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To buy or to rent?

Is renting cheaper than buying?

For the first time in six years, renting a home is cheaper than buying. Although it is only happening in four areas in the UK – North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humber, and Scotland, the trend might expand further if the pandemic continues. The average private-sector tenant in Britain spent £71 per month less in rent than if they were repaying a mortgage with a 10% deposit. This equates to a monthly spending of £1,054 on rent compared with £1,125 on the mortgage. The new trend might be convincing for many, thinking that they can avoid the headache of a mortgage and significant expenses, and still be better off than home buyers. But what are the actual advantages and disadvantages of renting or buying a house? If you are at a crossroads between buying and renting, this post is for you.

Pros of renting

Flexibility is one of the most important renting pros for many tenants. You can move out at short notice, and move to another home without making a significant commitment to one place. The maintenance of the place you are renting is the landlord’s responsibility, and all the repairs are their duty. 

Additionally, with the flexibility of living in many different places and with different people, you get to know yourself and your preferences about your décor, localisation, utilities and many more. This knowledge might be useful for the future when you actually do buy a home. 

Cons of renting

Renting a home is more expensive in some regions than in others. London’s rents are much higher than North East’s rents, but it also corresponds with the quality of life and work possibilities. Many people use the argument that renting is ‘’paying someone else’s mortgage’’. 

Moreover, as the maintenance of the property is the landlord’s problem, they often fail to ensure the quality or withhold the deposits for general wear and tear. In unfavorable circumstances, tenants have to account for repairs and maintenance on their own. In addition to the ‘questionable landlords’ argument, many tenants are worried that they will be asked to move out within short notice. The constant uncertainty is one of the significant disadvantages of renting. 

Pros of buying 

First of all, buying a house is an investment. In the case of buying a house, unlike renting a property, the mortgage payments will eventually pay off your debt. Any renovations or improvements are effectively investing in your asset, which should reward you at a later date. 

From a more personal perspective, your house means your rules. You can choose the décor, number of pets, number of tenants and the look of the garden. With this said, you can rent a spare room in your house and make extra income. 

As a nation that has historically loved to own their own homes, buying a property certainly has its appeal!

Cons of buying

Inevitably, there are some disadvantages to owning your own home. 

Firstly, it will be more difficult to move if you buy a house. As one of the pros of renting was flexibility, to sell and buy a house in a short period can be a real burden and a source of stress. Additionally,house prices and the unexpected costs to maintain a house can be very high. There are also additional costs of ownership, such as service charges and ground rent for leaseholders, and homeowners insurance in the case of older properties.

To pay off the mortgage and maintenance cost, you must guarantee a consistent income, even if you have a good credit score. Moreover, you have to consider that interest rates can increase and your monthly payments alongside them. 

Whether we convinced you to buy a property or rent it, check out SearchSmartly’s intelligent property search platform , where you can find houses, flats and rooms satisfying your individual needs. 

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Up to 50% off your first home?

Government’s New First Home Initiative

If you’re a First-Time home buyer, there is no doubt that you have heard about the Government’s new First Home initiative. But maybe you are not sure what it means for you, or whether you are eligible? Maybe buying a home was out of the question before you could get up to a 50% discount on your purchase? If these are the questions you have been asking yourself, then read on as we explain it all in great detail.

What is a First Home Initiative?

Without further ado, if you’re buying a house for the first time, you can get a discount of a minimum of 30% of the house price. The discount can reach 40-50% if the local authorities demonstrate a need for this, based on the social demographics of the area. For the discount to be applied, the first price of the house must be no higher than £250,000 (with an exemption of £420,000 in Greater London). Therefore, this initiative can save you a whopping £100,000 or more! 

Who is eligible to purchase First Home?

To participate in the First Homes initiative, you have to be a first-time buyer. The purchaser can be an individual, a couple or a group of individuals. What is crucial, is that the combined annual household income of the purchasers cannot exceed £80,000 in the tax year immediately preceding the year of purchase. Additionally, the purchaser of First Homes must have a mortgage or house purchase plan to fund a minimum of 50% of the discounted house. 

However, be aware that local authorities might have additional eligibility requirements. Additional criteria might involve lower-income caps, local connection status or employment status checks. Authorities may also prioritize key workers, especially if a particular profession is in-demand in the area. However, you should not feel discouraged as additional criteria requirements are continuously reviewed. They are also carefully monitored to not restrict eligible candidates too much to the point where it becomes too difficult to sell any homes. Another point of concession is that local authorities’ additional criteria is only in place for 3 months from when the house is first marketed. If the home is not sold successfully within those 3 months, the additional criteria is scrapped and replaced with the more lenient national criteria.

Which homes can be First Homes?

Any home can be eligible for the discounted purchase, but for newly-built homes specifically, the home developers must show proof that the houses match the definition of “affordable housing” and meet First Homes’ criteria. The house can not be sold at a lower discount than 30% and the price cannot be higher than £250,000. Additionally, the legal restrictions on the sale and use of the property, must be registered onto the title of the First Home on its first sale. The aim of it is to ensure that the discounted price will be applied to all future sales of this property. 

With the First Homes initiative it is easier and cheaper than ever to finally buy your first property. If reading this article gave you the smallest seed of the idea of buying a house, why not check the available homes that would suit your needs on SearchSmartly’s intelligent property search platform?

