Buying a new home involves posing a lot of questions to both the current owners of the property and the estate agents selling it on their behalf. It’s not just about passively viewing a property and then asking yourself questions afterwards – you have to be doing first-person research throughout the entire process. Treat it like investigative journalism!
Ultimately, you should tailor the questions you ask to the property in question. If there is anything in particular which strikes you as strange or unclear, there’s never any harm in just asking someone about it. So in this post, we outline some of the essential questions that you should ask sellers when buying a property before you seriously consider putting in an offer.
(For a list of factors to look for during a property viewing, read our previous blog on the subject.)
How long has the property been on the market?
Generally speaking, a house that has been on the market for four weeks is a safer bet compared to one that has been on the market for four months. While there are always going to be exceptions, this question is often asked by prospective buyers to gauge the overall quality of a house. For some, a property being on sale for longer than average acts as an indication of potential faults and problems, although there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to deciding whether or not this is really the case. If this is the case, simply ask the agent or seller why they think the property has not yet sold, and you might receive a very reasonable answer!
Why are the current owners selling the property?
While nobody is required to answer this question, it’s somewhat reassuring to know why exactly the house is being sold. Don’t assume that the property is on the market because it is lacking in some way: the majority of the time, the current owners of a property will be moving for perfectly normal reasons. However, on the off-chance that they happen to be moving because of disruptive neighbours or recurring burglaries, you’ll be glad you asked!
Has there been much interest in the property?
The interest that a property is receiving acts as a measure of how desirable that property is to other buyers, how reasonable other buyers find the asking price, and how competitive the eventual sale will be. You can either ask the sellers how many viewings they have had, or take a guess on the basis of how much you had to fight for a viewing. Just remember that this question shouldn’t act as the be-all and end-all of property buying: if you truly fall in love with a property, does it really matter how much attention it’s getting from other buyers? Probably not…
How old is the property?
An older house often comes with attractive period features and a touch of traditional charm, but they can also be a prone to maintenance issues such as damp, mould, or even asbestos. These could add to the maintenance costs of the property further down the line, so it’s best to get an idea of the property’s age before closing the sale. In addition, in certain cases you might want to ask whether or not the property is listed or falls within a conservation area. If the answer is ‘yes’ to either, you will likely be restricted when it comes to renovating the property (especially with major structural renovations).
Have the current owners found their next property?
Asking this question will give you an idea of the kind of timescale you’ll be working with throughout the buying process. If they have a new home in the running, they would most likely be raring to sell (and perhaps accept lower offers as a consequence). If they have not yet found their next home, you should ascertain when they plan on moving out. You don’t want to secure a sale only to be left waiting!
Have there been any issues with the boiler?
Boilers can be a right hassle sometimes, so it’s best to at least check on the state of the current boiler within the property. Has it had any faults recently? Has it recently been checked by a professional? If the boiler isn’t brand new, ask when it was last replaced. Older boilers typically have a bad track record for energy efficiency, so if having an eco-friendly home is among your priorities then you would have to factor in the cost of having it replaced.
What does the sale actually include?
This information will probably be on paper somewhere, but it’s best to know where you stand from an early stage. Most homes are sold unfurnished, but there are a few sales which include some appliances and furnishings. There’s a blurred line between what counts as a ‘fixture’ and what doesn’t – just ask your estate agent for more details as the contents of a home sale vary on a case-to-case basis. You never know, you could end up with a little more than you expected.
Is the internet any good?
If you work from home and good internet is a priority (or if you just love watching Netflix), you might want to ask about how strong the internet is at the property. Is the broadband fibre optic? Do the current owners have regular problems with their internet? Depending on your individual requirements, the answers to these questions could make or break a house for you.
What are the running costs?
In addition to the necessary costs of buying a new house, you should also try to get an idea of how much the property costs. How much are the monthly utility bills? Under which council tax band does the property fall? If the property is a flat or apartment, is there a service charge? Even if you can’t get a straight answer about the utility bills from the current owners, you can use this handy online calculator to get an average on the basis of a certain postcode.
How many owners has the property had?
A quick turnover on a property can be a massive red flag, often being an indication of hidden problems with a property. Try your best to get an honest answer as to whether or not the property has repeatedly changed hands in previous years. It’s also worth asking how long the previous owners have lived at the property, as a very short residence could also indicate problems with the house or the local area.
Are the neighbours a nuisance?
Nobody wants to be kept up by the wannabe rockstar next door who plays the same three guitar chords over and over til the wee hours – asking this question has the potential to save you a lot of stress in future. You should also be paying attention to how welcoming the neighbourhood seems when you visit. Or, better still, just keep an ear out during your viewing!
How is the local area?
You’re not just buying the property, you’re also buying into a certain area. Ask about the local amenities, the parking arrangements, the nearest transport options, the crime rate, the local schools – anything that you consider a requirement for your ideal neighbourhood. It’s important to identify any issues with the area before you put down an offer to save yourself any surprises a few weeks after moving in.
Try not to act suspicious and assume the worst of the sellers – it just makes proceedings a lot harder for everyone involved. Of course you should be inquisitive and try your best to clear up any ambiguities, but a certain degree of trust is essential from both parties when dealing with such a huge (and potentially life-changing) purchase. Any decent estate agents worth knowing will appreciate this importance, and will be happy to answer your questions and address any reservations with complete honesty!
Speaking of which… at James Anderson we always aim to fulfil the needs and requirements of our clients, whatever their price range. If you’re looking to buy a beautiful property in South West London, take a look at the properties for sale we have available on our website.