If you’re buying or selling a home this spring — or even later in the year — you need to brush up on your housing market knowledge now.
The market has taken a turn for the worse and your main tasks when selling will be getting your house in tip-top shape and then setting the right price.
As a buyer, meanwhile, you can bag a bargain — but only if you know the tricks of the trade…
THE RIGHT MOVES
Uncertainty over the Brexit negotiations has hit the housing market, with a huge slowdown in the number of property sales causing average house prices to stagnate.
Property site Rightmove recorded that the total number of sales agreed was 5.5 per cent down in the last quarter of 2017, compared with the same period in 2016.
And the latest Nationwide House Price Index shows that UK house price growth fell back to 2.2 per cent a year in February, from 3.2 per cent the previous month.
The good news for this year is that figures from estate agent trade body NAEA Propertymark show the number of house-hunters rose by 37 per cent in January.
In December, agents registered 268 per branch, compared to 367 in January — the highest figure since September 2017.
January also saw a rise in the number of sellers — the supply of available properties rose to 36 per branch on average, from 33 in December.
However, house-hunters are being ‘very choosy’, according to a Rightmove survey. Although asking prices are higher, homes in all regions are taking longer to sell than a year ago. Properties are taking an average of 67 days to sell, compared with 54 days in May 2017.
Price-cutting by homeowners desperate to shift their property reached the highest levels in six years at the end of last year, according to Zoopla.
Just over 35 per cent of the homes marketed on the site have marked down their price in the hope of achieving a sale.
Should you switch to a water meter?
Unlike with gas and electricity, you cannot move to a cheaper water provider — you are stuck with the firm that supplies your area.
However, you could save cash by switching to a water meter.
With a meter, you pay only for what you use, instead of being charged a flat rate by the water company that is roughly based on the size and value of your property.
If you have more bedrooms than people living in a house, or live alone, this could mean you’d pay less with a meter.
They are not for everyone, though. For example, if you have a large family, it’s unlikely that you’ll benefit. It’s worth keeping this in mind if you’re thinking about selling up.
To work out whether you can save, try the Consumer Council For Water’s calculator at ccwater.org.uk/watermeter calculator.
You can also speak to your supplier, who will be able to calculate any possible savings for you. If you later discover that your bills rise, you have 24 months to ask for your water meter to be taken out again.
Some providers are rolling out meters on a mandatory basis in water stressed areas such as the South East.
For example, Thames Water is telling families they must have a digital meter. These can see exactly how much water you use and when you use it.
HOW TO DRIVE A BUYER’S BARGAIN
Get to know estate agents: It helps to become the estate agent’s — and, eventually, the seller’s — favourite buyer.
Make the effort to meet them in person and always be courteous and friendly.
Be ready to go: Being ready to proceed will sky-rocket you to being first on an agent’s list of people to call when a new instruction lands in your favoured area. Get a mortgage agreement in principle, along with details of deposit funds.
In an ideal world, you might have sold your house or be renting, so that you are in the best position.
Being chain-free not only benefits you as a buyer, but it means you can sell your own home as chain-free, which is attractive to other buyers.
Cash buyer? Prove it: If you are fortunate to be able to buy a home without any borrowing, provide the agent with proof of these funds. You’d be surprised how many people say they are cash buyers when it turns out they are not.
Estate agency fees for selling a property can be anywhere between 1 per cent and 2 per cent
Use the internet: There are a number of popular tools on Zoopla, including SmartMaps, which allows you to search specifically where you want to buy by editing area boundaries.
Meanwhile, Travel Time lets you find homes based on travel time to important points such as your workplace, a school or a family member’s home.
The keyword search narrows specifics for the type of property you are looking for, such as cottage, garage, parking or garden.
Hire a buying agent: Buying agencies are not only for the wealthy, and they can often save you more than they charge, which is usually around 3 per cent of the asking price. They will search for a property according to your specifications and can help with price negotiations.
Look beyond your price range: Search for properties slightly above your price category to see what a little more will buy you. More importantly, you can keep an eye on those out of your reach in case they are reduced.
Don’t believe everything you read: Estate agents can get things wrong. Double-check particulars such as the length of lease if a property is leasehold, and planning permissions where it claims some have been granted.
Do some detective work: If you’re buying in a new area, do research on the neighbourhood.
You can’t always rely on what the vendor or their agent tells you about the neighbours. Visit the area at different times and chat to locals.
Meet the owners: Find an excuse to meet the owners when you are making an offer on a property, as they will often feel more obliged to sell to you. Once a seller has got to know you, they are far less likely to act ruthlessly.
Fight power firms that leave you out of pocket
With the coldest weather over, it’s time to claw back any credit on your energy account.
Comparison website uSwitch estimates that some 11 million households are owed an average of £117 by their supplier.
When you pay by monthly direct debit, energy firms should estimate how much power you will use over the year and split your bill into 12 equal payments.
It means in the summer, you build up a credit, which is then used up over the winter when you have the heating on more.
If you’re planning to move, it’s worth asking for any credit back now. Under Ofgem rules, suppliers cannot refuse to return it without good reason. Log in to your online account or check your latest bill.
