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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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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!

 

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Introduction to the UK housing market for first-time buyers

Buying a home is one of the biggest financial commitments you’re ever likely to make, and it’s easy to feel intimidated and stressed before even starting the process!  If you’re reading this as a first-time buyer, you may not even know where to start and what to do first. Your head might be spinning with questions like “How much can I borrow?”, “What are all the costs I should be aware of?”, and “what’s a leasehold?”. While the process may seem scary, it doesn’t need to be difficult – and that’s where this guide comes in. So sit back, grab a cuppa, and read on.

We’ll start this series of first-time buyer guides by sharing the key things you need to know about the housing market, such as what to expect in terms of prices, the time things take, and the important concepts of leasehold and freehold. 

House Prices Vary By Region

As you can imagine, understanding the average prices for where you want to buy will help you set a realistic budget for your needs. The housing market varies massively between regions, with London being at the most expensive end where a two-bedroom property can cost anywhere upwards of £500,000 – with many luxury properties in central London priced well into the multi-million pound range. On the other hand, in the Southwest of England you could be paying anywhere between £175,000 to £300,000 for a similar sized property with a beautiful garden, and have plenty of change left in your pocket to buy all the Cornish pasties you’d like! 

A good first step is to figure out what you can afford financially, and what you need in terms of space. These two constraints will work in conjunction to help you start narrowing down where you can afford to live. More on this later in the guide!

Understanding Freehold vs. Leasehold

You may have heard the terms leasehold or freehold being thrown about in the world of property, but if you’re reading this guide there’s a good chance that you’re wondering what these words actually mean! 

Let’s start with leasehold. this will typically apply to you if you are buying a flat within a block, rather than a standalone house. Under a leasehold, you will have the right to occupy a property for a fixed period of time, otherwise known as the length of the lease. Ultimate ownership of the property lies with the landlord or ‘freeholder’. The lease length is typically 90+ years, but some leases last up to 999 years. At the end of this lease, the property will revert back the freeholder. 

One thing to be wary of is properties for sale with short leases – these tend to be cheaper but come with some potential issues down the line as the property will soon revert back to the freeholder. If you’re planning on taking out a mortgage, lenders tend to be wary if the lease is shorter than 80 years. Whilst you can always extend your lease, the cost of doing so can often outweigh the discount you receive when buying a short lease property. As a leaseholder, it is likely that you’ll also be responsible for paying ground rent and a service charge to the freeholder annually, which will cover in more detail in section 2 of this guide.

A freehold is the simpler of the terms, and it will generally apply to you if you’re buying a house. As a freeholder you own the property and the land it sits on outright, for an indefinite time period. But keep in mind that since the property and land are both yours, you are responsible for maintenance. Freehold is often the favourable option of the two.

Finally, we have the concept of owning a ‘share of freehold’ for flats. This is when you buy the freehold for the land from the existing freeholder. There are many reasons to want to buy the freehold – for example, leaseholders pay ground rent to the owner of the freehold on top of their mortgage payments, and leaseholders aren’t in control of the service charges related to the upkeep of common areas. The price to purchase the freehold varies, as there are various factors including; the original purchase price of the freehold, the cost of a surveyor to value the land, legal fees for the leaseholders as well as the freeholder, and stamp duty tax for purchase prices over £125,000. 

To purchase a share of freehold you’ll have to work together with the other leaseholders in your building, as you will need at least half of the leaseholders to buy out the freeholder. The building must also have no more than 25% or the property being used for non-residential purposes like shops or office spaces, whilst at least two-thirds of the leaseholders need to possess leases longer than 21 years. 

Once you successfully own a share of the freehold, you will gain many benefits. Firstly, you usually won’t have to pay ground rent, you will be in control of any service charges, you will also have the ability to extend your lease to 999 years and only pay the legal costs. It’s also likely to increase the value of your home.

Process Timelines

With the time taken between starting your property search and exchanging contracts varying between 12 weeks and 8 months, buying a property is not an overnight process! There are many factors which contribute to the time it takes, but there are four key parts to consider:

Part 1: The Property Search

This is probably the most variable stage, as deciding on which home to purchase is not a decision taken lightly. And besides, even once you find that perfect home, it isn’t guaranteed that your offer will get accepted. It is not uncommon to view dozens of properties before eventually making a decision, and you may want to wait on the sidelines until that ‘forever home’ comes on to the market. Allow for plenty of time and avoid rushing into a decision.