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Viewing Best Practices

How to conduct a successful property viewing – virtually or in person

Viewings are crucial to the success of any property transaction. With the agent typically doing their best to impress the viewer, it’s equally important for you as the renter or buyer of the home to come ready to ensure you ask the right questions and don’t miss any important details.

To help you plan the perfect viewing, we’ve put together a best-practice guide for you to make the most of your viewings – whether in-person or virtual.

Arrive early and well equipped with priorities 

Ensure that you arrive in time for your viewing. Not only does this display a sense of responsibility and seriousness (two things agents take into consideration when there are many people ready with offers for the property), it also provides a few minutes to run through your checklists and your priorities when deciding between several potential homes. 

Your preparedness can prevent you from forgetting about any key questions you wish to ask and for confirmation of any points that require further clarity. It will show the agent that you have really thought about the things that matter, and should you not be interested in the property, the agent may be able to find one that is more suitable for you based on this experience. 

Know your deal breakers

When looking for a property, there are many different reasons why one given property may be your preferred choice over another. When attending a viewing, it’s important to always remember what your personal deal breakers are. For some, it might be the need for double-glazing; for others, it might be how much storage space there is in the closets; others it may hinge on the local area and access to important amenities. No matter how big or small these deal breakers may be, knowing them clearly will allow you to view each property objectively, and stop your heart from ruling over your head!

Check the details!

Alongside your deal breakers, the details of the home being viewed can often matter an enormous amount in the decision-making process of choosing a home. It’s very easy, especially in virtual viewings, to overlook these small details and only discover issues once you move in. 

We recommend having a short checklist of things to keep in mind as you go from one room to another. If you’re conducting your viewing virtually, be sure to ask the agent hosting your your to address these points for you!

  • Will the property be furnished? If so, is the furniture that will be left behind the same as the furniture visible during the viewing? What condition is it in? Does any of it need replacing? You could negotiate this as part of your offer
  • Check room corners and the ceiling for mould and damp (virtual viewing tip: ask the agent to raise the camera angle and show you the corners of the rooms, especially the bathrooms)
  • How much storage space is there? (virtual viewing tip: ask the agent to open the cupboards and to take a step back so you can assess the space)
  • Are you close to sources of noise pollution? Look outside the windows to see if there are any train tracks or busy roads that you overlook (virtual viewing tip: ask the agent to show you what the view outside the windows looks like, and ask them to open the windows too)
  • How well-lit is the street and surrounding neighbourhoods, would you feel safe walking home after sunset?
  • Are the utilities fit-for-use? It is always worth checking things such as water pressure in showers, kitchen appliances, and boilers and radiators.
  • If you have a car – what is the parking situation within the property or the development? Are there necessary permits? Is the road always congested?

If you are planning to view a property virtually, then it would be advisable to request all the added information you’d like from the agent ahead of the viewing, agents will be more than happy to adhere to special requests such as showing the view out of the window, opening cupboards and showing storage space. 

Your Neighbourhood

One of the overwhelming benefits of attending in-person viewings is that you’re able to quickly get a sense of the neighbours and local neighbourhood alike. If doing so, we would highly recommend either before or after a viewing, to take a walking-tour of the neighbourhood. How far are the local amenities? Is there green space in the neighbourhood? Is the area well-trafficked? What is the noise level like? Are you getting strong mobile signals in the area? 

Doing so will give you a sense of what the day-to-day community is like and whether it’s one that you would feel comfortable becoming a part of. In addition to this, you will be able to get a practical sense of what the local amenities are in relation to your future home and confirm if the locality of the park/shops are to your liking. 

Of course, SearchSmartly’s smart search functionality can help you get matched to the perfect homes based on your ideal neighbourhood, so you could save dozens of hours of time avoiding viewings of homes that just aren’t going to be a good fit your needs.
If you’re ready to take the leap in finding your next home and arrange a viewing, why not use our intelligent property search platform and find that perfect place for you?

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March 2021: Tenancy Agreement Update

Much has changed in the world around us following the COVID-19 pandemic, and the world of property is no different. For those looking to move home over the coming months, it’s important to be aware of the many changes to the property market that could be beneficial to you – and your wallet! Some of these are things you should know and potentially negotiate before you sign your tenancy agreement, so read on and get a leg up.

Price Negotiation

Caused by an emigration away from cities throughout the pandemic and supported by a slow return to normality across the country and particularly London, landlords have largely seen the demand for rental properties plummet. According to house-sharing website Spareroom, house prices in the capital have been most affected, seeing prices drop in the centre of London by as much as 34% at the height of the pandemic. 

As a result, for customers looking to secure a tenancy agreement particularly in London, there is more room than ever to negotiate on a more favourable price that is more affordable and reflective of the market conditions. In general, for those looking to live in London, a rental reduction of 15-20% compared to pre-pandemic prices can be achieved. Compare historical prices around the area you’re interested in and check to see whether this price reduction has already been factored into the current asking price. If not, you should be in a good position to ask for a sizable reduction in rent as part of your offer. A word of caution, however. As normality continues to return, the more difficult it may be to get your desired price if the property is in high demand with various offers being submitted. If you put in an aggressive offer and get rejected, you may lose the property to someone making a better offer. You’ll end up back at square one with your search.

