- 1. What is the reason for sale?
- 2. How long has the property been on the market?
- 3. Have there been any offers?
- 4. Have the sellers found somewhere to move to?
- 5. What are the neighbours like?
- 6. What is the local area like?
- 7. Are there any plans to develop the local area?
- 8. Is the property freehold or leasehold?
- 9. Is the property subject to any restrictive covenants?
- 10. Has the property undergone any major renovations?
- 11. Are there any problems with the building?
- 12. What does the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) mean?
- 13. How much are the bills likely to be?
- 14. Specific questions about flats
A lot of preparation goes into marketing a property for sale. The seller will have made a concerted effort to present their house or flat in a good state of repair, chosen a reputable estate agent and agreed a realistic asking price. The agent will have produced highly informative and visually appealing marketing collateral and advertised the property through all their usual channels. It’s time for the viewings to begin.
Experienced estate agents will know exactly how to conduct property viewings; indeed they will insist on showing interested parties around rather than letting the owner take on this important job. They will be professionally trained to engage with potential buyers, providing them with all the information they need to make an offer and get their selling fee.
This should also include a list of typical questions that buyers may want to ask. They should also expect the unexpected in case there are any unusual queries fired their way. There can be nothing more frustrating for a would-be buyer than an estate agent who seems to know barely anything about the property, acting as little more than a keyholder. Proper planning and preparation prevent poor performance, they say, and it’s the job of a good estate agent to prepare thoroughly before every viewing.
With that in mind, here’s a handy list of questions that you should expect buyers to ask during a property viewing as well as some more offbeat ones:
1. What is the reason for sale?
The vendor’s circumstances are always of interest to potential buyers because they might provide insights that could be helpful for negotiations. If the owner is selling a beloved family home to downsize, for example, it gives the impression of a well-maintained property. Or if he is desperate to sell for personal reasons, he might be inclined to accept a lower offer for a quick sale. If he has only owned the property for a short period, buyers may be wondering if there is a problem with the neighbours, the building or with development plans for the local area.
2. How long has the property been on the market?
If the property has been on the market for more than 3 months, the buyer will reasonably want to know why it hasn’t sold. Was the original asking price too high? Were any offers made and rejected during that time? Was there a previous buyer who pulled out, perhaps on account of the survey findings? Whatever the reason, a long time on the market will signal to potential buyers that the seller might accept a lower price.
3. Have there been any offers?
Buyers will be interested to find out about the competition for the property so they can gauge demand and arrive at an acceptable offer price. Of course, agents are under no obligation to reveal the exact amount of any offers received / rejected / under consideration, and it is not standard practice to tell potential buyers how much they ought to be offering. That said, heavy hints are often dropped through the use of phrases like ‘close to the asking price’ or ‘cash buyers preferred’.
4. Have the sellers found somewhere to move to?
This question is designed to establish the likely timescale for sale. Sellers who have another property lined up might be keen to tie things up quickly so as not to lose their purchase. Those who have yet to find another property are a less certain proposition, plus there will be a risk associated with being in a chain. Those who are not in a hurry or have no onward purchase to worry about may be prepared to wait for the maximum price to be offered.
5. What are the neighbours like?
Good neighbourly relations can make or break an otherwise happy home, so it’s no surprise that this is a popular question that buyers ask. They will be looking for a ringing endorsement or, at the very least, no indication that there have been any issues. Bear in mind that any neighbourhood disputes past or present must in any event be legally disclosed by the seller on the TA6 Property Information Form.
6. What is the local area like?
Buyers will have been doing their own research on the area they prefer to buy in, but they will also want to hear the seller’s and estate agent’s take on the neighbourhood, if only as a sanity check. What are the local schools like? What’s the nearest local supermarket, or petrol station? How good are transport links? Are there parks or other local amenities close by? What’s the crime rate like? These are all valid questions that estate agents should know the answer to.
7. Are there any plans to develop the local area?
In due course, local searches will identify any development plans that could affect the property such as local planning applications but buyers won’t want to wait until then to find out potentially deal-breaking information. If the property is marketed as being in an idyllic rural setting backing onto open countryside, plans for large-scale housing development in the field next door won’t go down well. It is the agent’s responsibility to pass on material information that will affect the price and saleability of the property.
