Downloadable house-viewing checklist
It's essential that you make the most of a property viewing to ensure that you're as informed as you possibly can be when it comes to making an offer.
- 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 Which? Mortgage Advisers for impartial advice by calling 0808 252 7987.
Take 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. More than half (52%) of buyers who spent less than 10 minutes viewing the property paid the asking price or more, while 71% of buyers who spent more than 90 minutes on viewings paid below the asking price.
Look at the structure of the building
Make sure you walk around the outside of the house to check the exterior. Look for damp and hairline cracks in the walls, missing or loose tiles on the roof and broken guttering. If you find signs of a problem, ask questions to find out what the cause is and whether it will be fixed.
If you go on to make an offer and it gets accepted, you should always have an independent house survey done so an expert can conduct more thorough checks.
Look - and smell - carefully
The seller doesn’t have to tell you about problems – in fact, they may even try to hide them. Common cover-ups include painting over damp and hiding wall cracks or floor problems with furniture or rugs.
Damp can give off a musty smell even if you don’t see physical signs, so be on your guard for unusual smells, including air freshener.
According to our research, 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. It's also worth opening and closing the windows to check they're in good working condition.
View the property more than once
Even in a fast-moving market, it’s best to go and see the property more than once if possible. 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.
Confirm what land is included 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.
Have a professional survey done
Mortgage lenders will request that you have a 'valuation survey' carried out, but this is different from a house survey as it doesn't look at the condition of the property. Often you won't even get to see the results.
You should always have your own independent survey carried out in order 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.
Investigate 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 researching the local neighbourhood has a host of extra tips.
Try to keep your emotions at bay
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.
Viewing a show home
If you're considering buying a property off-plan, ie before it's been built, you'll have to make your decision based on viewing a show home.
You'll need to be particularly savvy here, as the property will have been professionally designed and dressed to make it as enticing as possible.
Check out our guide to viewing a show home for advice on what to look out for.
Open days are an increasingly common method of selling a property, especially in very competitive areas. They involve a property being available for viewings for a limited time, normally a day or a number of days at set times, and 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 everyone involved.
- Check out our guide to 'best and final offers' and sealed bids
Video: how the experts view properties
Which? mortgage adviser David Blake and property surveyor James Rangeley explain how they used their expert knowledge when viewing houses for themselves.
Correct as of date of publication.