Rental Term Length

Traditionally, in high demand areas like London, tenancy agreements have tended to run for a minimum of 12 months with the possible inclusion of a six month break clause. Throughout the pandemic however, many landlords have had to adapt to customers’ demands around fixed tenancy lengths. A pattern that has emerged and continues to flourish is the increased flexibility around not only the existence of a break clause (be it anywhere from as early as three months) but also the length of a rental agreement. Several new contracts we have seen emerge include: open-ended contracts with a 6 months minimum length and fixed notice period, shorter notice periods for tenants and lengths of contracts being shortened to suit the tenant’s uncertainty on future plans. Long story short – there is greater flexibility around the traditional 12 month minimum, which is great news for many tenants and particularly students, who might be looking to rent for 9 months rather than a full year.

In theory, as lockdown across the country continues to slowly unwind, we can anticipate that there will be more clarity around decisions for tenants. Nonetheless, it would be wise to consider your personal best- and worst-case scenarios and negotiate your length of agreement and any necessary clauses based on these factors.

Section 21 Evictions

One of the key legislations that have taken place during the COVID-19 pandemic is the government’s amendments to Section 21 of the eviction of tenancies. In England, since 29th August 2020, landlords have been instructed to give the notice period of a minimum of six months to current tenants who have been occupying the property for a minimum period of four months. This also means that should you fall into financial hardship after you move in, you have more time to get back on your feet without the risk of being evicted from your home.

Should you be in the process of agreeing on a tenancy with a view of staying in the property for a prolonged period of time, it would be advisable to maintain this extension in your contract as some landlords may wish to still operate without the extension. 

Renting a property can be tedious, but with the latest updates in place to provide better safeguarding for tenants, there has arguably never been a better time to negotiate when renting a property. We hope with the tips above, you will remain better informed and well-equipped to make the most of the current climate for renting. Should you wish to find a property to let, why not do so on our smart property search platform? 

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How to buy a house on a tight budget in London?

London, despite being one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, still attracts thousands of people looking to move and settle in the capital every year. According to The Week, the average Greater London property asking price was £638,826, while Inner London prices were £792,140. It might sound impossible to own a house in London with a tight budget, but the good news is that some London boroughs are more affordable than the rest of the capital. You can find flats and houses that are priced as low as other cities in the UK, perfect for first-time buyers and young professionals. To get your foot on the London property ladder, you should consider various aspects such as areas with low priced properties, and that other regions might be more suitable for first-time buyers or affordable in making a property investment with a smaller budget.  

Budgeting

Before you start searching for affordable areas, the first step is to set a budget and consider the type of houses you want to buy or live in. Generally, leasehold flats are less expensive than freehold houses that are similar in size and location. Although leasehold properties are not as flexible as freehold properties, i.e. the landlord (freeholder) may have a lot of restrictions apply to the property but they are way more suitable for someone with a tight budget. To learn more about the difference between leasehold and freehold property, please visit our blog ‘Freehold or leasehold for investment?’ 

Affordable Housing Schemes

You may also find cheaper options by looking into the government’s affordable housing ownership schemes – help-to-buy scheme and shared ownership scheme. Help-to-buy is a scheme designed to help first time buyers who plan to purchase a new build. This scheme allows you to borrow an equity loan from the government for up to 40% of the purchase price and only pay 5% upfront when purchasing. Any first-time buyer is eligible for this scheme when purchasing a new build-up to £600,000 and must be for their own use, i.e. not being sub-let or rented out after buying it. Compared to mortgages from banks, help-to-buy equity loans provide more room for freedom – no equity loan fee (interest) needs to be paid for the first five years. After five years, you will be charged a fee of 1.75% of the loan’s value and the rate increases every year by 1%. 

If you are more interested in second-hand houses than new builds, shared ownership might be more suitable for you. Shared ownership is when you share the ownership of a property with someone else or a housing association. It is designed to make it easier for people on lower incomes with smaller property deposits to get onto the property ladder. Compared to the help-to-buy scheme, shared ownership properties are much cheaper since you can buy a share of the property between 25% to 75% and pay rent to the other shareowner. This scheme applies to a broader range of the public – anyone who has an income of less than £90,000 a year. They can be a first-time buyer, an existing shared-owner or someone who used to own a property but cannot afford to buy one now. The property ownership can be shared between four people max, which is ideal for people who are fresh out of school and planning to share a house with others. And because shared ownership properties are always leasehold, you can choose to sell your shares or buy more shares after the contract ends, when you own 100% of the share, you become the property owner.

Now you have an idea of what to look for when searching for properties, it’s time to narrow down your searches to specific areas in London where this is possible. Below, we have outlined a selection of interesting areas that provide value for money for those on a tighter budget.

Croydon, a London borough with low prices and a range of amenities for the local community, perfectly satisfies the needs of people with tight budgets.  It is an ideal area for first-time buyers and with convenient public transport to Central London and being one of the most affordable areas of London, Croydon is gaining in popularity.

Hounslow offers a wide variety of different types of properties, such as leasehold flats or shared ownership properties. It is a paradise for first-time buyers with many newly established developments and excellent links for commuting, Hounslow becomes an increasingly popular choice for first-time buyers. 

