Buying a Flat in London

Buying a flat in London, England

Buying a Flat in London

Whether you are looking to relocate to the UK capital or are interested in a property investment, buying a flat in London is a popular choice. Other people see buying a flat as a more affordable step on the property ladder until they have the equity and savings to buy a house. Whatever your reasons, our article takes you through every step of the property purchase from where to live to government-backed initiatives to help you realise your dream. We give you valuable advice and point out any pitfalls you should be aware of.

Where to live in London

Despite those never-ending arguments about the respective merits of North London vs. South London, there is no answer to the question about the best place to live in the UK’s capital. Your choice will of course be affected by your family circumstances and personal preferences, but your main criteria will be affordability. Everyone would like to live in a spacious loft apartment in Chelsea, but how many of us can afford the million-pound asking price?

When deciding where you want to live in London, you must be realistic. Certain sought-after areas will be out of your reach financially, so you need to explore the city to see which neighbourhoods appeal to you.

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Exploration of the capital is the only way to find a London neighbourhood which you like and is affordable. You might know the most well-known areas but there are probably neighbourhoods which you are unfamiliar with or others which you have never heard of.

Although going by car saves time, the only way that you can get a ‘feel’ for a neighbourhood is to explore it on foot. You can see the amenities up close and get an idea of how easy or safe it is to travel in and to the area. From these visits, you will be able to narrow down your choices.

Concentrate on areas which are close to sought-after neighbourhoods but whose addresses do not carry the same cache. Sometimes a one-digit change in the postcode can knock thousands off the flat’s purchase price.

It is also worth finding out about any property regeneration or gentrification projects in the pipeline. You will therefore be able to buy a flat just before property prices skyrocket.

Depending on where you work, it might be a good idea to check the time it would take you to commute from the neighbourhoods you are keen on. Do this journey twice – once in the morning and again in the afternoon rush hour. Often estate agents or vendors make claims about travelling times which bear no relation to what the city rush hour is like.

Flats in London FAQ

Where can I find London flats for sale?

Online and local estate agents, property portals, social media and the classified section of the local/national press are all good places to look if you are interested in buying a flat in London. Auction houses also market a number of London apartments.

How much does a flat in London cost?

£260,000-£700,000 although the average price for a flat in London is £532,000. The price you pay depends on a number of factors such as the size of the property (in footage and in number of bedrooms), its location, its age/condition and the proximity of desirable amenities such as transport links. It has been estimated that a Tube station within 500m can add up to £26,000 to the value of a property.

How much are service charges for London flats?

Annual service charges start at £100 but could reach thousands of pounds depending on the location and type of property. You should always ask if the building committee has any reserve funds. If it does not, then any major structural repairs such as a new roof are shared between the flats’ owners. This could cost you thousands of pounds extra.

What types of flats are available in London?

The vast majority of properties in Central London are flats with houses concentrated in the suburbs. These flats range in size from spacious 4- or 5-bedroom flats which take up the whole floor to studio apartments or bedsits. Although there are some purpose-built flats, most London flats are former townhouses or detached homes which have been later converted into flats.

When considering flats in London, always consider the property specifications. Apart from the age and condition of the building itself, look at the way that conversions have been carried out. For example, have the divisions been well soundproofed?

After exploring London’s boroughs and researching the types of flats on offer, you need to draw up a shortlist of your ideal London flat. These aspects of the property (such as the minimum number of bedrooms) and nearby facilities should then be divided into ‘must-haves’ and ‘could-haves’. This form of compromise is the only way to find property in a city like London.

London leasehold flats and service charges

Apart from the property itself and its location, another factor to consider when buying a flat in London is the possibility of additional fees as a flat owner. Many flats in the city are still leasehold which means that you must pay an annual ground rent to the leaseholder. Before buying a leasehold property, you should check how many years are left on the lease. If it is under 70 years, you will probably not be able to get a mortgage on the property.

As well as this annual fee, you might also have to pay monthly or annual service charges. This would cover your contribution towards the building insurance and money for the maintenance of communal areas such as the entrance hall, staircases, roof and garden.

Before buying a leasehold flat in London, you should ask how much these services charges are because they will add to your annual or monthly expenditure.

Government schemes to help buy a flat in London

If you are struggling financially to afford to buy a flat in London, there are some schemes which could help you. Their provision varies on the area you are interested in. Before applying, always check their eligibility criteria regarding income and personal circumstances.

  • Shared property ownership schemes allow you to buy a share of a flat and pay rent on the rest. Some housing associations also offer ‘staircasing’, which allows you to increase your equity in the flat in the future.
  • The Rent to Buy scheme helps any homebuyer who is finding it difficult to raise money for a mortgage deposit. There is a 20% discount on rent for up to 5 years so tenants can save money.
  • The London Help to Buy Scheme offers the opportunity of an interest-free equity loan for 5 years of up to 40% for properties purchases worth £600,000 or under. This is available for any new build property in the Greater London area.

3 tips to ensure your London flat-hunting is successful

1. After registering interest with local estate agents or online property portals, always sign up for their property alerts. They will then let you know by SMS or email when a property matching your specifications comes on the market.

2. Don’t wait until the weekend to view a property as it might have been sold by then. Arrange your viewings for your lunchtimes or after you finish work, so you can beat the competition.

3. Always apply for a MIP (mortgage in principle) before viewing property. This shows you are a serious buyer.

Finalising the purchase of your London flat

Once you have found a London flat to match your personal preferences, it is worth haggling on the asking price. The Land Registry is a valuable source of what similar properties in the area have gone for recently. If your finances are in order, the vendor might be prepared to drop their asking price.

Subject to the mortgage lender’s evaluation and the survey, conveyancing takes an average of 12 weeks. Once contracts have been exchanged, you are ready to start your new life as the proud owner of a London flat.

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