One way you can be efficient with time when searching for a property is to be realistic with your budget, and avoid viewing properties that you ultimately won’t be able to afford. It pays to have your budget set from the start!

Part 2: Surveying your property

Once you decide to make an offer on the property of your choice, you will want to have it professionally surveyed. Many lenders will in fact require this to be completed before they offer you a final quote. Surveys can be very useful in many ways: They are a chance to evaluate the current condition of the property by examining aspects that you wouldn’t usually find in a viewing, including structural problems, roofing, chimney cutes, or damp. Having this knowledge before you move offers you peace of mind knowing your investment is safe. Sometimes surveyors can also uncover issues that can knock off a few thousand pounds from the asking price! The surveying process can take up to anywhere between 1 to 3 months. Once this is complete you can exchange contracts – this is the point at which your offer is legally binding.

Part 3: Payments

Deciding how you are going to pay for your property is another decision that has many moving parts. You can either pay in cash (if you can afford it!) or take out a mortgage, however much like every other decision you’ll have to make on your property hunt, each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. Paying in cash is the faster option and is seen as being very attractive to buyers, often allowing you to put in a lower offer. Unfortunately this is not feasible for those without large cash reserves. That’s where a mortgage comes in. Now don’t let the word intimidate you, it’s just the term used for a large loan secured against a property. As it is a loan, there will be a longer process as you will need to ensure that you can afford the monthly mortgage payments, and the lender will also need to conduct their own checks on the property. That is why this stage can take up to 6 weeks. 

Part 4: Conveyancing, Exchanging Contracts and Completion

So you’ve made an offer on the property and it has been accepted – congratulations! Now you’ll go through the process of conveyancing: the legal process of transferring the ownership from the seller to the buyer. It’s usually all done for you by a solicitor or a licensed conveyancer, which does mean you will have to pay between £700 to £1,500 for this step. The purpose here is to make sure that you are aware of any restrictions before you are legally committed. The solicitor will carry out ‘searches’ on your behalf, they are enquiries to various authorities in regards to the property, the land, and other factors affecting your purchase. These provide you as the buyer with peace of mind knowing that your investment into a property is safe. 

Once your property checks out and you get the green light, your solicitor will start the process of exchanging contracts, where you will be required to pay your deposit. Once the contracts are exchanged, you are in a legally binding contract with the seller and therefore neither can back out without penalties. This process can be stalled for many reasons as often the seller will not exchange until they have finalised their purchase of a new home, again taking anything from a few weeks to several months. Once contracts are exchanged, you and the seller will decide on a completion date, often 2 weeks after the exchange of contracts. The completion date is the official date when you are handed the keys to your new home and you can move in. Home sweet home!

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Old House vs. New Build?

When talking about investing in a property, some people are immediately drawn to newly-furnished, modern houses, and some yearn for the charm of old houses. If you are considering investing in a property in London or in the UK, then this is the article for you! This article breaks down the pros and cons for both newer and older homes to help you decide which one is more suitable for your investment.

The benefits of buying a newly built property are quite straightforward – nothing can compare to buying something brand new, being able to customise and decorate the house into your dream home.

  • It is satisfying to live in a newer home, especially if you are a neat freak – being the first to take a shower and sleep in the bedroom. And suppose you are a first-time buyer, with the government’s help-to-buy scheme. In that case, the financial burden on you is much more comfortable, the new-built house is such a perfect blank canvas to start your new life in.
  • Another advantage of new builds is they are a lot more energy efficient than older properties, often having better insulation and double-glazed windows and doors. This saves you a vast amount of money in bills and potentially the need for further improvements to make your home more environmentally friendly. 
  • Most new builds come with a guarantee from the builder company. The ten-year warranty and protection scheme helps reduce maintenance costs and stress, particularly suitable for investors who are thinking of letting out their homes.
  • If you are a young professional, part of a young family or plan to rent out your property to these groups, then new builds are suitable for you as they are specifically designed to fit for modern families. Most new houses have spacious open-plan dining-living-kitchen areas with fewer walls which provides greater accessibility for the occupiers and usually more desirable for families with young children. And an open-plan design allows natural light to flood into the room and make space seem more extensive and comfortable.

