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Whether you’re buying your first home or looking to move up the property ladder, viewing a house can be a daunting experience.
Few of us are experts when it comes to things like structural engineering and plumbing, and there’s also things like possible surveyor fees to calculate as well as what the neighbourhood is like. Add in the fluffy sales patter of the estate agent and it’s no wonder we all approach a property viewing with a certain amount of dread.
The good news is that estate agents are legally bound to tell you the truth during a viewing, so the trick really is in knowing what questions to ask so you can find out what the actual situation is.
To help you with that, and give you a bit more confidence, we’ve put together the best questions to ask when viewing a house – they could make the difference between you buying the home of your dreams or making a very costly mistake.
Why is the current owner selling the house?
Probably an obvious question to ask, but our natural aversion to being seen as nosy prevents us from asking it. In this case, the estate agent doesn’t have to answer – as the current owner may have requested privacy in this regard – but it is always worth asking.
You may find out that the owner is quite desperate to sell quickly, maybe because they are moving away for work, so might be willing to accept a lower price.
How long has the house been on the market?
If the house has been on sale for a long time (more than three months or so as a general rule) then it may be an indicator that something might not be quite right. Have other prospective buyers noticed problems that you haven’t, or is the house simply overpriced? Also ask the estate agent why they think it has been on the market for so long, as they might reveal something you haven’t thought about yet.
If a house has been on the market for a while then it could mean the seller would expect a lower price, so you could use this information to your advantage.
How long have the current owners lived there?
This is another question that could reveal some potential problems, especially if the owners have only been there for a relatively short period of time.
Have they been driven away by noisy neighbours, for instance? If the sellers have previously lodged an official complaint about noisy neighbours then the estate agent has a legal duty to disclose this to you if you ask.
How often has the property been sold in the past?
Following on from the previous question, this could indicate a long-standing issue if the house has been sold repeatedly over the years.
If it has changed hands frequently it could simply be because it has been bought and sold by buy-to-let landlords, so it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem – but it’s worth finding out as much as possible about the history of the property.
How did the estate agent decide on the asking price?
A good estate agent should be looking to justify the asking price to you, which you can then judge for yourself. Usually this will be based on factors like the number of bedrooms, the amount of space, the location and amenities/schools etc…
It’s not unheard of for estate agents to reveal that they think the house is overvalued, which could help you make a decision on whether to buy it or not.
Whatever the answer you should always take a look at any other houses that are for sale in the same area just to compare what you are getting for the price.
What is included in the sale?
Most of the time buyers assume everything they can see in and around the house is included, but you should always ask to make sure. Some fixtures and fittings may not be included, for instance, and you should always get an idea about where the property boundary is and whether garden sheds, greenhouses and outhouses are included.
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What offers have been made so far?
The estate agent may not tell you exactly how much the offers have been, but will definitely let you know whether offers have been made or not.
It’s actually in the estate agents interest to get a price agreed so don’t be surprised if they drop some hints to help give you a steer on how much it would take to get the house.
What is the minimum price the current owner will accept?
Again, don’t expect a direct answer on this but you could well get an indication – especially if they have had some difficulty in selling the house.
This question often goes unasked as people don’t like to be ‘cheeky’, but trying to get an idea on a sellers bottom line could save you a lot of money.
Have the sellers already moved out?
If they have already found another house, they could be in a rush to sell as quickly as possible – which puts you in a strong position when it comes to negotiating a price.
On the flip-side, if they haven’t moved out yet and you have to wait until they find somewhere else it could lead to a lot of uncertainty and all the anxiety that comes with being in a chain.
Can you get in touch with the sellers?
Estate agents are seldom keen to put you in touch with the current owners as they like to be involved in all the discussions and negotiations, but they can’t stop you speaking to them.
It’s well worth getting in touch with them if they are open to speaking to you as you can often have a ‘normal’ conversation about the house, rather than only speaking to estate agents – which can sometimes lead to more honest revelations. You can also learn more about the quirks of the house – everything from a creaky floorboard to the dodgy tap in the downstairs bathroom.
How old is the house?
This is important to know simply because older houses tend to be more expensive to maintain. Also, if the property is listed you need to know what Grade it is as this will influence what alterations you can make in the future.
Have any major works been carried out on the house?
Anything from conservatories to extra bedrooms and rewiring – you will want to know what ‘big’ jobs have been done on the property and how long ago.
If the works required planning permission then you should be able to find the relevant requests on the website of your local planning authority – if these were not granted and the works were carried out anyway then you could find yourself lumbered with the job of dismantling whatever was done.
Have any of the rooms been redecorated recently?
If they have, you will want to check them out very carefully as it’s not uncommon for sellers to decorate rooms to cover up cracks in the wall or damp spots.
If you can smell fresh paint then the best approach is to treat it suspiciously.
Can you turn the taps on?
It’s very easy to hide plumbing problems, so always ask if you can try the taps and see what happens. Does the water take a while to come through? Is there any weird noises when you turn the taps on or flush the toilet?
Also, ask about the boiler and how new it is and if there’s ever been any problems with it. You should also make a note of the make and model of the boiler and do an online search later about it.
Can you move the furniture?
Just like painting over cracks and damp, sellers have been known to try and hide problems via the strategic placement of furniture and rugs.
You will probably find nothing to concern you, but you might just find a hole in the floor or a crack in a wall – so it’s always worth having a quick peek.
What is the rating on the Energy Performance Certificate?
Basically you want to know how energy efficient the house is, which depends on things like whether the property has cavity wall insulation and loft insulation. If it has such measures then find out when they were put in.
You will also want to get an idea on the cost of energy for the property, and whether the house uses gas, electric or both.
What Council Tax band is the house in?
While on the subject of bills, be sure to find out how much the Council Tax will cost. If the estate agent doesn’t know then see if you can ask the seller.
Which way does the property face?
We all know the benefits of having a south-facing house – from increased solar power potential to the possibility of evening drinks on the terrace.
You may also want to take into account exactly where the sun will be coming in during the day, especially if you hate it shining into your bedroom and waking you up in the morning.