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Not sure what quesitons to ask when buying a house? My girlfriend and I have made many mistakes – and learnt many lessons with each transaction that we have completed. We are just in the process of buying our 4th house. In this post, we’ll share 17 questions to ask when buying a house, so you avoid some of the mistakes we have made over the years and hopefully find your dream house or investment property (for passive income) you have been looking for.
What questions should you ask before buying a house?
1. How long has the property been on the market?
A property that has been on the market for a while could point to a potential bargain. Be careful though as the property may have issues that need work i.e. damp problems etc. Get a feel for how quickly similar properties are selling. If the property has been on a short time and has plenty of interest, then it could indicate that you need to be aggressive and move quickly.
2. Have there been any offers?
If the property has been on the market for a while and has not had any offers, then a serious buyer could be in for a bargain. Be realistic though, a seller will not give you their house for a 50% discount, but you may be able to get the property below the asking price particularly if you are in a position to move quickly with a realistic offer (no chain or cash).
If there are multiple offers and there is a lot of competition for the property, then dig in, you may need to pay more than the asking price to win the property.
3. Has the asking price been met?
Whilst estate agents cannot tell you the value of existing offers; they can say whether the asking price has been met. Depending on what the answer is, that will then set the tone for future interactions and exchanges.
If the asking price has been met and you really want the property, then you need to move quickly with a strong offer as the vendors will in all likelihood be preparing to take the property off the market and proceed with an existing suitable offer. If the asking price is yet to be met and you like the property, start a conversation.
Good, well priced properties sell quickly!
Good properties that are well priced will not last for long, so don’t spend weeks on 2nd, 3rd, 4th viewings bringing all your family members to view the house as you casually ‘decide what offer to put in’.
4. Why are the sellers selling the house?
You need to build a working relationship with your sellers and part of that is understanding what their constraints are and why they are moving. The reasons they are moving will dictate how negotiations will go. If the sellers are selling their house because it has been a rental property, is now empty, then there is a chance of snapping up a bargain as the owners won’t want the headache of looking after an empty house and all the associated costs.
Any reason for selling that is time-limited may mean a bargain/discount is to be had.
Be respectful and courteous in your dealings. Whilst you may come across situations where people are selling because of a bereavement, serious illness, etc., it is still the vendor who decides who to sell their property to,, so don’t alienate yourself by coming across brash/trying to take advantage of a situation.
5. Has there been much interest?
The interest in a property will give you an indication of where to bid for a potential property. Lots of interest with the property having been on for a long time could mean there is the chance of the vendor accepting a lower price. A lot of interest and multiple offers over a short space of time may make it difficult to win the property particularly if budget limited.
6. How much does the gas & electricity cost?
It is a good idea to have an indication of what the running costs are for a property. If being shown around by the vendors, feel free to ask. This may impact how much you are willing to pay for the property particularly if it has non standard heating systems like an oil storage unit.
7. What price would the sellers need to move?
Where you have put an offer in, and it has been rejected, but the vendors are willing to negotiate further, understanding what the vendor’s constraints are to facilitate their next move can help get an acceptable offer to both parties and save you both wasting your time. I had a situation where I had an initial offer rejected (my best at the time), but the vendors came back saying that they needed an extra £2k above my offer to proceed with their purchase.
Through family and friends, we were able to bridge the £2k gap. In return the vendors agreed to leave the range cooker in the property (costing around £1,500 new). If negotiations are needed all the way up the chain, your estate agent can help facilitate the negotiations to stop the chain from breaking down.
8. What items are the seller willing to leave behind?
Having a budget of what expenditure you would need to make in order to move into the new property can help when trying to close out a bidding process. If the vendors are willing to leave behind appliances or light fittings for example, that may make room in the budget to allow you to get that slightly higher offer that means you have the winning bid.
Is the cooker included?
Besides needing to secure the house’s purchase, knowing and agreeing upfront what additional high-value items will be kept in the property can speed up the conveyancing process. If there is a dispute about what is being left behind in the fixtures and fittings list produced by the solicitors, a simple document iteration can take more than a week as it has to be updated by the vendor, posted to the vendor’s solicitor and then posted to the buyer’s solicitor before the buyer receives the document.
Get everything in writing
For sure get everything agreed in writing, but there you can agree between yourselves and the vendor before the solicitors get involved, the smoother things will run.
9. When do I need to submit my offer?
If having to go back to revise agreements in principle or find more deposit etc during a competitive bid situation, make sure you understand when the deadlines are to submit offers. Most estate agents and sellers will be very rigid in sticking to those deadlines in the interest of fairness to the process.
