5 considerations when buying a home off plan

Published: 8th December 2022

Buying a new build home off plan can be a very exciting experience.

Whilst not every aspect, the below are all questions you may want to ask yourself, the sales agent or others before you commit to the purchase.

1. How will the house fit with the rest of the estate?

When buying off plan, you will likely pick your plot from a sheet of paper or screen. It’s an open field. However, this won’t always be the case. In a few months, this will be a busy new estate. Will you be overlooked? Have you space to park? Do you need a specific right of way over a path or boundary to get to the property? Will yours be the biggest/smallest house on the street and could you live with that? Issues such as light and air and access should be noted and raised with your solicitor at the earliest opportunity so they can be looked in to during the conveyancing process.

Is there a road near your house that seems to just go to the fence with an empty field behind it? This could be an indicator of future development. Remember, the solicitor will likely not visit the estate but you will. It is important you pass on any features you think might be important to your purchase.

2. Who will maintain the roads?

This is critical and often overlooked until the legal stage. In the simplest terms, roads fall in to two categories. Adopted or to be adopted (meaning the Local Authority will look after them and it is a public right of way) or unadopted (meaning the road is private and maintenance will need to be funded privately). Adopted roads have the advantage of no rights of way issues and no future expenses. However, on the downside, they are public, meaning anyone with a road legal vehicle can use them.

Unadopted roads have the advantage of having a degree of control over who can use them, but the disadvantage that someone has to take responsibility for maintaining them and rights of way over them have to be carefully and properly put into the title to the Property.

If maintenance provisions and rights are not properly drafted in a property’s title, this can make it not suitable for mortgage lending purposes, meaning you will have marketability issues in the future. Furthermore, once signed as deeds, things are very difficult to change. The importance of getting this right should not be underestimated.

3. Who will maintain the sewers and drains serving the estate?

Similarly to the roads, sewers and drains have two statuses. These are adopted and unadopted. Adopted drains are looked after by the local water authority (in Yorkshire, Yorkshire Water). This means they will clear any blockages, deal with any cracks or breakages in the pipework and generally take care of them. They can be used by the public meaning home owners don’t have control over who the water authority says can use them.

Unadopted drains and sewers are private. These are owned by a private entity, usually the homeowners on the estate or the developer. Control is kept over who uses them, but maintenance costs are private. If anything goes wrong with them, the people who control them must fix them. This can lead to costly bills and demands for the homeowners.

4. Will there be a management company or managing agent and will this make me have responsibility?

Areas of the estate not adopted by the Local Authority together with roads and sewers also not adopted by the Local Authority all need maintaining. Who is paying for this and who will do it? Often, new build Transfer deeds deal with these either by forming a residents Managing Company or appointing a company/agent to deal with maintenance issues.

If there’s a Management Company, it is not uncommon for the developer to be able to choose and force one or more of the homeowners to be a Director. Could you handle this responsibility if it was you? Similarly, have you accounted for the payments that will or might be demanded? How much money is in the bank account for maintenance? How often will it be required? Is everyone signed up to pay and how is this ensured? What happens when someone, or you, sells a house? Do the new owners have to also pay and again, how is this ensured? Is there suitable public liability insurance in place to cover the company against claims?

These are just a sample of some of the questions asked by prudent solicitors. If a road is intended to be privately maintained, it is important you raise this with your solicitor as soon as possible.

5. What kind of relationship does my solicitor have with the developer and what experience do they have?

Some firms have referral agreements in place with certain developers, making them ‘preferred solicitors’. Many of these firms have set up purely ‘New build’ departments, which often turn over hundreds of cases a year but staff are sometimes unqualified, inexperienced or poorly trained. What is surprising to many is that it is not unknown for managers of such departments to hold no formal legal qualifications.

This goes for all types of conveyancing but feel free to ask questions of your legal representative. After all, this is likely the largest investment you will ever make. How experienced are you? Have you done much of this type of work before? What qualifications do you hold? Where have you worked before?
Getting an idea of your solicitor’s background not only increases the chances of reliable legal advice but also gives you a sense of who you will get along best with, which is important when buying a new build property as you will likely need to ask lots of questions.

A developer or firm should never pressure you to use them or their conveyancing team in any way, which includes discounts, incentives or pressure tactics for you to do so.

We hope that this assists you and if you would like to speak to us about buying a property off plan, please feel free to call us.