Bear in mind some firms, such as Ovo, do pay interest on positive balances of up to 5 per cent. So you might decide to leave the cash alone.
Investigate the auction room: Auctions are a great source of renovation projects if you want a challenge.
But not all homes at auction are in a state of disrepair. Around 4,000 lots went under the hammer in February, according to Essential Information Group, which tracks the results of UK property auctions.
It’s important to prepare properly before you set foot in an auction room.
Auctions require a 10 per cent deposit on the day and you are legally bound to buy the property.
You’ll usually have to pay and complete within 28 days. If you back out, you lose the deposit.
Offer the right price: Find out what the owners paid for the property. Zoopla and Rightmove have details, or search on the ‘price paid data’ section of the Land Registry website.
Compare this to the asking price today. The larger the margin, the more room there is for negotiation.
New builds: New builds are a good place to spot a bargain if period features aren’t on your must-have list, according to Sarah Beeny of online estate agent Tepilo. ‘Many developers just want to shift stock and so, if a development has lots for sale, they may take an offer,’ she says.
Find a bargain: What counts as a ‘bargain’ will differ in every postcode.
Whatever type of property is in surplus in a particular area is where you will find the best deals.
Why you don’t need boiler cover
Getting a boiler repaired can be expensive. But paying for boiler insurance may not be the best way to protect yourself.
Consumer body Which? claims that cover is worthwhile only for around 3 per cent of homeowners.
It says most customers end up spending more on the insurance than they would have done if they had just called a plumber to fix the issue when it arose.
Boiler cover typically promises households same-day assistance in the event of an emergency.
It costs an average of £242 a year, compared with the typical emergency repair cost of £194, according to Which?
Instead, experts recommend ‘self-insuring’ by setting aside some savings each month.
Getting your boiler serviced annually will keep it in good condition, whether you intend to sell your property soon or not. An annual service costs around £75.
If you would rather have insurance, use a comparison website such as GoCompare. Check you are not already covered for breakdowns under your home insurance.
The Government’s Energy Company Obligation scheme helps those on low incomes replace old, inefficient boilers free of charge or at a discount.
Call the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234.
TROUBLE FREE SALES
Top performers: Visit GetAgent.co.uk, a comparison website looking at which agents get the best prices in the quickest times.
Register and type in your postcode. GetAgent analyses the volume of properties the agent has sold, the length of time on the market and sold price for homes in your area.
Reduce estate agent fees: Never accept the first quote and don’t be afraid to haggle — many agents will cut fees, rather than lose your business.
Estate agency fees for selling a property can be anywhere between 1 per cent and 2 per cent.
Even at 1.5 per cent, selling an average four-bedroom family home worth £450,000 would set you back £6,750 plus VAT, making it £8,100.
Sell your home DIY-style: You could sidestep using a traditional estate agent and market your property yourself online.
Research shows painting your front door can actually help with a sale. Clearing the front garden is also essential
Using Purplebricks, HouseSimple, Emoov or Tepilo, you pay a one-off fee and save thousands of pounds — if your home sells.
The sites offer internet marketing of homes for a flat fee of anything up to £1,000.
There are many no-frills services. 99Home is one of the latest online estate agencies, where a fee of £99 gets your home listed on Zoopla, PrimeLocation and Rightmove.
Be smart on price: To secure a sale, sellers must set tempting asking prices and then reduce them if there is little initial interest, say experts.
Miles Shipside, of Rightmove, says: ‘Price rises have had a good run, but the days of getting punchy prices are gone for now.’
First impressions: If you’re selling, you only have one chance to make that first impression. Research shows painting your front door can actually help with a sale. Clearing the front garden is also essential.
Stage your home: Years ago, you could get away with a quick tidy-up, a lick of paint and the smell of fresh bread.
Today, sellers even ‘dress’ a property before putting it on the market, and even redecorating might be worth it if you get a better price.
Be honest: Tell the truth about work that needs to be done in your home.
If the property needs updating, then it’s fine to market it as unmodernised. You’ll then attract the right kind of buyer.
Challenge your council tax band
Council tax bands have not been reviewed for decades, so thousands of homeowners are likely to be in the wrong bracket and paying too much. This is something a buyer may look at.
If they have a similar size and value property, yet are in a lower band, you may have a claim.
By demanding a council tax revaluation, you could save hundreds and make your home more attractive to buy
Contact the Valuation Office Agency (Scottish Assessors Association) and explain why you think you are in the wrong band. They may send someone to assess your property.
If the agency won’t budge, you can appeal to the independent Valuation Tribunal.
But success is not guaranteed. Of 42,250 challenges from April 2016 to March 2017, the VOA refused to change the band in 31,550 cases. Only around one in five cases taken to the tribunal is successful.
There’s a risk that by challenging your band, your property or that of your neighbour(s) could be bumped into a higher one. So be sure you have a solid case first.
Mortgage Affordability Calculator
Find out how much you can afford to borrow with This is Money’s mortgage affordability calculator, and see the difference between capital repayment and interest-only deals.