A new home will undoubtedly be the most expensive investment you ever make, so it makes sense to find out as much as you can about your new property before you buy it. You can normally tell with a cursory glance if a property is totally unsuitable, so don't waste time on places you have no intention of purchasing. If you are serious about a property, you'll want to take another, in-depth look at your potential future home. This time take at least one other person with you - many eyes spot many problems - but leave your children with sitters: it's hard to take in the details when you are desperately trying to stop your child playing with the current owners' expensive family heirlooms. Don't be afraid to arrange more than one visit. Providing there isn't too much competition for the property, the more times you view it, the better your judgement will be. The more information you can obtain about a property, the more likely you are to spot any potential problems with it. The small details, which are often overlooked, can make a big difference to a property's price.
Questions to Ask at a Viewing
The owners of the property aren't obliged to tell you about any problems it may have, but they are legally required to answer honestly any questions you ask them. It's a good idea, therefore, to go prepared with a set of questions you can ask the vendors, or estate agent, while you're actually in the home. Remember, however, not to rely on their information - always get it verified by an independent expert as well.
Take a list with you so you don't forget to ask any of the important ones, and make as many notes as you can the moment you finish the viewing. Many vendors bend the truth to help sell their homes, these questions are designed to help spot those lies and help you know which things need the most thorough investigation.
Why are you moving? - You'll want to know that the family isn't moving just to get away from the house - for example, because of nightmare neighbours, a late-night flight-path or because it is about to collapse. But remember to ask yourself whether the reason they give seems plausible.
How long has it been on the market? - If it's been on sale for over six months, there may be a good reason why no-one else wants to buy it. If it has been on the market a long time and you really cannot understand why it would have been, you might like to ask the current owner if they have any idea why that might be.
How long have you lived here? - The longer the better - anyone jumping ship after less than a year should have a very good reason. If they took a week of living in the place to discover that everything in the kitchen is in the wrong place, and that it's far too far to the bathroom late at night, you don't want to make the same mistake.
Have you found a new house? - It can take months or years for some people to find the right property to move to, so you should have an idea before you start looking of how long you are prepared to wait once you've found a place you like. Ask whether the owners are prepared to rent or stay with relatives until then?
If there is already a chain, how long is it? - Since people like to have a home to move into before they sell their previous house, a 'chain' can develop, of people waiting for other sales to be finalised before they finalise theirs. The longer the chain, the longer this process will take to be resolved and the higher the chance of someone pulling out.
What are the neighbours like? - You probably won't be told they are psychopaths, but it's a good sign if the seller knows them by name.
Is there a neighbourhood watch scheme? - This should give a good idea of whether or not the neighbours look out for one another.
Have you ever been burgled? - If a house has been broken into once, it often becomes a repeat target.
Have you made any improvements to the house? - It may have been recently rewired or had the heating system upgraded, but was it done by a qualified tradesman, or by an enthusiastic DIY-mad owner?
Do you have the guarantees? - All respectable professionals give a guarantee for their work; if the paperwork isn't there, you should question the quality of the work.
How much is your...
- Council tax?
- Gas bill?
- Electricity bill?
- Water bill (metered or rates)?
Sometimes you can only really tell how much amenities will cost by living in a house, but remember that usage differs from family to family, so only take these figures as a rough guide. If any of these seem too high for the size of the property, there could be a serious problem somewhere - high heating costs, for example, could mean bad insulation, or even a leak.
When was the last boiler service? - It's always good to know how well an owner looks after things in his home.
How old is the central heating? - This is probably the most expensive bit of kit in a house, make sure you know if it may cause you problems.
How old is the wiring? - Many older houses have outdated and possibly dangerous wiring in them.
Where is the stop-cock? - You need to know how to isolate the water in an emergency. If the main valve is out of reach, why wasn't it properly relocated?
Does your property ever suffer from environmental damage, like floods or subsidence? - The world's sea level is constantly rising, so make sure you won't need to wear flippers during the rainy season.
Where does the main sewage pipe run? - If the vendor doesn't know, there is a good chance he hasn't had any problems with his drains.
How old is the roof? - This is another expensive thing to renew or repair.
Which fixtures will be coming with the property? - (Carpets, curtains, lampshades, etc). Don't set your heart on the beautiful antique patio-stones, only to find the owner took them with her.
Which appliances will be coming with the property? - (Fridge, stove, oven, microwave if installed, etc). You should assume everything is going, unless you're told otherwise.
How old are the appliances that are staying? - Are they under warranty still and does the warranty transfer with ownership?
Have the appliances been repaired? - When? Why? By whom?
Do you get many insects/pests? - Wasps nests, unwanted cats, etc.
Who collects the garbage and when? - Find out whether there have been any problems with this.
Is your house haunted? - Even if you don't believe in the supernatural, this question will tell you a lot about the present owners. It may also give you an insight into the current state of repair of the house: perhaps the 'ghost' is actually the product of creaking floorboards or a wind-tunnel in the roofing.
When is the noisiest time of day? - Did the owner tell you that you are under a main flight path, or in a short cut used by local drivers in rush hour?
How long does it take to walk to the local amenities? - List the ones that you would use most, like schools, buses or train stations.
One final tip is to record your viewings with a camcorder or instant camera. Memory is very patchy and we tend to only remember the extreme good and bad points of a property. The camera never lies, so you can go back and check whether your oversized fridge freezer will fit into that gap by the backdoor at your leisure.