So, you’ve found the one! It’s a great feeling isn’t it? Before you get too ahead of yourself, it’s important to make sure this is actually what you want. You don’t want to find any nasty surprises waiting for you on moving day.
Buying your first house is a huge commitment, so to help you be absolutely certain about your decision we’ve put together a list of important questions all first-time buyers should ask before making an offer on a property.
Can I realistically afford it?
Before you get swept up in the idea of owning your first home you need to ask yourself some serious questions about what you can realistically afford to borrow. Evaluate factors like bills, changes in circumstances and interest rates to gain a bigger picture of your future finances.
Here are some questions to think about:
• How big is your deposit?
• What monthly repayments can you afford?
• What are your average incomings and outgoings?
The repercussions for not paying your mortgage can be severe, in the worst-case scenario your home could be repossessed. That’s why it’s critical to manage your expectations before jumping in with an offer.
Location, location, location
Think about where the property is situated. Remember, this isn’t like renting. If you don’t like the area you move to, you can’t just give notice to your landlord and move. Selling a house while simultaneously seeking another property to buy is really hard work. You want to make sure that you’re entirely sure that the location you’re moving to is somewhere you’ll enjoy living for the foreseeable future.
The location isn’t just important for making you feel settled, it will also play a big role in your home’s potential resale value when you do look to move. For example, you might not own a car yourself, but driveways can add a significant amount of value to a property, especially if located in an area where parking is limited.
Here are some vital questions to ask:
• Will you feel happy and safe living in the area?
• Do you have access to parking? Is this allocated or just an on-street free for all?
• What’s the traffic like on your road?
• Are you located near a hub of noise pollution? E.g. busy road, airport, flight path, train line, etc.
• Where are your local transport links? How well connected are these?
• What are the local schools like? Are you living in a reputable school’s catchment area?
• Are you near any green space? This is more important than you think
• Where’s your closest corner shop?
• Are there any social areas nearby? Living close to pubs or bars can be an advantage to some and a disadvantage to others
• What’s behind the property itself? Does the area behind your property present any kind of security risk?
• What are the neighbours like?
Consider the property itself
Now you’ve got the lowdown on the location, it’s time to scrutinise the property itself. This may be your dream home now, but that doesn’t mean it always will be. Take the time to remove your emotions from this process and look at your potential new home with a level head.
Here are some key questions for you:
• Which direction does the house face? This will affect the amount of natural light your house gets
• What does the property overlook? A room with a view can increase potential resale value
• Is the storage space large enough for your belongings?
• Will the property require redecorating? If so, are there any noticeable potential obstacles?
• What’s the garden like? Will this require regular work to maintain?
• What comes with the property? It’s great to get an idea of this sooner rather than later
Always get a survey! A surveyor will spot any potential issues early on.
There are different types of surveys available depending on the type of property involved and your budget.
Tip: try to use a surveyor who has worked on similar properties before.
Freehold and property management
Is the property freehold or leasehold? Essentially, this comes down to whether you own the property and land yourself or whether someone else does. Usually, houses are freehold and flats are leasehold (but this is not always the case, so be sure to check first).
If you’re buying a leasehold flat, the freeholder is usually in charge of the communal areas and building maintenance. It’s important to know who is managing the building and to have a point of contact to report a problem or emergency.
When you find out who the freeholder is, whether it’s a management company or individual, it’s important to find out as much information as you can about them and see if you can access any previous tenant reviews. Ideally, the previous owner should be able to give you some vital information on this subject.
Questions to ask the seller
It’s always a good idea to build up a good rapport with the seller. This is going to help you a lot when it comes to the offers and negotiation stage, but it will also allow you the freedom to get the run-down on the property.
When speaking to the seller, you should really try to dig deep and get as much information as possible. It can feel a little awkward asking a stranger these types of targeted questions but don’t get nervous and back down, the knowledge you gain will benefit you in the long run. An awareness of the seller’s position in the buying process will give you a great insight into the type of offer you can make when looking to buy.
Here are a few key questions to ask the seller:
• Why are they moving?
• How fast do they need to sell the property?
• Have they found anywhere to move yet? If they haven’t, this could delay the process
• How long has the property been on the market for?
o If it has been on the market for a long time, it could be overpriced or have a clear weakness which you are yet to spot
o It might be worth asking a few targeted follow up questions about this
• Has the property repeatedly changed hands? If so, why?
• Has the seller received (and rejected) any other offers yet? If so, why were they rejected?
• Have they submitted any insurance claims on the property? What were they for?
• How much did they pay in council tax and energy bills?
Questions to ask the agent
Before you put in an offer on the property, make sure you grab the agent for a frank chat. Now’s your chance to ask as many questions as you can to help confirm whether you’re making the right decision. You don’t want to regret not finding out more information when you’re in the process of actually doing the deal.
Ask any questions which come to mind but here are a few points to get you started:
• How have they reached the asking price of the property?
• How does this compare to other similar properties in the area?
• How much did the seller pay for the property? They may not want to tell you, but it’s worth a try. Alternatively, find this information in a property report
• Has the property had any issues or problems in the past?
o Essentially, you should be looking to find out about subsidence or water leaks, etc.
o Remember, by law estate agents must tell you this information if you ask
• Have house prices in the area dramatically risen or fallen recently? It’s helpful to understand what shape the property market is currently in
• What are the pros and cons of the property? If your agent only lists the positives, you know that it’ll take a little more scrutiny on your side to find any potential weaknesses
Consider future developments in the area
Another key aspect to look into before deciding on a property is if there are any building developments planned for the future. The area might seem perfect now, but a construction site on your doorstep could dramatically alter the look and feel of the neighbourhood. To avoid any unwanted surprises, be sure to check if there is any building work planned in your borough.
You can find information about significant planning applications around the property over the past five years, including pending, refused and accepted proposals in Phil Spencer’s property report.
It’s also worth checking if any transport operators are thinking of extending transport links into your area which could result in disruption. Make sure you put in the research before making an offer so that what you see now is what you’re going to get.
Making an offer on your first house is an exciting time, but it’s worth taking a moment to gather your thoughts before taking the plunge. The more informed you are as a first-time buyer, the less likely you will run into any unforeseen obstacles or hidden costs.
Phil Spencer’s property report covers all the key topics you need to think about before making an offer in your chosen location. From valuation and local price comparisons to information on the best ranked schools and attainment rates in the area, the report offers a comprehensive guide for first-time buyers.