By Dan McLeod
Director at London estate agency, Atkinson McLeod
An expert explains how buyers and sellers can best make the housing market work for them in 2006.
Property market expert Dan McLeod
The New Year usually brings an upsurge in housing market activity.
Even before the Christmas decorations are put back in the attic people start to think about moving home.
The "sky-high" house price inflation of recent years has now finally come to an end, so sellers can no longer rely on a legion of hungry buyers to snap up their property no matter what.
On the other hand, though, the market is a long way from being in freefall, so buyers have to be sensible in their offers and act swiftly when they see the right property.
Advice for sellers
According to some estimates, 75% of buyers now do their initial research online.
So, if you are looking to sell your home in 2006, it is essential to use an estate agency that has an attractive, up-to-date and easy-to-use website.
However, it also needs to be highly informative. Buyers, these days, are cash rich and time poor and want to know as much information as possible about a property before they take the time to see it in person.
So, always check that detailed floor plans can be viewed online, that there are photographs of every room (not just the main rooms), and that there are accurate location maps. If these basics aren't there, less people are likely to take an interest.
It might seem a strange thing to say, but next up you need to make sure that the estate agent isn't overvaluing your property.
In the online information age, an overvalued property is as bad as an undervalued property because it can mean your property just won't sell.
By doing some basic research online, buyers, these days, can get a good idea of what a property is worth so it's pointless trying to tell them otherwise.
In any case, a correctly priced property will often sell at a higher price than an overvalued one as it will generate more interest and may result in buyers competing with their offers.
An important part of selling a property is whether you instruct on a 'sole' or 'multi' agency basis, and I would always recommend the former.
To start with, multi agency will almost certainly be more expensive - expect to pay up to 1.5% more in commission than sole agency.
A handful of signs outside your home can also send out the wrong message: it can tell buyers you're having problems finding a buyer, or are desperate to sell, either of which could result in a lower offer price.
And then there is the fact that estate agencies will be less motivated to sell your property if they have not got exclusive rights on it - whatever they might say to the contrary.
Remember, once you have instructed an agent, never tie yourself into a contract of more than six weeks. This will focus the agents mind.
To reduce the amount of time it takes to sell your property, it is vital you contact a solicitor the moment you put it on the market. However, be sure to use one that is experienced in selling properties in your area.
The new year often brings renewed interest amongst buyers
The solicitor should immediately set out to collate all the necessary information, such as
service charge and leasehold documents and the deeds from the mortgage provider.
That way, once an offer is made, the onus is on the buyer's solicitor to move the sale forward.
Once an offer has been accepted, you then need to be assertive with the buyers and set a timeframe of two weeks within which they must carry out the searches and have completed any surveys, which shows commitment.
Make sure they know that if they fail to do this, your property will go back on the market.
Advice for buyers
Location, location, location may be high up on a buyer's list of priorities, but equally important is research, research, research.
Knowledge really is power when you are house hunting, and the best place to accumulate it in 2006 is online.
For example, specialist websites like the government's landregisteronline.gov.uk show actual prices paid on every UK property sold, as well as instant current valuations.
So, if you are keen to buy on a particular street, there's a good chance you will be able to find out how much a similar property to the one you want to buy sold for recently, and what it is likely to be worth now.
This means when you approach an estate agent, you will be in a strong position.
Next up, check that the company you are dealing with is a member of two key industry bodies and abides voluntarily by their respective codes of conduct: the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) and the Ombudsman for Estate Agents (OEA).
That is not to say that non-member agents are all crooks, but is does give you peace of mind that the company you have chosen has met certain recognised standards, and that you can seek the help of a third party should you have cause for complaint.
Also determine whether the property you are interested in being sold on a 'sole' or 'multi' agency basis. Sole agency is usually preferable because you know the seller is only dealing with one estate agent, meaning any dealings are likely to be smoother and - importantly - that you're far less likely to be gazumped.
Given the competitive nature of the UK mortgage market, and the fact that interest rates are historically low, it is worth getting more than one mortgage quote.
For example, specialist mortgage brokers can often arrange far more competitive rates than are offered on the High Street.
Finally, when you make an offer, take into account that 2006 is unlikely to be the buyer's market we have experienced in much of 2005.
Clearly, this depends on where you are and the type of property you are making an offer on, but confidence is growing overall and this, coupled with a shortage of stock, means that you could lose out on your dream home if you offer well below asking price.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.