Five Common Problems with the House Buying Process and How to Mitigate Them

By James Brook FRICS on and updated on

When asked to estimate how long it generally takes to buy a house in England, a figure of 12 weeks is often cited. However, the truth is that in many cases, issues can arise that can delay the process. From securing a mortgage to conveyancing and navigating an often delicately balanced chain, the house buying process in England is one that often throws up pitfalls and challenges. There are ways to increase your chances of reaching a positive conclusion more quickly, however.

1. The Mortgage

Before you even start looking at properties, make sure you’ve spoken to a lender, and you have a mortgage agreement in principle in place. This way, you’ll only be able to offer what you know you can afford, reducing the chance of over committing and having to pull out of the deal at a later date.

The mortgage application process can take a few weeks as it involves supplying evidence of your incomings and outgoings, performing credit checks and the like. By doing this early, you’ll not only show sellers that you’re serious, but you’ll also be able to move quickly when you find your perfect home. Once you’ve had an offer agreed on a property, you should be able to quickly complete the mortgage application and be ready to proceed. Be aware, though, that offers only last for a set time – usually three to six months – so if your search takes longer, make sure you refresh the offer if needed.

2. Survey Delays

Issues arising from a survey are a common cause of delays in the house buying process, especially if it uncovers areas of concern or if the valuation comes back lower than your offer.

While your lender will require a survey of the property to confirm the valuation and ensure it provides sufficient security for the loan, it’s also a good idea to arrange your own building survey or Homebuyers Report. This will ensure you have all the information you need on the state of the property and highlight any issues requiring further investigation. A full building survey may be necessary in some cases, such as for older properties, those that have undergone significant renovations or that are of non-traditional construction. A cheaper Homebuyers Report may well be sufficient for more modern, traditional properties that appear to be in good condition. Both options will likely also include a valuation. Remember, you can book your surveyor weeks in advance, so do it straight away, and you’ll keep the process moving.

If the survey does throw up any issues, don’t panic. It may be the case that this allows you to renegotiate the asking price, especially if the lender will no longer offer you the full amount. It’s better to take your time, listen to the expert advice and decide if the property is right for you now, rather than pulling out further down the line.

3. Conveyancing Concerns

It’s also a good idea to have a conveyancing solicitor ready to go as soon as your offer is accepted. Opting for a conveyancer who is on your lender’s approved panel can be a good choice as they’ll be familiar with the lender’s requirements and how they work. If you prefer to choose your solicitor, be sure to do your research and find someone who is experienced and has a good reputation; conveyancing delays are a major frustration for home buyers, so look for someone who is quick to respond to queries and can push the process forward even if it becomes complex. Your solicitor will carry out many conveyancing searches that need to be completed and approved before you complete the purchase. This covers everything from the risk of flooding, landslips and subsidence to the property to proposals for new developments and roads that could affect the building. The potential that something unexpected will crop up in these searches is relatively high, and the time it takes to complete the process can be significant. Again, hiring a thorough, proactive and experienced solicitor and who is ready to go as soon as the sale is agreed will help minimise delays.

4. Gazumping

If you’ve got this far in the process, the hope is it’ll be plain sailing from here. However, gazumping, whereby the seller accepts a higher offer after you’ve paid for searches, hired a solicitor and generally become invested in the property, is still a possibility. Remember, until contracts are exchanged, the house buying process isn’t legally binding.

There are a few ways to protect yourself from gazumping. The key is keeping the house buying process moving at an acceptable pace, so the seller doesn’t become frustrated. Also, requesting the property be removed from the market once the offer is accepted reduces the chances of it being seen by other interested parties. Building a good relationship with both the estate agent and the seller, keeping them informed of progress and setting realistic timeframes will result in a more amicable process and make it less likely the seller will entertain other offers.

5. Chain complexities

Communication is also crucial when it comes to managing the house buying chain. Long chains and the potential for them to break are among the biggest reasons for delays in the house buying process. These can be caused by several reasons. If, for example, one seller in the chain hasn’t yet found a property, they may be slower to respond to requests to return paperwork. Waiting on searches to be completed and addressing any issues they uncover can also be a factor, as can simple things such as one party being difficult to contact. Keeping lines of communication open is, therefore, essential. So, if you are going to be on holiday or uncontactable at any time, make sure your solicitor is aware so that they can plan around it. Return any documents requested in good time and keep in regular contact with the estate agent as they’ll be able to speak to other agents in the chain, putting them in a better position to advise on accurate timescales for completion. Also, agree a completion date as soon as possible, so everyone is clear what date they’re working towards.

Sadly, if someone in the chain pulls out, there may be little you can do to stop it from breaking, so it may be a case of remaining flexible while new buyers are sought. However, if your finances are in place, you’re organised and informed, you can at least be sure that your section of the chain should remain intact.

House buying can be a complex process, but there are experts out there ready to help. From estate agents and lenders to surveyors and solicitors, getting the right advice and speaking to those who truly understand the process can make it much less daunting and give you a greater chance of home buying success.

Novello Chartered Surveyors has a decade of experience surveying and valuing homes in London and the South East. Contact us today to find out how we can help you navigate the home buying process.

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