**House Viewing Tips **
Buying a house is a big investment and therefore a big decision, and whether you make a good or bad decision it can shape the rest of your life either way. With that in mind, a virtual tour of a property you are interested in buying, or simply looking at images online isn’t enough. This is a good way to shortlist properties against a general criteria of factors that you want in a home, but nothing beats a physical inspection and a proper viewing of a prospective property.
A house viewing allows you to get a closer look into all the nooks and crannies of a home, it allows you to ask questions, it enables you to properly visualise what you can potentially do with rooms and available space and it allows you to get a general feel for the ambience and atmosphere of a house. Is it cosy, homely and welcoming like you want it to be? None of that can be established remotely.
And whether you are a first-time buyer or a house-buying veteran of many years, the things you are looking for are exactly the same. So here we have put together a list of essential things to look at when viewing a house, and we have also added some tips to ensure you get the most out of your viewing.
Before you get there
Virtual tours and online information on estate agents’ websites can be extremely useful in pre-selecting suitable properties. So before you arrange a viewing you should already be comfortable that the location, size and style of the property in question are what you are looking for. Otherwise you could be wasting everyone’s time, including your own. You can also research the local area to establish the situation with schools, shops, transport, routes to work, what planning issues/building works are impending etc.
Before you view a property it is a good idea to have a look at it from outside and perhaps visit the street and the area at different times of day to see how it changes. Some locations can be less welcoming and appealing at night when certain features may attract undesirable elements, which you hadn’t noticed or appreciated in daylight, or you may look at the house from the outside and not like something about it. So you should arrive for a physical house viewing comfortable that pretty much everything about the property and the area is appealing to you, at least on face value.
It is worth noting before you undertake a house viewing, that anything you uncover will be thoroughly investigated by a surveyor further down the line, if you opt to proceed with a purchase. A qualified surveyor will be able to see far more than you will in a property, because they are experienced in looking for and spotting the signs. What you are doing with a house viewing, in addition to simply establishing whether the house is suitable and you like it, is looking for the obvious things and signs that work might need doing, money needs spending and the property value is reasonable or unreasonable. This is to shape your decision as to whether to make an offer for the property or not. You can save yourself a lot of trouble and stress if you see these things now, rather than a surveyor unearthing issues which lead to costs and/or you pulling out of the deal in a few weeks’ time. And your house viewing certainly isn’t a substitute for getting a proper survey done during the house purchase process.
Viewing the house
You can create a simple checklist of questions for your house viewing, which encompasses a number of key categories and includes all the most important factors you need to look at.
Here you are looking for signs of damp and/or a mouldy smell. Perhaps there is poor plastering or watermarks on the ceiling? These all point to a likelihood of leaks in pipework or a structural issue which could be quite significant. You can also look for cracks in joints where extensions have been built or with bay windows. Windows themselves can show tell-tale signs of structural issues, if there are cracks in the paintwork or the wood is soft and rotten. And of course if there is condensation on the windows or frames, this can suggest structural problems and can be a hard thing for the vendor to disguise. If there is condensation between double-glazed window panes, then they must be quite old or of poor quality, so ask some questions.
Storage space is always very important to any family, so as you look around make a mental note of where you can store towels, linen, toys, tools, household equipment and Christmas decorations. And in the kitchen, do you have enough space for all your pots and pans, glasses, mugs and plates etc? You should ask about basement or loft storage also, and are these areas usable, accessible or convertible? Asking about the condition of insulation also leads on from this. In terms of size, of course you also need to check whether rooms are large enough. In all likelihood you will be using some of your existing furniture, so can you visualise that in these rooms? This is strictly about size rather than design.
There are a number of important elements of a house which can deteriorate with age, and with the knowledge of how old certain things are you can make informed decisions about risk and perhaps visualise what kind of investment you are likely to need to make in repairs and maintenance in the coming years. Sometimes this is acceptable and therefore a risk worth taking.
Roof – It can be expensive to replace a roof, so ask about when the house was built and what repairs have needed to be done to the roof, if any. Modern roofs are not as well made as they used to be, so there is a tricky balance to be struck here. Also, it is not easy to see any problems which might exist (it is unlikely you will be able to actually go up and see the roof) so you may have to take the vendor at trust and maybe ask to see evidence of any work done. For any flat roof extensions you should also be able to see evidence of any problems internally.
Boiler – Again this can be a costly replacement but a boiler is a very important feature of a house in terms of providing heat and hot water and doing so economically. So you should ask how old it is, how reliable it is and whether it has been regularly serviced. You should also ask about plumbing in general and check for pipe leaks and how effective the radiators are. The boiler might be OK, but it needs upgrading. You could also run taps in the kitchen to see how good the water pressure is.
Electrics – A full re-wiring of a house can be expensive and very disruptive, so you should ask whether any work has been done or any modifications made. Ask to see the fuse board, as this usually indicates how well installed, how organised and how safe the wiring is. You can also ask about sockets in each room to check if there will be enough for you.
In general, you are entitled to ask about any modifications which have been made to the house and when, for example new guttering, fascias and soffits or external pointing. These can always lead to problems but such issues should be evident in a viewing, and in some cases might not be a big deal and enough to turn you off.
While you will have had a drive around the property and maybe sat outside it for a little time, there are certain things you need to know which can only be established with intimate knowledge of the property and neighbourhood. So you need to ask about how easy it is to park (if there isn’t a garage or driveway) and is there a residents parking scheme in place. You can ask about road noise and get a good impression for yourself, maybe also there is a nearby business that makes a noise during the day but not at night? You can ask about nearby pubs or maybe a takeaway which might become a nuisance at certain times, and you can also ask about the neighbours on either side and how well the current owners get on with them. Is there a local shop nearby that is walkable? All these things add to the property’s appeal.
