Buying your first house is an exciting time. Whether you’re looking for one in the countryside, a city-centre flat, or a family home near good schools, asking the right questions can help you filter out the properties that aren’t quite right for you.
Here are some of the best questions you can ask when viewing a property.
Questions to ask an estate agent
The first questions to ask are about the sale. You can ask these before viewing the property and speaking directly to the estate agent to get your answers.
Understanding why the owner is selling the property can sometimes help you with your purchase. For example, if the owner is selling to move abroad, you might be able to include some of the furniture in the sale price. It’s a useful question to ask and the answer may give you some small insight into the property itself.
Find out how long the property has been on the market. If it’s been on the market for a long time, there might be an issue you’re not aware of yet. This isn’t always a deal-breaker though, a property that’s been on the market for a long time will be more susceptible to negotiation on the asking price.
Ask if there’s been much interest in the property. Find out if there are other interested parties and how many viewings there have been. This can give you a good foothold for negotiating the asking price and indicate if you need to act quickly.
Getting information about the chain is important too. A chain can drag out the sale as you’re dependent on other buyers and sellers successfully carrying out their sale. Your circumstances will dictate whether a chain is acceptable or not. If you’re a first-time buyer, you have more flexibility and, likely, more patience, making you a competitive buyer.
Questions to ask when buying a house
After finding out details about the sale, you can start asking more questions about the property when you view it.
The first place to start is by asking if there’s been any significant work on the property. Has the boiler been replaced? How old is the bathroom? Has work ever been done on the roof? This will give you a good indication of if there’s any expensive work needed in the future. Some of this information can also be uncovered in the surveys stage but comes after your offer is accepted.
Ask what the sale includes. This is often part of the contract, but it’s worth asking early as it can influence the asking price. Ask about white goods, light fixtures and soft furnishings like curtains. In some instances, the seller might even be willing to negotiate on specific items of furniture.
Bills and council tax are next on the list. Ask what the average monthly expenses are. This is information that your estate agent might be able to provide.
Parking might be a make or break issue too. If there’s no garage, find out if there’s any other off-street parking. If not, your next course is to ask if getting an on-street parking spot is easy. You might have to have a permit so ask about those costs as well.
After that, feel free to be curious and nosey. We don’t mean opening cupboards and wardrobes but instead checking the water pressure, turning lights on and off, asking about property boundaries and generally asking questions about anything and everything.
Questions to ask when buying a flat
If you’re buying a flat, there are some additional questions you can ask.
First of all, you should find out about the freehold. In most cases, a management company owns the freehold and not the residents themselves. This means that you’ll have ground rent and service charges to pay. Find out how much these are each year and also how the ground rent increases. It can double at regular intervals, track against a familiar formula (like inflation or the retail price index) or increase by a set amount over a set period. Establishing how the ground rent increases can save you many headaches in the long run as some mortgage lenders may refuse to lend.
Another aspect of investigating the freehold is finding out how long is left on the lease. Again, some lenders may refuse to lend against short leases (a lease with 80 years or fewer left) as renewing it can be costly and change your contract. If it’s a short lease, find out how much it would cost to extend it.
You should also see if you can access any details about how the management company manages funds. This might be hard to do before you make an offer, but you should be able to uncover these details through your solicitor easily. If you can view (or even enquire) about accounts, pay particular attention to the sinking fund. Think of this as like the rainy day fund for the whole development. Ask how frequently the management company has accessed the sinking fund to get an idea of the condition of the building. You should also ask how much the management company sets aside each year for the fund.
It’s often clear if the flat comes with parking as it will most likely be more expensive than a flat without a parking space. But still, enquire! If there is a parking space, would you be allowed to sub-let it? Are there any costs associated with the upkeep of the parking spots? Parking is undoubtedly a competitive selling point for flats, especially in city centres.
Questions to ask about the local area
The immediate local area can significantly impact your decision, so it’s worth asking questions about that.
The first place to start is by asking if the property is in a conservation area. Conservation areas limit the changes you can legally make to your property. For example, you might not be able to add an extension or build above a certain height. If you’re dreaming of all the DIY projects you can take on yourself, this is one of the most limiting factors.