Balham is another popular hotspot to live in zone 3, perfect for both families and professionals. A large proportion of properties are from the Victorian and Edwardian era and provide a wide range of options for period-home-lovers. Most of Balham falls within Wandsworth where council tax is lower than many other local authorities in zone 3. Apart from low council tax rate, many families are attracted to Balham for the some excellent schools in the area, both state and independent schools, for example, Emanuel School and Bishop Thomas Grant Catholic School.

Chislehurst is located in zone 4 of London, a quiet conservation area known for its Victorian period cottages and mock Tudor homes built in the 1930s. This aesthetic area is filled with green space, very suitable for older generations to live and many attractions such as ancient Chistlehurst caves are a great day out for all the family. With relatively low house price and excellent environment, Chislehurst is only 20 minutes away from the London Bridge Station, and has high accessibility to Central London. When searching for areas to live in on a budget, you should avoid any boroughs in zone 1 and other more expensive areas such as Kensington, Chelsea, Mayfair and Westminster. With six zones across London and many nice neighbourhoods with green spaces, good schools and affordable housing, always be sure to run a search using our smart property search platform to find houses within your budget that cater to your lifestyle needs.

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The 40-year mortgage: the sign of things to come?

The 40-year mortgage: The sign of things to come?

From today, online mortgage brokers Habito will be launching the UK’s first 40 year fixed rate mortgage. Named the “Habito One’, the mortgage will give buyers access to long-term fixed rate periods from 10 years, right up to 40 years. The rates will start at 2.99 percent, fixed for the full term of the mortgage. 

Quite uniquely, it will come without the early repayment charges or exit fees that you normally see with traditional fixed-term mortgages from high street banks. In doing so, Habito hopes the new mortgage will allow buyers to “lock in” their rate whilst being able to maintain “complete flexibility and freedom over their home finances”. 

Longer mortgage repayment period

Historically, mortgages have been arranged over 25-30 year periods; however, as affordability tests become more rigorous and house prices continue to rise faster than average household earnings, it’s meant that borrowers are having to extend their repayments over a longer period of time. In addition to this, fixed rate mortgages were traditionally locked in at an attractive rate for the first few years of borrowing, requiring homeowners to constantly keep track of whether they are on the best available rates and switch to a cheaper rate once the introductory rate expired. For anybody not tracking their finances like a hawk, this could save buyers considerable sums of money in the long term.

Interest Rates deterrent

For customers of the Habito One mortgage, the interest rates will be fixed for a term from 10 to 40 years, with the longest terms paying the highest rate. For a 10 to 15 year term mortgage on a 40% deposit, the interest rate will be 2.99% compared with a rate of 1.28% on the best five-year fixed rate offerings. With no early repayment charges, customers will be more flexible around switching to a new mortgage or paying off their debt early. This is crucial because, with no penalty for early repayment, this offering has a level of flexibility that is not associated with long term deals.

Predictable yet flexible

This new long-term offering will provide homeowners with long-term predictability around their financial outgoings, which could be particularly valuable for those who expect to hit retirement age before they pay off their mortgage. This predictability has traditionally not come with flexibility, with people often being locked into long-term mortgages due to high exit fees. This isn’t the case with this new offering, providing the best of both worlds to buyers.
Currently, the offer will be available with a minimum 10% deposit but from early summer, the offer will be extended to those on a 95% loan to value (LTV) mortgage. If you are thinking about buying, why not check out thousands of properties we have for sale using our intelligent property search platform.

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Leasehold vs Freehold – which is the better investment?

Choosing between freehold and leasehold properties has always been a concern for international investors who look to invest in the UK. leasehold properties seem to be a popular choice for many investors, but is it a better investment than freehold houses? Let’s dive into the main differences between leasehold and freehold, and uncover everything you need to know about these forms of ownership.

Period of ownership

The biggest difference between these two types of property ownership can be concluded in one sentence – owning the property outright or owning the property for a specific period and having a landlord. When you purchase a freehold property, you own the building and the lands it stands on outright, including the ground below and airspace above. Purchase of a freehold means you become a freeholder that has the right to renovate or refurbish the entire property to fit better with your needs. 

On the other hand, if you buy a leasehold property, you only have the right to live in or use the property for a particular period of time, equal to the number of years left of the lease. Depending on the type of property, the period of a lease agreement can vary from 10 to 999 years. The lease can be extended relatively cost-effectively as long as there are at least 80 or so years remaining on the lease. Although leaseholders have to pay for the lease, the ownership of the property and land it stands on will revert back to the freeholder at the end of the lease, unless the lease is extended or is bought from the freeholder.

Alterations to the property

With freehold properties, you will have to take the responsibility of maintaining the property, from daily maintenance to significant upgrades such as replacing roof tiles. From an investment perspective, this responsibility can be a burden, particularly if you are not in the UK and don’t have a local network of plumbers, electricians, and handymen. Hence many investors use services the services of property managers to assist in the property’s upkeep, but this means your financial return on your investment will need to account for the added cost of these services. Apart from the hassle of looking after the property, freehold has always been seen as an attractive investment choice for many investors, as investors have the right to make refurbishments, construct a house extension or, even rebuild the property without requiring the consent of the freeholder. Note that much of this type of work would still require permission from the local council before it can proceed! Renovations can add value to properties and a popular way of generating capital returns prior to the sale of a property. As a result, the demand for freeholds remains high.

