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How to Really Buy a Property
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Why Vendors are Poorly Prepared


What's covered in this chapter
  • Why defining your offer at the start will save time and stress with a poorly prepared vendor;
  • Why there can be long delays between an offer being agreed and your solicitor receiving papers;
  • Why the paperwork the vendor needed to buy the property may not be enough;
  • How to get documents before the vendor can;
  • When your pressure can help the vendor;
  • How to tell what is a mistake and what is misleading;
  • Culture differences which may not be insults;
  • The true story of curtains which caused offence;

You are about to buy a property and this is something you are only likely to do a few times in your life. The person who is selling is probably only likely to sell a few times in their life and so it is unsurprising that they may not be familiar with all that needs to be prepared in order to make a sale move smoothly.

Remember if you are a first-time buyer, you may well be buying from a first time vendor who does not know what they are doing

Strange as it seems most Estate Agents and Solicitors know what needs to be prepared but rarely take the vendor through this, trying to avoid discussions that suggest the vendor spends time or money until there is actually some active interest in the property.

All this is backward thinking but no solicitor or agent wants to persuade their client to spend hundreds of pounds in advance of a sale and then have their ears burnt six months down the line when no offer has been made. For those solicitors and agents that do do it, however, you hear nothing but praise once the transaction is completed.

Most don't so the result is that, once your offer is accepted, it often feels as if the vendor is actually reluctant to sell. There can be long delays while they choose a solicitor or get the necessary paperwork together.

The vendor may also not have thought through how they will look in your eyes when they choose the selling agent or solicitor basing their decision on other factors such as price, location or recommendations. This doesn't mean the vendor does not have good intentions but because of your limited contact with them it is not always easy to tell if they are messing you around or if the parties they have chosen to represent them are generally incompetent.

When making your offer the vendor is usually keen to make sure you can move quickly but may not have their own documents in order that will make the speed they require actually happen. This does not always mean they do not want the transaction to go through in a short time-scale and in order to keep things moving there are many things you can do to short circuit delays. Doing this is crucial because, as we have seen already in the chapter Time Costs Deals, speed is important.

Preparing the Paperwork


There is a set of basic paperwork which your solicitor is going to need from the vendor's solicitor if exchange of contracts is going to take place. If this has not been prepared prior to your offer there will be immediate delays unless:
  • you have chosen a good solicitor who will not wait for all the paperwork before starting work
  • the vendor chosen a good solicitor who will send out what they have with other documents to follow on later
If the vendor is poorly prepared your choice of solicitor can make all the difference to the success, or otherwise, of the deal

As an example lets say you have your offer accepted on the first day of October, which for the purposes of this illustration is a Monday.

What the vendor is doing What your solicitor is doing
Monday 'Phoning round solicitors to get quotes Nothing
Tuesday Waiting for the quotes Nothing
Wednesday Choosing a solicitor Nothing
Thursday Solicitor sends out forms to be filled in by vendor Nothing
Friday Forms arrive but vendor is at work Nothing
Saturday Vendor fills out necessary paperwork Nothing
Sunday Nothing Nothing
Monday Vendor posts paperwork back to his solicitor Nothing
Tuesday Solicitor receives paperwork and requests office copy entries from Land Registry Nothing
Wednesday Waiting for Office Copy Entries Nothing
Thursday Office Copy Entries arrive and a draft contract is drawn up Nothing
Friday Contract and Office Copy Entry is sent to your solicitor Nothing

In other words it has been two weeks since the deal was agreed and your solicitor has so far done nothing, moreover you have heard nothing and seen no action! The example above, you should be aware, is based on a best possible scenario. The vendor may have chosen an old fashioned solicitor who waits weeks for original title deeds or an overworked solicitor who can't turn things around in the same day.

Hearing nothing does not mean the vendor is doing nothing

Many deals fail because the buyer waits weeks with no paperwork and, assuming the vendor is not serious, then goes out and offers on something else. If there is good communication between the solicitors or with the agent then at least you know where in the above process they are and that things are actually happening.

As far as legal paperwork goes you also should be aware that what exists from the last sale of the property (when the vendor bought) may not necessarily be adequate for what your solicitor needs now. This is because solicitors are far more frightened of being sued today than they were say a few years ago and what mortgage lenders require on their part is constantly changing and varies from company to company. As such if, once all the paperwork arrives, don't be surprised if your solicitor says he needs more information and don't always believe that the vendor is being awkward and holding back on you. They may just be puzzled because they have given you everything that they were told they needed in order to buy the property way back then.

