Frequently Asked Questions

ENERGY ASSESSMENT & HIPS
Do I need an Energy Assessment or Home Information Pack?

The UK Government abolished Home Information Packs (HIP's) in May 2010, but you are still required to have (or have ordered) an Energy Assessment before your property can be marketed. If you have still have a HIP for your property, it may still be useful during the conveyancing process, so do keep it safe!

How much does an Energy Assessment cost?

It seems that you can pay anything from around £55 to £85 for an Energy Assessor to visit your property and prepare an EPC (Energy Performance Chart). SaleBoards will be happy to point you in the right direction if you are looking for a local Energy Assessor. If you have a valid EPC for your property, perhaps from when you purchased, it may well still be valid.

How long does an Energy Assessment stay valid?

Under current regulations, an Energy Assessment is valid for a period of 10 years from when it was commissioned.

CHOOSING YOUR AGENT AND THE BEST MARKETING PRICE
I’ve had 4 valuations, but they vary significantly. How do I know which is the right price?

There are two things that could be going on:

The first and most widespread is an agent over-valuing with an aim to win your business. A little flattery can go a long way when it comes to winning business and you can then find yourself tied into a long sole agency agreement. Also, you may find that by going on the market for too much money, you can put off potential buyers and the property can go stale before it attracts buyers at right level.

Secondly, if an agent thinks they have already won your business, they may under-value it so that when the property goes on the market, it will sell very quickly, meaning that the agent does the least amount of work to gain their fee.

Neither of these scenarios are in the vendors' best interest. SaleBoards recommend that you identify the most likely sale price and go on the market for marginally more to allow for a little negotiation, without alienating potential buyers. We always aim to provide honest advice around valuing properties with a view to achieving the maximum for your property.

Our tip here is to tell the agent that you want their valuation to be realistic and you will not be choosing your agent based on who values highest. Let them know that you don’t want an agent who is prepared to be dishonest, and hopefully you will then get a realistic valuation.

How long does it take to get my property onto the market?

When you choose to market your property through SaleBoards, we will arrange a mutually suitable time to visit your property to take the photographs and write the description of the property. Provided that there is a valid Energy Assessment, we can usually get your property uploaded to the internet within 24 hours. Full glossy brochures typically take 3 or 4 days to prepare, as we will always allow time to get the text checked by the vendors before printing.

What area do you cover?

SaleBoards usually take on properties within 30 minutes of our Exeter office, but are happy to go much further afield if you are able to accompany the majority of your viewings yourself.

Is there anything we should look for in an estate agency contract?

In a word, yes, the Estate Agency Act does have fairly strict rules about some items which do need to be included. There are generally three clauses which can appear in an estate agency agreement.

Sole Agency. This is the most common term used and generally means that if the agent you choose sells your property, you pay them the agreed fee on completion. It does normally restrict you to just one agency and if you allow a second agent to act for you during this time, you could end up paying two sets of fees – so beware when changing agents!

Sole Selling Rights. This is surprisingly common and at SaleBoards we deem this clause to be unfair, so advise clients to keep clear of agents who routinely use this term. This means that even if the agent has had no involvement in the sale of your property, for instance if you sell to a relative or friend, then the full fee is payable.

Ready Willing and Able Purchaser. This term is more interesting and there are arguments both for and against its inclusion in the agency agreement. It usually results in fees being payable if the agent has found a buyer, but for one reason or another the vendor does not proceed with the sale. At SaleBoards, we do find it very frustrating when we have done all the work to sell a property, at which point the vendor simply changes their mind and hence pays nothing for the work we have done. However, we do appreciate that withdrawal from a sale is not normally a decision taken lightly, and for this reason we do not include the Ready Willing and Able term in our agreements.

Multiple Agency Agreements are often available too, but usually charge significantly higher fees. If your agent is doing everything they can to sell your house, then our opinion is that multiple agency is unlikely to help matters, and could in reality make you look desperate.

Also, watch out for unreasonably long tie-in periods. SaleBoards ask for just one week notice of termination of a sole agency agreement, whereas some agency agreements can last for up to 26 weeks. In our opinion, this simply means an agent can sit back and wait for houses to sell, as many probably will in 26 weeks, even with minimal marketing. A lack of pro-active marketing, will inevitably mean that your property may not achieve its full potential.

Finally, check the small-print, some agencies may look to charge you if you wish to leave them, perhaps for advertising or photographs. This can sometimes add up to hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

The property I would like to buy is on the market with another agent. This agent has told me that I need to sell through them to stand the best chance of buying the property I like. Is this legal?

Absolutely not. The Estate Agency Act makes it very clear that discriminating against a buyer because they will not take services from you is illegal and falls under the Undesirable Practices Order. We are aware of at least one agent who has suggested that vendors who have sold through us may not be in the best position to buy a property on their own books.

