20 crucial questions to ask when buying a house

Buying a property can be a daunting process, especially if it’s your first time. Therefore, it is crucial to ask your trusted estate agent the questions before committing to buying a house or flat, they will be willing to answer all of your questions, or come back to you with the information you’ve requested from the seller.

Published under Buying and Our blog — Feb 2024
20 crucial questions to ask when buying a house

What to ask when buying a house


Buying a property can be a daunting process, especially if it’s your first time. It's important to have a list of questions to ask when buying a house to make sure you have all your bases covered before making an investment. A good estate agent will be willing to answer all of your questions, or come back to you with the information you’ve requested from the seller.

You may have found your dream home, but it is essential to know any inconvenient truths before contracts are signed. Buying a home is a major investment, and it’s important that you ask plenty of questions about the property and the surrounding area.

Be aware that professional advice should be given by a RICS Chartered Surveyor who will help you make an informed decision on the property.

Important questions to ask when buying a house or a flat:  

 

1. Why is the owner selling and how long have they been living at the property?

Many people move for legitimate reasons, including a change of circumstance, for work, or to upsize or downsize. The estate agent may not be able to provide detailed information about the current owners, but they may be able to provide general advice that can give you a clearer picture of the home. Knowing this key information can give you information on the flexibility of the seller, and the timeline of the purchase. 

If the owners haven’t been living at the property long, there may be an underlying issue with the neighbours or the area. On the other hand, a home that's been in the hands of one owner for many years might have been maintained with a level of care and committment that only comes with emotional attachment. If the home has tenants in it, when does their rental contract expire? Moreover, an owner's urgency to sell can affect your negotiating power. A seller moving for a job might be more flexible on price or terms than someone who's simply upgrading.

This backstory can become a crucial element in crafting an offer that resonates with the seller's situation.
 

2. How long has the property been on the market?

A property's tenure on the market can speak volumes. A home that's been listed for an extended period might suggest it's overpriced, or hidden complications may have deterred potential buyers. This duration can provide leverage in negotiations, potentially allowing for a more advantageous purchase price. However, it's also important to consider market conditions and seasonal trends, as these can impact how long properties typically take to sell.

In contrast, a quick sale may indicate a highly competitive market or an especially desirable property. In such cases, prepare to act promptly and efficiently to secure your new home. Understanding this timeline helps you read between the lines of the property's market history.
 

3. Have there been any offers? How much interest has there been in the property?

Asking these questions can give you a better understanding on how much competition there is for the property, which can affect the offer you submit. The real estate agent should give provide you with as much information as possible to help you make an informed decision about your new home.  Asking this question also indicates to the seller and their agent that you're a serious and informed buyer, potentially positioning you more favourably in negotiations.
 

4. Have the sellers found a new home?

When sellers have secured their next abode, they may be more motivated to proceed without unnecessary delays. This scenario could result in a smoother and quicker transaction. Conversely, if the sellers are still hunting for their next home, you might face a protracted process or a 'home sale contingency' that could add a layer of complexity and uncertainty to your purchase.

Understanding their situation allows you to align your expectations and prepare for any potential hurdles in the timeline of your home-buying journey.
 

5. Is the property leasehold or freehold? Is it Listed or situated in a conservation area?

When you purchase a property, you can either own it on a freehold or leasehold basis. Freehold means that you own the property and the land it is built on outright. Leasehold ownership means that you own the right to occupy the property for a specified period of time. There may be extra costs involved in being a leasehold owner, such as ground rent and service charge.

If you're considering purchasing a leasehold flat, there are some further questions to ask. It's crucial to delve into the length of the lease itself. A shorter lease can significantly affect the property's value and may pose challenges in securing a mortgage. You'll also want to investigate the service charge and ground rent, which are often payable to the freeholder. 
 

6. How old is the property and what is the history of maintenance and repairs?

The age of the house can give you an indication on the potential for maintenance and repair in the future. An older home may have character and charm, but it can come with higher risk of structural or system issues. Find out what major renovations or repairs the sellers have done since owning the property. This can help you decipher whether there have been past structural issues, and the general history of the home. Want to make an older property feel more homely? Check out our guide on renovating a property on a budget.
 

7. What is the local area like? How are the neighbours?

Getting the true feel of a neighbourhood can be difficult before moving in, but this aspect shouldn’t be overlooked. Noisy neighbours or barking dogs can impact your quality of life once moving in. A good estate agent will know the local area well, and will be informed about schools nearby, amenities and have a sense of the neighbourhood. Engaging with neighbours or local community groups can provide unscripted reviews of the area's atmosphere and the community's spirit. Collect all the details you can about the lifestyle in the area of your potential new home. 

Understanding the dynamics of the area can help you gauge future developments and changes. Is the neighbourhood up-and-coming or is it a well-established area with stable property values? These factors can affect not only your lifestyle but also the long-term investment potential of your home. Check out our local area research, which provides industry leading data on a variety of local markets or check out our area guides and tailor your location research to your exact needs.
 

8. What’s included in the sale? What other costs are associated with the property? 

Clarifying what fixtures or fittings are included in the sale can prevent any unwelcome surprises on moving day. Sometimes the items you fall in love with during viewings can be just as influential in your decision as the property itself. Ensure you know which parts of the home – from the antique chandelier to the custom-built bookcases – will remain for you to enjoy.

Understanding the inclusions can also help you budget for any necessary additions or replacements, allowing you to move in with confidence and clarity.

It is important to know all other costs that may push your budget once you’ve moved in. Find out the council tax for the area and ask how much the average utility bills are per month. Refer to the EPC rating to determine the energy efficiency of the home, and read our blog to learn the implications of the rating. Ask if there are any extra maintenance charges or service costs for the building. What do they include and do they increase annually? Understanding these figures is vital to ensure the home you choose aligns with your financial expectations and realities.
 

