Questions to Ask When Buying a House
Buying a property can be a difficult task, especially if you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for. However, by creating a list of questions to ask the estate agent and sellers when viewing or buying a house, you can ensure you’re better prepared for the process and that you’re as informed as possible before being legally committed to the transaction.
Compare My Move work alongside a number of experienced property experts to ensure you’re presented with accurate and insightful guides that will help you through the buying process. In this article, we have listed every question you should ask when buying a house, breaking everything down into simpler topics. From enquiring about the asking price to discovering what the local area is like, you will become much more informed if you follow our helpful list.
Questions About the Sellers
1. Why have they decided to sell?
This is an important question to ask at the beginning of the house buying process. The estate agent doesn’t have to provide an answer, but it can be worth the query. Some may simply hint at the seller’s circumstances and provide enough information to satisfy you. If they reveal that the seller is desperate to sell or is looking for a quick transaction, you can then consider if this means they’re more likely to accept a lower offer.
2. How long have the current owners lived there?
Again, the sellers are not necessarily obligated to answer this question. However, it can be very informative and alert you to any red flags. For example, if the sellers have only lived there for a short period of time, it would be worth asking why they left so suddenly. Was it a problem with the house? Did they not get along with the neighbours? The answer to this question can sometimes be invaluable to potential buyers.
3. How many previous owners has the property had?
As with the previous question, if a property has exchanged hands multiple times, it could be a red flag alerting you to serious problems. If possible, find out why the last few owners moved out and whether there were any connections between their reasoning. If possible, you may consider asking the sellers yourself and not through the estate agent.
4. How long has the house been on the market?
If the property has been on the market for quite a while, then it might be worth inquiring why the house isn't selling. Is it difficult to get a mortgage on this property? Is it overpriced? Are there problems you haven’t noticed? If the home has been on the market for a long period of time, it may also be an indication that the seller will be willing to accept a lower offer.
How quickly a home sells depends on its price, the state of the market, and the competitiveness of its price. As of early 2020, the average time between a home being listed for sale and a buyer’s offer being accepted, according to Home, ranged from 107 to 141 days in different parts of Britain. MoneyWise has also conducted a similar, more recent study which found that the average time it takes for a house to sell once under offer, has become a third longer than usual, increasing up to 160 days. Every sale is different but you could use this as a guide to help you through the process.
5. When do the sellers plan to move out? Are they part of a property chain?
It’s important to have a vague timeline of the sale. Circumstances can and do often change, but it’s good to have a rough deadline to adhere to. If you’re in no rush to move out, then this may not concern you. However, if you want a quick sale, it’s important to know how far down the property chain the sellers are. They may be selling their home before buying a new one, or they may be completing two transactions at once, lengthening the size of your property chain and adding to the uncertainty.
6. Can you speak directly to the sellers?
The estate agent’s job is to help advertise the property and negotiate the terms of the sale. However, sometimes it can feel a lot more valuable to speak directly to the seller. Most sellers aren’t industry professionals and so you may find their responses to be more honest and open. They will also be better acquainted with the home and can explain the property’s best and worst features if required.
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Questions About the Asking Price
1. How did the agent decide on the asking price?
Experienced estate agents will provide good evidence for how and why they valued the property at the price they did. Calculating an asking price is not an exact science but an agent will usually factor in the home’s age, location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, size of the garden and general condition plus proximity to school catchment areas and public transport.
But, for your own research, you should still compare the asking price to similar properties in the area. You can also ask them to show similar properties they’ve recently sold and if they were priced differently. Some agents may even hint that they believe the seller has overvalued the property, but this is quite rare. The more research you do, the better position you’ll be in to negotiate.
2. What offers have they received so far?
Most estate agents will reveal if the seller has had other offers, but they typically won’t divulge how much. However, as it is their job to continue negotiations and achieve the best price possible, some agents may decide to give buyers hints concerning other offers made. The more information you can get on other buyers’ offers, the better position you’ll be in when presenting yours.
3. What is the lowest price the sellers are willing to accept?
Not all estate agents will provide a straight answer to this question. However, it is worth asking as the agent will be keen to earn their commission and ensure a sale. They will know the seller enough to provide even a vague reply for you to start with. If you’re lucky, they may simply provide you with an out-right price.
You should never be afraid to ask whether or not the seller will be open to negotiations. You may walk away paying the asking price originally set, or you may save yourself thousands so it’s definitely an important question to add to your list.
4. What will be included in the sale?
This is important to know as it can affect the property’s overall value. This should be cleared up in the contracts before you reach completion, but it’s better to know early on. Are some of the fittings or fixtures included? Will the garden shed be yours? Make sure you’re aware of what will be included in the contract.
