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Would you buy off-plan? What you need to know about not-built homes

Buying a off-plan can be fraught with difficulties, especially if the property is not completed until many months down the line, but it remains a popular option for a slice of buyers.

However, while the fancy artist’s impressions – and potentially even a show home – might look tempting, this is an area of home buying where you must tread carefully.

There is the finance to consider, with deposits required to be put down to secure properties and many lenders not offering mortgages on off-plan homes.

And even if a lender does lend on off-plan properties, the mortgage deal may only last for six months meaning that you may have to reapply for finance if the property isn’t finished within that timeframe.

There is also the crucial question of whether the property will match expectations and look like the product you were sold on paper (or more likely, via computer generated images).

If you’re buying off-plan, will the property end up looking like the computer generated images?

Anyone buying off-plan should check contracts carefully and get a professional to look them over before signing on the dotted line. It is important to check if a deposit is refundable or non-refundable and what conditions are being imposed.

Buyers must also take note of their rights, their obligations, and what the options are for redress if things don’t turn out as planned. 

The first tip from the experts is not to be seduced by fancy developer drawings and brochures and consider clearly about what the development will be like.

Jeremy Leaf, a north London estate agent, said: ‘CGIs can be very accurate but equally they can be a bit misleading because they are an image of what’s expected.

Nobody wants to buy a two double bed flat via a CGI only to find one single and one double bedroom 

‘Building issues may mean the developer physically can’t create what they want to; there may be issues on site, changes to planning and conditions. There needs to be a bit of flexibility, common sense and wiggle room on both sides.

‘It doesn’t necessarily mean that the builder or developer is deliberately trying to be deceitful or trying to get away with something.’

What if something dramatically changes though?  

Mr Leaf added: ‘Nobody wants to buy a two double bed flat via a CGI only to find one single and one double bedroom. If the buyer wants to proceed regardless, they need to make sure there is an opportunity to address this. Goodwill and enthusiasm on both sides can enable a solution to be found.’

The House Builders Federation explains that there a number of consumer codes and warranties in place that aim to protect customers in this instance.

It said that these codes and warranties have a range of requirements in terms of information provided that ‘ensure homebuyers get an accurate description of their home’.

'Nobody wants to buy a two double bed flat via a CGI only to find one single and one double bedroom' warns one estate agent

‘Nobody wants to buy a two double bed flat via a CGI only to find one single and one double bedroom’ warns one estate agent

The HBF explained that a new code called The New Homes Quality Code will increase consumer protections. It was published by the New Homes Quality Board last year.

It will come into effect in the coming months, alongside an independent New Homes Ombudsman that will provide redress for consumers in the event that they are not happy with their building, or feel for example that they were not provided with accurate information.

Claire Coward, of the HBF, said: ‘The new Code protects vulnerable customers, helps customers to make informed decisions, and tackles any issues with ‘snagging’ problems.

‘If a customer is not satisfied with how any complaint they have made has been dealt with, they can refer their case to the New Homes Ombudsman Service.’

Four off-plan homes for sale

1. Two-bed flat, London, £1.75m

This two-bedroom flat is part of the Battersea Power station development in London's Nine Elms

This two-bedroom flat is part of the Battersea Power station development in London’s Nine Elms 

The flat is on the market for £1.75million and is being sold by Copperstones estate agents

The flat is on the market for £1.75million and is being sold by Copperstones estate agents

The luxury apartment is on the fourth floor of the new building and comes with a 993 year lease

The luxury apartment is on the fourth floor of the new building and comes with a 993 year lease

This two-bedroom flat is part of the Battersea Power station development in London’s Nine Elms.

It is on the fourth floor of the building, which will offer residents access to a 24 hour concierge, a residents’ lounge, bar, gym, swimming pool and private cinema.

The leasehold property has a lease of 993 years and is for sale for £1.75million via Copperstones estate agents.

2. Three-bed flat, Kent, £895k

This three-bedroom flat is part of a new development in the coastal town of Broadstairs in Kent

This three-bedroom flat is part of a new development in the coastal town of Broadstairs in Kent

The development of 18 flats, each with luxury interiors that include open plan living areas

The development of 18 flats, each with luxury interiors that include open plan living areas

The leasehold property is on the market for £895,000 via Cooke & Co estate agents

The leasehold property is on the market for £895,000 via Cooke & Co estate agents

This three-bed flat is in the coastal town of Broadstairs in Kent, and is part of a development of 18 flats in the original grounds of the North Foreland golf course.

The leasehold property is being sold for £895,000 via Cooke & Co estate agents.

The listing for the flat points out that the computer generated images are only the artist’s impressions, although it makes ‘every effort’ to offer a realistic representation of what the finished development will look like.

3. Two-bed flat, Dorset, £750,000

This two-bedroom flat in Sandbanks, in Dorset, known for its sandy beaches

This two-bedroom flat is in the affluent area of Sandbanks, in Dorset, known for its sandy beaches

The Dorset development of flats is only 200 metres from the beach and 500 metres from the harbour

The Dorset development of flats is only 200 metres from the beach and 500 metres from the harbour

The leasehold property is being sold for £750,000 via Fine & Country estate agents

The leasehold property is being sold for £750,000 via Fine & Country estate agents

This two-bedroom flat is in the affluent Sandbanks, which is known for its sandy beaches and expensive properties.

The Dorset development of flats is only 200 metres from the beach and 500 metres from the harbour.

The leasehold property has a lease of 125 years and is being sold for £750,000 via Fine & Country estate agents.

4. Three-bed bungalow, Perth, £450,000

This bungalow is on a development of four similar properties in the Perthshire village of Murthly

This bungalow is on a development of four similar properties in the Perthshire village of Murthly

The property is currently being built and will not be completely finished until the summer this year

The property is currently being built and will not be completely finished until the summer this year

The property is on the market via Your Move and is being sold with an asking price of £450,000

The property is on the market via Your Move and is being sold with an asking price of £450,000

This three-bedroom bungalow is on a development of four similar properties in the Perthshire village of Murthly.

It is around 15 minutes north of the city of Perth at the gateway to the Scottish Highlands.

The property is currently being built and will be finished in early summer 2022. It is on the market via Your Move and is being sold for £450,000.

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