As banks start to reveal terms for the Government’s second phase of the Help to Buy scheme, the housing market continues to pick up.

Although very positive news for sellers, this also means an increasingly competitive market for buyers, so how can those looking to upgrade to a new home or simply get their foot on the ladder make sure they stay one step ahead?

Zara Banday, associate and real estate specialist at Mills & Reeve, offers her top tips:

  • Make sure you’re the first to get a call

Estate agents are there to secure a sale for their clients so let them be in no doubt that you are a serious buyer. If you have cash in the bank you’ll straightaway be ahead of someone who needs to secure a mortgage and in the same way if you’re currently renting you can move quicker than those with another property to sell.

  • Prepare to buy

Making sure you’re first in line once you’ve found your dream house is all about the planning. Speak to your bank or financial adviser and ensure you have a mortgage agreed in principle before even thinking about putting in an offer. Remember you will also need to provide three months’ worth of wage slips, utility bills and your passport to ensure all the relevant checks can be completed.

  • Don’t let your decision be swayed by incentives and discounts on a new build property

Although a house builder offering to pay your moving expenses or stamp duty may seem like they are doing you a favour, remember they are in business to make a profit and will probably not be giving these extras away for free. More than likely the costs will be in the overall price of the house and you will end up paying for them over the lifetime of your mortgage.

  • Don’t rely on the agent’s financial services company

It’s worth finding out what mortgage the selling agent’s supplier can offer you but I would always recommend speaking to an independent financial adviser as your first port of call. They have the knowledge and experience to advise on the options which best fit your needs and budget, with no commission to sway their opinion!

  • Nothing comes for free

Ensure you know exactly how much you are paying for the services of a financial adviser. Even if they are provided through your bank there is a chance you could be charged an additional fee so confirm this before you’re hit with an unexpected bill.

  • Check, double check and recheck

In an ideal world we could all expect complete honesty from sellers but unfortunately you can’t rely on this. Is it true you can’t hear any traffic noise from the bedroom? Was the boiler really installed last year? And is the street quiet and secluded or actually a partygoers’ paradise?

  • Fully investigate all conditions

Unfortunately a very common mistake is to not fully read and understand all the conditions and covenants placed on the sale of a property. Many people are afraid to ask what they deem "silly" questions when reading the documentation and can end up facing problems, so make use of your legal adviser and ensure you are fully confident before agreeing to or signing anything.

  • Account for all costs

It seems like an obvious point to make, but don’t forget to confirm exactly how much Stamp Duty you will be expected to pay, along with any disbursement costs. Many people don’t realise how much these expenses can add up and if you don’t budget for them it could be an unpleasant surprise.

  • Remember a bank valuation is not for your benefit

Never be tricked into thinking a bank valuation is there to give you peace of mind. At best it’s a brief survey, in some cases a "drive-by", and should certainly never replace a detailed structural survey.

  • Don’t forget who the estate agent is working for

Estate agents are employed by the property sellers to get the best possible price for each and every house, so understandably they do not represent your (the buyer’s) best interests. Ensure you retain a professional, firm approach at all times and don’t settle unless you are 100 per cent satisfied with what you’re being offered.