12 questions to ask an estate agent before buying a house

Buying a house is hugely stressful; dealing with mortgage advisors and agents, and navigating an industry full of jargon and loopholes.

You may find your ‘perfect’ home, only to realise further down the line that you forgot to check something important – and your property isn’t up to scratch as a result.

Although most buyers will get a survey done after their offer is accepted, there are still ways to feel out any potential snags earlier on.

Ask your estate agent the following questions when you’re viewing. Even if you don’t get a straight answer, their tone and mood should give you a clearer picture of what you’re working with.

Different homes (for example listed buildings or those with thatched roofs) will need special attention, but these questions will get the ball rolling so you end up with the perfect home for you.

How long has the property been on the market?

You can usually see how long something has been on the market online on sites like Zoopla.

However, do ask the agent as well. They can give you information the internet can’t, including the reason for this.

It may be innocuous, in that the current owner just hasn’t found the right buyer or they’ve been waiting to sell until they’ve completed on a new property.

Either way, it’ll give you a good idea of whether there’s undesirable things about the property or the owners are delaying (and therefore you might experience delays).

How long have the current owners lived there?

If there have been numerous owners over the last few years, or the current owners have lived there a very short time, this might be a red flag.

The agent may skirt around this question if the answer isn’t what you want to hear. If it does seem sketchy, you could ask the agent if you can speak to the current owner.

This way you hear straight from the horse’s mouth. It may have simply been a stopgap or they have to move for work, but you’ll put your mind at ease.

Why is the current owner selling?

This question falls into the same category as above, and the answer to how long they’ve lived there can also inform the answer to this.

It might reveal that they’re leaving for a good reason, such as structural problems to the house they can’t afford to fix or a bad relationship with neighbours.

What recent work has been done to the property? And why?

Sometimes, a renovated property is just that. Sometimes, however, painting work has been done to cover cracks or damp.

The work the previous owner has done can save you a lot of money, but feel out whether it was done to cover up a bigger problem.

If you can, try to see whether large-scale works were done by a professional and to a high standard.

What is included in the sale?

Fixtures are (normally) included as part of a sale. This means things fixed to the house like kitchen units, bathroom suites, and power sockets.

However, items like white goods, carpets, and curtain rails fall under fittings instead. These can be left by the owner or taken.

Check with the agent, as things like these can ‘sell’ you the property, but night not become yours once you sign the deed.

Is there a chain?

For your own scheduling, you need to know whether the current owner is buying somewhere else and whether they’re in a chain.

You should also ask when they plan to move out. Knowing all these things can contribute to a smooth buying experience.

Why has the value changed?

Online property sites often show you value fluctuations – and some even send you alerts when the price of a house changes.

If you can, find out from the agent exactly why this is. Perhaps the value has gone up because renovations have completed or the area is ‘up and coming’.

The value may, conversely, have gone down due to a lack of offers. Coming prepared with this information gives you an advantage when you make an offer.

Which way does the property face?

Chances are, you probably don’t bring a compass with you to house viewings.

Ask the agent which way the house faces, as this will determine everything from whether the garden gets the sun to whether you’re woken up by it every morning shining through your bedroom window.

What does the planning permission landscape look like?

You can tailor this question to the property at hand, but it encompasses an array of different issues.

For one, you need to know whether you’re buying a listed building, as this can stop you doing future work to the property.

Secondly, find out if the house is currently up to code. If the previous owners put a conservatory or extension on that didn’t have permission, it’s your responsibility to remove it if you’ve bought the house.

As well as that, if you’re planning on doing work to the property yourself, suss out whether previous owners had had requests rejected from the council or how neighbours have got permission.

When was the boiler and guttering put in?

A boring one, but a necessary one. If the boiler and any big features like gutters haven’t been done in a long time, it could cost you thousands to replace them.

Knowing this means you may be able to suggest leeway on the cost price to offset what you’ll have to spend on sorting them when you move in.

It’s not guaranteed, but definitely worth keeping in mind.

What are the local amenities like?

Another question that’ll change based on what you’re after, try to see if the agent will tell you more about what there is to do locally and how well the neighbours get on.

What are the schools like locally? How busy are the roads? Will the area be changing any time soon (aka development plans nearby)? Is it mostly families nearby or students/retired people?

All of these are valid questions that show more about how it’d work as a home for you.

What’s the lowest offer the owners would accept?

This isn’t a question you should necessarily be asking straight off the bat, but it is one you should have in mind.

If you’re serious about offering, see if the agent knows where the current owner’s head is at price-wise.

Some sellers will expect much higher than asking price, which might put the property out of your budget.

It’s a distinctly rubbish feeling when you get your hopes up about somewhere only to find you can’t afford it, and as they say, ‘shy bairns get nowt’.

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