Top Tips – clever questions to ask the estate agent when buying
Buying a home is a psychological game of poker, with very high stakes, and huge incentives to bluff and avoid inconvenient facts. However estate agents are legally bound to tell the truth, so you need to make sure you ask the right questions to find out what the real situation is. It could make the difference between buying a dream home and buying a dud – and save you a fortune
Why is the owner selling?
The estate agent doesn’t have to answer, but if you’re lucky they might hint at the circumstances. You might find out the owner is desperate to sell, perhaps because work is taking them overseas, and so would accept a lower price
Is there anything that you would want to know about the house if you were buying?
The big fear if you are buying is that you are missing out some big negative factor that others know about. Is the local train station about to close? A sewerage plant opening up nearby? Or are the next door neighbours the family from hell? People have been known to move into the homes of convicted mass-murderers without knowing – but you can bet they wish they had known. If you have any doubts about a house, ask next door neighbours or local shop keepers what they think.
How much money has the property lost in value over the last X years?
According to a study by Hillarys interiors, this is the question most estate agents dread. In 2020, the company asked some 50 estate agents and over 1,500 owners who had purchased in the past three years about their dealings with estate agents. Why this question conjures such dread is beyond us. After all this information is readily available online on the Land Registry website, so take a look and go armed with previous sold prices, and ready to ask why there has been a drop in value.
Are there currently any plans for the local area that could affect us as homeowners?
Now this question, highlighted by Hillarys as the second most dreaded question for estate agents, does make sense. If you’re viewing a property because you love the undisturbed view of the fields it backs onto, then chances are you want the fields to stay. So if there is a planning application for a new housing development on said fields, you’ll want to know sooner rather than later. Ask this question now, otherwise you’re unlikely to hear about planned developments until the local searches are returned.
Exactly what is included in the sale?
Is the garden shed or greenhouse included? Are the fixtures and fittings? Exactly where does the boundary lie? Make sure you see all of what you are getting.
How long has the property been on the market?
If the house has been on the market a long time (more than three months), ask the agent why they think it isn’t selling. Are there problems that other people have realised that you haven’t? Is it just overpriced? A long time on the market might mean that the seller would accept a lower price
What is the lowest price the sellers are willing to go to?
It’s definitely worth asking. If the estate agent is keen to get their commission, and assuming they know the sellers bottom line, then it’s pertinent to ask.
How long have the owners lived there?
If they are moving out after a short period, it is important to find out why. Do they have noisy neighbours?
Has the property repeatedly changed hands?
You should be alert to serious problems if the property has frequently changed hands. Find out why previous owners moved out. Perhaps even try to contact them to ask why they did
How did the agent decide on an asking price?
A good agent will provide you with their justifications for the asking price, which you can then judge. Or, if you get lucky the agent might tell you that they think the seller is overvaluing the house. You should in any case visit other homes for sale nearby so you get a good idea what properties in the area sell for. See How do I know I’m not paying too much?
What is the minimum price the seller will accept?
It sounds silly, but asking if their bottom line is actually negotiable can save you thousands. Estate agents will often give you an indication – it is in their interest to make a sale, even at a lower price, because if they don’t sell, they don’t get paid
What offers have they had so far?
The agent will most likely tell you if there have been other offers, but not how much they were. But again, they have a big incentive to get a price agreed, so might drop some pretty heavy hints in whispered tones. If you can find out about the other offers, it obviously makes it easier to know what you should offer. See Making an offer and haggling over the price
When do the sellers have to move out? Are they part of a chain?
Have the sellers already found another home? If they have, they may be keen to sell as fast as possible. Otherwise, if you have to wait until they find somewhere else, it adds to the uncertainty, with all the risks associated with being in a chain. So asking this question tells you where you stand, and how keen the seller is to move.
Can you speak directly to the sellers?
Agents generally hate this – it is their job to negotiate – but they can’t stop you speaking to the sellers, which can be the best thing you do. Most sellers are like you – not industry professionals – and this means they often give answers that agents would find shockingly honest. Unlike the agent, they can’t pretend ignorance if you ask why they are moving. It can also give you a much better feel for the house – ask them for their best and worst points.
Which way does the property face?
Evening drinks on that beautiful terrace will not be so pleasant if the house faces north and the sun disappeared hours ago. Or maybe you love the sun waking you up in the morning – in which case ensure you face south-east. Which rooms will you be using most; and which way do they face?
Have any major works been conducted?
If so, are you able to have a look at the relevant planning and building control consents? In most cases you can search online for planning applications (granted and refused) on the local planning authority website. It would be awful if you bought your dream home only to find out you would have to knock half of it down
Is the property listed? If so, what grade is it? And is it in a conservation area?
If you buy a listed property you can be severely restricted in what you can do both to the outside and, in some cases, to the inside too. If the property is in a conservation area you should find out what restrictions apply
How much is the Council Tax? And how much are utility bills in the area?
Try and get exact amounts. Talk to the seller if you have to. While these may seem like small considerations in comparison to the amount you will spend on the house, they are reoccurring expenses that will add to the pressure of owning your home
Can they explain the Energy Performance Certificate?
The rating on the Energy Performance Certificate, which says how energy efficient the property is, will be influenced by a number of things. Is there loft insulation? Is there wall cavity insulation? When were they all put in? Is the boiler covered with lagging? How many outside walls are there?
How old is the property?
Not only is this nice to know anyway, but the upkeep of older houses is often more expensive
Can you try the taps?
How long does it take for the water to come through? Do the taps work even?
Have any of the rooms been redecorated recently? If so, why?
Often people will repaint a room in order to cover damp or cracks. See other useful checks in our DIY Survey for House Hunters
Can you move the furniture and have a peek under the rugs?
It is not unknown to hide cracks in the wall with furniture or cover up floor problems with rugs. So ensure you look thoroughly. But don’t forget, nothing beats getting an independent, expert buildings survey once you have had an offer accepted. They’ll spot the things you won’t.
Have there been any problems with the boiler recently?
And if so, what? And when was it last replaced?
How new or how sturdy are the drains and guttering?
Replacing drainage is a very expensive pain. And it might be a shame to have to replace those beautiful lead gutters. If it is raining seize the opportunity to check nothing is leaking
Do you have noisy neighbours?
If the seller has lodged any complaints against their neighbours they legally have to tell you if you ask
What can they tell you about the local neighbourhood?
What are the schools like? What is the crime rate like? How good are transport links? Where is the nearest petrol station? While it is a good idea to see what the estate agent has to say, make sure you do some independent research as well. See How do I choose a new area to live in?