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First-time buyers

Judging by the headlines, you could be forgiven for thinking it's all doom and gloom for today's first-time buyers. But there are ways to make it more affordable, such as buying with a partner or friends.

The obvious advantage of buying with someone else is that it allows you to buy a bigger and possibly better home in the area of your choice. However, it's always advisable to rent together first for at least six months first; if there are too many disagreements, it's much easier to walk away from a tenancy agreement than a joint mortgage.

No matter how well you get on with your co-owner, there are risks to be considered. If one of you can't meet your obligations, it will fall upon the other(s) to make up the balance of mortgage payments. You must also consider what you'd do if either of you couldn't work due to illness, lost their job, wanted to move out, or died.

You should seriously consider taking out private health insurance or critical illness cover. It is also worth drawing up a legal contract to cover any eventuality.

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

Viewing properties

It's important that the estate agents regard you as a serious applicant. Show willing and be eager to view, and you'll be top of the list when something new comes on the books. Call them regularly - they'll think of you first when a property comes on the market.

Many estate agencies now have their own websites, where you can browse available properties. Be aware, however, that many don't update their sites as often as their shop windows.

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 the house. 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 and you have children, decide which one of you will be the chief viewer, whose job it is to 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 cheap - 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 in (see Gazumping, below).

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.

Chains

Most house are sold as links in a chain but, unfortunately, 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 is proposing a 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.

The best way to ensure a chain progresses smoothly is through good communication. Stay in regular contact with your solicitor 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

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 the property be removed from the market.
  • 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.