Top Tips for First Time Buyers

first-time-buyer

So, you’ve decided that now is the time to take the plunge and set your feet firmly on the property market by buying your first home.

Though buying property can be an exciting time for many, it can also be a daunting experience and will be one of the largest financial commitments you will make in life.

So what kind of issues should you be considering when house-hunting?

1. Know your budget

It is important before you get going to seek the advice of an independent financial adviser to find out how much of a mortgage you could be given by a lender and how much of a balance you will have to pay towards the property from your own savings.

A deposit of around 10% of the house price is normally required but the more you can put down to begin with, the better the mortgage deal you will be able to get.

Be realistic about your lifestyle after you move into the property and don’t overstretch yourself in your monthly mortgage commitments. Remember you will also have other outlays before you get your keys such as legal fees, additional surveys, mortgage product fees and stamp duty so be sure to figure them into your budget along with any costs for redecorating and furniture.

2. Research! Research! Research!

It’s a little odd that we make a commitment to spend a very large sum of money based on a quick walk round a property, possibly with other potential buyers present. When you are viewing a property you like, ask as many questions as you can; When was that sunroom built? Does it have planning permission? Is there a warranty? Who are your neighbours? Who owns that massive tree overhanging the garden and who is responsible for trimming it?

Get a second viewing of the property and consider commissioning your own survey – remember, a survey carried out for mortgage purposes is for the bank’s protection, not yours.

If you don’t already live in the area, then visit the location at several different times of the day and night, weekday and weekend. The character of a neighbourhood can really change depending on the time of day. Check the amount of rates payable for that area. Check out local schools, transport routes and sports facilities. Ask yourself; “Is this somewhere I really want to live?”

3. Be aware of ‘common areas’

Many new developments and apartment blocks will have common areas containing stairs, lifts and common recreational space.

All apartments should have the benefit of a management company who look after the maintenance and insurance of common areas – this is also common in many new developments.

The weeding of all those flowerbeds isn’t cheap and so to maintain and insure the common areas of a development or apartment block, each resident is required to pay an annual service charge to the company managing the development or apartments. This charge may be over £100.00 per month and in some developments substantially more. The estate agent showing you around the property should be able to give you an idea of the service charge before you place your offer. Ask yourself can you afford this as well as your other outgoings.

4. Make yourself an attractive purchaser

Demand for property is now strong and you want to have the competitive edge if you are bidding on a new home. The key to this is being prepared:-

  • Have a mortgage agreement in principle in place – this is a document from your chosen lender saying they are happy to lend to you.
  • Have proof that you have the deposit monies in your bank account.
  • Return calls to the estate agent promptly.

Showing that you are keen and engaged can go a long way to securing your property. Speak to a solicitor in advance and know who you are going to appoint to represent you in the purchase of the property

Above all else, don’t get caught up in the excitement and either over-commit yourself financially, or end up in a property you like, but don’t love. Take your time to make the right choices to ensure that in the end, there really is no place like home.
Happy house hunting!
This post has been provided by property lawyer Ruth Flinn of Francis Hanna & Co. Solicitors. Should you require any further information on buying a house in Northern Ireland or if you would like a free no-obligation quote, please contact Ruth on rflinn@fhanna.co.uk

Having Contact with your Grandchildren

grandparentsThe bond between a grandparent and their grandchild is often regarded as one of the most precious relationships in life.

Grandparents are free of the stresses of parenting and can simply enjoy a fun and loving relationship with their grandchild.

Often this relationship can be of great benefit, not only to both grandparent and grandchild but also to busy parents who can have some valued time off from parenting.

But what happens to those grandparents for whom a relationship with their grandchild is impossible due to refusal by either or both parents to allow them to have contact time with their grandchildren? Often this can happen when the parents have separated and acrimony develops amongst the wider family.

I am not being allowed to see my grandchild – what can I do?

If you are a grandparent who is being refused contact with your grandchild, you can make an application to the Court for a Contact Order.

What is a Contact Order?

A Contact Order would allow you Court-ordered contact with your grandchild. This application would be made under the Children Order (NI) 1995.

What is the process for applying for a Contact Order?

At first instance, you must seek permission from the Court to bring an application for a Contact Order. Permission is normally sought at the same time as making the actual application and in all but exceptional circumstances this permission is granted. Once permission has been granted, the Court then considers in more general terms your application for contact.

