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Buyers Guide

The estate agent

Estate agents arrange the sale of property. They advise on price, negotiate between sellers and buyers and handle advertising.

Many offer additional services such as arranging mortgages, surveys and conveyancing. Remember, you don't have to use any of these services to purchase the property.

Using an estate agent can be a complicated business, so it makes sense to know your rights, the pitfalls and how to get problems sorted out.

In Scotland, both estate agents and solicitors help potential buyers find property and negotiate the sale.

Estate agents provide advice and property details to buyers.

Personal interest

Remember that estate agents may be in a position to benefit personally from the sale of a property. You must be told promptly, and in writing, if your estate agent, or a relative or business partner of the estate agent, owns the property you want to buy.

Property particulars and viewing

The estate agent can provide a written description of the property (known as property particulars). This will give you an idea of what a property is like. It is against the law for an estate agent to make false or misleading statements about a property. If the particulars say the property has double-glazing and loft insulation, it should have these features.

If there are terms in property particulars you do not understand, ask for an explanation.

If you think you might be interested in buying a property, the next stage is to go and see it. The estate agent cannot charge you for arranging a viewing or showing you round the property.

Making an offer

Estate agents must treat all buyers fairly. For example, you should not be treated differently because you do not arrange a mortgage through the estate agent.

With the valuation and survey done and your mortgage arranged, if you want to go ahead and buy the property, ask your legal adviser to prepare a formal written offer. This must include the price you want to pay and when you want to take ownership of the property.

Often the seller will respond with a qualified acceptance, agreeing to some terms in your offer but not all of them. You and the seller can negotiate, but once the missives are concluded, there is a binding contract.

It is not always the highest offer which wins. The seller may, for example, sell to the person who can proceed with the sale most quickly.

If your offer is accepted, the seller's legal adviser will send a letter to you confirming the details.

Mortgages

Find out how much you can borrow before spending time looking at places you can’t afford. A price ceiling will concentrate the mind on what is realistically available. Lender’s or mortgage advisers can give you a certificate to say you have a mortgage agreed in principle, which should give you a head start when putting in offers.

There are a number of ways to find a mortgage. Shop around, for example, at banks and building societies. Or go to an independent financial adviser who will be able to tell you what's available from the whole of the market.

A mortgage is a large, long-term debt. You could lose your home if you can't keep up the repayments.

Think carefully before taking on a mortgage and ensure you obtain professional advice.

Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage.

Surveys and valuations

Since 2007 in Scotland all properties marketed For Sale are required to have a Home Report carried.

The full Home Report includes the following 4 sections: Survey, Energy Performance Certificate, Mortgage Valuation and Property Questionnaire.

Before giving you a mortgage, any lender will require to see the survey and valuation of the property to ensure it meets there criteria for lending purposes. The Home Report is suitable for this purpose, however, must have been dated within the last 3 months. If the report is older than this, then normally, your solicitor or the estate agent, will ask the vendor to arrange an up-to-date replacement.

Legal advice

You can do the legal side of buying a property yourself. There are books on do-it-yourself conveyancing in your local library. But unless you are really confident you know what you are doing, it is best to leave this to the professionals.

Legal advisers know the problems that can arise, can ask the right questions and are insured against making mistakes.

Fees vary and it pays to shop around. The estate agent may be able to recommend a legal adviser.

Do not use the same legal adviser as the seller.