Outlays, which are costs outwith your solicitor's control, include:

  • Fees and taxes payable to the Government, such as the fees due to the Registers of Scotland.
  • Search fees.
  • If it applies, stamp duty land tax.

For more information about buying and selling, visit the Scottish Govt website.

Home Reports

From December 1, 2008, houses for sale have had to be marketed with a Home Report.

This is a pack of three documents: a Single Survey, an Energy Report and a Property Questionnaire. The Home Report will be made available on request to prospective buyers of the home.

The Single Survey contains an assessment by a surveyor of the condition of the home, a valuation and an accessibility audit for people with particular needs.

The Energy Report contains an assessment by a surveyor of the energy efficiency of the home and its environmental impact. It also recommends ways to improve its energy efficiency.

The Property Questionnaire is completed by the seller of the home. It contains additional information about the home, such as Council Tax banding and factoring costs that will be useful to buyers.