In comparison, leasehold properties are often more restricted since leaseholders have to get permission from the freeholder to make certain significant changes or alterations to the property. The strictness on a property depends on the landlord: private landlords are usually more flexible and less restrictive than property development groups. On the other hand, freehold properties allow more flexibility for leaseholders in other ways. Investors purchasing a leasehold property will not have a direct responsibility to look after the maintenance of the property’s common areas. Nonetheless, leaseholders are still required to pay a ‘service charge’ to cover the cost of ongoing maintenance borne by the freeholder, as well as a  small ground rent annually. In recent years, more than 26% of leaseholders have felt that their freeholder is overcharging for the service charge, as the freeholder is not legally bound or even incentivised to search for the most cost-effective solutions to maintenance issues.

Leasehold versus Freehold: which one is right for you?

Every property is unique, as is every investor. In each case, there are several factors to consider, when deciding whether to invest in a leasehold or a freehold property:

Length of Lease: The shorter the lease, the less it is worth! A lease with zero years left is worthless, as the property will imminently revert back to the freeholder, and the lease extension will cost as much as buying a new property. As a general rule, the longer left on your lease the better. In fact, if more than 100 years are left of the lease, then the value of the property is very similar to the value of an identical Freehold property. 

Location of the property and rental yields: You should take into account the location and expected return of the property when making an investment decision.  Freehold seems to be a better option for many investors, however, not for all cases. A leasehold flat in Central London with a short lease may generate much more revenue than investing in a similar size freehold property outside of London. Leaseholds are extremely common in new-build developments, which in turn are very popular in investment hotspots such as cities and university towns. This often means that properties that are likely to have stable demand from tenants, lower void rates, and strong net yields. This can make for an attractive business case to invest in leasehold properties. On the other hand, freeholds are very common amongst traditional houses in suburban areas which may be popular for families, but may take a longer time to find a replacement tenant for.

Budget: Apart from the property itself, setting your investment budget is also essential. If you are on a tight budget and still want a strong capital return, leasehold may be more suitable for you. Many investors invest in undervalued short lease properties and extend the lease to gain a quick return. This is undoubtedly a risky strategy, as the market for properties with a low number of years remaining on the lease is relatively illiquid. 

Transaction length and costs: Another point which is often ignored by many investors is that during the purchasing process, the legal fees for conveyancing leasehold properties generally cost more than for freehold properties, as more work needs to be done. In addition to the higher cost, the conveyancing process often takes a longer time, With the average transaction time for leasehold properties taking around 12 weeks. 

Regulation changes: New rules to reduce the downsides of leaseholding are currently being debated by the UK government, to create a newer ‘commonhold’ ownership. Under the proposed rules, commonhold would give owners the freehold ownership of their own property, eliminate the risk of the ownership reverting to the freeholder at the end of the lease, and enable self-management by the owners.

Ultimately, there is no superior investment option between a freehold and leasehold property, and the different characteristics of these two forms of ownership make them fit for different purposes and needs. Only you can decide which is best suited to you!

If you find this article interesting and useful, why not begin your search for your ideal leasehold or freehold investment property on our smart property search platform?

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2021 BUDGET ANNOUNCEMENT – WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU

This week’s government budget announcements from the British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has brought with it some welcome news to prospective home buyers. The two significant announcements see the re-introduction of the 95% mortgage guarantee and an extension to the existing stamp duty holiday by three months and a lighter version of the holiday for a further 3 months.

95% mortgage guarantee

The 5% deposit policy was first introduced in 2013 by David Cameron under the ‘help to buy’ scheme that aims to encourage lenders to consider mortgages from applicants with a 5% deposit. This scheme is open to both first time buyers and existing homeowners, coming into effect from April 2021. It will include all properties up to £600,000 and, unlike Help to Buy, will not be limited to new build homes. This is great news for buyers who might be interested in a traditional house rather than a new-build flat, for example. To do so, the government takes on some of the risk that comes with lending at higher loan-to-value ratios (LTVs). Lending policies applied by mortgage providers will still apply, which include an assessment of an applicant’s income, expenditure and credit. 

With the average property price in the UK being £250,000, it means the great majority of the property market will benefit from this scheme for both buyers and sellers. The downside to all this however is that the higher the LTV, the higher the interest rates will be as banks take on more risk by lending more money. 

Several high street banks, including Lloyds, NatWest, Santander, Barclays, and HSBC have already announced that they will be re-introducing 95% LTV mortgages as a result of this announcement.

Stamp Duty Extension

Alongside the introduction of the 95% mortgage, the government has extended the stamp duty holiday until the end of September. The original “nil-rate band” introduced for all properties up to £500,000 will finish at the end of June; having originally been due to finish at the end of March, followed by a tapered approach from June to September. 

This will result in no stamp duty being charged on a residential property bought for up to £500,000 and until 30th September, no stamp duty being charged on a residential property bought for up to £250,000. 

In doing so, this will save thousands of transactions at risk of falling through due to backlog caused by continued demand from consumers being met by smaller teams at most agents. The data has shown that the stamp duty holiday has been effective in maintaining the property market with 16 buyers chasing every available property. 

With a renewed opportunity to reduce purchasing costs for the next six months, prospective buyers can quickly discover great homes in areas that best suit their lifestyle needs on SearchSmartly’s smart property matchmaking platform. Why not give it a go and see which unique homes you get matched with?

