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

The Legal Process of Buying Property

buying-a-house

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

A Simple Guide to Divorce Procedure in NI

weddingrings

Ending a marriage can be one of the most difficult and stressful times in a person’s life.

Making the decision to end your marriage brings with it many worries and fears about how life will change upon divorce. The last thing that any person going through a divorce wants to worry about is having to navigate a long, complicated legal process to reach the end result.
It will be a relief to many that the legal procedure for divorce here in Northern Ireland is fairly straightforward. We have put together below some information for you to explain how this process works.

What is the procedure for divorce?

The first step in getting divorce is to issue what is known as a Divorce Petition. This is simply a document which sets out details needed by the Judge to consider your divorce. Importantly, the Petition will detail the grounds on which you are applying for a divorce. If you are the person who has filed for divorce, you will be referred to as the ‘Petitioner’ in these proceedings and your spouse will be referred to as ‘the Respondent’.

The Divorce Petition, once finalised, is then stamped by the Court and served on your spouse who is asked to complete an Acknowledgement of Service Form and lodge this with the Court. This form will confirm that your spouse has received the divorce papers and will detail whether they intend to defend your Petition for divorce.

If your spouse is not challenging the divorce, the case will then be listed for a Decree Nisi hearing.

What is a Decree Nisi hearing?

This is the initial hearing where the Judge will have to determine whether your marriage has irretrievably broken down.   You must attend at Court and give evidence at this hearing.   If the Judge is satisfied that the grounds for divorce have been met, a Decree Nisi is granted – this is an Order stating that are entitled to obtain a Divorce.

Am I divorced after I get my Decree Nisi??

No. The Decree Nisi is simply the first stage of the divorce. In order to be fully legally divorced, you must obtain a Decree Absolute.  You may apply for a Decree Absolute six weeks and one day after the Decree Nisi hearing. Your Solicitor makes the application for a Decree Absolute after this time has passed and you are not required to attend at Court.

What about the family finances and property?

Often, if the division of the family finances and property has not been agreed between you and your spouse, Court proceedings would then be issued to decide how to divide the finances. These proceedings are called Ancillary Relief proceedings.  In cases where the family finances and property have not been finalised, the Petitioner is generally advised not to apply for the Decree Absolute until after the finances are resolved.  This is because both parties could lose certain rights such as widow pension benefits.

How much will a Divorce cost?

There will be Court fees payable for issuing divorce proceedings.  These include a fee for the issuing of the divorce petition, setting the case down for Hearing and then obtaining a copy of the Decree Absolute.  These fees increase every tax year and details can be found on the NI Courts website.   There will be solicitor’s professional costs on top of this.  Most solicitors will give a quote for a divorce in advance of lodging anything with the Court.   Legal Aid may be available depending on your financial circumstances.

If Ancillary Relief proceedings are issued to resolve the financial matters after Decree Nisi, legal costs are likely to be calculated on a time-spent basis.  It is important that you speak with your solicitor about costs before issuing proceedings.

What about the future?

If you had made a Will before getting divorced, it is important to review this after your divorce. Once a divorce has been granted, any part of a Will leaving property to your former spouse will be invalid.

Although a divorce ends your marriage, often you and your former spouse will have to continue to share a relationship with one another for the sake of your children. It is therefore in everyone’s interests to try to ensure that the divorce, if at all possible, is dealt as amicably as possible so that despite your differences at the end of their marriage, you can both move on to the next stage of your lives.

If you would like more information on the legal process of divorce or if you have a query regarding your own divorce, please do not hesitate to contact us here or leave your comments confidentially below.

*October 2015

 

Stalking & the Law in NI

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Many people associate stalking as something experienced only by those in the public eye – we read stories in the papers of a ‘crazed fan’ being found on a high-profile celebrity’s premises or trolling them online and sending unwanted messages. 

Many would not associate stalking with something that would happen to ordinary people in their ordinary lives.   However, according to the National Stalking Helpline, approximately 45% of people who contact them are being stalked by people they have previously been in a relationship with, while a further one third will have had some prior acquaintance with their stalker.

What is the definition of stalking?

