Buying a house – what to ask/ do during the viewing process

Quick note: this is not my furniture or how my lounge looks. Not that it matters, just wanted to point it out.

So, you’ve done you research (see the first post of this mini-series to find out more about that side of things) you’ve seen some places you like and you’re ready to go out and see them in person. But…what are you supposed to do when you’re there besides look?

Buying property is a huge commitment, so you want to make sure you get it right, and that’s where I can help. I’ve viewed so many houses over my adult life, more than half of them within the last couple of years so my experiences are pretty current as well as long standing. Learning from my family, friends and a few industry professionals I believe I’ve honed my line of questioning, so now I’m sharing what I’ve learned below.

This post will take a little while to read, but if you’re thinking of buying a property soon it’s totally worth it!

Before you view

When you call (if this is not an online agency) to book a viewing, ask:

– For an idea of the seller’s situation (i.e. Have they found a new house, are they in a hurry to sell, is the house vacant) and clearly communicate yours to them.

If you’re a first time buyer with a decision/agreement in principle or have sold your house and are in strong position to move make sure this is known, as the agent will communicate this to the seller which lets them know you’re a reliable and serious viewer.

– Who is showing you the house and their name

It’s good to have a name so you can start off by building a good rapport (this can be useful as if you end up in any kind of bidding war, the fact that they warm to you *may* help sway things in your favour). It will also give you an idea of whether it’s the homeowner or a representative of the agent showing you around; if it’s the latter you will need to ask the next question.

– If they can answer all questions you may have about the property themselves

If it’s not people who live in the property showing you round (they may have passed away, or simply have asked the agents to help because they’re at work) then it’s likely that whoever is present at the viewing will just be letting you in the house to look around and won’t have a great deal of knowledge to answer questions on the spot. If they’re a good agency they will have prepared some of the key points but other things they will probably have to ask and get back to you about. If you know this in advance, you may be able to have the agency get some of the information from the seller before your viewing which will save time later.

During the viewing

First things first – get your game faces on. Be prepared to be pleasant but try to keep a poker face – you don’t want to appear too keen if you love the house as this will leave you with no bargaining power if you make an offer later, however you don’t want to appear rude as this is somebody’s home and very important to them.

These are what I would deem are the core questions you should ask as you move throughout the home, just ask as part of a natural conversation. The person showing you around will be expecting you to ask a lot of questions so don’t hold back!

– How long have you lived here?

If it’s a long time, good sign. If it’s not, that’s not the worst, but it makes the following question more important.

– Why are you wanting to move?

If the agency have given any indication already this will help confirm this. Usually it’s a very legitimate reason e.g. To be closer to work, need a bigger/smaller house, and you can usually tell if they’re not being honest with you. If you don’t feel they are you’re definitely entitled to press a little, but don’t push too hard.

– What’s is the average cost of utilities/bills?

As well as your mortgage payments, this gives you an idea of how much your total outlay may be. I’ve quite often phrased this as “apart from the mortgage, how much does the house usually cost to run every month?”

– What council tax band is the house in?

I would follow this up with how much does that cost every month if they don’t tell you. If the house is occupied by 1 adult and you’re buying as a couple yours will cost 25% more per month than this, or 25% less if a couple is currently living there and you’ll be living alone. A lot of people also don’t know that you have the option to pay your council tax bill over 12 months (the traditional amount is 10) so there are opportunities to save a bit on the monthly outlay of this one.

– What is the broadband signal like in the house?

VERY important – one of the houses we previously owned was in a “blackspot” and the connection was terrible and patchy (yet we had to pay the same amount, ugh.) which then also affected our satellite TV as that also relied on this.

– What is mobile phone reception like in the house?

Again, VERY important – the house we live in now is a bit of dodgy area for the EE network which led to us changing to O2. You can easily see on your own phone what the reception/connectivity is like, and ask the sellers what network they’re on or if there are any areas on their property that aren’t as good for signal.

– The age of windows/doors/ conservatory/flat roof – how long ago where they fitted?