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Finding your perfect home

We at SearchSmartly know that the prospect of flat hunting can excite and frighten in equal measure. One of the most stressful parts of the search experience is figuring out exactly what to buy, and which areas to look in. But not to worry, because in this part of our house buying guide, we’re going to run you through everything you should consider to help you find the perfect home for your needs.

Start with the dealbreakers

Finding the right place to call home often requires a realistic approach towards prioritising the things that matter the most to you, while being open to compromising on the things that are less important. First, consider your dealbreakers – what aspects of your new home are you absolutely certain about? Let’s walk through some of the most common dealbreakers

Budget: As discussed in the last section of this series (link to previous article), you have to be realistic about what you can, and can’t afford to buy. If you are purchasing with a mortgage, your overall budget will need to be set by the deposit you can afford (be careful to account for the many upfront costs such as Stamp Duty!), plus the maximum mortgage that you can afford. Lenders will generally limit the size of the mortgage they offer you by multiplying your annual salary by 4.5. With your savings and salary in mind, use this information to set your maximum budget. Unless your financial circumstances change, this upper budget is a dealbreaker that you probably aren’t going to be able to compromise on!

Bedrooms: You might be thinking “it’s just myself, I could easily do with a studio”. Well think about the medium term -will you have enough space for where you think your life will be in 5 years? Smaller properties are appealing due to their affordability, but they are restrictive as there isn’t much space. Are you expecting to work from home frequently and considering space for an office? You’ll struggle to create a barrier between work and relaxation in a studio!

You may also want to consider your lifestyle priorities: do you like to host dinner or invite mates around for drinks? Would you like to have a spare bedroom in case any friends or relatives want to visit? Do you work from home often and need a space to be productive? Are you expecting children in the coming years? Having an extra room allows you to be flexible with your space. 

Commute:  Once things return back to normality, how often do you expect to commute to the office, and how long are you willing to travel each way? WOrking from home over the COVID-19 crisis has allowed many of us to win back hours of time in our weeks, and you may be willing to prioritise or shorter commute in the future, or you might feel like a longer, less frequent commute is worth the other benefits that you can get from living further away from the city centre. You might also have more than one commute to consider, for example if your partner will be commuting to a separate part of the city. You can leverage SearchSmartly’s unique dual commute search functionality to help discover areas and homes that could be a great fit for both of your commutes!

What is your ideal type of home? 

Flat or house? New build or a traditional home? Some people admire the charm and stability of an older home, whilst others may prefer the blank canvas and the bells and whistles of a fresh, modern home with the latest automation gizmos. It all comes down to individual preference, and  there are benefits and pitfalls to both. 

Older homes, although cheaper, tend to be larger in size and have bigger rooms. There is also a belief that they are often built with better materials and have more outdoor space. However, the ongoing costs could be higher due to poor insulation and older heating systems. The home may lack double glazing making it noisier inside, and there will also be more wear and tear to the property when you buy it, requiring further investment. 

New-build homes are generally more energy efficient, and easier to make your own as you are able to customise carpet colours, kitchen fittings, and so on. Many new homes also come with a 10-year warranty, and if they are already built you won’t have to wait for anyone to move out! Though they do tend to have thinner walls which could be an issue if you have loud neighbours, and they can also be more expensive than older homes. Lastly, since they are often built in clusters, they may lack the character of an older home!  New developments are also often built as part of broader redevelopment schemes, so you may see new shops, schools, and even public transport stations pop up in your local area over time, increasing the desirability of the area and potentially increasing the value of your home.

Maximising the quality of your life

What does your ideal neighbourhood look like? Do you look for organic grocery stores within a stone’s throw from your front door? Or maybe you need to be near to a great school for your little ones. Perhaps you’re a fitness fanatic and you’d like nothing more than a nearby park to run in or a gym to easily get in your daily pumps. Everybody is unique in their needs, and it could take dozens of hours to check each home you like to understand what the local area is like, adding more stress and complicating your search. Luckily, we’ve designed our smart search tool to make this process easy and help you prioritise the homes that best match your needs!

There are so many things to consider when you’re looking for your forever home, and with our smart property matchmaking tool, we’ve made the process of finding a place that meets all your needs simpler than ever.  Why not give it a go? 

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Costs of Buying a House

Now, we know nobody’s going into buying a home thinking it’s a cheap decision, but it’s important to keep in mind that the price of the property itself will not be the only cost you’ll have to open your cheque book for. In this post, we are going to give you a breakdown of all the costs you will encounter so that you know exactly what to expect.

Often first-time buyers are taken off guard when a laundry-list of upfront costs hit them, followed by the various ongoing costs for the remainder of the time you wish to reside in that property. Do ensure that you secure a stable cash flow before embarking on your first property hunt, because there’s nothing worse than spending all your hard-earned savings on a deposit, only to struggle with the day-to-day running of your new property. 

Upfront Costs

These are the various fees and taxes you will have to pay during the initial step of purchasing your property, often before you even have the keys in your hands. These can add a significant amount to the overall cost of your purchase, and so it’s important to have enough saved and available to pay for these as you can’t pay these with your mortgage. 

Deposit

Your deposit is a percentage of the purchase price, usually between 10% to 20%, that you will pay up front towards the cost of your home. It’s important to consider how much you can put down at this stage, because the larger the deposit is, the better interest rates you will have access to for your mortgage, and therefore the less you’ll have to pay back over the duration of your mortgage.