Who would be involved in contact proceedings?

The Court considers in more general terms a grandparent’s application for contact. Each parent would be a party in this application and they are entitled ask the Court to consider any objections which they may have in relation to a grandparent having contact.

What does the Court have to consider when making a Contact Order?

The Court considers all the circumstances of the case and in particular the best interests of the child involved. The Court may ask a Court appointed social worker, known as a Court Children’s Officer, to speak to the child in order to establish what his/her views are in relation to having contact with their grandparent. A child’s views will be taken into account however how much weight the Court places on their views will depend on their age and understanding – for example, the Court will consider the wishes and feelings of a 13 year old much more than they would of a 5 year old.

How much contact can I expect to get with my grandchild?

Whilst Courts are sympathetic to grandparent’s applications for contact and are aware of the importance of such a relationship, a grandparent would not generally expect as much contact as a parent who is living apart from his/her children.

In some exceptional circumstances a grandparent may apply for their grandchild to reside with them. This would generally be in cases where the parents are not providing adequate care for their child. In these cases, a grandparent could apply for a Residence Order. If a grandparent is awarded a Residence Order, they automatically acquire Parental Responsibility for the child for so long as the Order remains in place. This means that they can have a right to make decisions that are in their grandchild’s best interests.

It is of course of benefit to all concerned if contact arrangements can be agreed between parents and grandparents without having to go through the Courts. However, it is no doubt reassuring to many grandparents that they are able to exercise their rights via the Court if they are being refused contact with their grandchild.

If you would like any further information on the issue of grandparent contact, please feel free to contact us directly here  or alternatively leave your comments confidentially below

Making a Will

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We all know the saying, ‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’. However, with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it is sometimes difficult to make any plans at all!

Few people would deny the sense in making a Will, and most of us have at one stage or another considered it, but many of us just don’t get round to the task. Everyday life seems to get in the way and besides, talking about death is a little depressing don’t you think?!

Why should I make a Will?

Well, there is nothing morbid about making a Will – you can rest assured that it does not hasten the event! In reality, taking a little time to plan how you would wish your assets to be distributed upon death and knowing that your family and children have been properly provided for as per your wishes goes some way to relieving the stresses and worries that many of us may have about death, particularly as we get older. Essentially, by making a Will, you control who inherits and how much of your estate each of your chosen beneficiaries receive.

What if I have not made a Will?

If you have not made a Will, then laws made many years ago (which many people feel are now outdated) direct who the recipients of your estate will be. In today’s world, the patterns of family life are much more diverse and a family may include the following:-

  • Children by more than one partner
  • Step-children
  • Long-term unmarried partners.

If you have not made a Will, these are all complicating factors. For example, if you are unmarried but have a long term partner and child together, you may wish, and expect, that your partner would be first in line to inherit, and your child second, however  if you have not made a Will stipulating this, your child will inherit your estate if you die and NOT your partner.  If married, your spouse moves to first in line but does not necessarily take all of your estate. Therefore, if you wish to have the reassurance that each and every member of your family is accounted for upon your death, making a Will is the best option for you.

Planning ahead can save you money and heartache, and most importantly will ensure YOU are in control of what happens after your death.

For more information on how to make a Will, please feel free to contact us here or alternatively leave your details below. 

The Legal Process of Buying Property

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So, you’ve spent the past few months with your nose deeply buried in property brochures. Your Google search list consists solely of property websites and viewing houses has almost become a hobby.  You’re even sick of the sight of Kirsty and Phil on ‘Location Location Location’

But, at long last, it has happened –you’ve finally found your ideal home!

That’s the hard part right?  Once the mortgage is through, surely all you need to do is arrange a date to pick up the keys and then you can get down to the important stuff, like where to put the sofa and what colour to paint the living room??

Unfortunately not…before keys can be placed in your hand and all your furniture packed up, the legal process of buying a house needs to be completed.  

It’s not a matter of just signing on the dotted line either – the entire legal process normally takes between 6-8 weeks before you can get moving.

What exactly does my solicitor do?

You may wonder what it is exactly that a solicitor does when dealing with buying a house for you.

Your solicitor’s main job is to protect your interests and make sure that all of the title deeds under which you will own the property are in order.