10. Is the property freehold or leasehold?
You need to understand if the property is a freehold or leasehold and, if so, how many years remain on the lease?
For most, this will not be an issue, but if planning to live in the property for a long time, then having a lease that is due to expire within your generation, i.e. 20 years, will impact the resale value and potentially make the property difficult to sell.
11. Is there any ground rent?
Some properties have ground rent and other communal charges that need to be paid between the owners of a group of properties. This can sometimes be many thousands of pounds a year, so make sure understand what the commitment is before buying the property.
12. If the property has a wood burner, is it HEATS/DEFRA approved?
Regulations for wood burning/ multi-fuel stoves are tightening up, with stoves needing to meet certain DEFRA regulations for continued use in certain smoke controlled areas. Not having an up to date stove is not the end of the world, but you may incur additional costs to use the stove as regulation tightens. Check out the list of DEFRA approved stoves.
It is also important to make sure the stove has been installed to building regulations as if your building and contents insurance policy may become invalid if a fire was found to have been caused by an incorrectly installed stove.
13. How old is the boiler, and has it been on a service plan/ warranty?
The older the boiler, the more likely it will be to break down in the winter. The older boilers are, the less likely that spare parts are available, which could lead to a complete new boiler if the boiler were to break down and could not be fixed. Be mindful of your costs and budgeting when purchasing a property if the boiler looks old, i.e. 10 years plus.
14. Are the sellers in a chain and would they consider breaking the chain
The larger a chain is, the more chances are of it breaking down or a dispute arising. To give more chance of the purchase going through, the smaller the chain the better. If you happen to be ready for contract exchange well ahead, then it may make sense to approach the vendor to see if they would consider breaking the chain to reduce the risk of things falling through.
To break the chain, if a vendor has nowhere to go i.e. they need their new house to move into, then a financial agreement can be reached to cover some of the vendors costs to seek temporary accommodation. The better your working relationship with the vendor, the easier it is to approach these discussions.
15. When do the sellers want to complete and have they found a house?
This may seem odd, but you want to make sure your seller actually want to sell their house. People’s circumstances change but that said, finding a house is time consuming, emotionally draining and expensive. So just make sure your sellers actually want to move houses vs ‘test the market to see what it is like’.
Good indications of the sellers’ intentions are how they respond when asked when they would like to complete and if they have found a house? If they say they want to complete in 6+ months and have not started looking yet – you may want to look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, they have found a property, but are awaiting the sale of their house, then that is a good sign they are serious.
16. What is the broadband speed, and is there a good phone signal?
Slow internet is a nightmare. It is worth checking to see if there is fibre in the area, particularly as more of us are working from home. The same applies to seeing what the phone network connections are like for remote properties. You will need either a good internet connection or a good phone signal.
17. Is there parking and do you need permits
See what parking is available with the property. Some properties have parking available but this has to be applied for via the council at a fee. If street parking is available, are there any restrictions and find out how easily or difficult the vendors are able to find parking close to their property.
What should I look for when viewing a house to buy?
1. Damp & moisture ingress
Find out if the property has had damp treatment. The smell of damp is distinctive and can often be smelt before seen. Just be mindful that such properties may require work to address the reason for causing the moisture ingress. This may be issues such as clogged up guttering, leaking roof, failing rendering etc.
A tell tale sign is plants or moss growing on external vertical brickwork
2. Large cracks in external walls
Large cracks in external walls can be a sign that the house has had some movement. Check with the vendor for previous subsidence.
3. Roof potentially needing work
Walk across the street and have a look at the roof for missing tiles and or worn tiles. Compare your roof with other roofs on the street. Does it look new? Is there any moss/ growth on the tiles?
4. Boiler age
Check the age of the boiler when looking at a house. If it is new, the estate agent/vendor will normally point this out as this is a selling feature. If the boiler is old, you may need some contingency in your budget for a replacement not too far down the line. Although the boiler may still function, you may find you save on your energy bills having a newer more efficient boiler.
5. The general finish and keep of the property
Good finishes indicate a well looked after and maintained property. Poorly presented or unity properties are often a sign that the owners have not cared much for the property and could be a sign that work will be needed to update or refurbish the property.
6. Parking situation
If you plan to have your vehicles overnight, it is worth checking if there are any restrictions on the street for parking. Before purchasing a property, you also want to check what the change in address could do to your insurance premiums. We have been stung in the past moving from a relatively rural area (lower car insurance premiums) to an inner city area (considered higher risk so higher insurance costs). This may have an impact on where you choose to buy.
