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Buying A House? The Key Questions To Ask Your Estate Agent

by Alison Potter Published on 6 September 2013

After what feels like a lifetime of renting, you’re finally ready to do it. Ready to take that plunge and become an actual – gasp – homeowner. You’ve saved up and now you’re about to get a place of your very own, that’s actually yours, where you can settle and start to put down roots. While the thought of buying is very exciting, it's also quite daunting so we've found out the must-ask questions for anyone looking to buy.

Buying a home is undeniably an exciting prospect – after all you’ll have free rein to channel your inner Kirstie Allsop when it comes to decorating and kitting out your new home. But at the same time it’s also probably going to be the largest single transaction you will ever make, so it’s definitely not one to enter into lightly.

There’s so much to consider when buying a flat or house: property type, location, freehold or leasehold, number and size of rooms, parking facilities and whether you want a garden. That’s not to mention working out what your budget is, sorting out mortgage approvals, choosing an estate agent and finding a solicitor.

With so many outgoings, understandably you want to get the most bang for your buck, which is why it’s so important to do your homework about any potential property you want to purchase. But with so much on your mind, how do you ensure that you ask your estate agent the most important questions about any property you are seriously considering purchasing?

It can all feel rather overwhelming, which is why we spoke to Russell Quirk, founder of low cost online estate agent eMoov.co.uk, who filled us in on the key enquiries every potential homebuyer has to ask their estate agent.

Has there been much interest in the property?

If you really like a property, then there’s no point beating around the bush. Find out what other interest is out there and make an offer accordingly. Never take an estate agent's word. Choose a popular slot to view the home, and if there are other people looking around either before or after you then you know it’s popular.

What’s the area like?

A decent estate agent is probably unlikely to admit when an area isn’t up to scratch, but think about the sort of questions that would squeeze the truth from them. Is it a secure location? Are there schools, parks and restaurants nearby? These are the questions that will give you an indication of how good an area it is.

Would they live there?

Be direct and look carefully for their reaction. If they scrunch up their face and look awkward, you have your answer. If they say that they live nearby and like the area, then this is usually a good sign.

How long has it been on the market?

Perhaps the most important question of all and one that will give you a precise indication of how desirable the property is. If it’s been on for more than 6 months, you need to ask yourself what’s stopping it from being picked up.

Is there room for negotiation?

This is a consideration for anyone on a tight budget, but also one that could highlight some potential issues. If they’re more than happy to meet your demands and accept a low rate even you question, then listen to those alarm bells. If they’re desperate to get someone into the property, then it may not be the one for you.

What improvements would you make?

This might open up an important moment of honesty from your estate agent and is the perfect tactic to get them to show you some of the property’s bad bits that you may have missed the first time around. If they tell you there’s nothing wrong with it, then they’re most likely telling porkies.

Is there anything that you would want to know about the house if you were buying?

This will almost definitely catch them off guard and in their panic, they’ll probably identify some of the property’s biggest weaknesses. Whatever their suggestions are, counter them and ask if what they’ve said is true about that particular property. This tactic is always guaranteed to work.

How long have the previous tenants lived there?

If you’re looking to buy to let a new property, then find out how long the prior tenants stayed. If they’ve been there for several years, chances are they have been relatively happy, which always a good sign. That being said, the longer the tenant’s lease the greater potential there is for property damage. Before committing to anything, make sure that all necessary renovations are made and be sure to take some pictures on moving day for insurance purposes in case anything bad happens down the line.

Do you know of any damage to the property?

Exterior damages are easy to spot but can often be missed. Internal damages are often hard to detect until living in a house. This means that you absolutely must ask your agent the extent to any damages (if any) the property has incurred during the last tenancy. Be bold. They have to give you a straight answer.

How did the agent decide on an asking price?

If you’re agent is good at their job, they’ll be able to justify why the property has been valued as it has. If you’re lucky though, they might let you in on a secret and tell you that the seller has over-valued the property. This will then give you some idea on whether there is room for negotiation.

Have any major works been conducted?

Make sure you know of any work that has been recently been undertaken before making a definitive move. If your dream house suddenly collapses because of poor foundational work, the previous owner isn’t liable and you’ll regret not having asked. By law, estate agents are now obliged to tell you of any issues but the less scrupulous might overlook this.

How much is the Council Tax? And how much are utility bills in the area?

If you can, try and get an exact figure. As an expense, they may seem small at first in comparison to the property, but they are recurring and you have to make sure it’s affordable in relation to your income.

Can I speak with the Landlord / Seller?

Estate agents traditionally hate this question more than any other because they don’t like homeowners getting in the way of their jargon. However, speaking directly to the landlord or seller can have its advantages. After all, can an estate agent really tell you how noisy the neighbours are, or what if dodgy people hang out in the area? Of course, they may not give you a candid account either, but if they refuse to speak with you before the transaction, then you’ll know they’ve got something to hide.

Does the property have planning permission / has it had any in the past?

One for buyers: if you’re looking to invest in a property and intend to stay for several years to start a family, space could become an issue. One essential thing to remember to ask is whether or not the property has any planning complications such as a listed status. They will have records of planning permits if any have been issued in the past. If they have been rejected, then this may cause you problems in the future.

Can I have a trial run?

Not a common request, but why not? If you have any doubts in your mind about the condition of the property or the surrounding area and the owner is willing, ask if you can live in it for a couple of hours. Walking around in five minutes and then leaving isn’t enough time for you to make this kind of decision and if you’re not brave enough to ask, then at the very least, make sure you see it three or four times.

Got another question to add to this list? Tweet it to us @sofeminineuk!

by Alison Potter

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