Our advice is that if an agent makes any suggestion that not using them will affect your chance of buying a property, then steer well clear. They are clearly not acting in the best interest of their clients and if they’ve broken the law before winning your business, you probably should question whether they are the best agent to choose. As always, the Property Ombudsman would be keen to hear of any such instances (Tel 01722 333306).

When you are on the market
I’ve been contacted by another agent who claims to have buyers for my house or says he has somebody desperate to view. What should I do?

It is very common for the less scrupulous agents to try to win business in this way. On some occasions, another agent has simply gone through our list of properties and contacted almost every one of them in the same week, making the same promises of buyers on their books to each one! To our knowledge, when this promise has been made to our clients, it has never yet led to a successful offer.

Interestingly, there are rules which govern the way in which agents can contact another agents’ clients, which practically outlaw any form of contact other than a signed letter. So if you have received a knock on the door from another agent or had a business card posted through your door with ‘call me’ scrawled on the back of it, please do let your local trading standards office know.

How will I know what people think of my home following viewings?

SaleBoards will make it a priority to follow up every viewing by calling the potential purchasers to see if they are interested in making an offer. The feedback we get from these calls, whether positive or negative, will subsequently be passed on to the vendors.

Do I have to display a For Sale Board?

‘For Sale’ boards are often the way in which the successful buyer finds your property, so in some instances they have proved to be very important. However, we do understand that there may be a number of reasons why you would prefer not to have a board at the property, which is fine too.

Dealing with offers
If somebody places an offer on my property, how quickly will I be contacted?

In general, all offers are telephoned through immediately and followed up in writing within 24 hours, which is also required under the Estate Agency Act. If the vendor is looking to accept an offer, before we finalise, this we would check that the buyer is in a proceedable position. This usually involves checking their ability to gain the necessary funds and that any related sale has proceedable buyers. We will then notify both sets of solicitors of the deal and will mark the property as sold (subject to contract).

When an offer has been accepted, will you continue to market the property?

It is our normal procedure to continue to market your property as ‘under offer’ or ‘sold subject to contract’ (SSTC) once an offer has been accepted. During the period between accepting the offer and exchange of contracts, it is usual that we may well get further enquiries regarding your property. Whilst the sale is progressing normally, it is our policy not to conduct any further viewings at the property. We will, of course, keep a list of anybody who may be interested in the property in the unlikely event of the sale falling through.

I’ve received an offer in the first few days of marketing – does this mean that my property is advertised too cheaply?

You are perfectly right to question this. It could well mean that your property is going to achieve more than you were first expecting, which does happen on some occasions. However, do bear in mind that the first few days of marketing is the most likely time you will get a good offer. As the property is brand new onto the market, it will get an initial flurry of interest, which can lead to several people expressing an interest and sometimes bidding against each other or being willing to pay slightly more to secure the property they want, in fear that it might go to somebody else.

After agreeing a price for my property, the buyer has indicated that he would like to re-negotiate as a result of a survey report. Is this normal and how should I respond?

This is always a difficult issue and needs to be dealt with on a case by case basis. The important thing here is to establish whether their request is genuine and reasonable or whether it is a result of an overcautious surveyor. If a house is 100 years old, it is not likely to have the same survey report as a brand new house, and some minor faults would be expected, such as minor observations of damp, etc. However, if the property does genuinely need some work, which a buyer would not anticipate, then re-negotiation may be perfectly acceptable. Equally, if the surveyor flags up items such as the boiler not being brand new or the window frames needing some paint, then the buyer probably should have been aware of this when they offered, and we would view re-negotiation as unreasonable. In cases where recommendations are made for works to be carried out, SaleBoards will be very happy to advise you of the best way forward.

I’ve received an offer for my property from somebody who has not yet sold, but as the offer is very good, I’d like to accept it. What should I do?

Our general advice is that a buyer who is not proceedable is not a real buyer until they have sold. As making an offer does not commit a buyer to the property, and they could simply change their mind at any point, then we would suggest you continue to market until the buyer is proceedable. At the same time, you could indicate that once the buyer is proceedable, you would accept their offer, which will hopefully give the potential buyers an incentive to sell their own property!

My buyer’s survey report states that an electrical check and a gas safety check are both recommended. Who should pay for this and is it likely that the buyer will ask for works to be done to bring the electrical system up to current regulations?

Virtually every survey report will now make these recommendations. Firstly, you should consider whether these checks are necessary. For instance, if the boiler has been fitted recently and you can provide evidence that it has been reasonably well maintained, then you have probably fulfilled your part of the deal. The buyer must be aware that they are not buying a brand new boiler and as long as it is functioning correctly, then they should be happy. Our recommendation is normally that you should allow the buyer to have a boiler check conducted at their own expense or simply demonstrate that it works to their satisfaction.

Similarly, if the electrical installation is fairly recent then the buyer should not be overly concerned. Again, we normally recommend that the buyer should be allowed to have the system inspected, but we do always stress that the electrical installation would often not be expected to fully conform to the latest regulations, as the rules do seem to be constantly changing. As long as the system is in reasonable condition considering its age, then you would not normally be expected to contribute towards the cost of this inspection or any recommended improvements.

