Buying a Flat in London

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Buying a flat in London, England

Buying a Flat in London, England

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.

There have been many fluctuations in the property market in the UK recently and generally property prices are continuing to rise despite concerns about the state of the UK economy.

The exception when it comes to property in the UK is London, which has always been the most expensive city in the country and where property prices continue to rise year after year.

Photo of flats for sale in London
Although there are many flats for sale in London it is important to research different areas property and compare property prices. Photo © Stephen Craven (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The London Property Market

For anyone who does not currently live in the UK capital, prices within the property market in London can seem excessive and, as some would argue, out of reach for most people with normal salaries.

Gone are the days of being able to buy cheap houses in London and due to the high demand for property in the city, prices rise quickly, making it more difficult each year to get on the property ladder.

In addition, London is an international city and draws buyers from all over the world, which pushes property prices even higher and makes it more difficult for buyers from elsewhere in the UK when it comes to buying a flat in London.

The demand for property in London is very good for those who wish to sell their house quickly, but not so good for anyone looking to move to the city.

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Flats for sale in the East End of London
The East End of London is proving increasingly popular with people wishing to buy a flat in London due to lower prices than many other areas. Photo © Malc McDonald (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Research Buying A Flat In London First

Exploration of the capital is the only way to find a London neighbourhood which you like and is affordable when it comes to buying a property. Prices of flats in London can vary hugely from one area to another, so it is important to do your research property before you narrow down your property choices.

Assuming you stay away from expensive areas of the city, keep in mind that any part of London which has a direct transport link into the city, such as a tube station or an overland train station, is also likely to have higher property prices.

Try to be as flexible as possible when it comes to commuting. For example, if you are prepared to walk for 20 minutes to get to a tube or railway station, this will greatly increase the size of outlying areas to consider when buying a flat in London. Many buyers wish to be 5 or 10 minutes from a transport hub, so this is a valuable tip when you are searching for a property.

Photo of modern flats in London
Buying a flat in London within a close distance of a tube or train station is likely to be more expensive. Photo © Stephen McKay (cc-by-sa/2.0)

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How To Save Money Buying A Flat In London

There are a number of ways you can save money when buying a flat in London. Given the high property prices, some methods of reducing the price of the property are well worth investigating.

Property Auctions in London

Attending a property auction in London is a great way to acquire a property for under market value, but care needs to be taken. Sometimes when there are a lot of bidders at the property auction the price can exceed what the property is actually worth.

A good method is to attend a number of live property auctions around London, not only to get an idea of prices and how the property auction works, but how the prices of properties in London vary depending on the area you are interested in.

You can also enquire about unsold auction property opportunities with the auction house in London. Sometimes flats fail to sell for various reasons and viewing unsold auction lots can prove to be a good opportunity depending on the circumstances.

Consider Renovating A Property

A really good method of buying a flat in London for less than market value is to consider buying a property to renovate. if you are not afraid to either do the work yourself or manage the project with builders doing the renovations, buying a property which needs upgrading is a very good way to save a lot of money.

If you are attending a property auction you will often see properties which require renovation for sale by auction. Again, this is a good way of saving money but be sure to conduct any required surveys to check for structural problems such as a damp survey and use the services of a professional property surveyor.

Photo of renovated flats in London
Buying a flat in London which requires renovation is a very good way to save a lot of money and end up with a beautiful apartment. Photo © Robin Webster (cc-by-sa/2.0)

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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.

Photo of converted flats in London
many flats in London are converted houses or, in the case above, a former pub which was renovated into flats and apartments. Photo © Malc McDonald (cc-by-sa/2.0)

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 home-buyer 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.
Photo of a block of flats in London
There are a number of government schemes which may help you when buying a flat in London. Photo © Richard Croft (cc-by-sa/2.0)

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 London property 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 sold 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 when buying a flat in London. Once contracts have been exchanged, you are ready to start your new life as the proud owner of a London flat or apartment.

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