What is a new-build property?
A new-build property is one that's brand new and has never been lived in.
You may sometimes see homes that are fairly new but have already been owned and lived in by someone else described as 'new-build', but this guide is about houses and flats that have not yet been bought or lived in by anyone.
There's a lot of emphasis on the importance of building more homes to try and tackle the national property shortage at the minute.
The government has said that 300,000 homes will be built each year by the mid-2020s, but the numbers currently fall far lower than that: Fullfact.org says that 184,000 new homes were built in England in 2016/17.
Why buy a new-build property?
One of the main benefits of buying a new-build property is that, initially at least, it's less likely to require the same level of maintenance that you'd face with an older property. Your energy bills may well be cheaper, too, given that they are usually better insulated than period homes.
If you're buying off-plan (i.e. before it's actually been built), you may also be able to choose certain aspects of the design.
The other advantage, if you're in need of financial help, is that the Help to Buy equity loans scheme - where the government lends you a percentage of the property price - is only available on new-build properties. (The scheme isn't currently available in Northern Ireland.)
However, there can be some disadvantages to buying new-build homes, including snagging problems when you move in and difficulties getting a mortgage. We explain this in more detail further down.
What's included in a new-build property?
One of the great advantages of buying a brand-new property is that, often, many of the fixtures and fittings you'd otherwise have to fork out for are included in the price.
Developers will often try to upsell you extra items. Be wary here - the price of these could be inflated, so it may be much cheaper for you to source and pay for them yourself.
Today's building rules and regulations also mean that there are standards developers have to meet to make your property as energy-efficient as possible, helping you save on bills.
This means that energy-efficient features such as double or even triple-glazed windows, insulated walls, roofs, and doors, and energy-efficient heating are all common in new-build properties.
Asking prices are often plastered all over the hoardings when properties are being built.
Of course, the developers will tell you that this is the price you'll have to pay - but it is only an asking price, and you should be prepared to negotiate.
The likelihood of success will depend on a number of things, such as where the property is and the level of demand, as well as how far along the development is.
If it's very early days, there might be a deal to be done as the developer may need funding to continue the project. Conversely, if the project is nearing completion and the developer still hasn't found a buyer, you could be in a strong position here too.
Whatever stage the development is at, it pays to do your research, looking at sale prices of similar properties nearby via sites like Rightmove, Zoopla and the Land Registry.
Make sure you never pay more than what you think it's worth, as you could struggle to sell the property for the same amount further down the line and may even fall into negative equity, where you owe more on your mortgage than the value of the property.
If you don't get anywhere with haggling on the asking price, there are other ways to potentially reduce your costs. You could ask the developer to cover your stamp duty or throw in extras, such as flooring or furniture, for free.
Is there a new-build premium?
You might have heard of the 'new-build premium', a term used to describe the fact that new-build homes tend to be pricier than older, but otherwise similar, properties. The reason for this difference is that everything is new and unused, energy-efficient and built to - hopefully - a high-quality spec.
Some people believe that, on top of the standard new-build premium, developers have been charging an even greater 'Help to Buy premium' to those using the government's equity loan scheme.
Try to stay level-headed and don't be too wowed by a new-build show home. Do your research, find out about similar properties in the area and on the development, and never offer more than you can afford.
- Find out more: tips for viewing a show home
The process of buying a new-build
1. Get your finances in order
Seek guidance from a qualified mortgage adviser on how much you might be able to borrow. That way, you'll know exactly what you can afford before you start going to visit properties that are beyond your budget.
It may be helpful to have a mortgage agreement in principle (AIP) before you start house-hunting, particularly if you're a first-time buyer.
It's a document from a mortgage lender confirming that they will, 'in principle', give you a mortgage for a certain amount, which you can use to prove to the developer that you'll be able to afford the property.
2. Find a property
The next step is to find a development you like the look of. If you're hoping to get a Help to Buy equity loan, you'll need to check that the development is participating in the scheme.
Make sure you research the area, local amenities and developer's track record for delivering high-quality properties on time.
Once you have a clear idea of your price range, it's time to start visiting new-build developments. You'll either be taken around a show home - which will exactly or closely replicate the property you're considering buying if it hasn't been built yet - or, if even the show home hasn't been built yet, a marketing suite.
You can find out how to make the most of your visit and the questions you need to ask in our guide to viewing a show home.
3. Make an offer and pay a fee
If you're keen to buy the property and are confident you can afford the monthly mortgage repayments, it's time to make an offer. This doesn't have to be for the asking price (see Are new-build prices negotiable?, above).
If your offer is accepted, you'll need to pay a reservation fee. This typically ranges from £500 to £1,000 and is usually deducted from the purchase price when you complete.
Be aware that this fee is non-refundable if you decide to pull out.
4. Start working through the legal and financial stuff
You'll need to appoint a conveyancer or solicitor to deal with the legal side of your purchase. It may be helpful to find one with experience of dealing with new-builds - they'll check that the developer has been given proper planning permission and that the estate has access to all the right services, such as roads and sewers.
They'll also negotiate the date you can get your keys, and manage the funds to buy the property.
At the same time, you'll start the process of applying for a mortgage (see new-build mortgages, below), and wait while your lender has the property independently valued.
5. Wait to move in
With a new-build property, you'll exchange contracts months before you move in. This is the point at which you pay your deposit, via your conveyancer.
You'll encounter a bit of jargon when planning your move-in date.
