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HouseWorth
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  1. Blog
  2. Key questions to ask when buying a house
Estate agent help and guides
15 January 2021

Key questions to ask when buying a house

Daniel Strieff
Writer
a couple lying on a grey and wooden sofa talk about what questions they want to ask an estate agent about a house they want to buy

Table of contents

  1. 1. Questions to ask when buying a house - Before you start!
  2. 2. Questions about the sellers
  3. 3. Questions about the property’s history
  4. 4. Questions about the area around the property
  5. 5. Questions about the property before you buy
  6. 6. Summary: If you don't ask....

You can never prepare too much before setting out to buy a house. It's a big life decision and one which will affect the rest of your life.

One of the best ways to get started is by researching your shortlisted properties as much as possible. When the time comes, these details will help you decide which property is the right one to pursue.

All of your questions about the property should be directed towards the seller’s estate agent. While all agents must legally provide important information pertaining to the property, their priority is to sell. This means you need to ask the right questions to get the information you need.

Thinking of the right questions to ask can be tricky however. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and some questions, more than others, can reveal a lot about a property’s value. To make things easy, we’ve compiled a list of questions for you to ask agents during viewings.

Questions to ask when buying a house - Before you start!

Before you speak to the seller's estate agent, there's a number of questions you need to ask yourself first!

  • What’s my budget?

Knowing what you can afford to put down as a deposit and what type of mortgage you’re eligible for determines what properties you should consider viewing.

  • What are my priorities?

Knowing whether you’re going to prioritise location or, for instance, size will help determine your property hunting grounds.

  • How long do I plan to live in my next home?

Whether it’ll be your ‘forever home’, just a place to live for a few years, or something in between will shape your search.

  • Do you want a leasehold or freehold?

Leaseholds apply only to a building for a set number of years, while freeholds cover both building and land until you’re ready to sell.

Questions about the sellers

Knowing more about the owner selling the property you’re hoping to buy will help you make the right decision when it comes to making an offer, and negotiating a contract.

1. How long have the sellers lived in the house?

This is a useful question to ask because the answer lends insight into possible issues with the home and area, as well as the desirability of living there. The length of time the homeowners have lived in the house may correlate with how carefully they’ve tended to the property. Plus, people who’ve spent many years in one place may be better positioned than a short-termer to deliver inside information.

2. Why are the sellers leaving?

The estate agents don't need to answer this question, but knowing the answer will help you understand the sellers’ position. For instance, circumstances that suggest the sellers are in a hurry to sell - such as an impending move for career reasons - could indicate a willingness to consider a lower price.

3. What is the minimum price the sellers will accept?

Being direct can pay dividends, or in this case, save you money. Knowing the sellers’ bottom line will help set the parameters for your negotiation. An estate agent’s primary goal is securing a sale, so it’s in their interest to be direct about what price is realistic.

4. What offers have the sellers received so far?

The more you know about other offers, the better you can calibrate your own. The estate agent will certainly be open about whether the property has received an offer, but you may need to pry a little harder to learn about specific figures. Read our article ‘Can estate agents lie about offers?’ for more information.

5. When do the sellers need to move out? Are they part of a property chain?

These are important questions to ask, as their answers speak to the motivations of the sellers, and can help inform your negotiations. For example, if the sellers are part of a property chain, they may be under pressure to move quickly, which could increase your leverage power. On the other hand, if the sellers are not in a rush, they will likely sit back and wait for the highest bid.

6. Can I speak directly to the sellers?

This can be a touchy issue for some estate agents, who would prefer to act as the go-between, but they can’t prevent you from reaching out to the sellers. Many buyers find direct contact helpful. Sellers can give candid answers to questions without the professional filter typically employed by estate agents.

Questions about the property’s history

Asking about the property’s history could reveal potential red flags, especially if it’s selling for a low price.

1. How old is the house?

Older buildings are usually more expensive to maintain so it’s useful to know when the house was built.

2. How long has the property been on the market?

Maybe there’s a reason for a property remaining on the market for a long time, but you’ll never know unless you ask. There could be a problem with the property that isn’t visible at first glance. Regardless, a property that’s been on the market for a long time might help your bargaining position, as sellers may be more willing to accept a lower price.

3. Has the property repeatedly changed hands?

If the house has changed ownership frequently in recent years, there may be a problem with the property or the area. Depending on what information the estate agent is willing or able to divulge, you could also ask about contacting previous owners.

4. How has the property’s value changed in recent years?

You can look this information up on the Land Registry website, which will list the prices from previous transactions. With this information, you can ask for insight into reasons for any significant changes in value.

5. Have any additions or major renovations been conducted?

You need to ensure that the house doesn’t have any structural issues as a result of previous work. If any major work has been done, ask if you can see the relevant planning permission and building control consents. The local planning authority should make all planning applications, both accepted and rejected, available on its website.

You can check out our guide to loft conversions here.

Questions about the area around the property

If you’re moving to a new area, it’s good to know the basics. It’s your new home after all, and you don’t want to move anywhere where there might be problems down the line.

1. What’s the local neighbourhood like?

When you purchase a house, you’re also buying into the local area and community. The estate agent should serve as a handy supplement to your own research into the neighbourhood. What are the local transport links? How are the local schools? Does the agent have recent statistics on crime? How close are the nearest local amenities?