To do this, they have to check the following:-

  • They check all of the title deeds (which may consist of hundreds of pages) to make sure there is nothing contained in them that may restrict your use of the property.
  • They check the maps of the property and make sure the boundary to the property is correct – after all, there’s no point in buying a house and realising when you go to sell it that you didn’t actually own part of your back garden!
  • They review any survey reports you or your mortgage company have to get to check if work has been done to the property which may to be queried with the seller.
  • They ensure that you are connected to a mains sewer, or that the necessary consents are in place for a septic tank, and that you have access to a public road.
  • They check through paperwork (such as searches and certificates) to make sure that any necessary planning permissions and building control documents are in place.
  • They liaise with you and your mortgage company throughout this process and highlight to you any issues which you should be aware of before you actually buy the house.
  • If there are any service charges or if ground rent is payable, they ensure that these are all paid up to date by the seller so that no unwanted bills arrive at your door once you’ve moved.

All checks and searches have been done – what now??

Once your solicitor is satisfied that everything is in order and any problems have been resolved, they will report to you on the property, and ask you to meet them so that you can sign the contract.

Your solicitor will also contact your mortgage company and ask them to forward mortgage monies through to them directly before you buy.

When can I move in?

Once the contracts are signed, a date is arranged between you and the seller for when money (and keys!) will change hands.  On this date, once the financial transaction has gone through via your solicitor, you will officially be able to move into your new home!

Whilst you’re busy picking out wallpaper and getting the TV installed, your solicitor’s job is not finished yet! After completion,  they will deal with the registration of the property into your name.

It takes time for the entire process of buying a property to be done thoroughly and correctly. A little time invested when buying a property should ensure that when it is your time to sell the property, everything proceeds smoothly.

When you are told the matter is ‘with your solicitor’, rest assured that your purchase is being well looked after and your solicitor will be in touch to allow you to get your keys as soon as possible.
If you would like any further information on the legal process of buying or selling your house, or any other aspect of Property Law in NI, feel free to contact us here 

International Divorce : Things To Consider

The world is becoming a smaller place with ever greater opportunities for people to travel and work abroad.   Increasing numbers of people are meeting and marrying someone from another country and as such, many families now have both a multicultural and an international dimension which would have been far less prevalent a decade ago.
If this family unit breaks down, there are a number of additional issues which can arise.  Here are some of the ways an international dimension can have an impact on family breakdown:
1. It may be possible for divorce proceedings to be brought in more than one jurisdiction.

The choice of jurisdiction can have a significant impact on the outcome of divorce proceedings as different countries apply different sets of rules, especially when it comes to the division of assets. It may be financially advantageous to a spouse to issue proceedings in one jurisdiction rather than another.  It is extremely important to seek legal advice about the different jurisdictional options at the very earliest stage as often the Court where proceedings are first issued will be the Court which ultimately decides the case.

2. There may be a limit in the Court’s power to enforce Orders in relation to property or assets in another jurisdiction.

On divorce, there may be a limit to what a Court can do in relation to assets held in another jurisdiction. For example, if a couple own a holiday home abroad, there may be difficulties in enforcing a Court order dealing with this foreign asset.

3. There may be issues regarding where the children should live in the future.

After the breakdown of a relationship, one parent may wish to move back to their country of origin with their children.  However, if they do this without the consent of the other parent or permission from the Court, they could well be accused of abducting their child and proceedings could be brought for the return of the child to the place in which they had been living. Indeed, in some countries these actions could amount to a criminal offence.  It is crucial that legal advice is taken so that you are fully informed before deciding how to proceed. It is also important if your child has been taken without consent that you take steps as soon as possible if you wish for them to be returned.

Could a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement help?

One way to try to avoid the uncertainty of what may happen should a relationship break down is to enter into an agreement while the relationship is working well. Whilst these agreements are regarded by some as unromantic, they are a practical way of agreeing what should happen if things don’t work out. Such an agreement could record what would happen to the assets following relationship breakdown.  It could also record the parties’ intentions about the children such as where they would live, their maintenance and education. The agreement could also settle which Court would have legal jurisdiction if there is a dispute.

Many countries recognise pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements or at the very least take its terms into account when ascertaining what the parties’ intentions had been. It is important to find out if the jurisdiction in which you will be living would do so.

If you would like further information on any legal aspect of divorce, please feel free to contact us confidentially here or leave your comments below