Questions to ask estate agents when buying
Make sure you ask the estate agent the right questions before deciding to buy a home. Estate agents are legally bound to tell the truth and it could make the difference between buying a dream home or buying a dud. So here are all the questions to ask when buying a house.
Here’s our list of questions to ask estate agents when buying a house. These are the questions to ask when buying a house in 2022 before, during or after the viewing – but certainly before you make an offer.
1. Why is the owner selling?
One of the first questions to ask estate agents when you are looking at a property to buy, is why the owner is selling. If you’re lucky the estate agent might hint at the vendor’s circumstances which could help inform your negotiations. For example, you might find out the owner is desperate to sell, perhaps because work is taking them overseas, and so would accept a lower price if a quick sale could be secured.
2. 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 estate agent why they think it isn’t selling. Are there problems that other people have realised that you haven’t? Ask the estate agent explicitly whether anyone else has previously put in an offer and why they then decided to pull out. There may not be anything wrong and the property may simply be overpriced. Whatever the issue, a long time on the market might mean that the seller would accept a lower price.
3. Has the property’s value changed recently?
How a property’s value has changed over the last few years is readily available online on the Land Registry sold prices website. Take a look and go armed with previous sold prices, and ready to ask about changes to the property’s value, particularly if there has been a drop in value.
4. Has the property repeatedly changed hands?
If the current homeowners are moving out after a short period, it is important to find out why. For example, do they have noisy neighbours?
And 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.
5. 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 the agent doesn’t sell, they don’t get their commission. In today’s sellers market, it’s more likely that you’ll end up in a bidding war – read our advice on how to handle sealed bids.
6. Have the sellers found a new home?
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.
7. Have the sellers had any offers?
The estate agent will most likely tell you if there have been any offers, but not how much was offered. But estate agents 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
But before you make an offer, it’s time to think about the broader questions to ask when buying a house so you have a feel for the local area and condition of the property.
8. What is the local area like?
What are the schools like? What is the crime rate like? How good are transport links? What is the local supermarket? 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?
9. What local plans could affect the property?
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.
10. What is the property’s tenure?
Is the property leasehold or freehold? This is a fundamental question to ask the estate agent and should have been detailed in the property listing. Estate agents tend to gloss over it, but this can be the difference between a home that is worth buying and one that isn’t. Freehold is the preferred type of ownership as you own the building and the land it is on outright. But most flats in the UK are leasehold. This means you own the property subject to the terms of a lease. You should find out how many years long the lease is and what service charges apply. Start by reading our guide to freehold vs leasehold.
11. Do you have noisy neighbours?
Of all the questions to ask when buying a house, the answer to this one can have the biggest impact on your quality of life. So ask the estate agent but also ask the seller and look for any hesitation. If the seller has lodged any formal complaints against their neighbours they legally have to tell you if you ask and disclose them on the TA6 form.
12. Have any major renovations been made?
If so, have the owners got the relevant planning and building regulation consents? If not, this can lead to lots of delays and you potentially forking out for indemnity insurance later down the line. In most cases you can search online for planning applications (granted and refused) on the local planning authority website. It would after all be awful if you bought your dream home only to find out you would have to knock half of it down. If you decide to buy the property, a building survey coupled with your conveyancing solicitor checking that all the permissions are in place should offer the reassurance you need.
13. What is included in the sale?
It is worth asking the estate agent what is included in the sale. Is the garden shed or greenhouse included? What about fixtures and fittings? And exactly where does the boundary lie? Make sure you see all of what you will be paying for. More details of fixtures and fittings will be supplied later when the seller completes the T10 form for your solicitor. In the meantime, estate agents are obliged to give you details of things that could make a material difference to you going ahead with the purchase. But it’s still good to ask now.
11. 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?
12. Is the property Listed, in a Conservation Area or subject to any Covenants?
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. Likewise, ask if there are any restrictive covenants in place as this can limit what you can and can’t do in your new home.
13. How old is the property?
While it may not be listed, ask how old the property is exactly. Not only is this nice to know anyway, but the upkeep of older houses is often more expensive.
14. How much is council tax and other utility bills?
With a cost of living crisis you’ll want to know if your new home is going to cost you more and by how much. Ask what council tax band it is in and you’ll know how much you’ll pay by checking online. Ask if you can see utility bills, or you can wait for your conveyancing solicitor to get a copy later down the line.
15. What is the water pressure like?
How’s the water pressure in the shower? How long does it take for the water to come through? Do all the taps work even? Ask if you can try the taps and flush the toilets when you go to your viewing. If it’s not all free-flowing then this could be a bugbear thats hard to fix.
16. How is the broadband and signal in the house?
Ask the estate agent what they know about local broadband providers and the signal in the new address. You should also check on Ofcoms broadband and mobile coverage checker.
17. Have there been any problems with the boiler?
And if so, what? Also, when was the boiler last serviced? And when was it installed?
18. How new are the drains and guttering?
Replacing drainage is surprisingly expensive. 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.
19. Have any of the rooms been redecorated recently? If so, why?
Call us suspicious, but often people will repaint a room in order to cover damp or cracks. See other useful checks in our guide for house hunters
20. 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 if you are feeling brazen, ask the estate agent if it would be ok to poke around on your viewing – in a careful and respectful way of course. 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.
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21. 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 double glazing? When were they all put in? Are the pipes covered with lagging?
22. Can you speak directly to the sellers?
Agents generally don’t like 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.
Speaking directly with the sellers can also speed up the purchase.