Good agents may already have a list of what is being left by the seller, covering fixtures and fittings specifically. This is called the Sellers Property Information Form, so don’t be afraid to ask about it when making an offer. Once the contract is drafted, you should find the agreed items to be left behind in the TA10 fixtures and fittings form.
Questions About the Property
1. How old is the property?
Older properties can be expensive to maintain so it’s worth knowing their age. Properties over 50 years old often require building surveys which are a more expensive type of survey. The reason for this is that older homes will often have more structural concerns or will have been greatly renovated and updated. It doesn’t necessarily mean that an older home won’t be worth the investment, but there might be hidden defects you’ll need to be aware of.
There are a number of ways to discover the age of a property, such as contacting the HM Land Registry, so it shouldn’t be a difficult question to answer.
2. Is the property freehold or leasehold?
This is an important distinction to make when buying a house. If the property is freehold, then you will have absolute ownership of both the property and the land it stands on once the sale is complete. If it is leasehold, you will not own the building outright, instead, you will be provided with a lease. The majority of leases are for an initial period of 99-125 years. Typically, the longer the better and anything under 75 years can be a problem. If you do wish to purchase the freehold, you may have to start the complex process called collective enfranchisement. For further information, you can visit the gov.uk website.
It may also be worth checking if there’s a ‘flying freehold’ especially if the home is an older or converted property. This describes a freehold home that is above or below another freehold property and is commonly found in older buildings that have been converted into flats. A typical example is a room in one flat located above a shared passageway, or a balcony that extends over a neighbouring property. Some mortgage lenders, fearful of disputes, will not lend to buyers of such homes. Discover the difference between freehold and leasehold in more depth by visiting our helpful guide.
3. Is the property listed? If so, what grade is it? And is it in a conservation area?
Listed buildings require specialist care and could mean you’ll be prevented or severely restricted in what you are able to do with the property, both inside and out. Listed buildings can’t be demolished, extended or altered without permission from the local planning authority. This is also true for buildings located in conservation areas.
Conservation areas are often protected due to their architectural or historical importance. There are around 10,000 conservation areas in England alone and so it’s essential you check if the property you’re viewing is situated in one. If it is, you may be restricted in what you can do to the property and the land surrounding it.
4. Have any major works been conducted since the last sale? Was this completed with the right planning permission?
Some renovations can either add value or devalue a property. It’s worth knowing if the previous owners have conducted any major work on the home as it may affect the valuation or the results of the property survey.
If work has been conducted, you should then ask if you can see the relevant planning and building control consents. Planning applications can often be found online but it doesn’t hurt to ask the previous owners too. If the work was completed without planning permission or against building regulations, you may have to renovate or knock some of the property down in the future.
5. Which way does the property face?
Knowing which way the property or garden faces is often a factor many potential homeowners forget about. But this can be an important detail if you enjoy making use of any outdoor spaces. South-facing gardens would mean longer summer evenings whilst a north-facing garden would result in more shade. When asking this question, think about which rooms you spend the most time in and think about where they’ll be facing. It might mean avoiding a bit of very distracting glare from your windows.
6. Have any of the rooms been redecorated recently?
Some people will repaint or redecorate a room to cover any cracks, signs of damp or other cosmetic defects. Although these factors will be highlighted during the property survey, this one simple question could save you time and money in the long run by warning you of hidden issues in advance.
7. Have there been any problems with the boiler recently?
Boilers can be expensive to replace or repair. See if the sellers can tell you the age of the boiler and whether it’s been replaced recently. If it’s had a number of problems occur, it would be wise to either use this as evidence during the renegotiations, or it might even convince you to walk away from the sale altogether.
8. Are there working security/smoke alarms?
Security is a key factor in any property you buy. It’s important to know if there are working security alarms and smoke alarms present or if this will be another expense to pay in the near future.
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Questions For the Garden and Exterior of The Property
1. How much maintenance is required for the garden?
Don’t forget to assess the condition of the garden and exterior of the property, as these can be rather expensive areas to repair and maintain. A well-loved garden often means less work for the new owners. Again, this would be another vital question for those who like to make use of their outdoor spaces.
2. Is there a garage or off-road/on-road parking?
It can be easy to forget some of the essentials when you’re viewing or buying a property. If you drive, you need to ask about the parking situation and whether there’s a private garage to store your car. If not, then you will need to know where to park and how difficult it can be to find a space. This can often be a deal-breaker for those who need to make daily commutes.
3. How new are the drains and guttering?
Replacing drainage can be another expensive job. If it’s raining during your viewing, take this opportunity to check for any leaks. This could, again, save you from further expenses in the future.
4. Is the chimney in good condition?
A misaligned or deteriorating chimney could be a sign of more serious problems and so it’s not something to forget. The repair work could be incredibly costly and may even uncover further structural issues.
