Questions To Ask When Buying A House
There are many motivations for buying and investing in property; you might simply want to be a homeowner and get your foot on the property ladder, or you might be an investor looking to develop a property and flip it for profit. Or you might be a prospective landlord looking to make money in the buy-to-let market. Whatever your motivation, and whether this is your first property purchase or your fifth, you need to ask the same questions when viewing a property and weighing up the inevitable pros and cons, because the same risks exist every time.
Viewing a new property can be overwhelming, there’s a lot to take in, but asking the right questions can save you a lot of money and a lot of heartache, and armed with the best information, can help you ultimately make the right investment.
No house is perfect, even if your emotions immediately tell you it is when you first step through the door. The house-buying process is the same whatever property you are buying, and the most important common thread is that estate agents and sellers are desperate to sell. And so they sometimes play games. And whilst legally they can’t be deliberately dishonest, they can cover up certain issues or avoid disclosing key information which may cast doubt on your willingness to purchase. Ultimately, the parties selling you the property will most likely only disclose information if they are asked, so the onus is on you to have a checklist of standard questions to hand, and this article aims to provide that for you, and to explain why each question is important.
Questions you don’t need to waste your time asking when viewing a house
First of all though, let’s look at the questions you should already know the answers to before you view a property, or questions you don’t need to get bogged down with, because that information will come to light further down the line.
Legal issues: The legal issues with a property can be complex and will be looked into by your solicitors when the conveyancing is done. Searches will highlight any issues with boundaries, planning disputes, listed buildings or conservation areas, so during a viewing, don’t get bogged down in something you are not an expert in anyway. And if there is a problem that will definitely be discovered further down the line, the seller should disclose it during a viewing, it is pointless for them not to, because the house-buying process will hit that bump at some stage.
Estate agent info: An estate agent should disclose a property’s environmental performance certificate (EPC) rating on sales literature, and should also state whether the property is freehold or leasehold.
Online research: You can also conduct online research into the area, surrounding amenities, transport links, imminent planning developments and schools to establish a good understanding of the area, before or after you view a property.
Viewing a property can be difficult. You need to be thorough, analytical and to park your emotions. This can be challenging when you are poking around a stranger’s home. So this unnatural situation is not always the best way to keep your cool and think with clarity. Therefore, you can carry out the above research outside of the actual viewing period. A house viewing is an opportunity to get to the nitty gritty, the nuts and bolts of the property from the inside. So don’t waste too much time on peripheral things you can research at length when you get home.
The list of essential questions when viewing a property
There are three key elements to a house viewing in terms of the information you want to establish, these are the practical elements, the experience elements and the historical elements.
So in each room you enter you want to ask questions and attempt practical things like:
Do the lights work?
Are there issues with electrical safety?
Are there signs of damage or damp?
Do the floorboards creek?
Do the windows open OK?
Can you try the taps? How long does it take for hot water to run through?
What is the water pressure like?
What is the external brickwork and pointing like? When was the pointing last done?
What are the guttering and fascias and soffits like? Have they been replaced?
Any problems with the roof?
What is the broadband service like?
**Are there gas, electric and water meters? Where are they? **
Some of these above are your own observations rather than actual questions. But other practical and very important questions you can ask include:
How does the sunlight move over the course of the day? ie. Is the house cold most of the day? Does the garden get good sunlight? Would you need to do some work in the garden to create the best suntrap location?
How old is the boiler? A new boiler can be a big investment, particularly if you also ask how effective the radiators are and central heating is.
How much is the council tax bill? This can vary dramatically for different local authorities, so is always worth asking.
What is security like? Are there locks on windows? Are the door locks effective and in good repair? What is the security alarm like? Do they use it? This might all bring out details which might worry you or comfort you about the area.
When was the property last double-glazed? Again, this is a big expense that you will want to know about and which might become a factor.
What is storage like? Can you use the garage? Is there a cellar? Is the loft space boarded out and usable?
Then, in a more general discussion you can ask about the seller’s experiences living in the house and some of the history of the property. So you want to know:
Why are they selling? This might immediately reveal a problem if the seller is being completely honest (nuisance neighbours, traffic nuisance, flood risk, imminent planning issues) or there may be a perfectly normal reason (moving for work, expanding family so need a bigger home, moving to be closer to family etc) which should cause you no concerns whatsoever.
How long have you lived here? This follows on from the previous question and can skilfully come across as general chit-chat but is actually establishing key background information about the desirability of the property and the area.
What do you know about previous owners? With this information you can carry out some historical research which may highlight an issue. After all, you wouldn’t want to live in the former home of a notorious criminal, and whilst it might be nice to own the childhood home of a well-known celebrity, it might also become a bit of a nuisance when your home becomes a regular stop-off on a sightseeing bus tour.
What work has been undertaken on the house? Many people carry out extensions, loft conversions and knock down internal walls, and this can be done with varying quality. Ask to see the work carried out and ask if there are any still-existing warranties to cover you if you buy the property.
