Buying a new house off plans? Here’s what you need to know

A guide to ensure you get the home you want and aren’t left with surprises down the line

If you’re not an architect or familiar with the building industry, it’s a big ask to sign up to a lengthy mortgage and potentially a home for life based on a few drawings and a glossy brochure. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you’re not an architect or familiar with the building industry, it’s a big ask to sign up to a lengthy mortgage and potentially a home for life based on a few drawings and a glossy brochure. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

Fully specced out, swanky show houses have been the norm for prospective buyers considering a new development over recent years, “but due to the high and pressing demand for family housing we are now seeing a return to homes being sold straight off plans,” says Ken MacDonald, managing director of Hook & MacDonald.

And if you’re not an architect or familiar with the building industry, it’s a big ask to sign up to a lengthy mortgage and potentially a home for life based on a few drawings and a glossy brochure. To ensure you get the home you want and to avoid any surprises down the line, keep this checklist in mind to discuss with the estate agent before making any commitments.

Orientation and aspect

“Aspect is often misinterpreted,” says David Blacoe, new homes negotiator with Savills, “there will often be several ‘Type A’ houses, for example, but some will be facing directly on to a green, some on to houses and others on to fields zoned for future development.

“Likewise, with the back garden, ascertain which way it’s facing and what it may be overlooking now and also in a few years’ time. We’re commonly seeing apartment and housing schemes designed together, with the apartments or community facilities scheduled in for building at a latter phase, so check will anything be overshadowing your house,” he says.

“If in any doubt, ask the agent to stand outside, or bring you to the plot and show you exactly which direction the house will be facing and if more structures are planned in the immediate vicinity,” says Blacoe.

“Bear in mind a house’s aspect is usually reflected in the price, with south-facing back gardens costing more, so if it’s not high on your priority list, you may get a better bargain elsewhere in the development with a different orientation,” says MacDonald.

Playgrounds and creches

Planning laws now require a creche to be included in planning applications over a certain threshold of units. Likewise, playgrounds are often encompassed in new schemes too. Find out if this is the case in your chosen development and where they will be located.

You may not want to have your back garden next door to the local toddler hotspot, or overlooking the playground may be exactly where you want to be to keep an eye on your brood.

Garden sizes

“Gardens will often vary in size even if they look the same on a site map. Often the site maps provided in brochures are for indicative purposes and have been subjected to artistic license. Ask the agent or developer for a landscape plan or building site plan that shows your exact boundaries,” says Blacoe.

Also, confirm with your agent what’s included in the front and back garden – planting, paving, grass, fence types, etc and often A-rated schemes may have a sizable heating unit or pump out in the back garden, so establish where this may be too.

Research the building contractors

“The downturn whittled out a lot of the below-par builders, so those back building now are for the most part the more reliable, steadfast firms,” says MacDonald.

“While the standard of new builds has come on immeasurably in the past decade and 10-year structural guarantees are the norm with most new builds, it’s still important to do your homework. Ask the agent what other developments the builders have completed (visit them if possible to see how they’re maturing) and research the contractor’s track record online or by asking around,” advises MacDonald.

Scrutinise the spec

“Buyers need and should expect a lot of reassurance from contractors as to what exactly they are getting with the sale price. Go through every inch of the house in minute detail with your agent (from tiles to toilets, kitchen doors to window finish) there’s no such thing as being too fussy in this situation,” says Carol Mulligan, senior new homes adviser from Knight Frank.

Be sure to check exactly which fittings and fixtures are standard and what are considered extra and ask for a list of all providers so you can go and visit the kitchen supplier, or tile store if you want.

While it’s unlikely the builder will agree to make any structural changes to the house, “once contracts are signed, they may be open to cosmetic changes, like different wooden floors from the same supplier for instance,” says Mulligan.

Roads and adjoining lands

“Most new buyers are very up to speed on the development they are looking at and have done their homework by reviewing planning applications on the county council’s website,” says Mulligan.

“Keep an eye on where your house is located in relation to the main road, which may be noisier and busier. Is it worth waiting for phase two or three which will be deeper into the development? If you want a quiet road, pick something further in that won’t have everyone else passing you daily,” advises Blacoe

Parking problems

“Parking is a hot topic with buyers and can be very tight in new developments, with two parking spaces the maximum allocated to each house,” says Mulligan. “Zoned visitor parking spaces are typically scarce, so if you need an extra space (you may not now, but you may in a few years for a teenager) discuss with the agent if there are parts of the road where parking will be allowed,” she says.