Yay! You’ve bitten the bullet and confirmed a house viewing! This is such an exciting time in the process of buying a house. I loved looking around houses, and could quite happily continue to do it now.
The first viewing can be a daunting one though, especially as a first-time buyer. It’s difficult to know what to ask and what to look out for, so I’ve compiled the following list of top 12 questions to ask the estate agent or vendor as well as the reasons why you are asking. When I went to view Number One, I ended up videoing the whole thing as Steve wasn’t with me at the time. This was great to review later on, and helped me to get to the bottom of a lot of the queries I had after the viewing, but if you feel uncomfortable doing that here’s what to ask:
1. What is the property’s history?
Check how old the property is if you can, and who currently lives there. This will give you an indication on what to look out for, for example: if the house had an elderly resident, keep an eye out for things that might have been neglected due to it being a large or highly manual job. If the property was rented, it also might be a little neglected as the owners may not have seen the wear and tear that a renter might not want to spend on to repair. This might seem stereotypical, but realistically it does help focus your mind on anything that could be ‘wrong’ or yet to be updated so you can be truthful about the cost of updating or making it your own.
Older properties might not have new, or well-insulated windows; damp might also be a problem that newer homes won’t have. Window shapes, speaking from experience, can really increase the cost for replacement or double glazing. So if it’s at the higher end of your budget, you may not be able to afford to change these for a while. It’s important to bear in mind so you can plan for higher heating bills over the winter…or get ready to wear a lot of big jumpers!
2. Why are the vendors selling up and how long have they lived there?
If they’re moving out after a short period, try to find out why. Also, try to find out how long the owners before them lived in the house; if the property has repeatedly changed hands, it could indicate that there may be some neighbourhood challenges with noise, or parking, or litter.
If you can, ask to speak to the vendors. Agents generally hate this – it is their job to negotiate – but they can’t stop you speaking to the sellers if they are up for it too. Most sellers will tell you things about the quirks of the house that they love, and sometimes things that are shockingly honest. As will the neighbours, should you get a chance to talk to them!
Finding out why the owners are selling will also give you an indication on the chain the property is involved in. For instance, there might be a long chain of people buying new places, or it might be chain free as the current owners have already moved. The chain will determine how long the move could take and also the longer the chain is, the more likely of future issues arising if people pull out!
3. How long has it been on the market?
If the property has been on the market for a while or taken on and off the market it could mean you have more of a chance of having a lower offer accepted. However, there was one house that we viewed that the agent decided to tell us had a timber frame. This meant a lot of mortgage companies wouldn’t lend against it meaning repeated sales had fallen through at the last minute. I’m pretty sure that house is still on the market two and a half years later.
4. Is the property listed?
Having a listed property can restrict your future plans for it, but it can also mean you are restoring a home that is important to the area! The grading will show up in searches later in the process, but if possible it’s best to know before you even view it. That way you can make an educated decision on whether a neighbourhood treasure is right for you.
If the property is in a conservation area, this can also throw up some restrictions that you might not think about at the beginning, for instance, certain trees might be protected to the point that fines are issued if they are cut down or even disturbed.
5. When was the heating system fitted?
Checking the boiler is super important due to the expense of repair and replacement of a broken or end of life boiler. Ask to see it, and visually assess the condition; remember new boilers tend to be compact and contemporary looking which is a good bet. If the boiler is old and even if it isn’t, check the look of the radiators as well as the heat of them should they be on. There are also different types of boiler so it might be worth finding out which has already been installed. Uswitch has a comprehensive list of pros and cons, which you can read here.
Not many people check the water heat and pressure, which can make a real difference to your morning and bills! If the shower takes too long to heat up in the upstairs bathroom, you will be taking time away from being in bed every day*; and you’ll also be wasting a lot more water that you’ll be paying for’.**
*insert screaming emoji. ** insert double screaming emoji.
6. When were the electrics fitted?
If the owners have lived there a long time the house might need some ‘behind the scenes’ updating, for instance, ask about the wiring and when this was last checked. Wiring can be something that people put off doing because it’s not visually obvious. Turn lights on and off to check light switches work; even if it’s daytime! Listen out for any buzzing when they are on, and also see how many plugs you can spot in each room. The average 3 bedroom house should have 38 sockets, but this can be set by room. This electrical safety PDF details everything on page 5, which is super helpful as no one wants to have to unplug their phone charger every day to turn the light on!
7. Are there any problems with drainage?
When you are running the taps to check the pressure, you can check the drainage too. let the sink fill up a bit and then see how quickly it runs away. No guarantees, but this could show you if there is a blockage in the drains that will need to be cleared. This can be an expensive (and gross!) job.
Have a look at the outside of the house to see if there are any old lead drain pipes that are leaking or need replacing. You might see actually cracks, or water overflowing. You also might see a discolouration to the material below the pipes, which could indicate a past or current issue. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything that strikes your concern.
8. How long ago was the roof fitted and insulated?
While looking at the drain, see if the roof is asking for help! Look out for lots of moss, or missing tiles. Press for an answer on what insulation the loft has or ask to see it. Do this even if you are looking at a flat within a building! You will be paying towards the upkeep of the ground, maintenance and the building and the current owners could be moving out due to a looming bill for upcoming repairs!
9. What’s under/behind that rug/plant/artwork? or, What caused that crack?
Cracks tend to mean problems. By cracks, I’m thinking quite deep or long cracks inside or outside of the property should start alarm bells. But also keep an eye out for any obvious cover-ups. We once went to a house where a rug had been put on the kitchen floor to cover a huge hole; you couldn’t write it. Look out for fresh paint, large items in odd places e.g. why did you put that huge plant next to the bath, Susan? and why is there a large Persian rug in the kitchen?
The seller doesn’t have to tell you about problems – in fact, they may even try to hide them. Common cover-ups include painting over damp and hiding wall cracks or floor problems with furniture or rugs.
If you do see anything of concern, it’s more than ok to ask if it will be fixed before the sale goes through. It should be! Or the price should reflect the issue.
10. Is there any known past or active damp?
As already mentioned, damp can be hidden with a quick lick of paint. It’s still worth asking about, even if nothing looks to be discoloured. Some owners will readily own up to damp because it’s likely to rear its head through surveys, and by that point, most people would be asking for a discount! if they own up to it early, any work can be taken into consideration within the offering process. Surveys should be taken regardless, just in case!
11. Which council tax band is the property in?
Council tax is paid annually, and can really impact the amount you have left to spend on any renovations or decoration. It’s worth doing a bit of investigation on the .gov website using the post code. Then, putting the costs of running the property together, even if they are estimated, before making any offers. If you’ve got your heart set on a particular neighbourhood, but the tax is through the roof, it might be worth looking in the town next to it where costs might be a bit lower! Set realistic expectations before making any final decisions, you’ll thank yourself in the long run.
12. Which way does the property face?
Finally, if you are like me a bit of sunshine makes me feel a whole lot better. Finding out which direction the property faces will help you to understand which rooms/windows will get like throughout the day. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, you should be able to work out the hours of Sun you will have there too. Do you like throwing open the back door and enjoying a cup of tea in the morning light? Or, do you love to through sunset BBQs? Your home should fit around your lifestyle, so why not check it out before you commit?
I know it feels like a lot of things to find out, but realistically they don’t all need to be on the actual viewing. You can email or call the agents after to get the lowdown; and please please please, get a survey done on top of all of this. It’s so important to have get a professional opinion.
I’d love to hear how your viewing goes over on Instagram, and be sure to share this post with anyone else who is busy looking to buy their first home. Hopefully, we can start an uprising against deceitful estate agents one viewer at a time!