Have you got a property to move to? Effectively this is you trying to establish how long the chain is with this property and how quickly you might be able to buy the house. If the seller hasn’t even started looking yet, that might raise an alarm bell, but if they have already agreed a sale that is progressing as planned, then they will be keen to sell quickly. This could help in your price negotiations. Lots of things can change in a property chain, of course, but any information that makes the property more attractive and can also provide a negotiating tactic, is worth knowing.
How old is the property? Whilst this will come up in the property searches and be included in deeds, it is a piece of information that helps fundamentally judge your impression of a property and how expensive it might be to live in. Older properties are typically more expensive to repair, heat and maintain.
How has the area changed whilst you have lived here? This might highlight issues that are a problem to you but not necessarily to the seller, and this question might trigger the disclosure of information that makes the property less appealing.
Have you had many people looking? This can help form an opinion on the desirability of the property and can help cement your judgement of it, one way or the other. You could also ask if the seller has received any offers yet. This might appear a bit cheeky, but you are within your rights to ask, and this is a high stakes situation. If they have had no bids, this puts you in a stronger position should you wish to make one. Alternatively, if they have received a handful of bids already, you know the seller can afford to open up a bidding war and wait for the price to go up.
What are the neighbours like? This is a perennial question that is often a major factor in the desirability of a property. It is usually easy to tell if someone is being honest or hiding their true opinion, unless they are a brilliant actor. Friendly neighbours is everyone’s preference, but also, a quiet, older couple who keep themselves to themselves can be great too, because it doesn’t affect you in any way. But nobody wants the neighbours from hell. So you need to find out if they are living next door.
What about local nuisance? This line of questioning follows on from the previous question. You want to know if kids hang around on the street, or on the field round the back. Is there lots of traffic noise? Is parking from a local amenity a real problem at certain times? Is there a pub nearby that causes noise and anti-social behaviour? Does one of the houses on the street have regular late-night parties?
Which school do your children attend? If they have children of course, but if it isn’t the most local one, why not?
Have you had any problems with privacy? You want your home to be your castle, so privacy is a big deal to many people. This problem can highlight issues with nosy neighbours, the garden being over-looked or double decker buses driving past every five minutes, and can affect the desirability of the property.
Have you thought about extending? You would ask this question if they obviously haven’t extended, of course, but here you can establish whether there are limitations to the property you hadn’t thought of, or maybe there were objections to it? That might indicate a problem with neighbours and/or other people on the street.
What are the utility bills like generally? A rough figure here might highlight the quality of the central heating, or whether the roof is insulated and when it was done? Does the property have cavity wall insulation?
What is included in the house sale? This can cover things like fixtures and fittings, garden sheds or a summer house, and might also cover an unusual boundary or shared driveway etc.
How did you arrive at the asking price? This might be a question for the estate agent in a more private moment, but you are entitled to ask for the justification as to why the asking price is what it is. Perhaps you think it is too expensive, but the estate agent’s explanation might highlight some features or desirability you hadn’t thought of, or might help you understand the local market a little better. On the other hand, you might think the price is quite low, but can’t see a reason why. The estate agent should be honest and explain what makes the property less appealing to the market.
Tips and advice for when viewing a property
We have provided here an extensive list of essential questions, covering both the practical side of the property and the experiences and history of those who have lived in it. This should be enough to enable you to make a balanced, rational and informed decision on the property, and to make a judgement on the price you are prepared to offer for it.
However, there are some general comments on tactics you should use and behavioural suggestions which might help you secure the property at a price that is acceptable to you.
Take your time: As we mentioned earlier, this is an unusual and sometimes awkward situation, but the longer you spend in a property, the more you will discover, both through observations on the property itself and information that the seller discloses. The more you can get the seller talking, the more you can establish on the property’s desirability. This is an easy way to potentially save yourself a few thousand pounds, by valuing a property based on things you have seen and been told.
Don’t be afraid to be nosey: A seller should expect this, there is a lot of money at stake, and essentially, you don’t know this person and any future contact will be through solicitors, so as long as you are reasonable and not rude, don’t be afraid to ask searching questions. Anything the seller doesn’t want to disclose might highlight something they are trying to hide.
View the property more than once: This is essential because emotions can take over when you first see a property. A second viewing can be more measured and comprehensive, and might unearth concerns you didn’t see the first time. You should also visit at a different time of day, ie. in the daylight or in the dark, as appropriate. This can show the property in a very different light and can confirm or conflict with your first impressions on how comfortable the house feels.
Survey the neighbourhood: You should also drive around the neighbourhood at different times of day to get a feel for amenities, traffic, noise and how the general character of the area changes.
Be prepared to negotiate: You can use the information you have established to negotiate an acceptable price. For example, if you know that a new boiler is needed and the house needs re-wiring, then the seller can either do this work before selling to you, or it can be knocked off the house valuation and asking price. With this in mind, it is important that you have a full property survey done. This, along with asking your essential questions, is all to ensure you have a full picture and are able to agree a fair price for the property.