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17 September 2014
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Buying a property

Advice for first-time buyers, on viewing, putting in an offer and the dangers of gazumping.

First-time buyers

The ever-rising cost of housing has made it difficult for first-time buyers, so people are increasingly seeking alternative means of getting on the property ladder. Buying with your friends or family are two popular options, but you could also take part in a shared ownership scheme. This allows you to buy a percentage of your home, and pay rent on the remainder, with the option of increasing your share as and when you can afford it. Many of these homes are new-builds, with initial shares starting from around 25%, and the eventual option of owning the whole property.

Different housing authorities have different criteria for who can participate in shared-ownership schemes. To find out if you are eligible, take a look at the Communities and Local Government Advice website.

Find out about joint mortgages in our money and legal section.

Finding a property

As well as looking in estate agents’ windows, the internet is also an excellent research tool for finding properties. There are now many websites specifically geared for property searches, as well as those catering for people who want to sell without an agent altogether. Most estate agents also have their own websites.

Viewing properties

Here are some useful tips to keep in mind when looking for the house of your dreams:

  • View the properties as soon as possible. Leave it too long and you could lose out. Print off our viewing checklist and take it with you.
  • Make good use of your lunch hours or make appointments on the way to and from work.
  • If two of you are buying together, decide who will be the chief viewer, and weed out all but the strongest candidates.
  • Don't be afraid to make numerous visits with tradesmen to find out what you're letting yourself in for.
  • Check the history of any scruffy - and therefore cheaper - property. If it's been rented it may have had a succession of landlords, all of whom may have done the bare minimum in repair and upkeep.
  • If you're tempted to buy a run-down property to renovate and sell on, check how long it's been on the market. If it's been there a long time, it suggests there isn't a lot of profit to be made. Find out more in our renovating for profit section.
  • New carpets, bathrooms and kitchens can be signs of a superficial renovation that is hiding more serious work to be done.

Putting in an offer

It's human nature to try to strike a deal, but if you find your ideal home and it seems to be priced correctly, consider offering the full asking price. This means you'll be taken seriously, there won't be any time-wasting and it will lessen the possibility of another party stepping - or gazumping you.

All offers should be made with the stipulation of taking the property off the market. Getting a 'Sold' board outside is a good way to dissuade others from looking. You might also want to ensure that all internet adverts for the property have been removed, to prevent any further interest.


One in three property chains fall apart. This can happen for numerous reasons, from one party not having their finances in order, to an unpleasant surprise in the survey.

Under present British house-buying and selling practice, little can be done to alter the process, although the Government has introduced legislation that will require home owners or their selling agents to provide a Home Information Pack (sellers pack or HIP) to prospective buyers on request. You can find out more about this pack in our Conveyancers, property surveys and surveyors section.

The best way to ensure a chain progresses smoothly is through good communication. Stay in regular contact with your conveyancer and estate agent to make sure everything possible is being done to speed things along.

It can also help to stay flexible. Be prepared to move in with your family or rent as a short-term measure if it means you can keep the chain going.


Gazumping - outbidding rivals at the last minute - is a horror estate agents are powerless to stop (even if they wanted to!). Unless you're lucky enough to live in Scotland where there are laws to protect the buyer. Under the Estate Agency Act, estate agents are obliged to pass on all offers they receive, although a determined buyer will probably go straight to the vendor.

There's little you can do to repel a determined bidder, but there are ways to lessen the chance of it happening, or at least reduce the impact if it does:

  • Offer the full asking price and request that the property is removed from the market as soon as your offer is accepted.
  • Be flexible with the vendor and don't quibble over minor points.
  • Make it clear you're willing to complete on their timescale, not yours.
  • Be nice to the vendor - if you've established some kind of relationship with them, it should be harder for them to let you down.
  • Take out insurance - you must do this before you instruct your solicitor, but then if you're gazumped, you can be refunded the cost of your various fees.

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