The paperwork the vendor required in order to buy the property may be inadequate for your purchase because of changes in the law or the requirements of mortgage lenders.

The paperwork which should be coming through is as follows:
  • The sellers questionnaire
  • The fixtures and fittings list
  • Any planning consents (if applicable)
  • Any building regulation certificates (if applicable)
  • Any guarantees (damp, roof, etc.)
  • The building insurance details
  • The local search (If the HIP is still valid)
  • If the property is leasehold
    • The last three years service charge accounts
    • The last three years ground rent receipts
    • Any deeds of variation
  • Optional but a big bonus are:
    • Past or recent surveys
    • Recent quotes for works needed

We are all human and it is perfectly feasible for the vendor to have lost or mislaid any of these documents. The reasons you need them are laid out in the chapter The Property Buying Process in Theory. Below however are ways in which you can speed up the acquisition of these documents if the vendor is struggling or being slow.

The Sellers Questionnaire

The vendor gets this form from their solicitor and is only required to fill it out to the best of their knowledge. When you see it don't be surprised if there are lots of "Don't Know" replies. One of the most common questions which gets this reply is who is responsible for the garden fences where they border other people's property. Most property owners genuinely don't know and there is a fairly good chance that you will never know either in the time you spend there.

Kicking up noise about any questions that have vague answers should be carefully considered. Decide how much the cost would be if there were a problem post sale. In other words if the garden fence does fall down it will cost a few hundred pounds to put back up. Now work out if the sale falling through because you spend too much time on such petty enquiries will it cost you a great deal more than that?

The Fixtures and Fittings List

There will be far fewer issues on this if you make your offer comprehensive (see the chapter How to Really Make an Offer on a Property). Many buyers are shocked when they see this document if it outlines how much the vendor wants them to pay for carpets, curtains, door handles, light switches, garden sheds and so on. This does not always mean that the vendor is being unreasonable or greedy. It may be that in all the purchases they have ever done they were expected to pay extra for these items. As such they will believe that paying for carpets and curtains is the norm.

Some buyers also get upset when they believe their offer was put forward to specifically include a certain item, such as the cooker, and the fixtures and fittings list says it is not included. Bear in mind that the vendor may have filled out this form weeks before your offer was agreed but not thought to adjust it's contents. More often however it is the solicitor who makes the error. He finds he suddenly has two fixtures and fittings lists and, not sure which one is correct, sends the more "prudent" one.

As soon as you are aware of an error contact the Estate Agent immediately, remind them of your written offer and ask them to contact the vendor. At the same time ask your solicitor to approach the buyer's solicitor in order to resolve the matter.

Again assume error in the first instance rather than the idea that the vendor is going back on an agreement.

True Story - Carpets and Curtains at Duncan Terrace
A buyer agreed to pay £1.325m for a town house in Islington and the vendors solicitor immediately sent across a complete pack containing all the required paperwork. In among this was a fixtures and fittings list which laid out the extra price required for the purchase of the curtains and the carpets. The buyers were angry that the vendors had even suggested they pay an extra £2,000 for these items considering the price being paid for the property. The vendors, on the other hand, had always had to pay extra for carpets and curtains in every purchase they had ever made.

The vendors approached the Estate Agent for advice and were surprised to find that they had had unusual experiences in all their previous transactions and that paying extra for carpets and curtains was actually not the norm for most transactions. They were however reasonable people and, understanding that their past was unusual, agreed to leave carpets and curtains at no extra cost. In order to mend any hard feelings, they also threw in the washing machine and fridge.

Planning Permission

Your solicitor may start asking for confirmation of planning permission if:
  • The local search suggests planning permission was applied for
  • The outline of the property does not match the outline on the title deeds
  • There is something in the general paperwork that suggests work has been carried out (e.g. a builders guarantee).

Waiting for the vendor's solicitor to write to the council, and for the council to actually get round to replying, can take forever and a day. To get round the problem almost all councils have walk in centres where any member of the public can look up planning applications and see if they were successful or not. Some can even be accessed over the internet.

Assume the vendor does not know this, most people don't, and if there is a planning query take a couple of hours off work to get down there and sort it out. What might take weeks can be resolved in an afternoon!

Building Regulation Approval

Unfortunately unlike planning applications, it is not possible to quickly resolve building regulation queries. If however, from the planning application date you can ascertain that the work was carried out before the mid 1980s there is a very good chance building regulation approval did not exist.

Again it is perfectly possible that your solicitor will start looking for something that does not exist. In this case call the local Building Control office and check when their inspections began. If it was after the date of your query, let your solicitor know and ask them to get on with other more important enquiries.

