Overview: Now is the time to drive a hard bargain

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The Independent Online

A glance through any current advertising for new developments gives a clear indication that there are deals to be done. Part-exchanges, interior design packages, mortgage holidays, stamp duty paid - all these concessions are discounts, albeit in pretty packages. It looks a bit desperate if properties have "huge reductions" plastered over them, and during a week in which national surveys have shown further evidence of a cooling market, developers are careful about the message they are sending. Nevertheless, shrewd purchasers can afford to do some hard bargaining, particularly for the larger apartments which remain unsold as a building approaches completion. Some, though, are telling it straight. In the heart of Birmingham, KingsOak is offering £40,000 off the last few apartments at its Centenary Plaza development.

A glance through any current advertising for new developments gives a clear indication that there are deals to be done. Part-exchanges, interior design packages, mortgage holidays, stamp duty paid - all these concessions are discounts, albeit in pretty packages. It looks a bit desperate if properties have "huge reductions" plastered over them, and during a week in which national surveys have shown further evidence of a cooling market, developers are careful about the message they are sending. Nevertheless, shrewd purchasers can afford to do some hard bargaining, particularly for the larger apartments which remain unsold as a building approaches completion. Some, though, are telling it straight. In the heart of Birmingham, KingsOak is offering £40,000 off the last few apartments at its Centenary Plaza development.

Investors and first-time buyers will generally snap up the smaller, lower priced units first, leaving the two- and three-bedroom properties to linger.

Jonathan Seal, managing director of residential development at Hamptons International, goes so far as to suggest that there is more opportunity now than at any time in the past 10 years. "Put in an offer. Be prepared to bargain," he advises. "Not bidding is a very English thing, but there are more developers prepared to negotiate than not." His point is that developers may not shout about it - especially if they have recently sold properties at the full price - but it is still worth having a go in this market.

Developers are having to make a major adjustment to their marketing with the flight of the buy-to-let investor. Not those who were in it for the long-term, but the buy-to-letters who bought without having done their homework, with only the idea of making a quick buck. In Birmingham, Marc Walker of FPDSavills, is not alone in being glad to see the back of them. "People are still buying off plan, but they are generally a better quality of investor, careful that their investment stacks up." But he is still seeing evidence of confidence in the property market with new areas of activity appearing - Leicester and Coventry have both proved popular with investors buying off plan in recent weeks.

But as the effect of a slowdown is expected to roll out gradually developers will not be able to rely on sales walking out of the door. In the opinion of those who advise them, it is the owner occupier who will need to be nurtured, and this should mean higher quality and more attention to the demands of the customer.

Dominic Grace at FPDSavills' new homes department explains: "Schemes likely to be at greatest risk are those where there has been an over-reliance on the investor buyer and appeal little to the owner occupier." In order to attract people to new, more pioneering areas, Grave believes, buyers have to be compensated in some way, with good on-site facilities, high quality of design and value for money. At the same time, some buyers will need to become more discerning.

But for someone who does their homework, buying early on carries little risk, providing the scheme is a good one. If you can negotiate on the deposit, you may be able to secure a property by putting down 5 per cent and unless prices keep on going down, any short-term correction is unimportant.

Miles Shipside, commercial director of Rightmove.co.uk joins the optimists. "It's a good time for serious purchasers, including first-time buyers, to jump in. They are in a great position with a big choice of homes for sale and the chance to negotiate hard on price to get a good deal." And he goes on to warn: "How many times in the past have people missed the boat and found themselves priced out of the market?"

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