Confessions of an estate agent

What to ask when looking for a house

From viewings to exchange, estate agents play a pivotal role in the home-moving process. Find tips on what to ask them.

Looking to buy? How can you cut through estate agent charm and get straight to the need-to-know information? The key is to know what to ask. In this article, David Pollock, former estate agent and author of 101 Things Your Estate Agent Should Tell You When Buying or Selling a Property, gives straight answers to nine crucial questions so you have all the information at your fingertips.

I’m struggling to pick the right area. Can an estate agent help?

“Some people try to read the market and guess which areas are ‘up and coming’. But, if you’re looking for a home, it’s more important to choose a location because you like it and consider the investment question second.

First, consider why you’re moving. If you’re relocating for work, you may be moving to an area you don’t know. Rather than buying straight away, it can be a good idea to rent for six months to a year. That way you can get to know an area before you commit to owning there.

If you’re already familiar with an area, it’s still worth doing a bit of research. Don’t be afraid to knock on doors or speak to local shopkeepers and, if you have children, find out what the schools are like.”

Read our article on six questions to ask when buying a house to help you narrow your property search.

How up to date are estate agent listings?

“It varies. The best way to find out about the latest properties is to develop a relationship with the estate agent and contact them regularly. A reliable agent should get in touch when properties that would be of interest to you come in, but you may need to opt in to receive this information. It’s worth checking at the start of the process so you don’t miss out.”

How can I make sure the agent calls me first about a new property?

“Show the agent that you’re a serious customer. Let them know if you’ve already had a mortgage arranged in principle or if you're a first-time buyer with no property to sell. An agent gets paid when a deal is done. So, if you’re ready to go, you could be in a stronger position.”

An Agreement in Principle (AIP) is evidence from a lender to say that ‘in principle’ they could lend you a specified amount. It gives you – and the estate agent – a good level of confidence that you’ll be accepted for a mortgage. However, it is important to remember that an AIP is not a formal mortgage offer or guarantee that you will be accepted. Start an AIP online or in branch to find out quickly if you could borrow the amount you need. At Barclays it won’t affect your credit rating – but that’s not the case for all lenders, so check first.

I haven’t got time to look around lots of properties. Can I do it all online?

“Online is a good starting point for narrowing down suitable properties, but it’s essential that you also view in person. This is the only way to get a real sense of the space. It’s best to get a second opinion from friends or family too, so ask if they’ll come to a viewing with you.”

For useful tips on using an online agent, read our article The pros and cons of using an online estate agent.

What are the neighbours really like?

“Aim to do your own local research. Walk the streets, knock on doors and have a chat with the neighbours. Tell them you’re looking to buy the house next door and ask their opinion about the area. If they’re unfriendly, it may make you think twice about moving there.

“Estate agents are under no obligation to tell you about problems in an area but, if you ask them a question, then legally they have to give you an honest answer. Try asking if there is anything off-putting about a property or location that you should know about. If an agent doesn’t reveal important information at the outset, you may have a case against them if you discover a problem after buying a property.”

Should I be upfront about what I can afford?

“No. Keeping your real budget limit under wraps can put you in a stronger position. But do let the estate agent know that you’re interested to see any properties that fit your criteria, even if they cost a bit more than you’ve said you’re willing to pay. If you’ve said your limit is £200,000, for example, an agent may not show you a property that’s on the market for £220,000; yet this may be better suited to you and fall within your actual budget.”

Can I rely on an agent to give me good advice about what renovations a property needs?

“Advice is useful, but you need a professional opinion. Estate agents aren’t qualified to give you refurbishment costs. The sensible option is to get quotes from two or three builders to get an idea of how much a renovation might cost. It’s reasonable to tell the estate agent that you’re making an offer on the property, but that the offer may change once you’ve received the builders’ estimates.”

The property I’m interested in is listed as viewable only on an open house day. Can I view it at other times?

“It’s unlikely you’ll be able to make a final decision on a property just by attending an open house, so ask the agent for a private viewing. Ideally, try and visit when the owners are at home, so you can ask them questions directly. It’s always a good idea to meet the owners of a property. It can help smooth the buying process and may make it less likely that you’ll be gazumped by another buyer.”

Is there an ideal day to complete a purchase?

“It’s best to avoid Fridays because, if there are any problems with payments, these won’t be resolved over the weekend. The best day is Thursday. That way the money should go through on Friday and you can move in over the weekend.”

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