5 questions all buyers should ask when house-hunting, according to TV’s Phil Spencer

PUBLISHED: 09:34 25 October 2018 | UPDATED: 09:34 25 October 2018

Phil says:

Phil says: "One other question I always ask a seller which can prove revealing is, 'If you were staying, what other improvements would you make?'": Picture: Thinkstock/PA

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Buying a property can be a very lengthy process with lots of back and forth - but many buyers still end up wishing they’d found out just a few more crucial details before the deal was done.

TV property guru Phil Spencer, who recently launched buyers’ advice site, MoveIQ, agrees that as well as the ‘big’ questions, the ‘small’ things should not be overlooked. “Buying a home is always a mixture of heart and head. Your first impression as you walk through the door is crucial to your decision, but so too are many other less obvious factors,” he says.

“It’s essential that you do your homework, or you risk being blinded by emotion during the purchase. Even worse, you could end up with expensive problems down the line. Asking the right questions before, during or after that first viewing can make the difference between identifying the perfect home and having an unwanted surprise after you’ve committed to buying.”

So what questions should you be asking? These are Phil’s top tips...

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

“This should be one of your first questions,” says Phil. “The average time it takes to sell a home in the UK is two to three months, according to the Government. So, if the property has been on the market for considerably longer, it may have an issue that is stopping it selling, beyond just being priced too highly. But you’ll need to get your detective hat on to find out what it is.

“One red flag to look out for would be if the current owners have lived there for an unusually short period of time. There is usually a reason behind a seller trying to get shot of a property after a short period. You’ll need to push the agent or sellers for clues: Is there a nuisance neighbour, what are crime levels like in the area, how busy are the roads and how much does the property cost to run (utility bills, council tax, etc.)?”

2. Is the property in a conservation area?

“If you are drawn to the history and charm of older homes, bear in mind that your scope for making changes to such a property could be severely limited,” says Phil. “Specific rules about what you can and cannot do to the property will vary from local authority to local authority. Some may prohibit you from making changes to metal railings, windows, trees and even the colour of the front door. So, if your heart is set on a house with history but you’ve got an eye on modernisation, make sure to ask about anything that might block your plans.”

3. Is the property a freehold or a leasehold?

“There are pros and cons to both freehold and leasehold properties. As a leaseholder, you will have to pay annual fees to the owner of the freehold, from ground rent to maintenance charges. These can fluctuate over time, so make sure that when you’re budgeting you factor in the possibility that ground rent will increase or maintenance charges could spike if the building needs major repairs,” says Phil.

“By contrast, if you buy a freehold property there’s no ground rent to worry about, but you will be responsible for everything, including the roof and the maintenance of the structure. It’s important to get a detailed survey that will flag up any issues that need urgent - or expensive - repair.”

4. Are there any pending planning applications that might impact me?

“This is a quick bit research you could carry out before actually viewing your prospective home. Nearly all local authorities have a planning portal on their website that allows you to view any previous or pending planning applications. If, for example, you were considering buying a home close to agricultural land, it might be a good idea to check whether the friendly farmer next door has just submitted a planning application for a new pig-rearing facility!”

5. Has the seller made any changes to the property?

“If changes have been made recently - especially structural ones - you need to know so you can ask the seller for any relevant documents, receipts or guarantee certificates. Equally if the seller has spent money doing the place up, they will have raised the asking price accordingly - so you need to make a judgement on whether the premium is justified. One other question I always ask a seller which can prove revealing is, ‘If you were staying, what other improvements would you make?’”

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