The stakes are high, both emotionally and financially, so when things go wrong it can test the resolve of even the calmest of people, and the strongest relationships.
Below are some of the most common property nightmares that can lead to delays, fall-throughs and a lot of tears for those involved:
1. You can't get the mortgage you need!
This frequently happens when buyers have an unrealistic notion of the amount that a lender will be prepared to offer them. Use online calculators as a very rough gauge, but don't rely on them, as they reflect the absolute maximum a lender might offer. In reality, lenders look closely at your incomings, outgoings, and credit history to tailor an offer to your circumstances – which could be lower than you expect.
Adrian Anderson, director of mortgage broker Anderson Harris, says: "A rejected mortgage application is most people's idea of a nightmare and if it happens late in the day, it can really scupper your plans. Speak to an independent mortgage broker, ideally at the start of the process, particularly if you have unusual or complex circumstances, as they will be able to point you in the direction of a lender likely to be sympathetic."
Even if the mortgage lender agrees to lend what you need, this will be subject to valuation. But valuers are extremely cautious in the current climate, and often downvalue a property compared to the agreed asking price. This reduces what the lender is happy to offer, which in turn affects what the buyer can pay. The whole deal can fall apart.
However, sometimes it can be salvaged as Tim Gray, spokesperson for West Hampstead based estate agency Paramount Properties, explains: "We recently had a property downvalued by £25,000. We spent a couple of days providing the surveyor with details of other properties we had sold to show him he had made a mistake. He altered his price upwards which allowed the purchaser to buy and the seller got the agreed price."
3. The house is falling down!
Your survey may highlight issues that throw an enormous spanner in the works. These can range from ongoing structural movement to major damp problems or faulty electrics. Further investigations are often called for, at even more expense, and the buyer will almost certainly expect some money off the agreed price. In the worst instances they may simply walk away.
4. Unauthorised works
This is when you find out that the useful loft conversion you intended to be your home office, wasn't actually undertaken through buildings regulation control and the seller doesn't have the necessary documents. This is extremely common and can often be sorted by an insurance policy to cover you against the tiny risk of your council ordering you to undo the unauthorised work.
They are fairly cheap – about £100 – and help to smooth the way in many a homesale (though importantly they don't cover the risk of the work being faulty – get your surveyor to check it).
5. Legal nasties
Your solicitor might uncover a complex problem that is difficult to resolve. This could be an old covenant dictating what you can do to the property, or an issue about rights of way, which can cause massive delays or cause the sale to fall through. While it might feel like your conveyancer is holding up proceedings, remember they are simply being thorough, which is definitely in your best interests.
6. Your buyer gets cold feet
This is one of the most stressful situations and, unfortunately, it happens a lot. You are almost ready to exchange contracts and your buyer gets cold feet and pulls out. There are lots of different reasons this could happen, with redundancy currently causing many buyers to panic about the affordability of their new home.
"This is a nightmare situation and causes huge amounts of stress and concern to all parties involved," says Robert Lazarus of Paramount Properties. "In these situations we often remarket properties with open days to get 20+ new buyers into the flat in one day, so as little time is lost as possible for everybody in the chain."
7. You discover the property is uninsurable
There are many reasons a home could be difficult to insure, and properties at risk of flooding come high up the list. This can be frustrating when the property falls into a flood risk postcode, without actually being at risk – for example it's at the top of the hill. Also some properties built from unusual materials may also be difficult to insure, such as pre-fabricated houses. But shop around – there are plenty of specialist insurers that cover properties the traditional firms may shy away from.
8. You're gazundered at the 11th hour
It's the phonecall every seller dreads. Your buyer is gazundering you. This means they have reduced their offer at the 11th hour. It's a cynical move because you may be forced to accept the reduced price if only to stop the sale falling through. They could be calling your bluff, but can you risk it, because if the chain falls apart you not only lose your buyer but possibly the home you were moving into?
9. You may be getting the neighbours from hell
When you buy a home your seller needs to disclose any disputes with their neighbours, and you can later sue them if you can prove they specifically lied about this.
But if they do admit a neighbour dispute, over noise or a boundary issue for example, it might seriously put you off buying the property. It's important to find out as much information as possible. Is it simply a clash of personalities, or could you be buying into an ongoing problem that is going to cause you a major headache?
10. The removals firm doesn't show
You are virtually there. You've exchanged contracts and it's completion day. But what if your removals firm doesn't show? It could spell disaster.
Mark Prout, managing director of removals firm Aussie Man & Van, says plan ahead to minimise any potential problems: "Try not to move on a Friday if you can. This is the busiest day of the week for completions, making it harder to book a removals firm (or get another one to move you at short notice if your original one hasn't shown up). What's more, nothing happens over the weekend so if there is a problem it might not be until Monday that the problem can be sorted, leaving you stuck in a hotel or staying with friends and family.
"Also, choose a removals firm that comes recommended and has a good reputation.'
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