For a property priced at £250,000, you will be expected to pay a deposit between £12,500 and £62,500.

Stamp Duty

Stamp Duty (often abbreviated as SDLT) is a tax paid to the government to purchase properties in England or Northern Ireland, with similar taxes in Wales (Land Transaction Tax) and Scotland (Land and Building Transaction Tax). 

You won’t have to pay Stamp Duty if you purchase your property before 31 March 2021 as it has been temporarily frozen. But with the process often taking months, it is still something to consider. 

Until the 31 March 2021, you will not pay any Stamp Duty on any property purchased under the price of £500,000. 

From the 1 April 2021, Stamp Duty will return to the pre-July 2020 threshold. However, when purchasing your first home you will receive a discount (relief), with not having to pay any Stamp Duty on properties up to £300,000 and paying 5% on properties between £300,001 and £500,000. As the examples below show, Stamp Duty can add a significant cost to the amount you need to have saved to make your purchase!

Example 1: For a property priced at £250,000, from the 1 April 2021 as a first time buyer you will be expected to pay £0 in Stamp Duty. 

Example 2: For a property priced at £450,000, from the 1 April 2021 as a first time buyer you will be expected to pay £22,500 in Stamp Duty.

It’s important to keep in mind if you are buying a home with others, they will also have to be first time buyers to qualify for relief.

Valuation Fee

Lenders normally require a valuation survey before they can provide you with a mortgage. This is so that they can assess the property and determine if it is valued at an appropriate amount in accordance with your loan application. Though they are not only beneficial to lenders, but they will also give you an insight on how much the property is worth. 

The cost of a valuation varies depending on the price of the property being valued, usually between £150 and £1,500. Although it is important to note some lenders provide free valuations, so it is important to shop around for the best deal!

Example: For a property £250,000 the average valuation fee is £295 based on the top 10 lenders in 2019.

Surveyor’s Fee

Getting your property surveyed is a key step that will provide you with peace of mind before moving in. A professionally qualified surveyor will be able identify potential issues with the property that could end up costing you tens of thousands of pounds down the line, so avoid using friends or family members ‘surveying’ the property just to save a few hundred pounds. 

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveys (RICS) provides varied reports and surveys you can purchase, ranging from £250 for a basic condition report, to over £600 for a complete structural survey.

Legal Fees

Solicitors will handle all the legal work for you when buying your home, including conducting searches which we covered in our previous blog post. 

Fees vary between firms, and you can expect to pay anywhere between £900 to £1,500 including VAT.

Moving Costs

When you finally move into your new home, you will have to consider the costs of moving your personal possessions into your new home. 

Professional moving companies can provide an extensive list of services, from doing all the packing and boxes to you to only providing the transportation of self-packed boxes. These services will cost you anywhere between £250 to £600 depending on the company and service you chose. 

If you don’t have much to move – for example if you don’t own any furniture –  you could rent a van and do the move yourself. This would be considerably cheaper, even if you grab a few friends and offer them dinner ‘on the house’ (pun intended)!

Ongoing Costs

It’s important to remember that after you move in, there will be ongoing costs for your new home, often paid on a monthly or yearly basis. On the face of it, these ongoing costs are not as large a sum as the upfront costs, but they will very much add up over time,  and will have to be paid for the foreseeable future.

Mortgage Payments

Of course, if you have purchased your home with the help of a mortgage, you will need to make monthly payments to pay back the money you have borrowed, with interest. Your repayment schedule is determined by the overall amount you have borrowed, the length of the mortgage, and the interest rate you have been offered.

The percentage of the price you put down as a deposit affects your Loan-to-Value (LTV) percentage and depending how low your LTV is, your lender will be able to give you a lower interest rate. If you put down a 10% deposit, your LTV is 90%; similarly if you put down a 25% deposit your LTV is 75%.

If you were to have a 90% LTV, the best interest rate you would have access to at the time of this article’s writing is 3.64%. Conversely, if your LTV was lower at 75% thanks to a larger deposit, you would unlock a much better interest rate of 1.99%. In this simplified example, assuming a 25 year mortgage, the overall amount you would pay to purchase your £250,000 home would be £279,126 in the case of the lower deposit, and £290,842 with the higher deposit – a significant difference! Even in today’s world of low interest rates, if you can afford a larger deposit, it is often worth it for the better rates that you will unlock.

Insurance

There are two types of insurance you can consider for your new home: building insurance and content insurance. You will usually be required to take out building insurance if you are the freeholder, to cover for any damages to your home from flooding, fire, subsidence, etc. Content insurance can also be taken out to insure your personal belongings and possessions against theft and damage.

Insurance policies are provided on a case-by-case basis and are estimated on the value of the property and items you wish to be insured.

Council Tax

This is a yearly payment made to your local council in order to pay for services such as bin collection, libraries, fire, police services, and many more. It can either be paid in a single payment or in monthly instalments. The amount is set by which council tax band your home falls into, bands are determined by the value of your property in April 1991. If you think that sounds a bit archaic, it’s because it is!

For example, a London property valued at £250,000 today could fall under council tax band B in a certain London borough. The council tax for this property in London would range from £600 to £1,200. You can find detailed information about which band your selected property would fall under in the property listing itself, or by asking the agent selling the property.

