Your home will be the most valuable thing you ever buy or sell, so you can feel under enormous pressure to get everything right. However, few of us have the time or inclination to swot up to become experts in the process, so to save you the sleepless nights, our property expert Sarah Coles has tackled ten of your hand picked property questions.
Q. We can’t decide on a property. What's the most important thing to look for when searching for potential properties? Clare Saunders
A. It’s always worth bearing in mind that there’s not one perfect property out there for you. There are plenty of people who have been hunting for years in the desperate hope that perfection is just around the corner. Every property involves compromise, so the art is making sure you make the right compromises for you. The best way to do that is by following a four-step process:
1) Work out your priorities.
You need to decide what’s most important, the size of the property, the style, the state of it, or the location. We all want everything, but when push comes to shove you need to be able to prioritise.
2) Find your area.
You need to narrow it down based on everything from the commute to schools and amenities.
3) Establish what your budget will buy in that area.
You might find you can afford, for example, a 2-bed in good condition, a 3-bed in bad condition, or a 4-bed that’s ugly, in bad condition, and further from the station.
This is where you’ll be glad you prioritised. If you can’t get what you want in your ideal area and you are flexible about where you live, look at less popular areas nearby or other areas that meet the same criteria. If location is everything and you want something in good condition, you may need to compromise on size; and if location is vital and the number of bedrooms is also key - consider properties that need work.
Q. What should be my first priority when I move in? Rita Bevan
A. Safety is always the first priority, so if anything worrying emerged in the survey - from electrics to roof supports and home security, it’s essential to get those sorted first. Assuming the property is safe to live in, your next step is to make it bearable. This may mean a coat of paint or two, or replacing smelly carpets.
The third step is to wait. You need to see how you use the property, before you make any drastic changes. You may, for example, have made assumptions about the types of spaces you need, and then discover that what’s in the house already suits you better. The other advantage of giving yourself a bit of breathing space is that it will allow you to adjust to your new monthly outgoings, and reduce the risk of spending money you cannot afford on home renovation.
Q. What upgrades most improve a homes value? James Mulrennan
A. An HSBC study recently found that adding space is by far the best way to add value. It suggested converting the loft could be the most rewarding, followed by building an extension and then adding a conservatory.
The right solution for your property, however, will depend on the layout, and the type of space you need to add - as well as your budget. An extra bedroom, for example, may make more sense in the loft, while a kitchen extension could meet your needs for a huge open-plan kitchen.
After that, fixing problems is always the best approach. If you don’t have central heating, then adding it will vastly improve the property. Likewise, revamping tired kitchens and bathrooms can add value - as long as you don’t spend so much on them that you wipe out any gains.
Finally, improving the energy efficiency will boost the energy performance certificate when you come to sell - and save money on heating bills while you’re there. You need to identify your biggest problems, whether that’s draughty windows or a poorly insulated loft.
Q.Which is best to increase space, garage conversion or buying a conservatory? Jacqui Osborne
A. There’s no hard and fast rule on this one, so you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions...
1)What kind of space are you after? If you are hankering for a sunny sitting room then the conservatory makes sense, whereas a study, playroom, extra bedroom or kitchen may work better when converted from a garage.
2)How vital is the garage to you (and to the kind of people who are likely to buy your home)
3)Is your home particularly suited to either? Do you have the space in the garden? Would the garage make an attractive living space?
4)Is this a quick fix to increase the value of your property (in which case smaller conservatories are the easiest change), or are you looking to change the way you live?
5) Do you have the budget for a pricey garage conversion?
Q. Will a loft conversion add enough value to the property to make it worth doing Robert MacVicar
A. The answer depends enormously on house prices in your area. It’s worth having a look at the difference an extra bedroom makes locally. One option is to look for similar properties, which have already done the work, and check what they were sold for - all the information is available online.
Your next step should be to get a quote, because the cost of a loft conversion depends to a great extent on the work involved. If you need new dormer windows, or the floor needs to be lowered, or the stairs moved, you are eating into any potential profit. As a very rough rule of thumb, a loft conversion can add 10% to the value of your home, and can cost as little as £20,000 - so if your home is worth over £200,000 you could add value. However, this will depend entirely on the specific project, so you’ll need to price it up for your property to make sure.