5. Are there any cracked tiles on the roof?
The Eco Experts put the average roof repair costs between £120-£3,125, depending on how severe the problems are. Simple repair work can cost as little as £120-£205, whilst major work will be in the thousands. It would be helpful to know what to expect should you purchase the home. The repair work may simply be over your personal budget meaning the home isn’t worth the investment.
Questions to Ask About the Paperwork and Bills
1. How much is the Council Tax?
If you can, try to get an exact amount and find out which council tax band the property comes under. How much council tax you pay will largely depend on the location. If possible, try contacting the seller to help with the estimates. Although they might not be as concerning as the upfront costs of buying a house, these on-going costs are important when deciding on a home.
2. Request the home report if you’re buying a house in Scotland
If you’re moving to or around Scotland, you should be given a Home Report when inquiring about the property. Sellers in Scotland are legally required to present this report when putting their home on the market and it’s vital all potential buyers read it.
The home report will be made up of 3 main elements:
- Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
- A single survey
- A property questionnaire
For more information on the Single Survey element of the Home Report read: What is a Single Survey?
3. How much are the utility bills?
Recurring expenses are an important detail to consider when buying a house. If possible, try to get an exact amount from the seller to ensure the monthly costs are affordable for you and your financial situation. Some of the main utility bills to consider include:
- Gas and electric
- TV license
- Water rates
4. Can they explain the Energy Performance Certificate?
The Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) will provide you with an energy efficiency rating for the property. This can provide you with information concerning the insulation, the heating system and other factors about the property’s condition. The results can help save you money in the long-run as you’ll be spending less on heating and other maintenance costs.
If you’re also selling a house before buying, you will legally need an EPC report. This should provide a rating for the property from A (the best) to G (worst) and may also include recommendations on how energy efficiency in the home could be improved. For a quick and easy quote for your own EPC, simply complete the attached online form.
5. Do they have a FENSA certificate?
FENSA stands for Fenestration Self-Assessment Scheme. This is a type of ‘Competent Person Scheme’ that proves window and door installers are experienced and competent enough to carry out work that complies with building regulations. A FENSA certificate is a common way for these installers to prove that their work and products are up to standard.
If the windows and doors in the home have been replaced any time after 2002, the seller must present a FENSA certificate or something similar. This will provide the buyer with evidence that the windows and doors installed comply with all modern building regulations.
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Questions to Ask About the Local Area
1. Are there any plans for the local area that could affect me as a homeowner?
Local estate agents will have a better understanding of the area to be able to answer this specific question. Your conveyancer should also uncover the answer to this during the local conveyancing searches. However, the earlier you’re informed, the earlier you can make a decision.
If you’re purchasing the property for the surrounding scenery, you must be informed of any work that could impede that. For example, perhaps a new development is scheduled for a nearby field or a wind farm is about to be erected, altering the view. The more information you uncover, the more informed you’ll be before completion.
2. What are the neighbours like?
If the sellers are moving due to a dispute with their neighbours, it’s essential you uncover the reasons why. Personal circumstances will differ, obviously, but if the neighbours are particularly bothersome or argumentative, it’s better to find out at the start of the process.
3. What is the local neighbourhood like?
Ask how far away the local schools, doctors, dentists, shops and petrol stations are. What’s the local crime rate like? Is it a noisy neighbourhood? This information will give you an idea of the area the property is situated in and will help you decide where to live. Don’t forget to do some research yourself as your estate agent is still trying to positively advertise the property so some issues may not come up.
To help you make a decision, it is also advised that you take a quick drive or walk around the area to see the amenities for yourself. If you have to make daily commutes, you can also take this opportunity to time the journey.
4. What are the local schools like?
When moving with children, another vital factor to ask about is the local schools, nurseries and colleges. Although you can research most of this yourself, it is still helpful to ask which schools are closer to the property and whether the estate agent or seller has previous experience using them.
Ask how many schools are within the area, whether they’re highly rated and what the average scores are for the year your children would be attending. Is there a local school bus you can make use of? Are you within the local catchment area? Would your children meet the attendance requirements? Don’t be afraid to ask any and all questions that come to mind.
5. What’s local transport like?
If you’re thinking about commuting to work, it’s important to ask about the local transport links. Where’s the nearest train station or bus stop? What is the traffic like in the morning? You could even ask the agent if they’re aware of the average cost for tickets in the area. If they are with a local estate agent office, they will likely be well accustomed to the price of transport.
Next Steps of Buying a House
This article has been part of our home buying guide. We hope this list of questions has better prepared you for the process of buying a house. In the next article, we look at the differences in freehold and leasehold properties. To find out more, read freehold vs leasehold.