Our Tips and Advice on Buying Off Plan

Read our blog post for our advice on buying off plan - everything you need to know.

Our advice for buying off plan

You can buy off plan, before a brick has been laid, or play it safe and go for a home that's already built. Either way, before plunging into the property pool, read our essential guide.

New properties are almost always more energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and economical to run than older ones. They're generally well planned and adapted to contemporary lifestyles. Many are covered by structural guarantees that reduce the potential for unpleasant - and expensive - surprises. You don't have to spend time and money on DIY and decorating.

Add to this the variety of properties on offer - from stylish apartments to traditionally designed family houses - and it's no wonder that brand new homes have never been more popular.

You can buy off plan, before a brick has been laid, or play it safe and go for a home that's already built. Either way, before plunging into the property pool, read our essential guide.

Buying off plan - Some advantages

Selling homes from nothing more than a set of plans is becoming increasingly common. This practice provides a developer with revenue and a purchaser with (usually) a hefty reduction - as much as 20 per cent - on the current market price.

By the time the property is built, its value may have increased substantially. Many investors make a business of buying properties off-plan and selling them on a few months later at a profit (but bear in mind that prices may stay the same, or even fall).

If you get in early, you may have the opportunity to personalise your property by choosing kitchen and bathroom tiles, appliances, flooring and other items. This is also the time when the best plots and highest discounts are available.

... and disadvantages

One of the downsides of buying off plan is that your new home may not turn out quite as you expect. Even with the ever-more-sophisticated tools at developers' disposal, such as computer-generated images (CGIs), it can be hard to visualise the size of rooms or how close other properties will be to yours.

Another, albeit temporary, drawback may be noise and inconvenience from continuing work on the development after you move in. (This, of course, can also apply if you buy a newly built home.) Even if construction is finished, the final surface to roads, drives and footpaths and connection of street lighting may not yet be in place. Turfing and landscaping may not be done until the next planting season.

**Before you commit yourself
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If you aren't familiar with the product of the developer you intend buying from, ask if you can inspect homes they have built previously. Try to arrange a tour of the same type of property as the one you plan to buy, even if it is on another development.

Talk to previous customers if you can. The quality of the company's service will be key to ensuring your purchase proceeds smoothly. Visit one of their sites (if possible, the one on which you're buying) to check that it is well managed. This can offer valuable clues as to the likely progress of the work and the developer's overall efficiency.

The purchase process

This usually follows five basic steps: reservation - when you will be asked to pay a reservation fee, which forms part of the deposit; exchange of contracts - when a further deposit (usually 10 per cent) is required; build completion - when construction work on your home is finished; and legal completion - when the balance of the purchase price is paid and you can move in.

Once you have paid the reservation fee and signed a reservation agreement, the home you have chosen will be yours, at the agreed price, subject to exchange of contracts within the agreed timeframe.

Build progress

When you reserve, you will be given an indication of when your home is likely to be finished. It's not possible to give a firm date, because some factors, such as the weather, are beyond the developer's control. As work moves forward, the developer should be able to give you a more precise indication of timings. You should visit site regularly to check on progress. The developer's team will be able to arrange this, subject to health and safety regulations.

Buying new build

A property that is already built has the big advantage over an off-plan one that you can see and touch it. The disadvantage is that it will almost certainly cost more. Developers will have considered the market carefully before fixing their prices, but there may well be some room for negotiation, so don't be afraid to haggle. Extras can almost always be negotiated.

Incentives

Look through the property pages of your local newspaper and you'll see a variety of incentives on offer for buying new homes that are already built. These are usually available because the properties are failing to sell. They are particularly prevalent towards the end of the developer's financial year, when targets have to be achieved.

Common incentives include stamp duty, legal fees or a deposit paid for you, and furnishing packages, such as carpets and/or flooring, kitchen appliances, and so on.

Part exchange

To attract customers, many developers offer a part-exchange facility, whereby you sell your old home to them and are therefore free to purchase without the bother, expense and potential delays of selling on the open market. In some cases, you may get a discount on the property you are buying.

Ensure that the price you are receiving for your property is a fair one by getting several independent valuations.

**Before you move in...
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Check that your property is covered by a structural warranty from a reputable provider like the National House Building Council (NHBC).

Be clear about what is included in the purchase price, what the developer can arrange at extra cost and what you yourself need to organise. Will the garden be turfed front and back? Will a television aerial be installed? Developers vary widely in what they provide.

Inspect the property thoroughly with a company representative. As well as checking for defects, familiarise yourself with the position of stopcocks, the operation of the central heating and kitchen appliances, and so on.

And after...Report in writing any faults that are the developer's responsibility, and keep a record of phone conversations. The developer will be responsible for things like central heating breakdowns (provided they're not caused by a local power failure), but not for, for example, normal shrinkage cracks in walls. Larger developers will issue you with a homeowner's manual detailing emergency procedures and who is responsible for what.

And finally...As with any property purchase, you should take appropriate professional advice. It's best to use a solicitor or licensed conveyancer experienced in the off-plan and new build market.

If you are buying for investment, don't get carried away by promises of capital appreciation and high rental yields. If a scenario looks too good to be true, then it probably is.

With thanks to BuyAssociation.