Q. How can I tart my house up to put it on the market without spending too much money or making too much mess? Alix Johnson
Your priority should be to fix serious problems, rather than try to upscale your house. Fixing things like damp, replacing horrible bathroom fixtures with cheap white ones, and painting over tired and marked walls are all worth considering.
By contrast, it’s not worth installing a high-end kitchen, or embarking on an expensive makeover, because it’s unlikely you’ll make your money back, and there’s no guarantee you’ll have the same taste as potential buyers.
Before you go anywhere near a paintbrush, you can make an enormous difference by decluttering and giving your home a deep clean.
Q. Should I replace the boiler, and what should I consider? Jane Marshall
A. There are a few signs that your boiler is ready to be replaced. If it’s no longer cost-efficient to repair, if it gives you very little control over timings and temperatures, and if it is G-rated, then it’s likely to be time to bite the bullet.
If you’re ready to invest, start with the fuel. The vast majority of systems use gas, but if you are not on the network, there are alternatives from oil to a wood-burning stove with a back boiler. Next, consider if you want a combination boiler (which heats water on demand as well as running the central heating) or just one for the heating (which may suit you better if you have a very large household).
With the big decisions made, it’s often a question of weighing up cost against efficiency. It’s worth going for the most efficient boiler you can afford, as this will save you more over the long term. Finally, pay attention how much control you have over heating timings and temperature, as the more control you have, the less you are likely to waste.
Q. How much is my home worth? The agents can’t seem to agree Tony Caldwell
The agents are your local experts, but they can’t help being influenced by other things. Some may be tempted to inflate the price to win your business, or to increase their commission. Some may be more modest because they want to sell it fast, and know it will be easier in a lower price bracket. It therefore pays to do your own research.
All the online agents now have tools - powered by information from the Land Registry - which will assess what your property has sold for in the past and using local price trends will estimate what it may be worth now. You can use that information, alongside selling prices of similar properties, to get a more independent view of the value of your home.
Q. I’m having lots of viewings, but my home isn’t selling. What’s going wrong? Sue Wright
A. If you are doing the viewings yourself, think about what you are saying to people. Are you pointing out the property’s flaws? Are you telling them you are moving because it’s too small or the schools are poor? Are you sufficiently positive? You could arrange to show the estate agent around, and get their feedback - or you could hand over the viewings to the agent.
If the agent is doing the viewings, get in touch and ask for their honest feedback as to how buyers are reacting to the property. Are they finding it difficult to get around? Are they worried about the damp patch in the spare room, or the state of the garden? If you get decent feedback, you can take steps to remedy any issues - sorting the damp, clearing the clutter and weeding.
If the problem is one of people’s expectations, then you may have inadvertently put yourself in the wrong price bracket, so it doesn’t compare well with similarly priced properties locally. Have a look on the market yourself, so you can be comfortable you have priced it properly.
Q. I need to sell quickly, should I use a quick sale company? Mary Collins
A. A quick house sale company will offer to either buy your property or find you a buyer very quickly - often within a month or a few weeks - and pay cash. It can be very tempting for anyone who is trying to dispose of inherited property, clear debts, or move on after divorce.
However, you will have to accept a very reduced price. In some cases, the company will tell you that a property is worth less than it is - and then offer you a proportion of this lower price. It means you may be offered as little as three quarters of the true value of your home. The fee structures are not always clear, and some companies will make an initial offer and then reduce it at the last minute - leaving you in a hole.
Before opting for this sort of approach, it’s worth talking to an estate agent, and asking them to sell it at a 10%-20% discount - on the condition that the process is completed quickly.
Alternatively, you can go back to your reason for selling. If, for example, you are behind on mortgage payments, you can call your mortgage lender, explain you are selling up, and buy yourself a bit more time. Likewise, you can weigh up whether the importance of settling an estate or moving on from divorce a bit faster is worth tens of thousands of pounds to you.