Utilities

Utilities will usually include electricity, heating, water, gas, and broadband. It might be a good idea to ask the sellers how much they paid monthly for these services to get a rough idea of how much you should budget for, and potentially shop around for better deals. 

You may also want to factor in a telephone line and a television subscription.  

Maintenance and Repairs

With home ownership comes the unfortunate responsibility of paying for your property’s upkeep. From repairing appliances when they break down, to repainting your home every 5-10 years, you should budget to spend between £2,000 and £3,000 per year for general wear and tear. And watch out – the average repair bill when moving into a new home is £5,750 for homeowners who didn’t conduct an extensive survey on their home before buying it. It (literally) pays to comprehensively check a property before you complete your purchase!

Budgeting

Now that it’s become abundantly clear that the costs of buying a home can really add up, you might be wondering how you’ll even be able to get onto the housing ladder. Luckily, there are many ways to get a leg up and boost your ability to make that purchase sooner. Many of these tips and initiatives can be combined together, further boosting your purchasing power.

ISAs

ISA stands for Individual Savings Account. These differ from a regular savings account because they offer you tax-free interest on the income you earn in this account. There are two types of ISAs that are geared towards buying your first home: the Help to Buy ISA and the Lifetime ISA. While you are no longer able to open a new Help to Buy ISA, you should still consider opening a Lifetime ISA.

A Lifetime ISA is designed to help you save towards buying your first home or retirement, and the government will give you a 25% bonus on your balance, up to a maximum of £1,000 per year. There are some important factors to consider with the Lifetime ISA: firstly you are only able to save £4,000 per year in your ISA, and you are only permitted to withdraw your money under three circumstances: you are buying your first home, you are aged over 60, or you are terminally ill and have less than a year to live. If you need to withdraw your cash for any other reason, you will have to pay a penalty, currently 20% of your balance as of March 2020. However this rate is expected to increase to 25% in the future. 

If you were savvy enough to set up a Help to Buy ISA before the deadline you will also receive a 25% government contribution, but you will have to follow a different set of rules. Firstly, you can only save a maximum of £200 per month, which would be £2,400 per year. But you will have the added flexibility of being able to withdraw your cash when needed without having to pay any penalties. However, unlike the Lifetime ISA, there is a deadline of when you can claim your bonus, you can continue to pay into your ISA until November 2029 and after that you only have 12 months to claim your bonus.

Family Support

With high house prices, extensive checks when trying to get a mortgage, and the considerable time it takes for the average worker to save up for a substantial deposit, It’s not a surprise that many people turn to a different bank for help: the Bank of Mum and Dad. 

There are many ways your parents can help you in your purchase: by gifting or loaning you your deposit for the property, by acting as your guarantor, or even by taking out a ‘Joint Borrower Sole Proprietor’ (JBSP) mortgage to avoid excess Stamp Duty. A JBSP is a loan under which both you and your parents will be named on the mortgage, but only you will be on the deed for your home. This allows you to access the Stamp Duty discounts available to first-time buyers.

Co-Buying

If you’re struggling to find a suitable place for yourself within your budget, have you ever considered that perhaps some of your friends are in the same position as you? Imagine if your budget could be doubled or even tripled – you could look at areas and properties previously well outside of your price range. 

This is indeed what co-buying could potentially offer you. It allows you to stop paying rent sooner and jump-start your move onto the property ladder. You should however think very carefully about co-buying with others and consider your other purchase options first, as you may find yourself in a difficult position if your relationship with your co-buyer friends sours for any reason.

Help to Buy Equity Loan

If saving for a large deposit is a concern to you, and you are open to buying a new-build property, the government’s Help to Buy scheme might be right for youThe Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme is an interest-free loan scheme for first time buyers only. It is also important to note to be eligible, you will need to purchase a new build home, with a purchase price of no more than the relevant regional price cap, and have at least a 5% deposit. With this scheme, you can borrow between 5% and 20% of the purchase price of a property outside of London, and between 5% and 40% in London. With the interest free component of the loan allowing people to get onto the housing ladder sooner than they otherwise would, this scheme has proven to be very popular. Originally due to come to an end in December 2020, this scheme has been extended until 2023.

Help to Buy Shared Ownership

Shared Ownership is another government sponsored program like the Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme. It is there in case you aren’t able to obtain a mortgage for the complete price of your home. In this situation, Shared Ownership will allow you to purchase a share of your home, usually between 25% to 75%.You are then required to pay rent for the remaining share. Later, you will get the opportunity to buy out the remaining shares of your home. 

To qualify for Shared Ownership, you will have to have a combined household income lower than £80,000 outside of London, or £90,000 in London.

However, be wary of the fact that nor only will you be paying your mortgage and your rent, but you’ll also face many of the ongoing costs unique to homeownership (such as service charges and ground rent), making this an expensive option in the long run.

If you’ve made it this far – congratulations! You now have a fairly comprehensive idea of what you – and your bank account – should expect before you dive too deep into looking for that perfect first home.

Even if you feel that you’re not quite in the right financial position to buy your first home,  planning early for your future purchase will go a long way, as this helps unlock the most value out of schemes like the Lifetime ISA. There are a variety of options to consider regardless of your financial situation, and it is best to lay the groundwork early!

If you’re ready to start thinking about where you’d like to buy your first home, keep an eye out for the next articles in this series!