Viewing a property

How to get the most from your visit

It’s easy to get carried away when viewing properties, so plan your visit to ensure you get the answers you need.

The hunt for a new home can be thrilling – whether you’re a first-time buyer, moving from a flat to a house for the first time, or you’re a seasoned mover seeking a bigger garden and more space.

First there’s anticipation, then a setback or two, nerves, fear of it falling through, more nerves, rising joy, and finally elation! Yet this emotion can often cloud your vision at the most critical point of the whole process – during the home viewing.

It’s easy to get carried away and forget the basics when you’ve found a house or flat that, on the surface at least, looks to tick every box. This is particularly the case if you’ve struggled to find anything you like, there’s a shortage of properties on the market, or you’re keen to move quickly. But given that a home is likely to be one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make, it’s vital to pay attention to the smallest of details as well as the bigger picture.

Knowing as much as you can about the property will help you decide if it’s right for you – and at the right price. Here are seven steps to prepare for a viewing and line up the right questions to ask, so you’re in the best position possible to make an offer on a home you really want. 

1. Work out what matters to you most before you set up viewings 

Picking the perfect postcode isn’t easy. You could find an ideal flat in a friendly neighbourhood but it’s just too far to walk from a train station. Or a house with enough bedrooms and a great garden is right next to a busy bus route – and there’s no street lighting at night.

You’ll be faced with these types of trade-offs whenever you start to look for a new home, so be ready to compromise to set yourself up for success. Make a clear – and candid – assessment of what matters the most to you, and why.

Your original decision to move will have been driven by all sorts of pressures, so it’ll pay to decide what you really can’t compromise on.  

However you do it – draw up a list, say, or have a candid discussion if you’re a couple with different opinions – work out what your deal-breakers are.

Our guide on how to decide where to live is packed with advice on this, how to test for ‘future-proofing’ and why you should run a ‘reality check’ on what it would be like to live in your new home. 

2. Draw up your viewing checklist (and ask your friends what they did) 

It may feel a bit rudimentary but a simple list is one of the most effective ways to ensure you don’t forget to ask the key questions on the day (see below).

In particular, it can be very handy as a reality check if you’re viewing a property that immediately blows you away!

If you’d rather avoid fumbling with paper in front of the estate agent, try writing the list in an email on your smartphone. That way you can feel more comfortable being discreet when you read from it.

It could also help to ask any friends, family or colleagues who’ve recently bought a home what questions they asked or – even better – what they wished they’d asked.

3. Take your time on the day and ask as many questions as you like…

When you’re spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy a home, you’re entitled to take as long as you like to make up your mind.

A good estate agent understands this, and won’t want to hurry you along.

Take a long look around for a first impression, and focus on how it feels and looks to you.

Once you’ve got your bearings and feel it could potentially be somewhere you’d like to live, here are some key questions to ask when viewing a property:

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

Desirable homes tend to get snapped up quickly, so if it’s been on the market for a long time – at least two to three months – there’s usually a reason why. 

There may be a good excuse: offers can fall through (lack of finance, or a chain that won’t budge) or a buyer can change their mind and go elsewhere. However, you’ll have to trust what the agent tells you.

Regardless, you’ll soon find out if there are other hidden issues if you do put in an offer and run into trouble. For example, a survey might show up major structural problems (costing thousands to solve) or a thorny planning issue. Or you could discover noisy and nuisance neighbours have been in dispute with the seller for years – potentially very off-putting to a buyer.

Q. How long has the seller lived there?

As a rule, it’s a reassuring sign if the seller has lived there for years. Hopefully, it’s an indicator of them having been happy, safe and secure in a loved family home.

If it has been a very short period – two years or less – then be sure to ask why they’re leaving. Again, there may well be good motives, such as a job move, new family member or other personal reason.

But, to be sure, do ask the agent if it’s anything to do with the property itself – an agent is duty-bound to give you a straightforward answer. 

Q. Has any renovation work been done – if so, was it within legal permissions – and are there any planning restrictions?

If the property has had a renovation such as a kitchen extension or loft conversion, ask to see the paperwork. Check all planning permissions, building regulations and controls were followed. This is vital for safety as well as if you want to do your own building work on top. Ask if there are any planning restrictions or if the property is in a conservation area. 

4. ‘Water pressure, parking and plugs’ – be sure to sweat the small stuff too

Once you’re happy with why and how the home is up for sale, you can turn to the smaller details which matter most to you. These might typically be: 

  • In each room check for the number, and position, of power sockets. Are there enough, especially if you’ve got kids?
  • What’s the water pressure like? Check the taps and shower to see how strong it is.
  • How much storage and cupboard space is there?
  • What kind of hot water and boiler system is it? Older, larger homes may have an immersion heater which heats water on a timer rather than being hot straight out of the tap
  • Which direction does the front of the property face? The impact of the sun throughout the day can have a huge effect on rooms, especially if you’ve glass doors or a roof extension
  • How much is Council tax each month? While you may be able to cut other bills such as broadband and phone, this charge is fixed, so you can budget for its impact

 5. Watch out for what the seller won’t tell you

Since a seller doesn’t have to alert you to issues like damp, cracks or a leaking roof, it’ll help to know how to spot signs of trouble.

You can often detect damp by nose. If you notice a mouldy smell, be sure to check for discolouring on walls and beneath sinks, and see if window edges are covered in water droplets.

Keep an eye out for ceiling and wall cracks too. While hairline cracks aren’t usually cause for concern, one that’s a quarter of an inch or more – can you stick a pencil in? – could be. A large crack can be an indicator of an unstable foundation, so double check.

While fresh paint and air fresheners are used by many sellers to help make their homes more appealing to buyers, they can also be hide problems such as water stains or mould. If you have any suspicions, ask the agent for guidance.

And while it isn’t easy to check the outside of a home from the ground, run your eye over the tiles (are there many missing?), guttering (is it broken?) and chimney (is it straight?). If anything looks askew, make a note and bring it up as a matter of concern.

6. Wear your best poker face when you’re ‘in the room’

When you go to view a property, it’ll help to think of the visit as a job interview or first date – try not to appear too keen.

If the agent knows you’re smitten, it’ll make it harder for you to negotiate on price because they’ll know how much you want it – and you run the risk of paying above market value. So hide any excitement, ask plenty of questions and – to avoid giving too much away – try to give short answers to any queries from the agent.

Equally, prepare for plenty of sales patter from an agent keen to make a sale.

Prepare your best poker face for run-of-the-mill lines such as “this is the fifth viewing today”, “the phone’s been red-hot for this one” and “we’re expecting many offers this week”. 

And be mindful of chatty sales staff who ask loads of gentle, friendly questions to try and find out key bits of info such as your likely budget and how eager a buyer you might be.

7. So you really liked it? Go back at night and visit in rush hour… 

Before you book a second viewing, take a trip to the same street at a different time, on a different weekday in rush hour and – ideally – at the weekend too.

You’ll get a much better idea of all-round noise, traffic and general liveliness as well as greater insight to what it’ll be like to actually live there.

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