Buying a house What to check when buying a house

Electrician fixing a lamp

Lived-in homes may need essential works such as new electrics or central heating 

We explain the important questions to ask yourself - and the owner - before making an offer or exchanging on a property.

Once you've familiarised yourself with the key questions to ask, you can watch the two-minute video below to hear tips from first-time buyers Chris, Lydia and Amanda about what took them by surprise upon moving into their properties.

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Five important questions to ask before making an offer on a property

When we surveyed 1,990 recent home movers in 2015, we found that people spent an average of one hour viewing the property they ended up buying - and yet one in nine didn't undertake any checks before signing on the dotted line.

Here are five important questions to ask in order to avoid nasty surprises:

1Is the property safe?

If the property is over 50 years old there could be problems that have developed over a long period. Find out how safe the property is by asking for gas and electrical safety certificates. Carbon monoxide can be a silent killer - is there a monitor?  

It's also worth asking whether there are window locks to deter burglars and keep children safe.

2Is it a leasehold property?

If so, it’s vital that you understand the details of the lease. This is the agreement between you (the leaseholder) and the building owner (the freeholder).

Properties sold under a lease typically incur monthly service charges that can range from tens to hundreds of pounds per month, not to mention ground rent, which is normally less than £100 per year. These may or may not include specified maintenance or repairs, so you need to be alert to additional charges you could be liable for.

When you buy a leasehold property you're purchasing that property for a specified period, from a few years to 999 years. The important cut-off point is 85 years. Any lease period shorter than this may mean that you, as a buyer, can’t secure a mortgage on the property and will have to pay cash.

Find out more: leasehold vs freehold - find out how each form of property ownership works

3Is the property easy to insure?

Normally, property problems can be fixed relatively easily. But some problems can make securing insurance very difficult, if not impossible. Issues such as flooding can be problematic and hike up insurance premiums, as can signs of previous complications due to subsidence, where a property sinks partially into the ground. 

A good-quality survey should pick these things up, although the seller has a legal responsibility to be honest about previous problems and past insurance issues.

Find out more: home insurance reviews - dozens of policies rated

4How much work needs doing?

You'll need to get a survey done before buying a house to check there are no hidden problems, which can also help you negotiate the buying price and budget for any repairs or maintenance you might need to do.

No matter what type of property you’re buying, even if it's a brand-new one, it’s likely you’ll have to spend some money on it. Lived-in homes may need essential work such as new electrics or a central heating system. Other pricey jobs include installing a new roof and windows and big redecoration jobs following a new damp proof course.  

If you’re buying a flat, always make sure you know the process for undertaking major works, how they’re costed, whether there’s a fund available and what notice you’ll be given for costs incurred.

Find out more: house surveys - understand the different types of surveys and how much they cost

5Are the problems worth fixing?

Whatever the property problem you uncover, there are normally ways around it. You'll just need to decide whether it's worth doing, taking into account the price of the property and how much the repairs would cost. Get a quote if you're unsure.

If you still like the property despite its flaws and want to proceed, you can either try to renegotiate the price based on the potential repair costs or ask the current owner to fix them before you exchange.

First time buyer video: things I wish I'd known about the condition of the property

Find out what first-time buyers Chris, Lydia and Amanda discovered when they moved into their properties - and learn from their mistakes - in our two-minute video.


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Video transcript

I think conditions, property wise, we knew the guy had been smoking, the tenant had been smoking in the house, and he was told not to but he had been, so it did kind of smell inside and we had to open the windows and air out and it still took a while for the smell to come out, and in the garden, the tenants hadn't really ever looked after the garden, says a lot of mess, like dead stuff left on the corners and plants have well overgrown, so you had to get in the garden a bit. And plus also, they had a decorator come in for like one day, and painted the whole house, and you can kind of see little smudges of paintware, it got on the floor, it got on the side, got on the fittings, and I think I probably would have preferred it, just leave it as it is, I will come in, I will decorate it, I will do it to the standard as I want it and not to spray painting all the walls the way they did, it's kind of mad actually.

Because what happened, was we had decided to be try and be a bit more efficient and buy some of the furniture that had been left behind by the tenants and one of the pieces was the Fit Freezer, and whoever was the last person here, whether it was the tenants or the vendors, they cleverly unplugged the Fit Freezer and left the doors open which flooded the kitchen, and completely ruin the floor, and unfortunately, if the damage happens between exchange completion, then the buyer is liable for that damage and there's absolutely no way that we could have proven that it happened before we moved in. Either the estate agents on our side, we could never get any contact from the vendors so we just had to pay for ourselves, unfortunately, so that was something else that you have to pay for, that you might not necessarily have thought about.

I would actually suggest, if possible, going to flat on the day of the completion before or just before or as you're completing and complete there, and that way you can double check the flats in the condition that you last saw it.

More on this...

Last updated:

February 2016

Updated by:

Stephen Maunder


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