Whether you’re unlikely to face a full-time return to the office and want to move further out of town for more space, or are jumping at the chance to buy a home in London, you’ll be joining thousands of others trying to complete on a property before the stamp duty holiday ends next year.

Homes priced £500,000 and below are now exempt from the buyers’ tax until next March 31. With up to £15,000 savings on offer when buying a home in England and Wales, millions of potential home movers are rushing to get their search under way.

New listings of London homes on Rightmove increased by 14 per cent, or 1,402, in the fortnight after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the stamp duty measure in his summer mini Budget on July 8.

“It has encouraged people both to look and to sell, it was busy anyway but it has definitely upped the ante,” says Robin Chatwin, head of south-west London at Savills, where viewings are up 127 per cent on this time last year.

Here’s our guide to buying and selling in time to take full advantage of the stamp duty holiday – and vital tips for ensuring speedy completion.

Post-lockdown: time your home buy right to cash in on the tax break

In normal circumstances, it usually takes around eight weeks to find a home and a further 15-20 weeks for conveyancing.

Final, and sometimes lengthy, stages of conveyancing include signing and exchanging contracts before completing on the sale. In some cases it is possible to exchange contracts and complete on the same day. However, it isn’t uncommon for sales involving chains to take six months.

“A number of agents will not allow you to proceed with house viewings at the moment until you are in a position to proceed with the actual sale,” says Mark Hayward, chief executive of estate agents’ group NAEA Propertymark. “Timely house sales are especially important in the current market.”

To ensure the stamp duty deadline can be met, Hayward says: “A property must be put on the market no later than September 25.”

Key points when viewing a home

Once you’ve decided to move home, it can be daunting but it’s also exciting.

When the sums finally add up and you’re all set to be mortgaged to the hilt, it can be easy to forget how little time you might spend viewing a home before you are committed to owning it.

“You can spend more time test driving a car than you spend in your future home,” says Savills’ Robin Chatwin, who adds that there is no reason you can’t get as good a sense of a property now as you could pre-coronavirus, even with social distancing measures in place. “We’re all wearing gloves, we can ask vendors to leave – or to leave particular cupboard doors open, for example.”

At the viewing, if you immediately like a property, here are seven things to check while you are there:

  • Taps: is the water pressure good? Check the shower or bath, too. How long does the water take to run hot?  
  • Storage: where is it – and is there enough of it?
  • Rooms: would you be able to fit a wardrobe and a bed in the bedroom, for instance? Are there any cracks in the walls or ceilings?
  • Electrics: do the lights work? Where are the power sockets in key rooms – and are there enough of them?
  • Boiler: how old is it? Has it been serviced recently? Is there a guarantee in place?
  • Stairways and entrance: will it be awkward to get furniture in or out?
  • Windows: do they open and close easily? Are you overlooked by neighbours?

Prove you are ready to buy

It can help to have evidence that you’re in a position to buy, whether it’s with a mortgage in principle or funds in your account.

“Show that you’re ready to go straightaway. Otherwise, if the property has been popular, you’re leaving yourself exposed,” says Matthew Gilbert, associate director at Hamptons International in Richmond.

If you’re using a mortgage, your lender may need a certain amount of time to transfer funds, so it’s worth finding out how long that time frame might be.

“If the seller has received three offers, two with 45-day closing periods and yours with just 30 days to close, it puts you one step ahead of the competition,” says Mark Hayward.

Look into the location

It is essential to visit the property in person, if you can, and walk around the local area. Check if there is noise from nearby roads, or if the home is under a flight path. It is also worth checking whether there are any restrictions on building in the local area.

“There’s a house we took on the market which looked like it had a lot of potential to extend and modernise,” says Gilbert. “We did a bit of investigation and discovered that because of its location in a conservation area, any work would have to be a bit more modest. People can expect to double the size of their house, sometimes there’s seemingly value to be added, but it’s important to understand the limitations.”

You will also want to know what there is in the way of local restaurants, pubs and shops, as well as access to public transport.

“Are there pubs nearby? Or Tubes running underneath the property?” asks Chatwin.

Find your solicitor

If you’ve chosen a solicitor, make sure they are ready to be instructed.

“When an offer gets accepted, it can be quite annoying waiting for a buyer to get quotes, agree terms, decide who they want to go with – that can all be two to three extra days,” says Gilbert.

Property and building research: don’t forget the roof

“If there’s a lease length and a service charge, make sure you know exactly what they are,” advises Chatwin.

If the charges turn out to be disproportionately high, it’s better to know early on, as getting a mortgage could be problematic.

Consider what responsibilities come with ownership of the property. “If you’re buying a ground-floor flat, people sometimes forget to ask about the roof,” says Chatwin.

Don’t play it (too) cool

“Being honest and transparent helps the agent identify who is serious,” says Gilbert. “Some buyers play it really cool, they can walk off down the road and you don’t really know what they’re thinking.”

Hayward concludes: “The majority of house viewings happen in the first 20 to 30 days of the listing, with virtual viewings currently taking place even sooner. Don’t risk being ruled out as a potential buyer by sitting on your decision for too long after this.”

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