Buying a new home is one of the biggest expenses you’ll ever have, so it pays to be prepared. After all, you’ll likely be living in that space for a few years at least. Not taking the time to ensure you’re buying the right property can lead to long-term problems that might have been avoided with better preparation.
So here’s our “what to look for when buying a house” checklist. When you’re viewing properties or considering making an offer, go through each item on the list — and you’ll be far more likely to end up with your dream home. Don’t forget that the seller or their estate agent may have valuable information on a lot of these things if you ask them.
Table of Contents
- Local Prices
- Checking the Area
- Seller Motivation
- Local Crime Rates
- Traffic Volume
- Garden/Property Borders
- Property Paperwork
- The Roof
- Extensive Decoration
- Carpet Replacement
- Lights and Electrics
- Signs of Damp
- Leaks or Sink Damage
- Local Restaurants
- Phone Signal/Broadband Speeds
- Storage and Attic Space
- The Neighbours
- Average Bill Prices
- Home Improvements
- Is the Seller Part of a Chain?
- How Long Has the Property Been on the Market?
- Will Your Furniture Fit?
- Check the Structure
Properties That Make Lenders Nervous
Know What to Look For When Buying a House
What to Look for When Buying a House — A Checklist
1. Local Prices
You’ve spotted the perfect home online or with an estate agent, and the price is within your budget. It’s a good idea to check local prices, look at similar properties in the area, and compare those prices. While no two homes will be the same, there will always be reasons why the asking price is over or under what it will actually sell for.
You can find out the value of a property in the same way you can. So it is wise to do some research.
2. Check the Area
You could find the perfect home, make an offer, go through the conveyancing process, and even move in before finding out there are problems with the area. Make sure the house has all the local amenities you need. Find out where the nearest shops are, and if you have children (or plan to in the time you expect to live in the property), make sure you check out the local schools.
As well as amenities and travel options, it’s also important to find out as much as possible about the area. Ask these questions:
- Is there a pub nearby or a late-night takeaway that could become rowdy?
- Are the shops close enough to walk to?
- Is there a train track nearby that might mean intrusive noise?
- Is there a landfill site nearby that may smell over the summer?
- Is there a school close by that will make parking or driving your car difficult during the school run times?
If you’re already doing viewings, make sure you arrange visits at different times of the day and night. It’s also a good idea to take people with you who might notice potential issues you’ve overlooked.
3. Why Are the Sellers Selling?
This is always useful information to have. It could be that the property owners are moving somewhere bigger or smaller, relocating to a different area or even to another country. What you want to find out is why they’re selling and how fast they want to sell. Depending on the market at the time you are looking, if they’re in a rush, you could find they’ll accept a lower offer provided you’re in a position to move quickly too.
If the owners aren’t in a rush, this could mean you have more time to explore your options, but again, this depends on the market when you are looking. If there are a lot of motivated buyers, they could get in ahead of you and get their offer accepted even if the owner doesn’t want things to go quickly (or is easy about this).
Also, be alert to negative reasons they might be looking to sell, like a noisy neighbour or a load of new builds being developed nearby. Their reasons might not concern you, but it’s good to be in the know so you can make an informed decision.
Does the property provide all of your parking needs? If you don’t take the time to consider this, then you could end up with the long-term frustration of fighting to park all the time or on particular days or at particular times. Visitors also might have problems when they want to drop by.
5. Local Crime Rates
One important thing to check when you’re interested in a property is the local crime rates. If crime rates are particularly high, this could mean this isn’t the dream home you hoped for and you might be put off entirely or at least alerted to make sure you have house alarms fitted or boost your overall home security.
You can check local crime rates by using the crime checker provided by the UK police. Simply type in the property’s postcode and check the results.
6. Traffic Volume
Is there a busy road nearby? When it comes to knowing what to look for when buying a house, local traffic volume is critical to find out more about. That’s because it will affect everything from air pollution to sound levels and safety. If you’re a keen cyclist, busy roads around even the perfect home can be hazardous.
There’s also traffic congestion to think about. If you’re viewing properties outside of rush hour, you’re not going to have a clear idea of local traffic volume.
7. Garden/Property Borders
When buying a house, garden and property borders are easy to overlook. You need to check boundaries are clearly defined and if they’re not and there’s some confusion over who owns what, you could buy your dream home and end up in a long-lasting legal battle with neighbours who are adamant they own part of your property.
8. Property Paperwork
Another item on your “what to look for when buying a house” checklist is the paperwork. There isn’t much paperwork for you to check out at this stage, but the energy performance certificate (EPC) is beneficial. This document will let you know just how energy efficient the property is.
