How do we shop around new housing developments and buy the best value home?
Q. I'm looking for a new house in greater Dublin - maybe the commuter belt. I have a husband and two children - but will possibly have more down the line. There are about five or six developments that are in a suitable location with a price bracket of between €280,000 to €320,000.
What should I be looking for when comparing the different developments?
Catherine, Balbriggan, Co Dublin
A. Location and price are normally the key drivers when deciding on a property purchase and generally, the more desirable the location, the higher the price.
Assuming that the locations you are considering are similar, a useful starting exercise is to compare the prices of the houses in each development on a price-per-square-metre basis. This will give you a better understanding of whether you are getting value for your money.
Take the price of the house and divide it by the number of square metres. A 135sqm house costing €320,000 equates to a price per sqm of €2,370. A house in a similar development with a price of €280,000 may at first seem better value for money. However, if it's only 102 sqm, this equates to a price per sqm of €2,745 - which is in fact 15pc higher than the first property.
Internal and external specifications vary considerably from one development to another. Draw up a template to help you capture the specs of key areas - kitchens, bathrooms, tiling, electricals, heating and plumbing - and identify any additional outlay that you will need to spend. For example, are the costs of flooring included? Will you need additional sockets? Add these costs to the basic price to get a true indication of the initial cost of the property.
Consider also the ongoing running costs of the house. Check the Building Energy Rating (BER) of each development. This will tell you how energy efficient the property is. The higher the BER, the lower your heating bills will be. Also find out if there is a management company with annual service charges - and what services are provided for the charges?
Design is a key consideration and good design can save you money in the long term. You say that you may be expanding your family - many new developments now offer attic convertibility as an option, and this can be extremely useful as an additional bedroom if your family expands. You might also be able to convert your attic to a home office, which may allow you to work from home - saving commuting expenses. Consider the plot size also - is there room to the rear garden for extending in the future? Adding an extension to a house in a few years' time can add considerable value to the property and is much cheaper and less stressful than moving house.
Think about how you would like to use internal space - particularly the ground floor. Do you prefer open-plan living or the privacy of having a separate sitting room? Do you need a separate play room for younger children that can be used as study or a teenage den as they get older? Consider also if the orientation of the house is important to you - south-facing gardens often cost a premium over north-facing rear gardens.
Q. I have just paid my 20pc deposit on a new house and have signed a contract. I have now been invited to put together a snag list before I move in.
What should I look for and who should I get advice from? Also, what if the snag list isn't addressed fully before I move in? Where do I stand with my deposit if there are any big issues that aren't fixed?
Claire, Salthill, Co Galway
A. The purpose of 'snagging' a new house is to identify details or items which have yet to be completed, are poorly finished, or are in breach of building regulations.
When a property is finished, the builder will invite the buyer (or their representative) to walk through the house and make a list of outstanding items (the 'snag list'). Typical items would include doors not closing correctly, loose electrical fittings, and poor plasterwork or paint.
We would recommend getting a professional structural engineer, architect or building surveyor to carry out a snag list on your behalf because they will be well-experienced in what to look out for and will often spot items you may not. You will typically pay €300 to €750 to carry out a snag list, depending on the size of the property.
This initial outlay could save significant expenditure in the long-run if you discover a defect at a later date that is not covered by the builder's warranty.
Once you finish your snag list, the builder will attend to the items on that list ('desnagging') and you will then be invited to revisit the property to ensure that all items have been completed.
Once the builder has desnagged the property, he will serve you with a completion notice, which specifies a closing date. This gives you a fixed number of days to arrange to pay the balance of the price, and to complete the final documents necessary for legal title to be transferred to you.
If there are items which your engineer considers to be major and which the builder is refusing to carry out, you cannot simply have your deposit returned as both parties are bound by the contracts which have already been signed.
You do have recourse to the courts if there are grounds for breach of contract. However, the terms of a contract comprise conditions or warranties - and usually only a breach of a condition constitutes a breach of contract. Breaches of warranties will not usually give rise to grounds for legal action. There are a number of remedies should there be a breach of contract, including damages or rescission - however, it is advisable to try to resolve any difficulties by negotiation.
Q. We're buying a new house and the builder has suggested that we convert the attic into an additional bedroom during the build - at a cost of €30,000. He says it would cost twice the price to convert the attic if we wait until after the build to do so.
Based on our family plans, we won't need a conversion for at least five years but we can still see the merit in it now. What to do?
John, Dundalk, Co Louth
A. There is no doubt that adding an attic conversion to your home can add considerable value to it - if it is done correctly. Having the conversion done at this stage in the build is advantageous for a number of reasons.
It will be covered under the builder's warranty and will be signed off as fully compliant with planning and building regulations. There will be no disruption caused by construction at a later stage and it will save you the hassle of designing the space.
But having this conversion done now will push up your household costs - when you are not in fact using the space. Be sure you have considered all options with regards to how the space could be utilised in the meantime - for example, would you consider renting the extra bedroom out or would having a separate home office give one of you an option to work from home?
Construction costs are increasing, but even allowing for 7.5pc inflation a year, your attic conversion is unlikely to cost twice today's price in five years' time. It might be an idea to see if the builder will get the structural elements ready for a subsequent conversion - in other words, install the appropriate attic truss, the higher load-bearing floor and bring the services (such as electrics and lighting) as far as the attic. This way, you can complete the internal fit-out yourself when you are in a position to use the space and as the major elements will then already be in place when you come to do the conversion, there should be fairly minimal disruption.
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While we will endeavour to place your questions with the most appropriate expert to answer your query, this column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice.
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