New-build sounds just perfect for you, right? However, apart from these great benefits that new builds can offer, there are also some disadvantages you need to consider:

  • Although new builds are designed to conform with the lifestyle of modern families, bedrooms and gardens are reduced in their sizes to accommodate a bigger for kitchen-living spaces. This is because developers believe, due to the change in people’s lifestyle, that younger generations would prefer to go out for fun other than have a sunbath and relax in the garden. 
  • Adjustments in regulation standards put new builds in a disadvantageous position when compared to old houses. The walls of most new homes are thinner: lightweight walls finished with plasterboard, meaning that you might be facing noise issues in the future with thin and hollow walls. Furthermore, the ceiling heights tend to be lower than period houses, so some have complained that they feel space-constrained in these homes because of this.
  • New builds usually cost, on average, 20% more than older properties and some benefits may be lost upon purchase. Its value depreciates on the day you buy the house as it is no longer considered ‘brand new’ and other buyers may choose to buy another new build over a second-hand new home. If you are thinking of holding the home for only a few years, it is essential to consider its future values.

Now, let’s talk about the charm of period houses! People have various opinions about purchasing old homes as an investment: some worry about the quality of these homes that were potentially many years ago, and others about whether there is any room for an increment in the value. In the UK, the market for older homes is enormous compared to newly built houses. For sure, you will reconsider your views on older homes after reading this section.

  • A significant strength of an older home is space. According to BBC: “the average size of a UK home – including both older and new-build properties is 85 sq. m. and has 5.2 rooms” whereas the average size of new homes “is 76 sq. m. and has 4.8 rooms”. As space can be such a scarce resource nowadays, for the same price, an older home is usually much bigger, including both internal and external areas (gardens, garages, etc.)
  • Older homes are a lot more suitable for car owners who live far from a central city. They have ample parking space and driveway.
  • Another charming feature of a period home is the uniqueness – in comparison to all similar-looking new-builds, period homes always bring some individuality,  like the symmetrical look of Georgian style and coloured bricks of Victorian style homes. The mixture of architectural styles in London attracts many people to live in London.
  • When comparing a new-built with an older home, which are both similar in size and location, then the older home has more potential to increase in value in the future.

If you think an older property sounds great to invest in, remember that there are also some drawbacks that you have to be careful with.

  • A common downfall of older homes is the need for renovations. You can always find yourself with some houseworks that might need to be done: cracks on the ceiling, or changing a timber under the floor, or even refurbishing the whole house as the design and decorations are usually old-fashioned. 
  • On top of repair and refurbishment, many old homes are much less environmentally friendly than new-builds; the old heating systems and thinner insulation layers can lead to higher energy bills and carbon emissions. 
  • Costs of renovation are high. For example, changing the central heating system for a 3-bedroom house will cost around £4000. From an investment perspective, although the old homes cost less upon purchase, they usually cost more in repair and maintenance.

There is no obvious winner between new-builds and period properties, it is all down to own personal preferences. It is best to stay open-minded to all options on the market, conduct thorough research and make accurate financial calculations before deciding to place an offer!

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Step-by-step guide to buying a home in London (and the UK!)

Are you a first-time buyer looking to buy a home in London? The process of purchasing property might sound complicated and daunting, especially during this particular COVID-19 period. Don’t worry, SearchSmartly has you covered. Here is our seven-step guide to buying a home.

Is buying a property worth it? Although 63% of people in the UK own property, nowadays, more and more young people believe residential property may not be a good investment anymore. People tend to have the misconception that you must own a house to ‘settle down’ or to have a family. But, is purchasing a property really the best option for you? 

Before you start your research, your occupation and commitment need to be considered. If you are a student or young professional, will you stay in London a few years down the line? Investment horizons must be taken into account whether you want to live in the property only for a few years, or decades, because the needs for them will be completely different. 

Commitment: will you do all the repairs yourself? Do you want to live in the same place for years or perhaps decades? For most people, purchasing a property is their biggest investment, so if you think the property market is not as stable as you’d like it to be, it is always a good idea to wait.

Having a clear understanding of your financial position is also essential. There is no harm in speaking to a financial advisor before you make a decision, especially if you want a mortgage loan. You don’t want to be looking for houses that are over your budget. It is a big financial commitment with ‘hidden’ costs such as stamp duty and solicitor fees, which can easily go beyond your budget. By setting a clear budget goal, you can find your dream home quicker and easier.

