HOME TRUTHS

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SEALED SECRETS

How does the process of sealed bids work and are there any golden rules I should follow to help me secure a property sold in this way?

Robert Gillespie

Milton Keynes

A property is usually sold through sealed bids if it is likely to create an unusual amount of interest - a cottage in a superb location perhaps, or a derelict property. Given a more than average level of interest, it can be a very effective way of realising a maximum price.

Due to the high levels of activity in the market at present, sealed bids are also being used where a number of offers are received at the asking price.

The process is usually conducted through the vendor's solicitor. The vendor will usually sell to the highest bidder although there is nothing legally binding about this. A lower bid may be accepted after other considerations have been taking into account.

There is little you can do to gain a real advantage; with several keen potential purchasers the vendor holds all the aces. You need to decide what you think the property is worth. If you are serious, you will probably need to go above the asking price. It is a just a question of how far.

Remember, if you are bidding more than the asking price you will probably also be paying more than the property's valuation, so if you intend to take out a mortgage, you will need to find additional money for the deposit.

One final tip - bid a round number. Add at least pounds 1 to your bid as most people will think in round numbers. That pounds 1 could make all the difference.

CHEAPER TO BUILD?

If I buy a plot of land with planning permission and build a house, is it likely to be any cheaper than buying a house normally?

Amy Lucas

Penrith, Cumbria

You would think that it would be much cheaper to build your own house. There are, however, a number of factors which make this fraught with difficulties. The first is availability of land. Plots with planning permission in good locations are rare and as a result they are highly sought-after and not cheap. Most plots are in rural or semi-rural areas. This means that you may have to compromise on location. You will also need to connect to the main utilities which is expensive.

Before you buy, ensure you carry out appropriate checks on the land. You do not want to be saddled with works below ground level at much greater expense than you envisaged. You particularly need to check for subsidence as this will push up the cost of your foundations - drill some test holes. Surface water drainage can also be a problem, especially if ditches are not in your ownership.

When you come to build remember that with a single property you will not enjoy any economies of scale. And don't underestimate the cost of establishing a mature garden - this could be thousands of pounds.

Having said all of this, if you really want to build a house, don't be put off. But consider it only if you have a dream home that you have set your heart on, not as a cost saving exercise.

GLASS HOUSES

I am looking to add a conservatory to my property. Are there any special considerations I should bear in mind?

Roy Langstaff

Cardiff

In terms of planning, there is little you need to consider before putting up a normal sized conservatory. Assuming the building is not listed and you are making use of an existing opening from the house, perhaps from French doors, you don't need planning permission. If a new opening has to be created you will need building regulation approval for the structural alteration.

Ensure that the glass you use conforms with safety requirements, especially if children will be running around. You will also need to consider access to the area of your house immediately above the conservatory roof.

As with any major building expenditure, obtain three estimates. If it is a particularly large project, obtain the services of a qualified chartered building surveyor.

Finally, do not expect to be able to add the cost of the work to the value of your property. You almost certainly will not be able to do so. If you plan to move in the near future, therefore, you may consider it is not worth the cost.

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, Travel & Money, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (Fax: 0171-293 2043).

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