The Chancellor’s early July announcement of a temporary stamp duty suspension made ears prick up across the country. Applying to the first £500,000 on every property sale in England and Northern Ireland until March 2021, the suspension is designed to do more than attract attention. In Treasury circles, the hope is for a boost to the property market while buyers are enticed by the prospect of spending less on buying a home.
But what’s in it for sellers? It’s unlikely that the average buyer will be keen to “share” their stamp duty savings in the form of making higher offers, but rosier sold property prices are far from the only potential benefit for sellers. Rather, the prospect of clinching a sale where previously one might have seemed unlikely or of doing so more quickly than anticipated brings its own financial benefits. It can also enable a much-longed for relocation, downsizing or step up the ladder. So, if you’re a seller, how can you best ensure that you benefit from this unaccustomed government largesse?
1. The groundwork
Before marketing your property, take the time to declutter and clean. Ideally, you’ll also spruce up shabby paintwork and complete any outstanding DIY jobs. If you’re tempted to install a new kitchen or bathroom, take an estate agent’s advice first. You may find the work won’t improve your chances of selling.
2. Choose your estate agent well
You’re unlikely to have any shortage of estate agents vying for your business. However, choose wisely. Don’t automatically plump for the agent who’s given your property the highest valuation. And don’t automatically choose the one who offers the lowest selling fees. Look carefully and ensure you pick one with a track record of selling similar properties in your local area. You should also enquire about their existing client base. For example, do they have any potential buyers already on their books? If not, how do they propose to market your property? The answer to this last question should depend on the type of home and the target buyer. For instance, a country house with land is potentially of interest to buyers relocating to the area. Consequently, a diligent estate agent will ensure that the property is marketed nationwide, with a particular emphasis on cities such as London that are currently seeing an exodus of would-be buyers. Nationwide marketing is often easier with a national chain of estate agents.
3. Staging and photography
It’s almost a truism but a well-presented property tends to sell faster than its shabbier, more cluttered neighbour. And it’s not just a question of speed: good presentation can also feed through to sold property prices.
A good estate agent will help ensure your property looks its best and is photographed so as to attract serious buyers. They should advise you if, for example, a room is a little cluttered and they should ensure that photographs are well-lit, taken from an appropriate and flattering angle, and do not distort room sizes. Be wary if they suggest that online marketing materials should not start with a photo of the property’s exterior (buyers will want to know why). Similarly, any suggestion that important rooms such as kitchens or bathrooms are excluded from the photographs will raise questions in buyers’ minds. An estate agent proposing this should be able to explain why this is the best approach and how they will mitigate against any potentially negative effects.
4. Floor plans
If no floor plan is the worst scenario, a poor floor plan is little better. An interested buyer who turns up to a viewing only to discover that the floor plan bears little resemblance to reality is unlikely to make an offer. Ensuring an accurate floor plan, which includes room measurements, can save time and tempers.
5. Pick your solicitor carefully
While the system in England does not require sellers to have a solicitor or licensed conveyancer from the get-go, having one on board can make a transaction run more speedily. And, if you find yourself pushing up against the deadline for the expiry of the stamp duty holiday, you’ll want your transaction to proceed in a very timely fashion.
Needless to say, all solicitors are not equal. Choosing one can be a minefield. What’s more, you don’t necessarily need a solicitor; a good licensed conveyancer can do the job just as well. Your first criterion must be to pick someone who’s a member of either the Law Society of England and Wales or the Council of Conveyancers. However, finding the right person can still be tricky. Friends and family can be a useful source of recommendations. Similarly, your mortgage broker, Independent Financial Adviser or mortgage lender may be able to help. So, too, could your estate agent, but it’s often best to be wary of picking a solicitor recommended by them. This isn’t for reasons of quality, but because solicitor and estate agent are likely to be working together on a commission basis, which could cost you more than using an independent alternative.
Online conveyancers are a popular choice. There are plenty of them about, they advertise widely and their charges are usually lower than those of a traditional high street firm. Many sellers (and buyers) like them for these reasons but it could pay to be cautious. Picking an online provider of legal services means you’re less likely to have a named contact and you’ll always deal with them via phone or email. They’re less likely to be able to deal with complex issues (for example, easements or flying freeholds) and, in the current economic climate, many have furloughed considerable numbers of staff. Anecdotal reports suggest that this may be leading to both quality and speed issues. For instance, one disgruntled client in the north-west recently nearly lost her purchase when her online legal services provider repeatedly tried to insist on making further enquiries about a railway line behind the property. All well and good you might think - except that the railway line in question was a casualty of the Beeching cuts of the 1960s and has long since been doing service as a footpath in a country park.
Ensuring you have relevant paperwork to hand and that you return documents to your estate agent and legal advisor as quickly as possible is perhaps the single most important thing you can do towards ensuring that the transaction doesn’t falter.
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