Buying a house is one of the biggest decisions an individual can make.
However, it can be a game of psychology based on bluffs and tactics, and indeed the stakes are high!
Therefore, it is important to be well equipped with some probing questions so that you can play the game and find the right property for you.
It also might be worth looking into a We Buy Any Property service, if you plan on selling your current house to buy a new one.
Buying a House (Questions)
Why is the owner selling?
Although no agent is obligated to tell you this, their answer can hint at the possibility of negotiation. For example, if the seller is moving overseas, they might be keen to sell and therefore accept a lower offer.
If you were buying the house, is there anything you would want to know?
With this question, you could find out potential drawbacks that might influence your decision to buy. It is best to pose this question to those who have no reason to mislead you, for example neighbours or local shop owners. Best to find out before it is too late!
How much money has the property lost in value over the last 5 years?
Yes, estate agents hate this question! A quick search of the Land Registry website should reveal the previous prices the property has sold for. If there has been a significant drop in price it is well worth asking why.
Are there any plans for the local area that could affect me as a homeowner?
The sooner you ask this question, the better, because this could make or break your decision to buy. Or at least how much you offer the seller. If the reason you fell in love with a house was the sweeping views from the garden, would you still buy if construction work was going on?
How long has the property been on the market?
This is one of the most powerful questions available to you. If a property is for sale for longer than three months, it could be overpriced. Equally, prospective buyers may have identified an issue with the house that you have overlooked. In many cases, if the property is on the market for a long time, the seller is willing to take a lower price.
What is the lowest price the sellers are willing to negotiate?
Something that is always worth asking is the flexibility the sellers have with regards to price. Some are more willing to negotiate than others. Furthermore, agents working on commission can be keen to disclose this information provided they know the sellers bottom line.
How long have the owners lived there?
If the owners have lived there for just a short period of time, this can be a red flag to buyers. It is possible there is something wrong with the house, or something in the area that is driving them away. Equally, they might just enjoy a change of scene!
Does the property change hands regularly?
If the property changes hands regularly, this could be another warning sign. It is rare for a property to be repeatedly put on the market unless there is something that is unattractive to prospective buyers or owners.
How was the asking price decided?
A key point to be aware of is the tendency of estate agents to overvalue house prices in order to boost business and client numbers. Equally, the seller themselves may be overvaluing the house. If this is the case, the agent might disclose this to you. A good agent will also provide you with justification for the pricing. However, this question might be best answered by a quick search of similar houses in the area.
What other offers have been made?
Even if the agent has had other offers, he might not disclose the price of these offers to you. Primarily because this creates a sense of competition amongst potential buyers, which can prompt them to offer more. However, if you can find out about the other offers, it sheds some light on what you should offer. This could be incredibly important if you’re set on a property!
Are the sellers part of a chain?
Another bargaining question, because if the sellers have already found a new house to move to, they may be keen to sell as quickly as possible! On the other hand, if you must wait for them to find a new property you may find yourself in a position of uncertainty. Ensure you ask this question to clarify where you stand.
Is it possible to speak directly to the sellers?
Since it is the agent’s job to negotiate, they usually dislike this question, but they can’t stop you directly contacting the sellers. In fact this can be a huge advantage, because sellers are rarely industry professionals. Therefore they might be able to provide you with the honest answers. Ask about the favourite and least favourite parts of the house, or perhaps directly why they are moving.
Have any major works been conducted on the property?
If the answer is yes, probe deeper to be on the safe side. Request to see the relevant planning and building control consents. Alternatively, search online for planning applications (both granted and refused) from the local planning authority website. This removes the risk of any unknown surprises… imagine paying a fortune for a house then having to knock half of it down!
What can you tell me about the local neighbourhood?
You might not just be house shopping for yourself but your family as well. This question serves everyone’s interest, for example it can clarify the local school or public transport situation. Perhaps it might reveal some shocking crime statistics that you were otherwise unaware of. Either way, this is one of the most important questions you can ask the estate agent, just ensure you clarify what they say with an internet search too.
The bottom line
The chance of you being misled when buying a house are small, but never zero. Therefore, being ready to ask revealing questions is important, and asserts that you are serious about buying the property.