Advice on buying an apartment in London
May 1, 2011 4:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm a 23 year old EU citizen who will be starting 5 years of medical studies at King's College London in September. My parents are interested in buying a flat for me instead of renting. I have no idea where to start!

What are some good online guides to buying in the UK?

How fast does the market move in London? Is it ridiculous to think that I could go in July and have found a place that I could move into by mid-September?

Give the info below, in which neighbourhoods should I start looking?
- I'd like to live in a two-bedroom and rent out the other room.
- I run and would really like being close to a park.
- I would like to be able to commute to campus (near London Bridge) in max 30 minutes (either by tube or bike).
- I'd prefer a neighbourhood with a community feel: market, pubs, culture.

And finally, what's the best way for getting started? Should I browse listings online, get in touch with a realtor, get in touch with several realtors? My parents will of course be helping me out beyond just signing the mortgage, but their experience is limited to buying in France and in Canada (where they live now), and so anything that needs to be done in person will be done by me!
posted by snoogles to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Rightmove is probably the place to start looking; from there you can follow as many links to estate agents (not realtors!) as you like. For complicated things like trying to get a mortgage as a non-resident, I have no idea, but suppose that's the kind of thing estate agents should know about.
posted by Lebannen at 4:46 AM on May 1, 2011

Best answer: I bought my flat in 2001 so I haven't been active in the market in a while, but I did complete the transaction in under 90 days however had to push at it, chasing the Solicitor and Surveyors and others pretty much every day. Not sure how it is operating now, but this is indeed a good time to buy as the market is quiet and I've seen a lot of value out there.

Before I bought I did my homework; I first decided on the configuration (two bedroom garden flat), then the neighbourhood and finally built a listing of over 100 flats using web resources. RightMove is a good one, and I'm sure others will chime in with their favourites as well.

After I had my data I could identify fair value and hence knew a good deal when I came across it. I saw precisely two flats, making a same day offer on the second. So you can do this but you'd have to move quickly. If you're thinking of a cash transaction you'll be in a better position, but if not you'll have to arrange the mortgage before you go shopping, if for no other reason than to be able to move quickly (that is precisely what I did). You really don't want the banks to not approve your proposed borrowing after you've gone through all the trouble of finding a place you like.

We're in the Shadwell / Whitechapel area, seems to fit your criteria well, its very cheap overall but Central London is very close. Zone 2, lots of transportation links (DLR, Tube and bus routes), very low Council Tax and, best of all, a very heterogenous, diverse community.

You can walk to Tower Bridge in about thirty minutes from our flat, I imagine biking would take maybe ten. Let me know if we provide any more specific information!
posted by Mutant at 4:46 AM on May 1, 2011

I would suggest you live there 3 months or so in a rental property while looking. You'll get to know your favourite areas, the best routes to live near, the places to avoid. I think that kind of information is really difficult to grab online, it's so subjective. But once there, browse online listings, pop into real estate agencies, start looking at places that you don't care about so you get a sense of the market. Now you can really narrow down what you want, and what you get achieve given your budget. When I was househunting, I kept a folder (though it would work electronically nowadays) with records of each property I was interested in, photos I'd taken, notes about the layout etc (because you'd be surprised how quickly they seem to run into each other).
posted by b33j at 4:51 AM on May 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Snoogles - what's your budget?
posted by Summer at 4:54 AM on May 1, 2011

Should I browse listings online, get in touch with a realtor, get in touch with several realtors?

It is worth noting that in the UK estate agents act for the seller. So you find a property you're interested in, you contact the estate agent marketing the property and if you decide to proceed you make an offer. If the offer is accepted you get your solicitor to start conveyancing. But you tend to search for the property yourself and you negotiate the price - I am sure you could find somebody to assist with both but generally that's how it works.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:07 AM on May 1, 2011

Response by poster: My parents were comfortable with paying rent of 250 per week (utilities included), so I think that we'd be looking at something in the same price range once we include rent for the second bedroom.
posted by snoogles at 5:09 AM on May 1, 2011

Best answer: I'd suggest you think about looking around Camberwell / East Dulwich which is a) right next to King's College Hospital and b) much cheaper than getting a place nearer St Thomas' and Guy's hospitals (the other two campuses) which are in much more expensive parts of town. Of course, that slightly depends on how rich your parents are - any property in London is extremely expensive, even in Camberwell. The other advantage of Camberwell is that it is an up and coming area and the value of the property is likely to go up faster than the background rate because in the near future the East London Line will be connecting to Denmark Hill station round the corner from the hospital. It also fills all of your other criteria listed (in between Camberwell itself and nearby Brixton and Dulwich).

I second the recommendation of RightMove. Everyone I know, including myself, used it to find their properties and scope out what was a reasonable price for a particular area. You would need to start looking now. You would be extremely lucky to be able to arrive in July and complete by September. Extremelylucky (unless you are completely unselective).

b33j is right though, you are much better off renting at first to scope out possible areas before committing to a property.