Find out if there are any major developments planned in the local area. Again, surveys will pick up on this, but it’s always helpful to know about plans before putting in an offer. Building work and infrastructure changes may influence your property’s future enjoyment, so find out as much as you can in advance.
Ask about immediate neighbours too and if there have been any problems in the past. By law, this question has to be answered, but only if you ask it. The onus is on you to discover the information.
If you’re commuting, ask about travel times and transport links. The internal can give you a good idea of how long it will take, but it’s always helpful to get the information from someone who’s done the journey. For instance, you’ll better find out about delays or traffic levels by talking to a local resident.
It’s also useful to generally talk about the local area. What’s the corner shop like? Are there any good restaurants nearby? What about pubs?
If you’re moving to a family home, ask about the catchment area and local schools. Playgrounds and outdoor space are important too, so find out if there are any nearby and if they’re considered safe or not.
It’s a lot of questions, but these will help give you a comprehensive view of the property, helping you make an informed decision.
Questions to ask when buying a house off-plan
Off-plan is simply a property that isn’t built yet. It’s a different process to buying a complete property, so it comes with its own challenges and questions.
The most important place to start is by asking about the property developer.
Confirm that they’re part of a warranty scheme. Warranty scheme protects your deposit if the developer goes bust before your property is complete. Warranties also guaranteed that the property is completed to an acceptable and agreed standard. There are several different schemes out there, and once you know which one they belong to, it’s worth researching further to understand what that means. If the developer isn’t a member of a warranty scheme, don’t buy the property.
This isn’t a question so much as it’s a little more research. But find out about the developer’s reputation. Look into their previous developments and see if you can find any reviews or information about timeframes and quality. You could even visit the developments to find out more. All this will give you a good idea about delays and reassurance that the quality is what you’re expecting.
If you’re an early buyer and not many units have sold, ask if there’s a deal in it. The listed price isn’t always what you should expect to pay; just like with a built property, it works in your favour to negotiate.
Similarly, ask how many units have sold. If you’re the first buyer, then there’s room for negotiation. In some circumstances, developers rely on incoming purchases to keep the project moving. If the properties are also complete, but not many have sold, you’re in an excellent position to negotiate too. Just like with built houses, the asking price doesn’t have to be the final price.
It’s worth asking how many of the sold properties are investment properties. This might not be the easiest thing to find out, but it’s handy to know the ratio of owner-occupiers to renters. An area with a constant churn of new neighbours might not appeal to you so if this is a point of consternation, ask about it.
Just like with a built house, ask what the price includes. Some developers throw in added extras to encourage you to buy, like white goods or light fixtures. If the property isn’t complete, it’s also your chance to start designing. You can pick out tiles, flooring and customise your home before it’s complete. These costs are factored into the overall price of the property.
Perhaps one of the most important questions you can ask, especially if you’re in a rush, but when will the build be complete? They don’t always run to plan, but if you’ve looked into other builds, you should have a good idea of what to expect.
And finally, for off-plan properties, you need to find out if there will be access issues once it’s complete. If you’re one of the first to move in, you might find yourself living on a building site for a short while, so you need to make sure you can easily get to and from your front door.
Questions to ask when renting a house
Renting comes with its own set of questions to ask too.
Start by establishing who manages the property; is it the letting agent or the landlord? Whoever manages the property will be your contact for everything related to the rental.
Follow that up with finding out how to manage repairs. Are you responsible for organising a maintenance worker, or do you just have to report it to the landlord or letting company? You should also establish which repairs you’re responsible for. You might have to manage cosmetic damage like the paint you’ve chipped or broken lightbulbs, but the landlord or agent handles bigger repairs.
Related to this, ask about how you report damages or repairs. Who is it you get in contact with, and how do you report it.
If there’s a garden, who maintains it? In most circumstances, it will be your responsibility, but it’s still worth checking.
As with buying a house, ask what’s included in the rental. Most rental properties are advertised as furnished or unfurnished, which tells you what you need to know. But it’s still worth clarifying with the estate agent what’s covered by the rent.
Other questions you might want to ask include:
- Does the rent include bills?
- Can I decorate?
- Are pets allowed?
- Is there a carbon monoxide detector?
- Is there parking? Does it cost extra?
- What are the neighbours like?
So now you know all the right questions to ask, look at our range of properties to buy or rent.