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Buy Before Selling?

I don't want to put my house on the market until I find somewhere to buy? Is this the best thing to do?

Shelley Brader

Chatham, Kent

Wherever you live, whatever your property type, I would recommend putting your home on the market first. This is because there are relatively few properties available and lots of potential buyers. So unless you have people interested in your property, then any offer you make on another property is unlikely to be successful - because the chances are someone else is in a stronger position to move than you - such as first-time buyers, cash buyers or people already in a complete chain.

So wait until your home has attracted some serious interest from viewers - and even better, an offer, although by all means have a look around in the meantime.

If you do it the other way round and find somewhere to buy first, then you risk losing control of the situation. You may find yourself in a race against time to sell yours quicker and cheaper than you would like in order to secure your new home.

AVOID BIDDING WARS

With the house-buying market so competitive, what's the best thing to do to ensure I don't get outbid once I have made an offer?

Mary Madigan

Windsor

It is true, certainly, that some properties, particularly in sought- after areas where there is a property shortage, are attracting several offers - some of them may even be above the asking price. Whilst you can never guarantee that your vendor won't accept a higher offer than yours at a later stage before exchange of contracts, you can reduce the chances of this happening.

First, you need to be quick. Inform your estate agent of your availability and they will keep you in touch immediately with new listings. Many of our offices have stories to tell of properties coming on the market at 9am and coming under offer by midday the same day. So being quick clearly works.

Second, you are likely to have to offer closer to the asking price than was the case a few years ago. We are finding a narrowing gap between offer and asking price to be fairly general but particularly so in Greater London and the South East. It's all a question of striking a balance between offering below the asking price and successfully securing the property. Although your local estate agent will be able to advise you, a lot depends on how much you want that property.The question you have to ask yourself is: do you want to gamble on saving yourself a few hundred pounds against losing the property?

Last, you need to be able to convince the vendor that you are serious and in a strong position.

HOW LONG TO MOVE?

Could you tell me how long it's likely to take me to move?

Colin Walden

Crowley, West Sussex

In general terms in the southeast corner of England the average seems to be about 12 weeks from the time a property comes on the market to selling. This is borne out by research from another estate agency which compiles statistics on this subject. Its latest available figures (October 1996) show sale times have speeded up throughout the country - although the sale time does increase - as you move away from the southeast, for example, 19 weeks in the Midlands and 23 weeks in the northwest.

However, the time it takes to move home needs to be considered alongside the volume of business going through, which is measured in housing transactions - purchases and sales together. In 1995 these stood at 1.13 million, rising to 1.24 million in 1996 with a forecast 1.35 million in 1997 - with steady rises expected to the year 2000.

Of course, increasing transactions mean more work for solicitors especially around the time of exchange of contracts and completion and we have noticed some regional variations in the time between these two legal procedures. For example, in metropolitan Essex it could take four weeks between Exchange and Completion, whereas in East Anglia this could be halved. When choosing a solicitor, it might be worth asking them what their average timescale would be.

FIRST-TIME FACTS

I am a first-time buyer and I have been told I can afford to purchase a house for around pounds 60,000. Assuming I can afford the mortgage repayments and other expenses of setting up home, what are the most important points I need to consider when actually choosing the most suitable property?

Nicola Halliday

Billericay, Essex

This is a huge subject and there is only space to cover three of the main points here.

Think about new or old. Older may be something that is likely to need work, such as a new kitchen or new windows, and therefore extra expense, if not immediately, then at a later date. Any major and immediate work should have been identifed in a suitable survey, such as a home buyer's survey & valuation, which you should arrange on the property. If remedial work is required such as timber and damp treatment, which could easily cost over pounds 1,000, then obtain the necessary estimates and use them to negotiate a more favourable price.

Think about the property type. For flats, ground floor will almost always be easier to resell than first or second floor because it is more convenient for young people with prams or the elderly. An end-of-terrace may have an advantage over mid-terrace because you may have a larger plot and side access. Also, a semi-detached with a garage is likely to be preferable to one that relies on street parking.

And think about the property's location. You need to strike a balance between meeting your own individual needs as a purchaser - the things you really want in a property - with thinking ahead to reselling the home at a future date and whether these points would be attractive to anybody else. Purchasing near a station, shops and school always sounds good but do be aware or the extra peak-time traffic and congestion they generate, like parking outside your home and possibly blocking your driveway.

Even if you have already put an offer in, do visit the home at different times of the week. You may discover a rowdy Saturday night pub nearby or Sunday afternoon mechanics next door.

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.

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