If you need to move out of a flood-damaged home, a quick-sale firm may be able to help. But be warned: the cost could be higher than you expect.
Thousands of homes have been damaged by recent flooding around the UK.
With water levels starting to subside, insurers are now going through the process of sorting out the huge number of claims on home insurance policies.
But given the amount of work involved dealing with each case, it is inevitable that it will take months before many properties are returned to their pre-flood condition.
Owners who want or need to move house at some point during 2014 could therefore face a serious problem if their property is in no state to go on the market.
Flood-damaged home sales
But a number of companies in the UK offer to buy any house or flat, regardless of their condition.
One firm, National Homebuyers, says it has seen a recent "influx of calls" from people who want to sell flood-damaged properties.
Director Julian King says: "These are challenging times.
"We have a simple proposition to any homeowners who may be caught up in trying to sell their home or simply fed up of living in a property that is affected by the flooding."
How quick-sale companies work
Quick-sale services are typically aimed at people who have little choice but to sell in a hurry.
This includes, for example, divorcing couples, families trying dispose of a late relative's home, or borrowers who can no longer afford their mortgage repayments.
But the cost of a quick transaction - it usually takes less than a month - is a sale price well below market value.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) last year ran an investigation into quick-sale property firms.
Quick-sale property firms investigated
It found that sellers typically received between 10% and 25% less than the market value of their properties when they used these firms.
The seller of a flood-damaged home might get even less.
The watchdog also expressed concern that initial offer prices were sometimes reduced at the last minute, which could be unlawful.
Gaucho Rasmussen, OFT director, says: "Responsible quick house sale firms offer a valuable service to consumers who want a fast sale.
'Potentially illegal behaviour'
"However we have also seen potentially illegal behaviour."
This led the OFT to open investigations into three companies, although National Homebuyers was not one of them.
David Hollingworth is a spokesman for mortgage broker London & Country.
He says: "Whether floods will affect the longer-term value of a property will largely depend on the availability of insurance as well as how long these images live in the mind of potential buyers.
'Weigh up cost of a quick home sale'
"Those with a more pressing need to move might feel that a company that will guarantee to buy a property could offer a solution."
But he adds that vendors need to weigh up the cost of a quick deal in terms of a lower selling price against the speed of the transaction.
"Worries have been raised that a key target market for this kind of service can be vulnerable owners that really need a quick sale, possibly because of other debt problems."
'We help those who need to sell quickly'
A spokeswoman for National Homebuyers says: "We help people who are selling for a variety of reasons".
"We help not just those with flood-damaged properties, but also those who are relocating, emigrating, downsizing or selling a property they have inherited.
"It is not our intention to take advantage of people in a desperate situation.
"If people are struggling to sell their property for whatever reason National Homebuyers offer a valuable service and will purchase quickly enabling people to move on with their lives."
How to get the right deal
The OFT offers these tips for anyone considering the quick-sale option:
- Look into alternatives, such as talking to your lender if you are struggling to pay off your mortgage.
- Be sceptical of claims such as "completion in days". Ask firms how long sales typically take.
- Don't accept verbal information or promises. Get everything in writing.
- Get independent legal advice.
- Don't commit to the sale until you have a final offer in writing, after surveys have been carried out.