Did you buy or sell a three- or four-bedroom house in the short period surrounding the turn of the decade?
If so, you may remember the Home Information Pack. Introduced for larger homes between August and September 2007, HIPs were sets of documents relating to a property, including title documents, local authority searches, property information sheets and the only surviving remnant, Energy Performance Certificates.
The HIP was introduced to reduce the number of ‘fall-throughs’, or aborted transactions, that occurred as a result of issues with the property that could have been identified at an earlier stage in the process. But the added administration and cost was a burden too far for many sellers, and some argued that HIPs were even worsening the housing crisis 1. HIPs were finally abandoned in January 2012.
So the problems with obtaining property information remain unresolved, and recent research shows that, today, as many as two fifths of transactions may fall through due to flaws in the conveyancing process 2.
As a buyer, you will want to make sure that you know as much as possible about the property you are buying. With this in mind, here are 35 important questions you should consider asking the seller:
1. How long has the property been on the market?
If the property has been on the market for a long time, ask if there is a reason for the lack of interest. What constitutes ‘a long time’ depends on location and market conditions; the average house currently (according to figures for August 2014) stays on the market for just over six weeks 3.
2. Has the property been on the market before?
If the property has changed hands a number of times, there could be an underlying problem driving out each new owner.
3. What is included in the sale?
Who owns what on a plot might not always be clear, particularly in the case of apartments with shared facilities. Be sure to ask about sheds, gardens and parking spaces, and find out exactly where the boundaries lie. Ask whether any services, such as drainage, are shared. Also find out what fixtures and fittings will be included with the sale.
4. Have any major works been completed, and are there any planning restrictions?
If so, ask to see copies of the relevant paperwork. Just as important are permissions that were not granted – this could cause problems down the line.
5. How old is the property?
Older buildings can be more expensive to maintain. If a particularly old building was built with unusual materials or using outmoded construction methods, making structural repairs could also be more difficult.
6. Is the property listed, or in a conservation area?
In either case, what you can do to the property’s exterior (and sometimes even the interior) will be limited. Furthermore, if the previous owner made any changes a listed building without Listed Building Consent, it may be your responsibility to fix them.
7. What is the area like?
Local shops, schools and entertainment are easy enough to check online. What a quick search won’t tell you is what the area is like at rush hour, or when the local pubs and clubs close. Spend time walking around the area to get a feel for it – after all, it might soon be your own neighbourhood!
8. How are the neighbours?
If the sellers have ever made an official complaint against their neighbours, their agent will be obligated to tell you. Persistently antisocial neighbours can do untold damage to a neighbourhood, so get as honest an opinion as you can.
9. How is the energy performance?
You will have an Energy Performance Certificate, with a rating between A and G, to use as a point of reference. If the energy performance is lacking, find out why. How old is the boiler, and when was it last serviced? Is there loft or cavity wall insulation, and if so, how old is it?
10. Have there been any problems with damp or subsidence?
Subsidence – the gradual sinking of land – and damp can both cause major structural issues if left untreated, and you should find out if the property has any current or historical issues with either.
Quick-fire questions: the exterior brickwork
11. How old is it?
12. What condition is it in?
13. Is there a render or specific finish?
14. Are they double- or triple-glazed?
15. Are the frames secure?
16. How old are the drains and guttering?
17. What condition are they in?
18. Are any tiles missing or insecure?
19. Does the roof leak?
Plumbing and electricals
20. Do all the taps work?
21. Are there any internal leaks?
22. Is all metal plumbing work earth-bonded (particularly in an electric shower)?
23. How quickly does hot water come through?
24. Do all the light switches work?
25. Are any electrical circuits prone to strain or overload?
26. When was the fuse box last checked?
27. Do all the windows and doors lock sufficiently? Are they double-locked?
28. If there is an alarm system, is it in good working order?
29. Is there any damp, mould or condensation?
30. Are there any cracks or exposed wires?
31. Are any of the rooms exposed to the neighbours?
32. Is any private garden or courtyard exposed to the neighbours?
33. Is there sufficient storage?
34. Is there loft access?
35. Is the property smoke alarmed?
Many surveyors offer property condition reports for upwards of £300. Concise reports will detail needed repairs (distinguishing between moderate and urgent issues, and whether ongoing maintenance will be needed), construction defects, and other matters that could allow you to renegotiate the price.
If you want to have a property condition report done, feel free, but bear the following in mind:
• Your mortgage lender will not accept this as a survey or valuation, and you may need to pay for a separate valuation in order to satisfy your lender’s requirements
• Make sure that the surveyor you instruct is accredited by an official trade body, such as the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)