Think about where you want to live. There are 1000s of properties on sale in the 32 London boroughs, so how do you find your ideal property? SearchSmartly’s smart score system finds the property that matches all your preferences – no more stress from the enormous amount of information online about London areas. SearchSmartly generates recommendations based on your daily commute destination and what matters the most to you. And your time horizon of investment is the crucial factor in finding your dream home – if you are a young student and only thinking of holding your property for five years, factors like grocery stores and greater accessibility are more pivotal than infant and primary schools. If you are planning to stay in the same place for ten years or longer and ready to have a family, then the level of importance of schools near your property will be greater. 

You can always add the properties you like to create a ‘favourite’ list to share with others or come back another time. Remember, always be quick to request a viewing as properties go quickly!

Once you find your dream home, you will need to place an offer. Making an offer sounds very straightforward, but there are always more buyers than sellers. You need to make sure you are the most attractive buyer and here are some tips for that:

  • Build a good relationship with estate agents – it’s never a bad idea to have connections with estate agents, the more they know you, the more likely they will help you.
  • Get your finances in place before making an offer – you are in a more advantageous position when your finances are ready or if you’re a cash buyer especially if the seller is in a chain. 

After an agreement is made between you and the seller, a solicitor or conveyancer is needed to handle the legal process of transferring the ownership of the property to you. Some choose to find a conveyance firm before they put in an offer which can speed up the whole process, but it’s not a must. Conveyancing fees vary from firm to firm but they are typically between £850-£1500. Be aware that if you purchase a leasehold property, the cost is more than freehold properties. Leasehold is a form of legal ownership in which you have a lease from the freeholder to use the home for a number of years from 10 to 999 years. In contrast, with a freehold property, you own the building and the land, in perpetuity and never worry about paying annual grant rent or maintenance and service charges.  Your conveyance solicitor can also carry out some optional searches, for example, local authority searches, drainage searches and environmental searches. In total, these searches would only cost approx. £300; it is worth to get them all carried out before you encounter any pitfalls. 

Finding a surveyor to conduct a property survey for your house is not essential but advisable. If you need a loan, then your mortgage lender will do a mortgage valuation which provides the lender with independent confirmation of the property’s value. However, a property valuation is much less in-depth than a property survey as it only exams on the value of the house and is solely for the use of the mortgage lender. On the other hand, a property survey provides everything you, as a buyer, need to know about the property, from structural problems to small cracks on the wall and it highlights any potential issues in the future after you move in. The cost of a property survey varies from £500 to £2,000 based on the company, the size and the location of your property. Usually, the cost of a new-build property is much lower. With your survey, you can ask your seller to make reasonable adjustments to the price, for example, if there is a major structural problem, you can ask the seller to reduce the house price or request they fix the problem before you purchase the house.

Finally, the last step! The final step is coming to an agreement on a completion date with the seller. A completion date indicates the date you receive the keys. You should always check with your solicitor on a projected completion date before confirming an exact day with your seller. The completion date must be agreed before exchanging the contracts. And, finally, exchange contracts with your seller and become the legal owner of the property!

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How to record the perfect video viewing

Thanks to improvements in technology and the increasing popularity of video, property walkthroughs have become a popular way for prospective renters and buyers to learn more about a property before deciding to rent or buy it. Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible for estate agents to gain access to a property in order to record a video viewing, so existing tenants and homeowners can sometimes be asked to record these tours themselves.  

To help make you capture a great video viewing the first time around, the team here at SearchSmartly have put five simple tips to follow:

Start with a quick tidy

Before shooting, spend a few minutes to ensure the spaces are as tidy as possible with minimal clutter. This will help provide an accurate representation of the property and floor space. 

Open the curtains for lighting

Ensuring your property is well-lit can have a great impact on the quality of video, so keep your curtains open! The best time of day to shoot is in the afternoon, when the natural lighting will help to show a true representation of the property with clearly captured footage. If any rooms do not have access to natural lighting, such as the bathrooms, make sure you turn on the lights as you step into the room. Your smartphone’s flashlight should only be used as an absolute last resort.

Watch your camera angles

In order to provide an accurate and authentic perspective, videos should be shot with the phone held vertically at shoulder height. If you hold the phone too high, it will make the room look much smaller than it really is. Similarly, if you hold the phone too low, things will look larger than they really are. Finally, make sure your phone is zoomed as far out as possible, using a ‘wide angle’ setting if your phone has one.

