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10 things to ask when viewing a home

A row of terraced houses in LondonUnless you’re in the market for an original Van Gogh, a new home will be the biggest purchase of your life. Therefore, before signing 25 years of your life away on a mortgage, it’s vital that you know exactly what you’re paying for. This process begins with viewing the home correctly – that means dispassionately, i.e. with your head, not your heart.

Here are the 10 Must-Ask Questions, and why not print this article off and take it with you to your next home viewing.

How long has the home been on the market?

If a For Sale sign has been outside for ever – find out why. The property could be overpriced, the market may be slow, or maybe previous buyers had to drop out. Whatever, you need to check to be sure. There could be a problem with the neighbours or neighbourhood. A high-crime area could affect your ability to resell in the future, or maybe a prison is about to go up on that lovely green acreage to the rear – who knows? However, if you’re still interested in buying, the longer a property has been on the market, the better your chances of knocking down the asking price.

How long have the current owners lived there?

Directly asking about the neighbours or neighbourhood might not get you an honest answer, especially if the neighbours are from hell and the area is hell. One way to gauge things is to find out how long the current and previous owners have lived there. If the home has had a high turnover of occupants, then this could be a warning sign. To help your search, sites such as UpMyStreet can list properties sold by postcode since 2000. If a home you’ve viewed appears several times, you need to find out why.

Has there been much interest in the property?

If the answer’s yes and you really like the place, you may want to put in a quick offer. However, if lots of people have viewed the property, yet no one’s put an offer in, something could be amiss. Is the property overpriced? Is there something wrong with the area? What do they know that you don’t? Find out!

Why is the property so cheap?

Be wary of any home that’s priced too good to be true. If the reason it’s underpriced is because the owners are genuinely after a quick sale, then lucky you for finding a bargain. But considering the expense involved in buying a home, the best policy is to be cautious and do your checks.

Are the vendors in a chain?

If you like what you see and you’re keen to move in quickly, asking the above will give you an idea of how long the process will take. Things will move much quicker if the seller isn’t in a chain. However, if the seller is caught in a chain, the whole process will only move as fast as the weakest link, i.e. a delay for one seller means a delay for all. So if a quick move is imperative, find a property that’s not part of a chain.

What’s included in the price?

You can be pretty sure you’ll get the four walls, ceiling, roof, floorboards and central heating, but beyond that – don’t bet on it! Plenty of blissfully happy new owners have crossed the threshold to find door handles, light bulbs and laminate flooring all gone. Always ask what’s included in the price. Sometimes estate agents provide a checklist, but if not, tell your solicitor to get the vendor to put it down in writing.

How much is the council tax?

This is important because it’s vital that you don’t overstretch yourself with your monthly outgoings. Remember, if you struggle to keep up mortgage payments, you could lose your home. Council tax is just one of the payments you’ll need to make on top of a mortgage, and asking the above will immediately give you an idea of what your monthly living expenses will be.

What are the utilities charges?

Again, it’s important that you don’t overstretch yourself with monthly outgoings, so find out the property’s current utilities charges. The sellers should have copies of recent bills to hand. If they don’t – ask to see some. If the charges look high, try searching online for cheap gas and electricity for that particular address, as you’ll quite possibly be able to bring the bills down.

If leasehold, what are the service charges?

Once again, this goes towards making sure you don’t overstretch yourself financially. If the property is leasehold, ask what the annual service charges are and factor this cost into your repayment calculations. The vendor should have copies of their last bills on hand to show you.

How old is the property?

In general, the older the property the more it will cost to maintain. Ask the vendors how old the boiler is and when the electricity was last checked. Such things can cost thousands to replace and this likely future expense should be considered. Consider asking for a discount if the wiring or boiler are on their last legs (such problems may show up in a survey). On the other hand, if these things have recently been put right, this is a real bonus.

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