The first is the 'short-stop' date, which is when the developer expects to finish work, and the second is the 'long-stop' date, which is the date the home has to be completed by.
In theory, the 'long-stop' date is designed to protect you from losing your mortgage offer, as (depending on the lender) they often expire after six months. However, the completion date can, and often does, slip: research by New Homes Review found that over 40% of new-build homes aren't ready by the original deadline.
This is where having a great conveyancer is vital, as they should keep both you and your mortgage lender up to date throughout the process.
Before you move in, make sure you have a snagging survey conducted so that any issues with the property can be identified and fixed as quickly as possible.
Getting a mortgage for a new-build home can sometimes be harder than for an older property, as some lenders put stricter limits on the maximum value of a property on which they'll offer a loan.
This means you might be restricted to borrowing 85% of the value of a new-build house, or 75% on a flat, while lenders may be willing to loan a bigger percentage on an older property.
- Our loan to value (LTV) calculator will tell you what percentage mortgage you'll need.
Timing can also be an issue. Mortgage offers tend to be valid for six months, which can cause a problem if you're buying a home that hasn't been built yet (see buying off-plan) and the projected completion date is further in the future.
Some lenders will consider extending their offers, but this is often subject to reassessing your application.
A few lenders make mortgage offers for new-build homes that last for longer periods, but these are by no means the norm.
An impartial mortgage broker should be able to advise on the best lender and deal for your situation.
What schemes can help me buy a new-build?
Alternatively, if you can't afford to buy a house outright it might be worth looking into shared ownership, which allows you to buy part of a home and pay rent on the rest.
Can I part-exchange to buy a new-build?
Some house builders run part-exchange (PX) schemes, which allow buyers to purchase a new-build home and use their current property as part payment.
While part-exchange schemes remove the hassle of selling your home the traditional way, there are disadvantages.
Some developers will offer below the market value, so you should always have your own valuations done by local estate agents before agreeing to anything.
Also, the eligibility criteria can be strict - sometimes you'll only be able to use part-exchange to fund up to 70% of the purchase price of your new home.
- Find out more: how much is your house worth?
Are new-builds freehold or leasehold?
If you're buying a flat, it's normal for it to be sold on a leasehold basis - meaning that you own the dwelling but not the land it stands on, and only for a limited number of years before it passes back to the freeholder (landowner).
Owning a leasehold property will normally involve paying a ground rent to your freeholder. If you're in a flat, you'll also pay a service charge for the cost of maintaining the common parts of the building and grounds.
In recent years, a large number of new-build houses were also sold as leaseholds. However, the government announced in June 2019 that it would ban new-build houses being sold as leasehold.
Legislation still needs to be passed before this becomes law, though.
- Find out more: leasehold and freehold advice guide
New-build leasehold scandal
If you're buying a new-build leasehold property, it's important to check that your lease doesn't include a ground-rent-doubling clause, which involves the ground rent doubling every decade.
The presence of this clause has led many new-build homeowners to become stuck in unsellable properties, as increasing numbers of mortgage lenders are refusing to lend on homes with this in their leases.
In June 2018, Which? published a comprehensive investigation into issues surrounding leasehold homes, including ground-rent-doubling clauses, punitive permission fees, freehold purchasing problems and issues buying and selling leasehold homes.
- Read our full investigation: to have or to leasehold? Inside the scandal rocking the new homes industry
Pros and cons of buying a new-build
As you can see, there's a lot to think about before buying a new-build. We've summarised the most important things to bear in mind in the table below.
|Advantages of buying a new-build||Disadvantages of buying a new-build|
|Guarantees: new-build homes come with a 10-year NHBC warranty covering structural defects. Most developers also provide their own two-year warranty.||Delays: properties aren't always completed on time. If there's a hold-up during construction, your mortgage offer could expire.|
|High spec: new homes are built to the latest specifications, so major repairs should be unnecessary for the first few years. They tend to be more energy-efficient, too, so you could benefit from lower utility bills.||Defects: 87% of new-build homeowners reported snagging issues with their properties, according to a survey by New Homes Review. Some developers have also come under fire for poor after-sales care and not fixing problems when they're reported.|
|Personalisation: if you buy off-plan, you might be able to choose your fixtures and finishes. This is great if you're attracted by the 'blank canvas' element of buying new-build.||Vague marketing materials: plans and brochures don't always give a clear idea of what the home will actually look like when it's built.|
|Smoother process: there's no upward chain to contend with when you buy a new-build home, which means you won't be stuck waiting for someone to sell a property before you can move in.||Size: the rooms in new-build homes are often smaller than those in older properties, so you'll need to make sure your belongings will fit. In fact, there's a growing market for 'micro-homes' - properties with a total area of under 37sqm, about the size of an underground tube carriage.|
|Incentives: some developers will try and persuade you to buy by offering to pay your legal fees or even your stamp duty - although the latter will be less helpful for first-time buyers, who are often exempt from this.||Teething issues: everything about your home will be new - not just the building, but the infrastructure too. You might have issues with getting the broadband, TV and even heating working, particularly if they will be shared with other properties and you're one of the first in. Getting post delivered can be a nightmare as well.|
|Schemes: Help to Buy equity loans are exclusively available on new-build properties.||Disruption: if you're one of the first to move in, you could find yourself living on a building site for months or even years while the rest of the work is completed.|
Find out more: viewing a show home