I did my medschool at King's. Really enjoyed it. Good luck and have fun.
posted by inbetweener at 5:10 AM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Inbetweener - I was about to recommend Camberwell. I actually live in Peckham, on the borders of Camberwell and East Dulwich. It's actually a really nice area with lovely architecture and a lot of nice pubs/restaurants/cafes. There are a number of parks in the area to choose from. Most importantly, property here is significantly cheaper than other areas (and it seems to me Snoogles you don't have a huge amount of cash to play with).

However, the reason property is cheaper here is that the area is not connected to the tube line. For some that's a real deal breaker; a lot of Londoners feel completely lost without the tube and would never consider living here. BUT, areas such as Dulwich, Denmark Hill and Peckham have a direct overland line to London Bridge and Victoria. London Bridge is ten minutes away from my flat. Camberwell doesn't have a train line, but is very well connected in terms of buses and would be an easy cycle to London Bridge.

It also has to be remembered that Peckham and Camberwell are a real mixture of middle class and poor - another reason house prices are a little lower here (Dulwich on the other hand is solidly middle class). For some that's not a problem, but it does put other people off.

If you really need a tube line and want to be in a 'safer', more middle class area I would recommend Balham. It's on the Northern Line, which goes to London Bridge, and has a really villagey community feel. Clapham, which is just to the north, is also a really popular area for similar reasons, but is a bit more expensive. Both have easy access to Clapham Common, which is huge. If you go further south on the Northern Line to Tooting and Colliers Wood you'll get a better deal, but I find these areas a bit bleak. However, you would be close to Wandsworth Common.

Like everyone else has suggested - I'd rent first and decide where you want to live, then hire estate agents who specialise in that area.

Bear in mind all the costs associated with buying property in the UK: deposit (10 - 20%), stamp duty (1 - 2%), solicitor's fees, survey.
posted by Summer at 5:31 AM on May 1, 2011

You've missed out the most important piece of information.. price.
How much do you have to invest and what kind of return do your parents hope to attain buying a property in a overpriced market with interest rates at a all time low so can only go up - in five years?
posted by complience at 6:49 AM on May 1, 2011

"My parents were comfortable with paying rent of 250 per week (utilities included), so I think that we'd be looking at something in the same price range once we include rent for the second bedroom."
250 what? Canadian Dollars? Pounds Sterling? Euros?
posted by humph at 7:00 AM on May 1, 2011

Snoogles, it'll really help if you can express in pounds how much your parents have in total to invest in a property.

This article will help you.
posted by Summer at 7:12 AM on May 1, 2011

Response by poster: Ha sorry, 250 pounds sterling per week. That's the only hard figure I have as an example of what they are comfortable spending.

Renting would cost 65 000 pounds over 5 years. Hopefully buying now and reselling in 5 years would mean not throwing all that money out of the window. Would it help to assume that they can afford to pay cash/borrow up to 250 000 pounds as long as they're more or less guaranteed to be able to sell for the same price or more in 5 years?
posted by snoogles at 7:23 AM on May 1, 2011

Response by poster: Sorry I can't give more specific numbers. One of the reasons that I'm asking this question is that I need to find out where to start looking to get an idea of the price range! There's a fair amount of money available, but only if it makes sense as an investment...
posted by snoogles at 7:25 AM on May 1, 2011

You'll be able to find something in the areas mentioned above for around £250K. It won't be fancy schmancy but it'll be nice enough.

You can't guarantee that the property will hold its value over five years, however most areas of London tend to remain pretty steady compared to the rest of the country. I think it's a pretty safe bet you'll get that money back.
posted by Summer at 7:44 AM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might also consider Deptford - I own a 2 bedroom flat on the Deptford/New Cross border and I really like the area - it's a bit gritty but gentrifying, very ethnically diverse, there are lots of students and arty folks, a great street market and some groovy pubs & cafes, and it's surprisingly peaceful away from the main roads. The best thing about it though are the the transport links - under 10 minutes on the train to London Bridge and 20 minutes to Central London, on the new Overground to hip areas like Hoxton and Shoreditch, walkable to Greenwich Park and Blackheath. It's not on the tube proper but easily connects to the tube.

You could buy a flat like mine for under 200k and there are also lots of new flat developments all around - new flats are being built at the end of my street at the moment. I imagine if you bought a new flat this would give you some certainty on your moving in date.
posted by prune at 2:41 PM on May 1, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks guys.

I think it's quite clear that going in July and moving in by October might a little too crazy. I'll sign a one-year lease as initially planned and give myself plenty of time to find a nice flat in which to spend the remaining four years (and maybe more!)

I appreciate all the neighbourhood recommendations. London is so big that it's almost intimidating, but now I have several leads!
posted by snoogles at 6:07 AM on May 2, 2011

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