8. Is the property freehold or leasehold?
The property’s tenure counts as basic information that should be included in the property particulars. In the case of leasehold ownership, the length of the remaining lease is also of material interest, as is a share of freehold. While flats and maisonettes are generally assumed to be owned on a leasehold basis, this isn’t always the case – commonhold ownership also exists. For houses, freehold is the typical tenure but leasehold houses do exist. Again, it is the agent’s responsibility to provide accurate information so that the viewer can make an intelligent decision.
9. Is the property subject to any restrictive covenants?
If the property is located in a Conservation Area or has designated listed status, planning restrictions will apply which will materially affect the development potential. The estate agent should be aware of this information. That said, restrictive covenants are not limited to old buildings and savvy buyers may wish to know whether it would be possible to build in the back garden or use the property as business premises.
10. Has the property undergone any major renovations?
If an extension, conservatory, new roof or other building work was carried out, the buyer will want to know if relevant planning consent and building regulations approval was obtained. Vague answers here do not inspire confidence, and if the necessary paperwork is not available, this can lead to major delays in the conveyancing process. While indemnity insurance cover can often be obtained for legal defects discovered during the buying process, there is a risk that the buyer may instead change their minds.
11. Are there any problems with the building?
The seller and their estate agent are legally obliged to disclose any issues with the property. Buyers will certainly expect to be told if there’s ever been an insurance claim for subsidence, if Japanese knotweed is known to be present in the garden, if there is a major roof defect, damp issues or insect infestations. Not every buyer is put off by a property that has known problems – many are actively looking for a ‘doer upper’ they can renovate and add value to. However, serious defects that are not declared and later come to light via a building survey are never a good basis for a successful sale.
If a buyer is viewing a leasehold property such as a large block of flats or a purpose built apartment building, prospective viewers will want to consider what kind of state the current building is in and whether any shared and communal areas, such as landings, external fire stairs or even the outside cladding is in good repair.
Bear in mind that there will be annual ground rents to consider and whether a renowned facilities management firm is in place to service the property in question. They will be responsible for ensuring the smooth running of that building and will overlook the ongoing maintenance of shared facilities to a high-quality standard that is in line with current legislative regulations.
Any viewer and prospective buyer will be reassured to know that maintaining the premises to a high standard is an existing and future priority before any purchase goes ahead. Estate agents, therefore, need to be wise to what current, past and future communal works might be planned for the premises they are showing to interested parties.
12. What does the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) mean?
A valid Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is a legal requirement for all domestic properties for sale, and gives an energy rating based on the energy efficiency of the property ranging from A (highly efficient) to G (inefficient).
An EPC rating given will be influenced by a number of things, so buyers could reasonably ask about numerous part of the property being viewed. For example, some points that might be considered might include:
- the current level and condition of loft insulation (especially important with the heating bills people are now facing),
- any existence of pipe lagging,
- cavity wall insulation (again, crucial when people are trying to avoid costly heating bills)
- double glazing (is it efficient or can it be upgraded).
With all of the above, it is sensible to know when anything was fitted or installed as well as how effective they are.
13. How much are the bills likely to be?
Council tax and utility bills are a good indication of the property’s running costs, especially with the rising cost of energy supply. Estate agents should be able to know the council tax band the property is in, and you may also be asked for a copy of utility bills. For leasehold properties, buyers will want to have a good idea of the cost of the annual service charge and ground rent, and if there are any outstanding or upcoming major building or maintenance projects.
14. Specific questions about flats
Potential buyers of leasehold flats and maisonettes may ask any of the above questions, but additionally there are material questions that arise from the leasehold tenure. These include: How long is left to run on the lease? What would be the cost of extending the lease? Who owns the freehold and who is the managing agent? Is there any residents’ parking, communal gardens or storage? Are pets allowed? What is the proportion of owner-occupiers to tenants?
It’s always worth expecting the unexpected. In a recent survey, estate agents were asked about the questions they most dreaded being asked. ‘Has anyone died at the property?’ were one of the top five. Some of the most unusual questions received included: ‘Do the pets/ plants come with the house?’, ‘Is there any chance that the home might be haunted?’ and ‘Can I stay over before putting an offer in?’ You never can tell…
Today’s rocky economic climate and the hefty energy rate rises have made many buyers more cautious than they have been for many years. Faced with the cost-of-living crisis and the steadying rise in interest rates (and mortgage pressures), the property market is up against it. There are current challenges that threaten the stability of the property sector along with an expectation that averages property prices might be impacted. Even London estate agents are facing difficulties, often an area resilient to the rest of the country’s woes. With this in mind, estate agents need to be on top of their game and be prepared for every question they are asked at viewings.