Rumour has it that Dante based his concentric circles of torment on London’s property market. Housing expert Vicky Spratt explains how to do a big move without it becoming hellish.
1. It might not feel like it, but now is a good time to haggle
Trying to move can make you frustrated and jaded. But, right now, there is less demand for housing in many but not all (see: Newham, Bexley and Greenwich) parts of the capital than there has been for years. In fact, house prices are actually falling as people leave London because of the pandemic. So it’s important to remember that you have more power than you think. Hold your ground. Haggle. Negotiate. And, if something sounds like it isn’t right, if you feel like you’re being fleeced or told half a story – whether that’s about moving-in dates or how much you’re about to be charged for something – then question it.
2. Beware of ‘wear and tear’
Too many landlords seem to think of tenants’ deposits as a little bonus. I have heard story after story of tenants being automatically charged for professional cleaning when they move out of a rented home. Your landlord can charge you for genuine costs to restore the property to its original condition, but this excludes ‘reasonable wear and tear’. In my experience, landlords and letting agents interpret what’s ‘reasonable’ very elastically, so quote Shelter’s definition at them and push back. If you’re not getting anywhere, the best way to challenge these deductions is through your deposit protection scheme’s alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
3. Know when the stamp duty holiday ends
As things stand, the stamp duty holiday – which means that you don’t pay land tax surcharge on properties costing up to £500,000 rather than the usual £125,000 – is set to end on June 30. From then until September, the holiday will apply for places up to £250,000. If you’re rushing to complete before this tax break is taken away, keep an eye on your solicitor or developer. You don’t want to miss the deadline.
4. Receipts or it didn’t happen
This is especially important to private renters but it applies to homebuyers as well. Estate agents will often try to have difficult conversations over the phone: ‘Oh, actually, we need £600 for a holding deposit that may or may not be legal’, or, ‘Sorry, the move-in date on your new-build is actually delayed by six months because a contractor went bankrupt.’ This can make it tricky to follow up and claim compensation. So, get them off the phone. Do everything over email or text so there’s a paper trail. Move-in dates, in particular, are delayed all the time. Get them confirmed in black and white because, if you’ve already given notice on your old home, you could find yourself without anywhere to live. Also, whether you’re buying or renting, you need to make sure you document any issues in your new home as soon as they arise. Take photographs. Send emails. Keep records. Buy a box file!
5. Don’t feel pressured into doing anything you aren’t comfortable with
We might be in the midst of a pandemic, but the housing market is now well and truly open, and physical viewings – both in rentals and sales – are taking place. However, NAEA Propertymark, the professional body for estate agents, still advises against open viewings. If you’re moving out and your letting agent or landlord is making you hold viewings in your home, they must give private renters at least 24 hours notice prior to entering the property. Know your rights. And, if you don’t feel that the proper precautions are being taken, complain. Health is wealth and coronavirus is still very much with us.
6. Remember that the devil is in the details
When you buy a house, you trust your conveyancing solicitor, don’t you? You’re paying them huge wads of cash, so they know what they’re doing, right? Probably, but check and double-check everything. In London, particularly, if you’re buying a leasehold property (one that you own for a certain amount of time) make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into and what your lease entails.
7. And finally, make sure you tell your energy and water suppliers…
I know this sounds like stating the bleeding obvious but I have heard stories of bailiffs knocking on doors in search of a long-departed tenant who owes hundreds of pounds in unpaid utility bills. It’s really important that you let everyone know you’re moving and give a forwarding address. If you don’t, you could end up with a county court judgement against your name which will impact your credit rating. And don’t forget to register to vote at your new address. After the last 18 months, having a say in who runs the country feels more important than ever. Plus, being on the electoral role is good for your credit rating as well as for democracy. Win-win!
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