Did you know, that most of us spend less than a single hour viewing a home?
A house purchase will tie us to a mortgage for decades, and may well be the place where we raise our children. But despite this, we aren't diligent enough in our house viewings.
The consumer group Which? urges buyers to spend at least 20-30 minutes at a viewing. Even such minimal diligence is likely to pay off. Which? says 52% of buyers who spend less than 10 minutes at a property pay the asking price or above, but 71% of those who spend 90 minutes or more buy for below it.
So, how can a first time buyer spot problems, speed up a purchase and maximise your leverage over price? Here are the 10 golden rules.
Don’t just settle for looking at property portals: research the whole area. There’s no substitute for getting over there yourself. Research the surroundings - Google Maps will give you an idea of the local surroundings, but Streetcheck has stats on local crime, facilities and jobs. Ask the agent why the house is being sold, how long it has been on the market and whether its price has been reduced. All three of these offer leverage to offer lower.
2 "View before you view"
Drive by the house at different times of day and night, either a couple of days before you have an official viewing or afterwards. This can reveal issues that agents might not know.
- How busy is the road? (Do commuters use it as a rat-run?)
- Is there a good mobile phone signal?
- Do the street lights stay on at night?
3 Prepare a checklist
What practical things inside and out are key to you and each family member, including any pets? List them in order of priority so you can compare the homes you view. If you’re unsure what to include, the HomeOwners Alliance’s website (hoa.org.uk) has a comprehensive list, including one precaution estate agents say is the most overlooked by buyers: measuring up to ensure furniture will fit.
4 Should the vendor be at the viewing?
If you’re purchasing one of the 5% of homes marketed in the UK by online agencies, it’s likely that only the seller will be there; for the rest, you’re the buyer, so you decide. Experienced buying agents say the first viewing should be with the estate agent only — vendors can make viewers feel inhibited about asking trickier questions.
5 Start the viewing outside
Check exterior brickwork and walls for cracks. Are the chimneys straight and the roof tiles all in place? Is there any obvious damp, and do the gutters and drains seem in good order? Review fences, hedges and, where relevant, the shared driveway — are boundaries and responsibilities clear between neighbours? You may not be an expert, but thorough viewing and questions now can save abortive costs and heartache at survey stage.
6 The inside story
Check over the house thoroughly. Don't rush through a viewing. Think about the following..
- Do the lights and taps work?
- Are window frames in good condition?
- Is there a key for each window lock?
- What’s the water pressure in the shower?
Pay attention to smells in the home, too. You can likely smell any damp issues, so if there’s too much air freshener for your liking, ask why. Spend more time in the early stages, than more money later on fixing any problems. Opening cupboards, curtains and windows. Check the regular utilities that you'll be using on an everyday basis.
7 Be wise to the tricks of the trade
Estate agents, house doctors and home stagers act for the seller, so it’s down to you to see beyond first impressions.
- If the lights are already on in a room, turn them off so you can check out the natural light.
- Ensure the furniture is normal-sized and not doll’s-house small.
- If doors are open, make sure they close securely.
- Gently shift rugs, chairs and vases to look for damp or rotten woodwork.
- If the garden description is vague and sunlight is key, bring a compass.
Check things yourself.
8 If you're buying a flat...
If you're buying a flat, you need to check a few extra details. Check:
- The length of the lease
- The size of communal area
- The security of ground-floor or basement flats.
- The service charges and the sinking fund.
You don’t want to be hit with a huge bill for repairing the roof or repainting the building straight after moving in, so make sure to get every detail.
9 Follow up in writing
After a viewing, you can follow up straightaway with an email detailing points that you'd like answers on, especially if the person showing you the property wasn't able to answer all your questions on the spot. It is good to have a written copy of what the agent informed you of, too.
10 Subsequent viewings
When viewing a property multiple times, bring family members with you or even an architect or builder. A fresh set of eyes might spot issues that you missed the first time. If you are planning big changes, it’s often best not to let the seller know. Many want their old home to remain the same after they leave, and some will even accept lower offers from buyers promising to keep it as it is. Buying a house is as much about emotion as money.
Get some legal expertise
Whether you are buying, selling, remortgaging or need help with any other type of residential property transaction, we can guide you through the process, keeping you safe and helping to avoid any unexpected problems after the deal is done.
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