Property: Sensible advice for vendors: slow down, you move too fast

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Indy Lifestyle Online
While you are making New Year resolutions, sorting out your accommodation needs over the coming 12 months makes eminent sense. Penny Jackson offers a few tips of her own.

If neighbours' all-night parties over the holiday have proved the final push towards a move, then there is not much point in hanging about. To be somewhere new by this time next year, is as good a resolution as any. As more housing stock comes on to the market, buyers are no longer going to be rushed for fear of finding themselves without a home of their own when the music stops.

As is clear from the last quarter of the year prices, in London certainly, had slowed and over-valued houses were being reduced. All the more reason to choose a selling agent carefully. Those who come up with optimistically high figures should be asked how many houses or flats they have sold in the area at that price and to produce the evidence.

Pretend to be a buyer and find out whether the story is the same from the other side of the fence. Invite a few local agents to view your home so you can make comparisons, not just on the matters of commission and marketing, but to see whether they have a feel for the strengths of the property. Remember, if they don't impress you, they are not likely to impress buyers either.

If you have confidence in your home and you want to save some 2 per cent of the sale price, why not try selling it privately. Estate agents will point out the pitfalls, such as you will not get as much since you may be ignorant of the demand, the problems with buyers reneging on agreements and so on.

But plenty of people have a go. Quite a number fall back on agents in desperation but those who have advertised effectively, weeded out the no-hopers, built up a good rapport with the buyer and seen the sale through smoothly wouldn't do it any other way. Once you have decided to put your home on the market, take a critical look at it and list the things that make it look weary and down at heel. Clean windows, a fresh coat of neutral coloured paint and a smartening up of any front garden (much neglected in agents' views) all help with first impressions. A small investment of time and money can pay much larger dividends.

This is a good time to take stock of your home loan, whether you are moving or staying put. Anyone sitting on a mortgage with a standard variable rate without penalties attached should look at the fixed rate market since there are still some excellent offers around - mainly because this market has not reacted to recent variable rate increases.

Ian Darby of John Charcol, the UK's largest mortgage broker, sees the supply of mortgage money continuing to outstrip demand in 1998, which is good for homeowners. But beware of redemption penalties. If a discounted rate for two years is followed by three locked into a variable rate, you could end up regretting it. And anyone with spare cash should consider paying off all or part of a loan.

As we enter the most expensive quarter for fuel bills, this is the moment to track down the source of those draughts. If you have insulated your roof, lagged the pipes, draught-proofed the windows and doors and still the bills are huge it may be a simple matter of getting your boiler serviced and learning about the heating controls.

Apparently the extremes of temperature that many homes lurch between are not only costly, but will not prevent burst pipes if the heating happens to be off during an icy spell. And if anyone with an old house is thinking of having secondary glazing installed, the payback period on heating bills could take anything from 20 to 60 years, according to English Heritage. Only 20 per cent of heat is lost through windows and sash windows can be effectively draught-proofed and still look good.

Could this be the year not to move, but to improve and stay put? Since clearly far fewer numbers of people have the appetite for unnecessary moves they must have been carving the space from somewhere. Roof space is an obvious winner, and a good loft conversion can double the living area.

Specialist companies, well recommended, are cheaper than employing your own architect, structural engineer and builder. Even if planning permission is not necessary, an application under building regulations must be lodged with the local authority. An unauthorised cowboy job is not only dangerous, but can cause enormous trouble when the house eventually comes to be sold.

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