There is currently no legal definition of stalking, though it is generally seen as behaviour which is persistent and unwanted, and which causes the victim to feel frightened, anxious and distressed.  This persistent and unwanted behaviour can take many forms, including the following:-

  • Following, observing and spying on someone.
  • Non-consensual communication, such as repeated phone calls, emails, text messages, and unwanted gifts.
  • Showing up uninvited at the victim’s home school, or work.
  • Driving past the victim’s home or work.
  • Burglary or robbery or criminal damage of the victim’s home, workplace, vehicle or other property.
  • Threatening the victim, their family, or even pets with violence.
  • Harassment of people associated with the victim (e.g. family members, partner, work colleagues).
  • Physical and/ or sexual assault of the victim.
  • Cyber stalking – i.e. conduct or communication via electronic devices which are intended to distress or harass the victim – for example, sending or leaving unsolicited material/gifts, graffiti, and/or messages on social networking sites.
How can I protect myself if I am being stalked?

Stalking was made a criminal offence in England and Wales in November 2012.  In Northern Ireland, no legislation currently exists dealing specifically with stalking and making it a stand – alone criminal offence.

That is however soon to change as on 18th January 2021, Justice Minister Naomi Long introduced legislative proposals for a stand-alone Protection from Stalking Bill to the Northern Ireland Assembly. This will create a specific offence of stalking and include provision for the introduction of Stalking Protection Orders to Northern Ireland

Presently however, the law has some remedy in place to protect those who are being stalked or harassed.  There are different options available for those who are being stalked by a family member and those being stalked by someone unknown or unrelated to them.

  1. Civil Injunction

The Protection from Harassment Order (NI) 1997 provides a victim with the ability to apply to the Court for a Civil Injunction against their stalker.  This remedy can be used where the victim and perpetrator are not related to one another via blood or marriage and indeed even if the perpetrator is not known to the victim.

A Civil Injunction, if granted, stops a person from harassing, assaulting, molesting or otherwise interfering with the victim, including restraining that person from being able to communicate or contact the victim and, in some cases, prohibiting them from being able to enter a certain property or area.

In order to make an application for a Civil Injunction, there must be evidence of two separate incidents of harassment.  It is therefore important that any incident of harassing or threatening behaviour is logged with the Police.

Civil Injunctions can be applied for on an emergency basis without the perpetrator being notified and dependant on a victim’s income, they may be entitled to Legal Aid assistance.

  1. Non-Molestation Order

Under the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Order (NI) 1998, if a victim and the perpetrator are deemed to be ‘associated persons’, then the victim has the option of applying for a Non-Molestation Order against the perpetrator.   In general terms, the parties are deemed to be ‘associated persons’ if they are family members, have lived together in a familial relationship or have a child together.

If a Non-Molestation Order is granted by the Court, the perpetrator cannot molest, harass, pester, use or threaten violence against the victim. It means that they cannot harass the victim directly (in person, by text, phone, email or social media) and they also cannot get someone else to harass them on their behalf.

The Court can also grant a victim an Occupation Order if they live with the perpetrator or if the perpetrator has some right to reside in their home (for example, if they are on the tenancy agreement or a joint owner). If the Court grants an Occupation Order, this means that the perpetrator they can be removed from the home and barred from returning to it.

The Court can also make an exclusion zone, excluding the perpetrator from a particular place, for example from the street in which the victim lives or the place they work.

Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders can be made on an emergency basis if there has been a recent incident of abuse (usually within the past 7 days). Some Legal Aid assistance is available to anyone applying for these Orders.

If you are the victim of stalking or harassment, you should contact the Police as soon as possible and report this behaviour and also seek legal advice on obtaining protection from the Courts.  There are organisations available to provide such support, such as the Domestic and Sexual Violence helpline (0808 8021414) Women’s Aid, the Men’s Advisory Project and The Rainbow Project.  With the help of the police, legal system and support services, you do not have to suffer in silence.  With the right advice and support, you can put an end to the harassment you are suffering and move forward to a happier and healthier life.

For further information on this area, please feel free to contact us here or leave your contact details below.