9. How old is the boiler?

Boiler repairs and replacements can be very expensive, running from hundreds to thousands of pounds. If the boiler is more than a year old, check that it’s been serviced annually and see if there have been any issues with it recently. If it looks you’ll need to replace the boiler, factor that into the price you offer to pay for the property.  
 

10. Are there any pending legal matters involving the property?

Investigating whether there are any pending legal matters involving a property is crucial, as these can significantly impact your purchase. Legal issues might include unresolved disputes over property boundaries, existing liens from unpaid debts, or unclear property titles. These problems can cause delays in closing the sale, result in additional legal fees, or even affect your rightful ownership and use of the property after purchase. Ensuring that all legal matters are resolved before proceeding with a purchase helps protect you from unexpected complications and financial liabilities.
 

11. How good are the local schools in the area and how close are they?

When evaluating local schools as part of your property purchase decision, it’s important to examine several key factors such as Ofsted ratings, exam performance, and the range of extracurricular activities offered. These indicators can give insights into the quality of education and overall school environment. Additionally, the reputation of local schools can significantly impact your property's attractiveness and value. Prospective buyers often prioritise good schooling options, which can drive demand and potentially increase property prices in well-served areas.


12. Are there any plans for development in the area?

Asking questions about potential developments in the area can affect the property's value positively or negatively. Developments like new schools, parks, or commercial centers can enhance property values and improve the quality of life, making the area more desirable. Conversely, the construction of large industrial facilities or high-traffic commercial complexes might decrease residential appeal due to noise, traffic, or aesthetic changes.


13. Are there any environmental concerns or hazards in the area?

Environmental hazards to consider include proximity to flood zones, which may increase insurance costs and risk to personal safety. Other concerns might involve exposure to industrial pollution, hazardous waste, which can affect health and complicate resale.


14. Is there any evidence of damp in the property?

Ask your estate agent to show you areas that are prone to damp. Damp can lead to structural damage and health issues. It's important to check for signs like mold, peeling wallpaper, or a musty smell, especially in basements and around windows.


15. What is the condition of the roof?

Asking question around the condition of the roof can save you lots of money in the future. Replacing a roof can be very costly, therefore it is good to know about the age of the roof, recent repairs, and if there have been any issues with leaks.


16. What are the local transport links like?

Make sure to ask questions about local bus routes, train stations, and major road networks. These factors are crucial for daily commutes and general mobility, especially in rural versus urban areas. Also, consider the frequency and reliability of public transport services and how traffic congestion might affect travel times during peak hours. Additionally, being near transport links can increase a property's appeal to renters and buyers, which could positively influence its resale value. Assessing the local transport links is part of a thorough evaluation. Enhance your property evaluation with our house viewing checklist for a well-rounded approach.


17. Are there any restrictions on renovations or extensions?

If the property is listed or located in a conservation area, specific regulations will govern what changes can be made. Listed buildings require consent for any alterations that might affect their character, and similar permissions may be needed for properties in designated scenic or historic areas. Local planning authorities can provide guidance on what is permissible, and it's advisable to consult them before purchasing if you intend to modify the property.
 

18. What are the parking arrangements? 

When exploring parking arrangements for a property, consider both the availability and the type of parking space—whether it's a private driveway, a garage, or designated parking spots. Also important are local parking regulations, which can vary widely, especially in urban areas. Restrictions might include permit requirements or limitations on parking during certain times. Assessing the parking situation is particularly critical in densely populated or highly trafficked areas where street parking can be competitive and spaces might be limited.
 

19. Has the property undergone any energy efficiency improvements?

Ask about recent upgrades that can affect both comfort and cost-efficiency. These upgrades could include the installation of double-glazed windows, which significantly reduce heat loss; enhanced insulation in walls, roofs, and floors; or the introduction of energy-efficient heating systems. Additionally, checking the property’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) provides a rating from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient), which reflects overall energy usage and can predict potential energy costs.
 

20. Is there anything else to be aware of? 

Along with asking questions to a trusted estate agent, don't be afraid to take a thorough look around the property, keeping an eye our for the following points. 

Structural Integrity: Examine the walls for significant cracks and the ceilings for leaks which could indicate deeper issues. 
Plumbing: Test the taps, inspect under the sinks, and flush the toilets. Checking the water pressure in showers and faucets can save you from future discomfort. 
Electrical Systems: Flick the switches and note the age of the fuse boxes. 
Windows and Insulation: Feel for drafts and look for double glazing. Good insulation keeps the warmth of your family in, and the cold out. Take a moment to listen for the neighbours. If it's an older flat, soundproofing can be an issue. 
Phone Signal and Internet: Be sure to turn on your phone and check the signal when in the property. Also ask the estate agent about the broadband speed. There would be nothing worse than moving in and facing issues with communication and unreliable internet access.
Orientation: Which way does the property face?  If you like to enjoy a morning coffee in the sun, or sunset drinks, it is important to consider which way the property faces. A south-facing property will receive the most direct sunlight, which can provide a lot of warmth in the winter months.  

Finished choosing the right home? Ready to move? Read through our moving tips guide for more information on the big day.

Although due diligence at a viewing is important, professional advice can be provided by a surveyor, who can help you learn more about the property you want to buy, so that you feel completely confident about your purchase. Hamptons surveying service offers a range of options, whether you're a first-time buyer or an experienced mover. We keep things simple, giving you advice that can help you renegotiate, budget or plan for any works you may need to carry out on your new home. 

If you're looking to move, Hamptons are experts in matching people with property since 1869. Find a local estate agent today who will answer all of these questions, and more. 

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