I’ve come to notice that the ‘general’ age for big items like this to perform well before they require repair or replacement is about 10-15 years. This isn’t an exact science but double glazing usually has a 10yr guarantee against it which is a fair indication. If the weather is bad (wet, windy, snowy) when you view you’ll probably be able to see/feel any droughts or leaks. Some of these problems can be put right for a few hundred pounds, others can be a few thousand, butnif you know what you’re dealing with you can decide if you feel the house is worth it.

– Where is the boiler, how old is it and when was it last serviced? How regularly has been serviced whilst you’ve lived here?

An old boiler isn’t necessarily a bad thing (in my last house it was about 30yrs old) if you’re also told it’s been serviced at least once per year whilst the seller has lived there. If it’s fairly new and has been serviced every year, even better. If you wanted to go one further you could ask the make of the boiler (you may have a savvy relative or want to google the company afterwards) if the seller currently has a boiler cover and the cost to allow for this in your monthly bills.

– Do you have solar panels or loft/cavity wall insulation – when were they fitted and how effective are they now?

The second part of the question could probably only be answered if the sellers had these things installed whilst they lived in the property, if not they will probably only be able to comment on how effective they find them in general (i.e. Does the house get and stay warm)

– What can you tell me about the neighbours?

Much better than “are the neighbour’s nice?” In this day and age people may not know the neighbours more than to say hello to, but if there’s been any kind of acrimony or negativity you are giving them the opportunity to tell you (there’s potential legal recourse if they fail to disclose a serious problem, as it may affect whether you choose to buy the house or not). You’ll generally find most people will be quite vague “we don’t see them much but everyone seems nice” which is the answer you should hope for.

– What’s parking like down the street?

This is becoming such a hot button issue as many houses have at least 2 cars, sometimes more if older children live at home or visit often. Not everyone likes to park in garages or on drives as they’re lazy, but this obviously takes up valuable space and determines how easy the area is to drive and manoeuvre around. If the property has a shared Drive, ask what kind of arrangement are currently in place between the seller and neighbour for right of way etc.

Top tip: whatever answers you’re given, do a couple of drive-bys at different times/days in the week so you can see for yourself (evenings, weekends and early mornings are key times)

– What are local transport links like?

Also see if they can tell you the name/number of the local services so you can look the timetables up afterwards, how far away the nearest bus/tram stop or station are, and if they know how reliable these are.

– Is there anything else we haven’t asked that you feel would be useful to mention?

If you’ve asked all of the above and anything else that’s popped into your head as you’ve walked around, there probably isn’t, but it may trigger a memory of questions that other potential buyers have asked the seller.

– What is your favourite thing about living here, and what do you like the least about living here?

This one is a curve ball and generally not a regular thing most people would ask, however the hubby and I viewed so many properties this time around that we added it in to wring every last bit of honesty out of the seller. They won’t be expecting the question so won’t have had any time to pre-prepare an answer, meaning you’ll get a response that’s more honest or more telling. We found this very useful indeed.

After viewing

As you’re leaving a viewing, thank the seller for showing you their home and tell them at you will be in touch with your feedback shortly. This doesn’t indicate you love or hate it, but simply that you’ll let the agent know either way what you thought and how you’d like to move forward.

If the agent is getting information about the property from the sellers, be sure to chase this up after a couple of days if you haven’t heard anything.

A good agency will call or e-mail a day or two after your viewing to ask what you thought of the property, if you have any questions and if you would like them to book a second viewing or pass along an offer on your behalf. With these conversations I find it best to be honest and clear – if you didn’t like the house, say this and explain the reasons why if possible as this will help the agency manage things and stop them chasing you about it. If you’re genuinely in the fence, tell them this as well and they may be able to help with this, either by booking a follow up viewing for you to have another look and make up your mind or trying to find out why to see if they help you work through this.

And that is basically it in a nutshell – it’s a pretty large nutshell but it’s all here!

If you’re able to ask all of these questions during a viewing you’ll get a pretty complete picture of the property you’re interested in. It’s not an exhaustive list; every property is different and some may require a bit more fact finding than others, but it’ll put you more in control of the process and let the seller know this.

I’m planning one more post as part of this series that covers the last part of the process (the part people usually get the most stressed over) from offer to completion.

Happy house hunting!

J xx

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