2. What are the neighbours like?

The current owners are required by law to inform you if they’ve ever made any complaints about the neighbours, so you should ask the estate agent directly about this. Read our article ‘Can’t sell because of your neighbours?’ to find out what you should do in a situation with bad neighbours.

3. How much have other homes sold for in the neighbourhood?

The property’s asking price should be roughly similar to the selling price of other homes in the immediate vicinity. If there are significant discrepancies, you’d be wise to ask for details. You can use our free House Prices Tool to check out real-time data on the area.

4. Is the property listed or located in a conservation area?

There are legal restrictions on what work you can carry out on a listed property, both inside and out. Check if the house or its outdoor space are listed in Historic England’s National Heritage List for England or Cadw’s National Historic Assets of Wales. Special planning controls also apply in conservation areas, particularly related to exteriors and any trees located on the property.

You can find protected areas of the countryside over on the GOV.UK website.

5. Are there any local plans that could affect me as a homeowner?

It would be frustrating to purchase your perfect home, only to discover that local developers were about to pave over the bucolic fields behind the property in favour of a block of flats. Be sure to ask probing questions regarding any upcoming local plans to prevent any unpleasant surprises in the event you do buy the property.

Questions about the property before you buy

Working out the key details of the property will help you decide whether to continue with the purchase. Asking about its energy performance will help you decide whether it’s worth moving somewhere that needs a lot of internal work, while finding out which fixtures and fittings you get to keep can be a big selling point.

1. What’s included in the sale?

This is such a basic question to ask that some people overlook it. But what would you actually get if you were to buy the property? Appliances? Garden shed? Light fixtures? There are no hard and fast rules for this, so it's up to you to inquire further.

2. Which direction does the house face?

Maybe you like to read the morning paper in the garden, or spend summer evenings on the porch. Either way, it’s useful to know what time of day different parts of the property get direct sunshine before buying a house. According to our research, 71 percent of UK home buyers are more likely to purchase a home with a south-facing garden.

3. How much is Council Tax? How much are average local utility bills?

The more precise the better. These expenses add up over the lifetime of home ownership, so ask the seller for a possible breakdown of maintenance costs. You can find about your Council Tax Band here.

4. What’s the rating on the Energy Performance Certificate?

Ask the estate agent to explain the EPC rating, which gives an indication of how energy efficient your home is. EPCs provide insight into the state of the home’s insulation and outer walls.

You can check if your house has an EPC with our free EPC checker below.

Does my house already have an EPC?

EPCs are valid for 10 years, and you can use the one purchased by the previous owner.
So, you may have an EPC and not know it!

5. Can I try the taps? How’s the water pressure?

Check how long it takes the water to come through, especially on the second floor (if it’s a two-storey house). This could hint at any issues with the pipes and whether you’d need to do a major plumbing overhaul if you were to buy the house.

6. What shape is the boiler in? When was it last inspected?

Enquire as to when it was last replaced. A broken boiler can really put a damper on your daily life. They’re also very expensive to replace, unless you buy a second hand one.

7. How is the property’s drainage system?

This is critical for, among other things, keeping the damp at bay, maintaining the garden and preserving the integrity of the roof. Drainage systems are costly to replace, so ask the estate agent if you can take a look at them during your visit. How they function during a rainstorm is particularly telling of their quality.

8. What condition is the roof in?

When viewing a property, check the state of the roof. Does it leak, sag, or have missing tiles? If it’s a thatched roof, when’s the next scheduled re-thatching? Roofs can sometimes be taken for granted, but problems with them can require significant building work. Ask specific questions about the roof’s age, materials and repair history.

If you can’t work out the condition of the roof - don’t worry. If you want to progress to an offer, a property search (during the conveyancing process) will result in a definitive answer.

9. How old are the appliances and major systems?

If you end up buying the property, you’ll want to know whether such things as the washer, cooker or heating system need to be replaced or can be used straight away.

10. What type of gas and electricity metres are installed?

In order to keep your energy costs in check, it’s imperative to know what type of gas and electricity metres the house has. Do they require regular readings or are they smart metres? To learn whether you qualify for the Warm Home Discount Scheme, check here.

11. Are all the lights in working order? When was the property last rewired?

Light bulbs are easily replaceable but a major rewiring could be a significant expense. When viewing a house, ask about the state of the wiring before manually checking as many lights and outlets as you can.

Summary: If you don't ask....

If you’ve identified two or more properties that seem to meet your aesthetic requirements, asking thoughtful questions can greatly assist you in distinguishing the good from the not-so-good. When you engage with the seller's estate agent, they should strive to address your inquiries to the best of their knowledge. For any queries they cannot immediately answer, you can anticipate receiving further information during the subsequent property searches, should you decide to proceed with making an offer.

Reaching out to the seller's agent not only demonstrates your genuine interest as a buyer but also enhances your credibility, as it shows you’re committed and not likely to back out at the last moment. Inquiring about fixtures and fittings, particularly for buyers in need of specific items like a fridge or washing machine, may lead to your request’s success.If you don't ask, you often don’t receive.

The next step of the home buying process is making an offer - and after that, the nitty gritty of the conveyancing process - how much are conveyancing fees, and what can I expect my solicitor to do?

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