7. Miss priced properties / poorly advertised
Not all estate agents are equal! We have been lucky in the past to get a house around 10-20% below the market value because the property was poorly advertised. The telltale signs of a poorly advertised property are bad photographs – i.e. poor quality, taken on a gloomy day, and the house not particularly well staged for the photos. For a buyer, this is great as most people will gloss over such property adverts and won’t bother to go and view them because they are put off by first impressions online.
This will mean there won’t be much competition and the vendors may even reduce the price further thinking it was overpriced, when in fact, the only reason there is weak interest is poor marketing. It is so important to go and see as many properties as possible. Even if you may not necessarily see that house as a first choice – you may be surprised.
When you find such properties, do not hang around. Put a sensible offer in and move fast, and get the property off the market before someone else spots the bargain and you get into a bidding war.
8. Spring in the floor
This is not absolutely, but a spring in the floor could mean that the floorboard or joists are rotten and may need to be replaced. This may not always be flagging in the survey as this can not be checked without lifting the floor and checking the skirting boards and joists though.
9. Age of the electrics and when last a gas safety check was carried out
Old homes may have old consumer units that need to be changed to bring them up to date with the latest regulations. Electrical consumer unit changes normally start around £500, and the price increases depending on complexity and how much rewiring and additional work needs to be carried out.
Although you may still wish to purchase a house with an old consumer unit, you need to budget for bringing the electricians up to date if thinking about renting the property out in the future.
10. Gas safety check
We once purchased a property only to find the gas fire did not work many months down the road, and to fix it required a flue change. A gas safety check can be part of the negotiation items when completing a purchase, particularly if you are right at the top of your budget and want to be sure the property’s gas installation is safe.
11. What is the extension potential?
Can you extend into the loft? Is the garden big enough to have a back extension to take advantage of the planning permission rules? A loft height of more than 2.2m could mean the property is eligible for a loft extension which could later add value to the property. With property pricing continuously rising, many people find it more economical to stay where they are (particularly if they like the area) and extend their properties.
Careful selection of a property to find one with extension potential could make all the difference between the upheaval of having to move as your family grows vs being able to put and complete an extension a few years later instead.
What to know before viewing a house?
Do your research into the area
- Find the nearest transport links: Good links will make resale easier
- Broadband availability
- School distance if important
- What have similar houses sold for?
- How long has the property been on the market for?
- Why are the vendors selling
What should you not do before buying a house?
1. Be respectful during your viewings
You do not know the competitive landscape of how many other people are interested in the property and how advanced their discussions are. We all want a bargain, but being overly critical of someones home/ house can backfire when you are in a competitive bid situation, and the vendor gets to pick which offer to go with.
The vendor may have multiple similar offers to choose who to progress with and because they see you as a ‘trouble maker’ and you may miss out on a house.
2. Don’t be rude to the estate agents
Estate agents, unfortunately, have a bad reputation at times and sometimes when things do not go our way, we get frustrated. Do not be rude to the estate agents as ultimately, the estate agents hold a lot of influence and power in your purchase. Be rude, and you may find estate agents are slow to arrange viewings for you and in turn you miss out on properties because ‘they have already gone’.
3. Have a closed mind about what you want
Have a look at properties that may not necessarily be exactly what you want – you may be surprised to find a gem, that you can make your own being sold on the cheap.
Very often, our expectations are misaligned between our budget and what is available on the market. Finding the right house for you is all about compromise. No house is perfect, so an ideal solution will involve finding a property you love enough not to be put off by the less favourable aspects, e.g. not having a drive, slighter further commute from work etc.
4. Cash may not be king
Having cash may de-risk and speedup the purchase process. That said a vendor may be willing to forego a lower cash offer for a higher mortgage offer if they are not in a rush. With many first time buyers struggling to get on the housing ladder, many vendors will favour a first time buyer if the circumstances allow.
Throwing your weight around and showing off your cash as an investor can sometimes put you at a disadvantage and put vendors off.
5. Not look at as many houses as possible
Do your research and work hard to look at as many properties as you can. There are many benefits to this including
- Getting a feel for the market
- Being more likely to come across a bargain
- Stumbling across a type of property you had not considered as suitable but is really good
- Getting remodelling/ renovation idea
- Learning about the area
6. Wasting estate agents and vendors time if you don’t actually plan to buy a house
Vendors (and estate agents) need to take the time out of their day for the viewings – particularly those with families needing to organise childcare and tidy up etc. If you do not plan to buy the property or are seriously considering it, then don’t book a viewing for it.
