Pick your plot and watch it grow

Buying off-plan, before a brick is laid, has big benefits, reports Stella Bingham
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The Independent Online
Last December, Paul Freeman put a deposit on a penthouse flat at Fairclough's Rainbow Quay in London's Docklands. He expects to move in before next Christmas. Paul, 25, an IT specialist, bought his new home before a brick had been laid.

"Because I got in early, I got the flat I wanted. I got a discount and I've got a year to save. I'm renting at the moment, and all I own is two sofas and a toothbrush."

When Paul paid his deposit there wasn't even a show flat to help him visualise his future home. "I had an idea of the general layout and finish from another Fairclough site, and I was happy with that. The plans were vague to start with but pretty detailed by the time we exchanged contracts. Then I had a computer package done so that I could 'walk round' the flat. Because I bought off-plan, I could make changes to the layout. I've reduced the size of the walk-in wardrobe and made the en suite bathroom bigger."

Discounts are no longer available and asking prices have already gone up at Rainbow Quay, so Paul is happy with his deal. "My advice to anyone buying off-plan would be to make sure they like the area, look at somewhere else the developers have built - and be patient."

Buying a house from the builder's plans takes nerve and imagination, but it may be the only way to get the property you want. "It's a builder's market now," says Ian Hughes, of Fairclough Homes. The development of 27 houses at St Albans sold out in two-and-a-half months, before they had had a chance to open a show house.

"Our normal strategy is to go to market with a full marketing package," says Sue Parry, of Cala Midlands. "But at the end of last year people started phoning and demanding to buy from the plans.

"It is harder work to sell off-plan," she adds. "You have to be precise about what you are offering in terms of specifications."

"People who buy off-plan live and breathe their purchases," says Linden Homes' Andrea Fawell. "They visit other developments, making scale drawings, fitting in their own furnishings, wondering whether to make little Johnny's bedroom bigger. They often photograph the plot every week."

That was the sort of research that faced Malcolm and Helen Howard when they decided to buy a house at Trencherwood Homes' site at Kingston Bagpuize, near Oxford. "We liked the look of the estate but there wasn't a show home and it was hard to visualise what the house would look like," says Helen. The Howards checked the specifications of a larger show home on a different site and measured their furniture. Finally Malcolm plotted everything on graph paper.

Satisfied, the Howards found a buyer for their old house and put down a deposit at the end of March. They expect to exchange contracts on 2 May and to move in at the end of July. "It's exciting now. The outside walls are up to head height."

Buyers off-plan generally have to exchange contracts and pay 10 per cent of the purchase price four weeks after reserving their plot. At that stage they are given the probable month for completion, but will know their moving day only three or four weeks ahead.

And some developers still believe tht the disadvantages of selling off- plan outweigh the advantages. "We advocate opening a show home and letting the customer see what we are doing before we take sales," says Rameen Firoozan, of Laing. "That way we avoid the misunderstandings that can arise if you sell from a brochure, however careful you are."

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