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24 important questions to ask when buying a property

  • 20, Oct 2020
  • Read time: 12 mins

Buying a house can be daunting. Even if you’re not a first-time buyer, chances are it’s been some years since you last went through the process.

Fear not. Yes, house buying can be tricky, long-winded and stressful, but estate agents are duty bound to tell you the truth, as long as you ask the right questions.

Couple speaking to a solicitor.

1. How long has the house been on the market? 

When it comes to what to ask when buying a house, this is a great place to begin.

If the house has been on the market for three months or more, then you need to ask why. Is there a problem with it that you haven’t discovered yet, but others have spotted?

Surveys will discover any potential issues but it’s better to find these out before you get too attached to the idea of buying a property.

2. How much interest has there been in the property? 

How many people have viewed the house? How many offers have there been? If you visit the property on a weekend, look out for viewings before and after yours to give you an idea of popularity.

Estate agents won’t tell you the actual number of offers made but they will usually indicate if any offers made are close to the asking price. This will give you a good idea of how fast you need to move.

3. Why is the owner selling the property? 

This is vitally important. The owner might just be moving to a different area or a bigger property, but there could be plenty of other reasons that are unappealing to a prospective buyer. Is the property too near a noisy road? Are they tired of the upkeep? Food for thought.

4. Are there any problems with the neighbours?

Sellers are legally obliged to divulge any disputes with neighbours.

Also remember to ask how long the owner has lived there – as a quick move is another sure sign of issues.

5. What’s the area like? 

Would the estate agent be happy to live in the area themselves? Even better, try to ask the seller about the area if they’re present when you view the property.

Most importantly, do your own research. Keep in mind that any house can be renovated but it can’t be moved.

If the schools are bad, the crime rate is high or you're too far from public transport, then you might need to think again. You may wish to check local schools’ OFSTED reports or crime rates in the neighbourhood to inform your decision-making.

6. Have there been any major renovations done or extensions built recently? 

Make sure you can see planning permission for any recent works and consent of the freeholder (if applicable). If proper permission wasn’t obtained for an extension, then you could have to tear it down.

7. How’s the water pressure? 

It may seem trivial but imagine waking up on the first morning in your new home to discover that the shower is a trickle.

Check the taps and shower yourself as you’re looking around the property.

8. Is the property leasehold or freehold? 

With a leasehold, you own the property (subject to the terms of the leasehold) for the length of your lease agreement. The freeholder of a property owns it outright, including the land it’s built on. The listing should also display this clearly.

9. If the property is leasehold, how long is left on the lease? 

A short lease reduces the value of a property so you may need to extend it when you come to re-sell. To do this, you could talk to the estate agent or solicitor you worked with to buy your leasehold property. Or you could search online through the government land registry and pay a small fee to find out how long remains on the lease.

10. Is it possible to buy the freehold or a share of the freehold?

Buying the freehold gives you more control over your property as you’re not subject to ground rent. However, there may still be service charges for communal parts of the property. If you like, you may wish to enquire with your estate agent about the possibility of buying the freehold. 

11. How much is the service charge? Are there any issues with the management company? 

If the property is leasehold only, you’ll need to be aware of further service costs and potential admin fees. The service charge should be advised at your first viewing of the property, whether this is charged monthly or annually, and what it covers. It’s also worth noting that many new build estates may also service charges or management companies tied to them.

12. Which way does the property face?

If you have a garden or terrace then you’ll want to make sure it gets the sun when you want it to, whether you like to wake up with the light streaming through the windows of your bedroom or you prefer sunny summer BBQs in the late afternoon. So, if you like a sunny property, look for a southerly-facing garden.

13. When do the current owners need to move by? Have the sellers found somewhere new?

Being in a chain can create complications for buyers as any delays or complications for the sellers will have a knock-on effect.

The ideal situation is that the property is chain-free but, if not, knowing that the sellers are organised and keen to move quickly can bode well for an uncomplicated sale.