It is also possible, for a small fee, to get the Building Control Approval certificate yourself direct from the local council. It will be much, much quicker than waiting for your solicitor to write to the other solicitor, and the other solicitor to write to the Building Control Office in question. The fee can be around £30 which in the great scheme of things is not worth getting hot under the collar about.

Guarantees

The vendor may have been very keen to tell you about works he had carried out while he lived at the property but the actual paperwork relating to this may well be missing or lost or the company that carried out the work has gone out of business. In the search to clarify guarantees it is often worth having a bash at calling up the company in question, you have nothing to loose and generally they are pretty helpful.

By making the approach direct you will be able to find out if the company in question is still in business. If not you can immediately organise quotes to ensure something you relied on in your offer, say the damp proofing, is not going to become an unaffordable expense.

Service Charge and Ground Rent

Managing agents come in all shapes and sizes from large companies to individuals who buy up freeholds. They can be helpful or down right awkward. If there seem to be delays in getting the information your solicitor needs, ask for the contact details and chase them yourself. If you, the vendor, and both the solicitors are chasing then the managing agents are more likely to respond quickly in order to get all four of you off their backs!

Deeds of Variation

A deed of variation is one of those little bits of paper that so easily goes missing or the kind of thing that a vendor thinks he did, after his purchase of the property, because he asked his solicitor to do it but in the bustle of a busy life forgot to follow up on and actually it never happened.

All being well when the vendor put his property on the market he will have asked his solicitor to double check all the paperwork is in order, but very rarely are things that perfect.

In other words expect some odd things that the vendor may have said were in order, turn out not to be. Again it is not often a lie, simply an oversight. As soon as you move in you will be so immediately preoccupied with paint colours, new kitchens and the like that calling your solicitor to discuss tidying up some outstanding paperwork will also be at the back of your mind, to say the least!

The Local Search

Every so often there is a forward thinking vendor out there or one who really has been well advised by the Estate Agent. He will understand why time costs deals and does not want things to drag on as much as you don't. So against the advice of almost everyone he will have applied for a local search when, or before, he put the property on the market.

If this has been returned by the local council, or is about to be returned, he may be able to sell it to you at cost and so save the weeks that it can take to apply for. It's always worth checking the situation with the vendor's solicitor, just in case, before applying for your own search.

The Survey

This is something only carried out by the really smart vendor but if there is one thing that can help with stress free selling it is to get a survey done on a property before selling.
  • In the case of a Leasehold or Share of Freehold property, a homebuyers survey
  • In the case of a Freehold property, a structural survey

The reason smart vendors do this is two fold:
  • They can address any problems which come up in the survey before the buyer does and tries to renegotiate the price
  • They can give a copy of the survey with receipts for any works subsequently done to your surveyor. He will hesitate before questioning and contradicting another surveyor.

This is especially useful with freehold properties where the surveyor may question how structurally sound the property is. In this instance if there is a problem the vendor can get the opinion of a structural engineer long before your surveyor even steps through the door. A structural engineer is more highly qualified than a surveyor in these matters so the green light here will most certainly not be questioned by your surveyor.

Even if the vendor decides not to go ahead with works that need done they often organise quotes so you are fully aware and objective when it comes to making an offer, and that offer is far more likely to make it through to exchange.

In a handful of cases the surveyor the vendor chooses may be acceptable to the your lender, in which case you could consider buying it from the vendor and saving yourself some time.

Summary


There are very, very few vendors who really think through or prepare for their sale. Most will simply invite a few estate agents around and then put their property on the market.

This chapter may have sounded a little strange and you might question why should you do all the work? The answer is simply that it will reduce the time-scales of the purchase and so the risk of it all falling through (as covered in the chapter Time Costs Deals.

Assume the vendor is naive, uninformed, ignorant and disorganised. From this standpoint everything that happens correctly after that is a bonus!
Author of How to Really Buy a Property

I'm Tim Hill, Author of How to Really Buy a Property. I'm a property buyer, seller, landlord, tenant and I've been an agent in hundreds of transactions. I own a property portfolio across Europe but that doesn't mean I think you should to!

This book is my collective knowledge and experience that I have gained working within the property market of England and Wales for over a decade. I've written it so that you can benefit from what I have learnt whether you are a first time buyer or a budding buy-to-let investor.

There are no gimmicks here and no get rich quick schemes - just practical no nonsense advice so you can buy the property you want at the best price with the least stress.

Download the Free Preview copy right now. I won't be asking for your email so I can bombard your inbox with 'special offers' and 'discounts' because I know most people who read the Free Preview buy the full copy. See for yourself!