HOME TRUTHS

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I WANT TO GO IT ALONE

I am looking to move home but I am seriously thinking about saving money by not using an estate agent. What are the pitfalls if I take this course of action?

C Alker

Aylesbury, Bucks

l This would be a brave decision, not least because moving home is widely recognised as one of the most stressful experiences in life - reducing the amount of support is only likely to add to the stress.

A private advertisement will not necessarily be cheaper than paying an estate agent's fees because you run the risk of selling yourself short. Estate agents base their valuations on evidence of sales of comparable properties. This information is unlikely to be available to you. While you can find out about asking prices from agents' windows or the local paper, you will not know exactly how your property compares internally, for example, or what the final agreed sale price is. Your own valuation may be too high - resulting in your property being on the market for a long time - or too low - so you could lose thousands of pounds.

In addition, estate agents will have the necessary expertise - and a head start - in marketing. They will have a list of potential purchasers who are likely to be contacted even before the property is advertised. They will also know the form of marketing and areas in which to market your property to secure the best sale. Other advantages of using an estate agent include:

l Screening serious potential purchasers from time-wasters - many estate agents have financial advisers who can help buyers work out exactly what they can afford and if the agent is also selling the buyers' property he will know whether they buyers is in a position to move;

l Acting as a go-between for vendor and purchaser, especially when it comes to negotiating - something agents are trained to do - and co-ordinating a sale through all its various stages with lenders, other agents and solicitors;

l Providing additional security for the vendor by accompanying viewers.

FED UP WITH THE MOP

I am fed up with mopping up condensation. I think double glazing would help, but my husband thinks it would just divert the moisture elsewhere - such as into the walls. How do I convince my husband that double glazing is a good idea?

J Hill

Huddersfield

l Double glazing will help you to cut down condensation, but it will only provide part of the solution.

Condensation is caused by water vapour in the air, such as from a boiling pan or even from our own breath. Once the warm air in our homes can't absorb any more of this moisture, it condenses on cold surfaces like windows. The warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold. Double glazing helps. It traps a pocket of air between the two panes of glass, making the inner surface warmer in cold weather - this will usually mean that the air can hold a little more moisture before it's saturated but it is unlikely to cure condensation altogether.

It may seem a contradiction, but having made your home warmer with double glazing, you will still need to ventilate your property to let the moisture escape, which, of course, is tantamount to creating a draught!

Unless you provide adequate ventilation - and some double glazing comes with ventilators - you may remain liable to condensation. So shut the kitchen door while cooking, or bathroom door while having a bath, and ensure these rooms are ventilated or have extractor fans. Also keep your heating running through the night at a low level; if switched off altogether the cold surfaces will induce condensation.

A free leaflet on condensation is available from the Glass and Glazing Federation, 44-48 Borough High Street, London SE1 1XB.

FREEHOLD V LEASEHOLD

I am considering buying a freehold house with self-contained basement flat. Would it be easy to sell the flat as leasehold property at some future date? Or would this have an adverse effect on the value of the main residence?

E Molsom

Horncastle, Lincs

l This is not straightforward and depends very much on local market circumstances. You should seek advice at the outset to establish the benefits and implications of freehold versus leasehold - and, whichever route you choose, be prepared for a considerable amount of paperwork!

Taking an overall view of the market, it is likely to be advantageous to retain the freehold and let the flat as a private landlord. There is a strong demand for this type of property and if you let on an assured shorthold tenancy, drawn up by a reputable letting agent and checked by your solicitor or legal adviser, you can be confident of your rights regarding possession. Some lenders provide buyers with finance to purchase investment property for letting purposes, but check before you buy that your lender will allow this. You may have other outgoings which could include decoration, repairs, furniture and agent's fees - it depends on the type of letting you go for.

Making the flat leasehold will have the advantage of raising a capital sum and you may have somewhere better in mind to invest this. The leasehold route is likely to involve putting the freehold into separate ownership, then creating two leases. It would then be your choice in the future as to whether to sell the freehold with the house. Any agreement will need to include the repairing obligations.

As mentioned, get advice:

l Find out if two leasehold "flats" are likely to be worth any more than the single freehold property in the local area;

l Find out about what's involved in providing separate services - like water, gas and electricity;

l Find out about any building alterations required, like the removal of a connecting internal stairway. At the outset consult with your local estate agent, letting agent, solicitor, Land Registry and your local planning authority - make sure that planning consent exists for two occupations and check what works are needed (if any) for Building Regulation Approval.

If there is appropriate demand, leasehold could be a good idea. In contrast, by letting as a freeholder, you keep your options open to go leasehold at some future date.

Answers were supplied by a panel of experts at Woolwich Property Services and Ekins, the group's surveying services subsidiary. The panel is headed by Alan Oliver, managing director of Woolwich Property Services, and will answer published queries on buying and selling, valuations, surveys, and market factors such as price trends.

Send queries on financial, legal or practical property issues to The Property Editor, Home Truths, Spending, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (Fax: 0171 293 2043).

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