Like everything else in the world England is too…
Buying a house in England
Buying a property in England is not easy. You could say it isn’t easy to buy one in many countries and you would be right. I’m not a property expert and can only write about our experiences and in this way this review is subjective. Others have other experiences regarding buying a property in England.
First and foremost when you are looking to buy a property the same applies as when you are looking to rent one: you have to be quick. When I relocated to England, I signed up to the newsletter of the biggest property website in the UK (rightmove.co.uk) and I received email alerts every time a new property came on the market. It happened quite often that I called an agent a few hours later from receiving the alert and the property has already been rented out. This could apply to buying a house, albeit I think it might not be that hectic. Good properties always sell like hot cakes no matter where you are.
Properties are sold via agents in the UK whereas in other countries in Europe owners may advertise their apartments and houses. In the UK it seems to be strict and literally everything is done by the property agents which makes the process impersonal and there is probably less room for negotiating. You can have as many offers as you like of course but the agent’s interest is to sell the property at a higher price. If you talked to the owner you might be able to negotiate a better price.
There is, however one big advantage: once you made an offer, you are protected and have the right of first refusal. This means that first came, first served so anybody interested in the same property can only make an offer if you backed out. So technically it cannot happen in the UK that you made an offer and you plan to transfer the deposit the following day but somebody turns up and pays the deposit cash the same day and therefore he gets the property. :)
It occurred to me instantly that the agents are not well prepared. Whether it is because they manage an awful lot of properties or because they are negligent, I don’t know. I just find it completely out of order that they are not aware of basic information such as when the house was built, whether the living room is North facing, how many square meters the property is , where the meters are whether there is a loft etc. This is very disappointing and you lose time as well.
Whereas in many other countries in Europe you can buy land and build you own house, in the UK it does not really exists. It does but it is very rare and you have to have a lot of money for that. People here buy either an old house and they build and extension and refurbish the house or buy a house in good condition or buy a new-build. Almost every free land is bought by mammoth property companies like Shanley Homes or Berkeley which they then convert into housing estates and sell at a very high price.
As for the house types detached houses are rare and you must have a deep pocket for that. The most common house types to buy is terraced and semi-detached houses. There is another house type which is quote frequent: the maisonette. This is basically an apartment with a garden which is either on the ground floor or on the first floor in a two storey house. Then you have the bungalow which is a ground floor house and of course you could bu an apartment in a block of flats or even in a manor house that was converted into flats.
Number of rooms
This is tricky. We would call an apartment/house that has a living room and two other rooms a 3 rooms apartment/house but the English call it 2 bedroom. A 3 bedroom house would equal a 4 room house in Hungary.
It is worth having several viewings to have some experience and to see what is on the market but also because photos often lie. There are properties with a good layout and with rooms of decent sizes but they might be in a horrible area. Of course you have Google Map Street View but there might be thing that you can only see once you are at the property. For example we had a viewing near Heathrow Airport and we thought it would be very noisy, yet it was good to go there and see that every 30 seconds planes were taking off and what massive noise it caused.
Rooms are extremely small in England. I cannot understand how people and families can live in such small rooms and apartments… Of course there are houses with decent size rooms but they are rare and you have to search for them. You must be looking at the floor plans all the time and also check whether there are storage possibilities because many apartments/houses do not come with a cellar, ceiling or storage.
The other thing we found difficult to find was a south facing living room. No idea why, it is just not available.
Victorian terraced houses, cottages are charming and appear to be very romantic, but the majority has the bathroom downstairs. You can imagine how uncomfortable it can be popping down in the middle of the night when you need the loo. You may put a loo upstairs but sometimes it is impossible because of the building’s layout. All in all this is the compromise you have to make if you fancy a romantic cottage.
The other very important thing is parking. Sometimes the property does not come with a parking space which can be a pain. Some properties have one parking space some have a garage which might be a few corners down the road – so always worth to check.
If you buy a house the size of the garden is equally important. Terraced houses may come with a tiny, narrow and long garden others may have a small square shaped one where you can only fit a table with 4 chairs and that’s it.
The two scenarios we often found ourselves in were: 1) houses with decent size rooms and garden at a reasonable price were like one hour drive away which is far too much for us, 2) both the house and the location was OK but we did not have the pennies. You have to look every day and wait until the best property turns up.
Another very important thing is whether the property is leasehold or freehold or shared partnership.
Leasehold: You buy the building/property but the land the property is built on belongs to the leaseholder and you pay a lease for the land. This can be disadvantageous if you want to make alterations to the property pr register a business – things that may not be allowed in the lease document.
Freehold: The best combination where you buy the property and the land and you can do whatever you want to. Therefore it may cost more.
Shared ownership: the building company sells part of the property and the rest can be rented.
Like anywhere in the world the price of a property depends on many things but mainly in which location it is. Fair enough you could say, however in England this is slightly different as well. People often move just to be in the catchment area of a school otherwise the kids would not have a chance to get admission to a desired school. If there is a good GP and shops in the neighbourhood that can also put up the prices.
There is an English phenomenon on the property market: the property ladder. This is when people buy a small and cheap property just to refurbish it and re-sell it at a higher price. Then they buy a slightly bigger one, they refurbish it and re-sell it again to make more profit.
If you’ve found your dream property in England…
…then you have to make an offer via the agent which may or may not be accepted by the seller. If the seller did not accept it, no worries, you can make several offers before somebody else gets the chance to make an offer. Once the offer has been accepted, you get the documents (the leasehold for instance) which you want to read through carefully.
The house must be evaluated and also checked out by a surveyor from the structural and technical point of view. You must arrange these but do not have to be present at the check. You will get the report via email or post.
The mortgage depends on the value of the property and its technical condition, therefore no mortgage is agreed until these are available. Once you got them, you can go on with the bank and discuss the mortgage. You must be living in the UK for 3 years to be eligible for a mortgage. You then get checked out (salary, taxes etc). You also have to get a lawyer. I must remark we have tried two layers and neither of them seemed to have read the documents carefully. We picked up thing in the contract/documents and had we not done so, we would have ended up with us having to pay more for certain things. I guess, the standard clients do not read these documents anyway, that’s why lawyers are not bothered which is a real shame considering they charge you something like £500. For this amount they should read the documents and help you.
The whole process takes around 2 months and sometimes it is annoying to wait that much. In our case we had to wait 3 months because the lease was not registered. Then the bank and the lawyers agree on the date when the money gets transferred to the seller and once done then you get the keys from the agent. We have not seen the seller at all which is really strange…
As you can see, the process is long and is rather complicated. To end the story with a positive note, let me show you what we received from the bank after we got the keys. :) A so called House Move Pack which contained everything you need in an empty apartment for the start: kitchen rolls, toilet rolls, snacks, tea, sponge, cleaning materials. We have never seen anything like that before and thought it was rather a nice gesture…
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