Asking the right questions

Purchasing property is one of the most significant financial commitments many of us will make during our lifetimes. In addition to being a key financial decision, purchasing a property, particularly if it is your first home, is also a big emotional decision too. While you should certainly be excited to get out there to find the property of your dreams, it is also important to ensure that every decision you make is right for you and your circumstances.

The house hunting process can be stressful and it can sometimes be almost too easy to overlook some of the most important pieces of information you really need to know. So, we have put together this article to ensure that you are equipped with all the questions you should ask yourself, the estate agent and/or the seller every time you go to view a property.

1. How much can I afford to borrow?

If you are a first-time buyer and one of the first questions you asked was, “OK, so how much can I borrow?” then you’re not alone. But while this initially appears to be a reasonable question, it is much better to instead question how much you can sensibly afford to borrow.

It is important to think about what would happen if your circumstances were to change because you could end up struggling to meet your mortgage repayments. Sit down and estimate what you think the cost of your other bills will be and give yourself a bit of a buffer to factor in the unexpected expenses that sometimes come with home ownership. These figures should help you to determine the size of the mortgage you can afford and give you a good idea as to the types of properties that are available within your budget.

2. What is included in the sale?

You need to know exactly what you will be getting for your money before committing to one of the largest financial investments you will ever make.

  • White goods and garden sheds can add up quickly and you could save money in the long run if these items come with the property.
  • If you are looking to secure a new build mortgage, make sure you get the developers to list exactly what is included in the asking price and what is not.
Some sellers will want to take established plants and other moveable features with them when they move out. To avoid disappointment on your move-in day, make sure that you understand exactly what is staying and what will be gone before you get the keys to your new home.

3. Am I looking to purchase a property in the right area?

The best advice we can give you is to purchase the best property in the best area that your budget will allow. This is not to say that you can’t also consider up-and-coming areas as this is often where the best long-term property investments are made.

If you do want to explore this route, look for signs that the area is likely to experience an up-turn in the near future. Indications include new properties being built and business investments being made; these are often signs that you’re looking in an area that could yield a significant return on your investment.

4. Why is the seller selling the property?

Although you might feel as though you are prying into the personal life of a stranger, this is a particularly important question to ask. A seller could be upsizing, downsizing or simply relocating, but their reasons for moving could also be related to something that might impact you in the future.

Remember, sellers will not always be particularly forthcoming in their answers, particularly if they think something might affect the saleability or price of their property.

If any of their responses don’t quite ring true, this could be an indicator that something is amiss.

5. How long has the seller lived in the property and are there any concealed issues that you should be aware of?

If you discover that the property has changed hands several times in just a few years, it is always worth asking why.

Equally, however, if the property has been owned by a single owner for decades, you should ensure that crucial maintenance tasks have not been neglected over the years. It is also a good idea to drive or walk around the local area at different times of the day to monitor any potential congestion, parking or safety issues.

6. How long has the property been on the market and how much interest has it had?

Newly marketed properties that have already garnered a fair amount of interest are likely to sell quickly, so if you fall for a property like this, you might need to be prepared to make an offer without much time to think.

Alternatively, if a property you love has been on the market for some time, the vendor might consider accepting a lower offer which could reduce your mortgage payments or free up extra funds to channel into making some refurbishments to the property. In this situation, you should always enquire whether there are any problems that have prevented the property from selling previously. If the estate agent is aware of any issues that were highlighted by previous surveys, they are required to pass this information on to you.

7. How do I decide which survey to select?

Think of a survey as being the property version of a general health check. This process can highlight issues that might potentially cost significant sums of money to address later. If serious issues are discovered, you could decide to reconsider your offer or negotiate a reduction in the asking price to cover the cost of the work that will be required to fix the problem.

There are a variety of different surveys available and which one you select will ultimately be determined by the type of property you are interested in purchasing, how much detail you want the survey to go into and how much you are willing to pay. If, for example, you are hoping to obtain a new build mortgage, an RICS condition report might be the ideal option for you because the property should be covered by the Buildmark or NHBC Certificate.

8. What should I look out for when the survey has been completed?

Structural problems, mould and/or damp could be an indicator of a variety of more serious issues that could be complex and costly to fix. Additionally, any flashing damage, foundation issues and points relating to electrical supplies or standing water should be investigated further to ensure that you are equipped with all the facts you need to make an informed purchasing decision.

9. Has the seller had any issues with the neighbours?

If the seller has not made an official complaint, either to their neighbours directly or to the council, they are not legally obliged to let you know about any ongoing problems or issues they may have had in the past. If they have made an official complaint however, they must declare this information on the Seller’s Property Information Form (SPIF) which is a document you can obtain from your solicitor.

If, following your purchase of the property, you believe that the vendor did not provide you with the appropriate information, you might have the option to take legal action against them.

It is also worth asking the estate agents about the neighbours as well because if they know of any issues, they are obligated to share these with you.

10. Have there been any planning permission applications submitted for nearby land or properties?

Although it will likely incur additional costs, your conveyancing solicitor can conduct a planning search which will flag up any planned development projects that could disrupt your enjoyment of your new property. If you were to discover that the tranquil fields opposite your dream property are about to have a multi-storey car park or superstore built on them, you will certainly be thankful that you took this extra step when you had the option.

While you might have hoped that the hard work would end as soon as you had saved your deposit and got ‘the feeling’ when you stepped through the door of your dream home for the first time, it is crucial to look through the small print to ensure that you move ahead with the purchase of a property that is 100% right for you. From researching your potential new neighbourhood to triple-checking your budget and requesting an appropriate survey to check for structural issues, stepping up to put the work in ahead of your purchase will give you the peace of mind that you are making the right decision.

If you have any questions or queries related to purchasing a property as a first-time buyer or obtaining a new build first time buyer mortgage and would like to speak to an expert, please call The Mortgage Hut today on 0300 303 2640 or enquire online here.

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