7. Not have your finances in order
Most property purchases fall through because of financial issues. Have a thorough review with a financial advisor and check your credit report before getting an agreement in principle. It is pointless getting an agreement in principle, knowing full well that gambling transactions on your bank statements are likely to make a potential lender uncomfortable when they come to review your bank statements.
8. Looking for perfection in a property
No such thing exists as a perfect property. Do not rush out and buy a property you do not really like, but you also need to be realistic and pragmatic with what you can afford, what is available, and the market at the time. Focus on the big items that are important to you, and don’t get too hung about small details, e.g. not liking the look of a light fitting!
9. Not visiting the property you are buying beforehand
Make sure you visit the property you are buying. Pictures can be deceptive and look much better than in real life. This is even more crucial when the lender may only be carrying out a drive-by survey where they do not actually enter the property. Do not make the costly mistake of buying a house, only to find, for example, that there is a big hole in the roof!
10. Become emotionally too attached to a property. Try and think rationally
We have all been there we find ‘the house’. Buying a property and completing a purchase has many steps that all need to be passed. Try not to get too attached to a given property, as things can sometimes fall through. Being rational will mean you are less likely to get caught up in a bidding frenzy and overpay for a given property.
How many houses should you look at before buying?
There is no correct number of houses to look at before buying as truthfully, the number of houses available to look at will vary depending on the market conditions and your situation – budget, location, and the market (is it slow or are properties competitive)?
You want to look at as many houses as possible. However many houses you look at, what is important is that you have thoroughly researched and put the work in to find the best house for your budget and needs. The more houses you look at (online and physically) will allow you to get a feel for the market. i.e. is a house overpriced, underpriced, or fairly priced? This research will allow you to spot a good buying opportunity and pursue it aggressively or walk away when you find a house although is ‘nice’ but is completely overpriced.
The more houses you look at, the more ideas you get with regards to the potential for improvements/enhancements to the house that you eventually buy (that you could add value).
Looking at more houses is also good for managing your expectations. We all start off wanting our dream house, 5 bed, 4 baths, double garage detached with £120k budget! Finding the right home for you is all about finding a compromise such that you love the good parts of the house, but the less favourable aspects dont really bother you. An example of the compromise we went for once was to go for a slightly older BIG 3 bed semi-detached with no drive, vs a tiny newbuild 3 bed detached (with a drive but cramped rooms).
What month do most houses go up for sale?
Most moves in the UK tend to take place between April and October, with the winter months being slightly quieter. Depending on your situation, buying or selling, you ideally want to move when the competition for properties favours you best. As a seller for example, if you look on Rightmove and see that there are no similar properties to yours in your area and you see that similar sold properties have sold very fast: that may be a good time to sell.
Equally, if you are a buyer and you see that there are multiple similar properties on the same street up for sale (and have been on for a while), then there is a good chance you may be in for a bargain.
Is it bad to buy the first house you look at?
It is not ‘bad’ to buy the first house you look at, provided you have completed your research. Depending on your budget, needs, and timeline, you may be in the situation as we were once that we had to find a house in a city (because we did not want to rent) but were tight on budget.
After looking at all the different areas in, i.e. commutable to both our jobs with good links into the city centre, there were only really 2 or 3 properties available within our budget in the whole city. We arranged a viewing for the best out of the pick. It was an open house, and there were already 8 offers over the asking price. We did not really have a choice and had to move on it.
We still looked at one other property for our peace of mind even after putting in an offer on the first house to ensure we had not made a complete error. We also wanted to have a backup plan if our first offer was not accepted.
What is the average time to buy a house?
Most recently, during COVID 19, the average times to buy a house is between 4-5months. This is average and will depend on your specific circumstances i.e.
Are you in a chain? The larger the chain, the longer things take.
Is the purchase cash buy or mortgage, and what is the loan to value (LTV)? Cash purchases are normally faster than mortgages. If purchased with a mortgage with a high loan to value ratio, the valuation process can take slightly longer as the mortgage company will scrutinise the valuation and your finances much more closely than having a low loan to value ratio, e.g. buying a £300k house with a 250k deposit. With a low LTV, the mortgage company may be satisfied with performing an electronic or drive-by valuation instead.
The complexity of the purchase: The more complex the purchase, the more time your solicitors will take with the enquires. Does your property within its boundary have a public right of way? Is the property a repossession? These type of items take more time to resolve during a purchase.
How busy is the market? If the market is very buoyant, then expect delays during all the stages of your purchase as solicitors, banks, surveyors and estate agents work through the backlog of work they have.
If we have missed anything out or you have any questions about what to ask when buying a house, please leave a comment in the section below. We would love to hear from you!