Of course you are likely to only get favourable and positive feedback on most of these questions, but there may be some signs of issues that can’t be disguised or you may pick up some small snippets of information which raises alarm bells or calms your fears. So it is always worth asking.
Another feature that is important to most people and can’t always be established through a fleeting visit to the area, is sunlight and how it moves throughout the day. Which way the house faces and where the sun moves during the day will allow you to envisage how enjoyable the garden will be. This can be a big factor, and the location of neighbouring trees, garages or extensions can block the sun and mean a house isn’t quite as appealing as you first thought. This can only really be established during a house viewing.
The external property
You will be able to see from outside what condition the front façade of the property is in. So this can highlight problems with the guttering, paintwork, roof, walls and driveway. You should have a good look at the garden and outside space at the back of the house also. As well as assessing what room you have for entertaining, the kids to play and for gardening in general, you can assess for potential boundary issues, over-hanging trees that can become a problem, how much hedge, grass and fence maintenance there is. Also, is there a garage and what condition is it in? Are you being overlooked by neighbours? What is the privacy like? Are there signs of subsidence? Is the grass waterlogged or are there any signs of potential drainage issues? Again, all this will be uncovered by searches and surveys further down the line, but these could be big issues that make the property undesirable, so ask questions now.
Tips for viewing a house
Now that we have established the key things that you need to look at and ask about when you view a house, here we have put together a list of more general tips and advice for how the house viewing should be approached and navigated. This is to ensure you get the most out of the viewing and to give yourself the best chance of making an informed offer and that offer being accepted.
Be aware that house viewings are staged – Everybody tidies up, puts fresh flowers on the table and creates mood lighting in certain rooms. They will put fresh coffee on and maybe even do some baking to create a homely, comforting aroma. We’ve all done it. Your task is to see through this. So look behind furniture, mirrors or paintings that might be positioned to cover something up. Ask for the TV or radio to be turned off because it might be hiding the neighbours arguing or road noise. And if something is obviously freshly-painted ask when this was done and why.
Be prepared – Make a list of the key questions from the above information and form a checklist. A house viewing can be awkward and uncomfortable, you are in a stranger’s house so it is natural to feel a little flustered and to be side-tracked by things you see, so take a list to ensure you cover everything you need to.
Take someone with you – Never attend a house viewing alone unless you absolutely have to. A second opinion is great for all sorts of reasons, most notably because they might see things that you didn’t and you can bounce feedback off one another. So take along your partner, friend or a family member if you can.
Don’t be rushed – You need to be thorough and to assess everything with a clear head, so take your time, look into every cupboard and ask every question. This isn’t you being nosey, there is a lot of money, time and effort at stake here. The vendor should be completely aware of this and should be compliant with what you want out of the viewing, after all, at this stage they want to sell the property probably more than you want to buy it.
Ask to see bills – It is not unreasonable to ask about council tax, broadband and utility bills, and if the vendor doesn’t want to show them to you, that should arouse some suspicion.
Ask what is included in the sale – Often the vendor will leave certain fixtures and fittings in the home such as light fittings or a sideboard etc that is integral to a room. These can make a big difference to a room’s ambience and sometimes this can’t be recreated easily if the item is taken away when the seller moves out, so you should establish what is or isn’t included in the sale, and judge the room or property accordingly.
Have an open mind – We have already talked about seeing beyond the obvious staging of a property and imagining how it will be to actually live in the house, but you also need to keep an open mind when comparing one property to another. Try not to fall in love with the first one you see and close your mind to any alternatives. You can’t afford to cloud your thinking. Bear in mind also that pretty much everything in a house can be altered, apart from its location. So don’t be put off by décor or furnishings that might not be to your taste, and don’t be put off by smells such as dogs, food or cigarettes – these can all disappear quickly - only if you can smell damp.
Arrange lots of viewings – It can help to arrange viewings of different properties close together so that you can more easily compare one house to another with a fresh perception of both.
Talk to the estate agent – After a viewing it will do you no harm to talk to the estate agent that arranged it and offer some feedback. Sometimes useful information can be gleaned in these discussions and you may make a favourable impression on the estate agent which could help you further down the line.
Ask questions – Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as why the seller is moving and if they have had any bids yet? They may be cagey with this information, but it is worth a try. Be polite and use your discretion, but in general, the seller needs to be open and honest with you in order to sell the property, so in theory they should have nothing to hide.
Take photos – As you walk around take photos with a smartphone of certain things and take measurements where you need to. You should ask permission from the vendor first, but this shows that you are serious and professional and that the vendor can’t get away with trying to pull the wool over your eyes with certain things.
Arrange a second visit – If you like the property and are considering making an offer, arrange to have a second viewing as soon as possible, but also try to make it at a different time of day, so you get a different perspective on the house, street and area. You often see different things on a second visit that you didn’t see on the first, and can have a closer inspection of certain things you have concerns about. You may also like to look at things you forgot about the first time. A second viewing also tells the vendor that you are serious and could make a bid, so they may open up and divulge a little more information than previously.
Be friendly – This is perhaps more important than anything else, even though it applies in any walk of life. Being on time for a viewing is common courtesy but it creates the right impression. You should also be courteous and polite throughout the viewing, asking permission to enter rooms and open cupboards etc rather than wading in and taking over someone else’s house. Creating a good impression and building a rapport with the vendor could be crucial if and when you make a bid. If you are bidding against someone else, you might just have the edge if the vendor feels like they ‘want’ to sell to you. This relationship can also help you during the sale process if small issues need to be resolved at varying stages and you need the vendor’s cooperation. And in general, being friendly and polite makes it much more likely that the sale will complete and your dream home will finally become yours.