14. Has the property been painted or redecorated recently? 

A fresh coat of paint could mean the sellers are covering cracks or damp.

Lift rugs to make sure they’re not hiding anything unsightly. Keep your nose trained for the musty smell of damp. Also check where the walls join with the ceiling and inspect window seals and exterior walls. 

This might be more prevalent in older houses with old windows and insulation.

15. Is there any evidence of damp? 

Use your senses when viewing a property. Damp can often be spotted by:

  • A musty smell
  • Peeling wallpaper
  • Mould or mildew
  • Discoloured walls
  • Condensation on windows.

16. Are the walls structurally sound?

It’s not easy to conceal structural damage, even when things are covered. Here are some tell-tale signs to look for:
  • Sagging roofs and warped ceilings
  • Cracks
  • Warped or uneven flooring
  • Decaying concrete
  • Timber rot.

17. How’s the broadband service and mobile signal in the area? 

The best way to check what broadband you’ll have in your new neighbourhood is to search online for broadband providers near your new address.

You’ll find the providers that have listed their service in that area. Then, do a check with those providers to see what speeds they offer.

You can also use Ofcom’s broadband and mobile coverage checker to see the coverage in your area.

18. How old is the boiler? 

The best way to check how old the boiler is in the home you’re viewing is to get the serial number. This will be unique to that boiler, so finding out how old it is shouldn’t be a problem.

Check the drop down panel for the serial number. This will contain the date the boiler was manufactured. If it’s not in the drop down panel, check under the boiler or on the side. There should also be a user/guide/manual that may provide you with the answers you need.

19. Has there been an asbestos survey carried out?

This may not apply to new or even recently built house. On older houses you’ll need to find out whether an asbestos survey has been carried out because this substance, though once widely used in construction, carries warnings that the material is hazardous to health long term. According to the Health and Safety Executive asbestos kills more people every year than road traffic accidents.

When it’s decaying, asbestos creates airborne fibres leading to several forms of cancer and thickening of the lungs, causing shortness of breath.

Typically, you’ll find asbestos in old fire blankets, rooves including the garden shed, floor packing and insulation panels as well as ceilings and doors.

20. Are there restrictions on expansion?

Some properties have great potential. This applies particularly if you have the legal right to expand your property, whether that’s above, below or to either side of your home. Talk to your estate agent and get details from the owner about any planning permission they have put in before and what happened as a result. Having restrictions that forbid expansion can turn a great property into one that may not suit your needs.

21. Have there been any boundary disputes with the neighbours?

Boundary disputes are difficult to resolve and typically can be long running sagas that you could unwittingly inherit, if you don’t ask the right questions.

Boundaries can be tricky to legally establish exactly where they lie, sometimes marked by hedgerows, fences or the edge of a driveway, etc.

Remember, it is your responsibility to find out whether the property you’re buying has a boundary dispute. It is not the responsibility of the sellers.

You can check the boundary by asking for a copy of the title plan from the Land Registry which shows the boundary marked clearly in red.

22. What is and isn’t included in the sale?

If it isn’t in the contract don’t presume it will be there when you move in. This is what contracts are for, after all. So, particularly with furniture and fixtures and fittings, that wall mounted TV (and the wall mounting itself) will in all likelihood not be there when you move in.

23. How old is the property?

Finding out how old your property is will give you clues as to how the property has been constructed.

Is it a new build, or a recent build, benefiting from energy efficient systems and greener building regulations?

Or was the property built in the 18th century out of a substance that insurance companies might have issues with, such as composite building materials like bungaroosh, mundic or wattle and daub. Or any other building technique that utilised earth, chalk, lime and gravel for walls.

24. What council tax band is the property in?

Finding out the council tax band of your property is essential if you want to estimate how much you’ll be paying in household bills every month. Visiting the government website and putting in your postcode will provide instant answers.

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