House-viewing checklist

First-time buyers

House-viewing checklist

By Joe Elvin

Article 5 of 13

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House-viewing checklist

Viewing a house or flat can be exciting but it's easy to forget to check all the essential details. Make sure you ask the key questions with our property-viewing checklist and expert tips.

It's essential that you make the most of property viewings to ensure that you're as informed as you possibly can be when it comes to making an offer: a 2015 Which? survey of 1,990 members of the public found that the longer people spent viewing a house, the more likely they were to pay below the asking price for it.

Our 10 top tips for viewing a house are below, but if you want a more comprehensive set of questions that you can print out and take on viewings with you, just download our handy property viewing checklist.

Or, if you're considering buying an off-plan property (a new-build that hasn't yet been finished), see our guide to viewing a show home.

  • Having a 'mortgage decision in principle' can make you a more attractive buyer when you make an offer on a property. You can speak to a Which? Mortgage Adviser for impartial advice by calling 0808 252 7987.

Checklist: viewing a property

It’s easy to fall in love with a property and forget to be practical. However, by keeping your wits about you and asking yourself and the agents direct questions when viewing a property, you're far less likely to encounter problems further down the line.

Download our PDF for a printable, easy-to-use list of questions that you should ask yourself, the owner or the estate agent when you view a house or flat.

Download our checklist

Top 10 tips for viewing a property 

1Try not to see the house as a home (until you move in)

It's not always easy, but on an initial viewing try to see the house simply as a building that needs inspecting. Don't get too attached early on or your heart might rule your head and cause you to overlook any problems.

At the same time, if you do spot faults, you shouldn’t necessarily be put off buying - you could use what you've discovered to negotiate on the price, depending on how big the issue is and how much it will cost. You can find out more about making an offer on a property to see how to place a sensible bid that takes into account any problems.

2View the property multiple times

Even in a fast-moving market, it’s a bad idea to buy without looking at a property more than once - the more times you view a house, the more likely you are to spot potential problems. Our research has found that 26% of people viewed their current home once before buying it, 43% twice, 21% three times and 11% four or more times.

We'd recommend viewing the property two to three times, at different times of day, to find out how the light, traffic and surrounding noises change. You might just discover that the quiet, idyllic street you saw at 11am is a busy main commuter route at 6pm. 

3Take your time

Make sure you spend a good chunk of time viewing a house - 20 to 30 minutes at least - so you can really get a feel for the place.

Our research has found that the longer a buyer spends viewing a property, the more likely they are to secure it for under the asking price. Over half (52%) of buyers who spent under 10 minutes viewing the property paid the asking price or more, while 71% of buyers who spent over 90 minutes on viewings paid below the asking price.

4Investigate the neighbourhood

Spend at least half an hour walking around the general area to see how close the things that matter to you, such as cafes, schools, transport links or local shops, are. Also revisit at rush hour and when the pubs close, and on weekends and weekdays.

Our guide on exploring your local neighbourhood has a host of extra tips.   

5Look at the structure of the building 

Make sure you walk around the house to check the exterior. Look for damp and hairline cracks in the walls - 68% of people in our survey said they did this - and missing or loose tiles on the roof or broken guttering (65%). If you find signs of a problem, ask questions to find out what the cause is and whether it will be fixed.

6Use your nose as well as your eyes 

Be wary of unusual smells. Damp, which 70% of people check for, can give off a musty smell even if you don’t see physical signs. 

7Check the taps and light switches

Only 28% of people check the taps and water pressure, while 35% check that the light switches work - but you'll only know about problems if you check things yourself. Also, try opening and closing the windows to check they're in good working condition.

Our guide on what to check when buying a house has an extensive list of checks you should make.  

8Move furniture around

The seller doesn’t have to tell you about problems - in fact they may try to hide them. Common cover-ups include painting over damp and hiding wall cracks or floor problems with furniture or rugs.

9Confirm what land comes with the property

If there's any uncertainty over who owns a garden or parking space, make sure you find out the answer and get it confirmed in writing.

10Arrange a house survey

People may think they’ve had a proper survey when actually they’ve just had a mortgage valuation. It's a good idea to get a survey done to uncover any hidden issues with the house you're buying - take a look at our guide to the types of house survey to find out more.

If you're buying property in Scotland, ask the selling agent for the home report, which includes a survey.

Expert video: how I viewed properties

Which? mortgage adviser David Blake and property surveyor James Rangeley explain how they used their expert knowledge when viewing houses for themselves.

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Video transcript

First thing you should do is to decide whether you need to see them. Most agents now have very good website, official photographs, some floor plans, some have virtual floor plans and work through these, some don't, but you can save an awful lot of time not inspecting houses that aren't going to be suitable by just getting the right information the outset. So ask your agent for full information on those houses, and do short list, disregard those that aren't going to be worth seeing, and then see those that really have a chance. Take along a copy of the sales particulars that you would have been sent, and the agent may well give you some on the day, but have a good walk round, do it in your own time, agents are quite good at showing you around, and they'll point out all things that you ought to be aware of, and perhaps the owners will if they're there as well, but make inspections in your own terms, and make sure you'll satisfy that what you are seeing is what they are describing. Take your time, don't feel under pressure to run around, unless you've made your decision very earlier on that it is, or it isn't worth considering. So the property that we're looking at needed renovating so we had numerous feelings of the property on our own just to get the feel free initially, with a builder to get an estimate on how much it would cost to get the property, and to what condition that we would be comfortable to live in. My wife and I, we recently went through the process of buying a house and something that I was conscious of was the general state and condition of the house, and it's very easy when you're walking through quickly in a stranger's house, particularly when it's presented to sell, to miss detail on how well it's been maintained. In all case, it was quiet among the house, so it's a little superficial, but if you're buying something, a pair property or a character property, you should take a bit more time to look at those, and perhaps ask the agent, and the owners some questions about how the house's been maintained, and what costs they have had to incur.

Open days

Open days are an increasingly common method of selling a property, especially in London and the south-east.

They work by making a property open to be viewed for a limited time, normally a day or a number of days at set times. 

There are pros and cons to this for both buyers and sellers. If you're a buyer, you’ll probably encounter other potential buyers when looking around, which might make you feel pressured. 

Try not to let it affect your decision; it’s still important to inspect the property fully and not to be influenced by other parties when deciding how much the property is worth or whether it's right for you.  

On the flip side, the shorter time period can mean offers are made and then accepted quicker, which could be beneficial for both buyers and sellers. 

  • Last updated: August 2016
  • Updated by: Stephen Maunder