How do I know whether my buyer is serious – he seems to be taking too long to conduct his survey?

Once an offer has been accepted, we usually stipulate that the property will be withdrawn from the market for a limited period, on condition that the buyers provide us with proof that they have applied for their mortgage (or have alternative funding available) and have instructed solicitors to go ahead with the conveyancing. Once the survey has been paid for and they have placed funds on account with their solicitor, then it shows commitment, but of course, SaleBoards will keep an eye on the situation and advise you accordingly should we have any concerns about the buyer’s intentions.

Unfortunately, even if the buyer is apparently doing everything which would normally be expected, there is little protection against them changing their mind at any point up to exchange of contracts under the current legal system. But once again, we will always endeavour to discuss progress through this anxious time with our vendors and ensure they are kept updated with progress at regular intervals.

The buyer’s solicitor has flagged up a problem with Chancel Tax Liability. They have invited us to pay for an indemnity insurance policy. Should we pay for this?

After some fairly recent court cases, the issue of Chancel Tax liability seems to be a bit of a ‘hot potato’! If your property falls into a high risk postcode, it is now very common for buyers to want some protection against any future claims, however slim the likelihood of this arising is. Normally an insurance policy can be purchased for around £50 which protects against any future liability.

The interesting part is who should pay? It seems that nearly always, the buyers think the sellers should pay and the sellers think the buyers should pay! As the process of routinely insuring against this liability is fairly recent, there doesn’t yet seem to be a well established protocol regarding who should cover the cost. However, as the vendor will not benefit from the policy and without the property changing hands, would probably not take out such an insurance, then our feeling is that the buyer should pay if they want the policy for their own benefit.

Houses of Multiple Occupancy
What is a house of multiple occupancy?

A House of Multiple Occupancy (HMO) is a house occupied by 3 or more unrelated sharers. This usually includes most student housing. Further information can be found on Exeter Council’s website. All HMOs are subject to special rules and will need to have the correct planning consent, but some of the larger HMOs will also need a HMO License too.

Are there any restrictions on room sizes in houses of multiple occupancy?

Yes there are. The Exeter Council Website gives full details – Please check this for current rules, but in brief...

For up to 5 people in single rooms:
1. If all the bedrooms are more than 10 Sq.m, then the property does not need a communal living room. Minimum kitchen size is 5.5 Sq.m.

2. If all the bedrooms are more than 6.5 Sq.m, the property must have a lounge at 12 Sq.m and a kitchen at 5.5 Sq.m

For 6 - 10 people in single rooms:
1. If all the bedrooms are more than 10 Sq.m, then the property does not need a communal living room. Minimum kitchen size is 7.0 Sq.m.

2. If all the bedrooms are more than 6.5 Sq.m, the property must have a lounge of 16.5 Sq.m and a kitchen of 11.0 Sq.m

You should always speak to the local council before purchasing a house for multiple occupancy, as these rules are subject to change.

What facilities should be provided in an HMO?

It is normal to provide one bathroom, per 5 occupants. For a house with 6 occupants, it appears to be acceptable to offer one shared bathroom plus one ensuite bathroom to one of the bedrooms.

It is normal to have one kitchen sink per 5 occupants. Two kitchen sinks may be required for 6 – 10 occupants, although in some cases landlords have substituted this with a dishwasher! Advice should be sought from the local council.

There are rules regarding cupboards space, refrigerators and cooking facilities. Full details can be obtained from the Exeter City Council website.

Do I need planning permission to use my house as an HMO?

All multiple occupancy houses with 3 or more unrelated tenants now fall into the new C4 planning classification, as from 6th April 2010 regardless of where they are located. Whilst the most recent changes to national legislation now allow permitted development from a C3 (dwelling house) to C4 (house of multiple occupancy) property, we are aware that Exeter council have introduced plans to restrict this permitted development in some areas. Maps detailing the affected areas can be obtained by are available from the council's website.

At the time of writing, the restricted areas fall into two categories. Firstly the area marked in red on the council maps. In these areas, the council are making it fairly clear that they will oppose any further applications for conversion to C4. Secondly, there are additional areas, marked in blue, where the council have said they will oppose any planning applications if the percentage of HMO dwellings reaches 20%. Our understanding is that a planning application will be necessary in the 'blue' areas, as they are already covered by the current Article 4 directive. Costs are typically £335 (council fees) and archictect's fees for preparation of drawings and forms are usually around £300 to £500. Full information can be found on the council's planning website.

Whilst we are not planning consultants, at SaleBoards we try to keep abreast of local planning legislation. If you would like any more information on this subject, please feel free to call us to discuss this topic further.

Do I need a License?

This issue often causes a high degree of confusion. Please consult the following website:

http://www.exeter.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=11121&listid=11103

In general, you may house without a license the following:

1. up to 4 tenants in a 3 storey house
2. up to 5 tenants in a 2 storey house

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