Keep things slow and steady

When shooting video it’s important to maintain a steady hand, and walk through the property at a consistent and deliberate speed. This will provide a smooth recording that will allow viewers to see all the details they need. When turning around, try and keep your movements slow and deliberate, too. Finally, rather than zooming digitally, take a couple of steps towards the item you want to show. 

Details matter

When shooting, it is important to remember that the viewer won’t be in the room. Be conscious of this and try to capture as much footage in one shooting. Features such as storage, dishwasher, washing machine, and boilers are all important to viewers, so make sure you capture them on your tour! Explore storage spaces by opening them and showing how much space they offer. As an extra bonus, turn on the taps to show water pressure, and maybe even provide a short narration of each room you are walking into.

Need more help?
Here’s an example of a recent video your conducted by our team for a client. You can use this as an example of what to aim for.

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The SearchSmartly Guide for Tenants during COVID-19

Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become increasingly difficult for potential and current tenants to know what they can (and can’t) do in a variety of challenging situations that they might find themselves in. Here, we’ll be shedding some light on the latest government guidelines around issues such as moving home, keeping things running, and for those who are having difficulties in paying rent – evictions.

We will be updating this post with any new official guidance as it comes in. And if you have any questions that aren’t covered below, do reach and we’d be happy to provide any guidance that we can!

I haven’t started my search yet, but need to move soon. What should I do?

The advice we’re hearing from the government outlines that whilst emergency measures are in place to fight coronavirus, home buyers and renters should delay moving to a new home unless they’ve already started the process and are close to exchanging contracts. So, if you have just started your search, strongly consider delaying your move until emergency restrictions are lifted.

I have a move coming up soon, can I still move in?

If for contractual reasons your move is unavoidable, the government’s advice is that all parties should try to work to reach an agreement to delay the move. If a delay isn’t possible, then all parties must follow advice on social distancing to minimise the spread of the virus, keeping at least 2 meters from one another, for example. With limitations in place on non-essential services, this will also mean that you may have to move in without the usual pre-move professional clean and inventory checks.

My home needs maintenance – can essential repairs be carried out?

The government has announced that maintenance on rental homes can still be carried out. Services, delivered by tradespeople concerning repairs and maintenance can take place providing that the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms. In addition, they must comply with the Public Health England guidelines of maintaining a 2 metre distance from any household occupants. 

I’m struggling to pay my rent because of the virus. What are my rights?

In order to protect tenants who may be affected by the Coronavirus, the government has increased the standard eviction notice period from 2 months to 3 months. This currently means that no court proceedings can begin earlier than 3 months from the date the notice is served.

Although not legally binding, the government has pledged to introduce a complete ban on evictions and additional protections for renters affected by COVID-19. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government stated that after the 3 month period, landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into accounts tenants’ individual circumstances.

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COVID-19: How to prevent your property search from stalling

Moving home can be fraught with challenges in the best of times. Unfortunately, the global spread of the coronavirus has only added to the stress of this experience. Although some may consider deferring their move, many don’t have this option for various reasons, be it having served notice on their existing home, starting a new job imminently, and so on. Here at SearchSmartly, we’ve been getting enquiries asking for advice for what to do in this situation, so here are three tips that we’d like to share for anyone not sure about how to manage their property search in these uncertain times. 


Don’t hang around

With recently government advice on social distancing and the restriction of gatherings or public movement, it is possible that in efforts to curb the spread of the virus, stricter rules may get imposed. We would advise that should you be in the midst of a property move or thinking about it, then it would be better to act sooner with conviction in order to prevent these limitations from affecting your search. 


You’ll have less competition


As restrictions limit the number of people conducting viewings, there will likely be less competition for the right home. Here at SearchSmartly, we’re committed to finding the most suitable homes for our users and will ensure that we continue to deliver on a customer-first property search and move experience. 


Do video viewings from the comfort of your home


Agents are still available for in-person viewings, but in some cases they are operating with reduced staff. It may be easier and safer to conduct viewings via video on FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, and most agents will be happy to support such viewings. In some cases, the agents may also have a 3D tour available for the property, too. At SearchSmartly, many of our users have found their next home via video tours, often when relocating internationally, so why not give this a go?
If you’d like to arrange video viewings for any of the properties available on SearchSmartly, simply let us know and we’d be happy to help!