The EPC will also provide you with estimated energy costs (handy for your budgeting) and will summarise any energy-saving features of the house. There may be suggestions on how to improve your energy use so that you can cut down on your energy bills. So it’s always worth asking to see the EPC. You’ll see that the property is graded, with A being the most energy-efficient and G being the least.
You might also ask about planning permission documents for any work that you can see, or you are told has been carried out on the property. Although your conveyancing solicitor will do this on your behalf once you’ve hired them, it is worth getting an early heads-up if you can.
9. The Roof
Is the roof old? Has it been well maintained, or are there tiles missing? It’s always a good idea to do an initial review.
So stand outside the house and do a visual check. You might also consider asking to look in the loft if there is one, as this may show any damage or missing tiles more easily.
10. Extensive Decoration
While you should always have some of your budget put to one side to use for decorating your new home, always be wary of property that needs extensive decoration. The more old wallpaper you need to remove or entire rooms that need painting, plus varnishing doors or repainting window frames, the more time and money you’ll be spending.
11. Carpet Replacement
Replacing carpets can get very expensive very quickly. So the more old carpet you need to replace, the more you will have to budget for it. This may not be something that puts you off the perfect home, but it’s always worth thinking about this kind of financial fallout.
12. Lights and Electrics
Do all of the lights work? Are there plug sockets without any power? Hiring an electrician and paying for materials is another cost you can expect to pay out if there are any issues with the lighting or electrics.
Check that the heating system works and it’s the kind you want. It can be a major annoyance to have electric heating when you’re used to gas, and it can be more expensive to run too. How old is the system? When was it last serviced? Don’t forget to check all of the radiators work as well.
14. Signs of Damp
This is one of the main priorities for many people. Even those who don’t know much about what to look for when buying a house will know to watch out for signs of dampness. Any property with signs of damp should be avoided unless you’re clear and comfortable with what needs to be done to sort it. That means knowing how much it’s going to cost and how much disruption it will cause.
While your surveyor will highlight any concerns over damp, the most obvious clue that a property has damp is that musky, stale smell, a little bit like the odour of rotting wood.
It’s worth noting that if your dream house has a damp problem, the sellers might be more willing to sell at a lower price. The savings you make could then be used to resolve the issue, but make sure you do a full budget plan to ensure you’re not going to be spending money you can’t afford.
It’s also important to be aware that some sellers might try to hide signs of damp by painting over them. While the seller is asked to declare any damp issues in a property, there will always be people who try to pull a fast one, so make sure you know what you’re buying.
15. Leaks or Sink Damage
While sink damage is rarely a major problem, it’s always a good idea to take a closer look. If sinks are excessively leaking, that may not be something you can repair yourself, so you’ll have to factor in the costs of a plumber.
Any water leak can turn serious, so don’t be afraid to check and ask questions. Inspect the stopcock and make sure that it a) turns easily and b) isn’t wet or has pools of water beneath it. Also, run the kitchen and bathroom taps to check for low pressure, which can signify a leak somewhere.
Finally, check the floors around toilets, showers, and washing machines. Check the cold water storage tank (usually in the loft), and make sure it is secure and that the area surrounding it isn’t wet. Any signs of leaking water in the property are a red flag that indicates you will have to spend money on repairs.
16. Local Restaurants
When viewing the property, get your phone out and check the available options for takeouts, dining out, or JustEat/UberEats. This might seem like a minor concern, but even if you only use food deliveries occasionally, it can be very annoying to find only one restaurant in the area that does deliveries — and it’s your least favourite kind of food. There’s also something called the Deliveroo Effect, which is worth finding out more about. Essentially, the more food options available in an area, the higher the asking price for a house.
17. Phone Signal/Broadband Speeds
Imagine moving into your dream home only to find your phone only has a signal when you stand on top of the bath or that it takes 72-hours to download a new app on your phone.
This is a fairly recent addition to the home buyer’s checklist, so many buyers won’t know how to do this check. But all you need to do is head to the Ofcom website and use their mobile and broadband checker. Simply type in your postcode and you’ll be able to easily see what phone strength and broadband speeds are available to you.
18. Storage and Attic Space
It’s always worth checking out the attic to ensure it’s big enough for all of your storage needs. Even if you’re a first-time buyer moving out of a parent’s home with few possessions to move, it’s always wise to think about the future. You’ll be surprised by how much you can accumulate once you’re in your new home, and a lack of storage space can turn into a major hassle.
19. The Neighbours
We’ve all heard of neighbours from hell. Now imagine living next door to one! It’s a fact that bad neighbours can ruin your life, so it’s one of the priorities when thinking about what to look for when buying a house.
So ask the seller about the neighbours, but you might not get straight answers, especially if the neighbours are the reason they’re moving. So the best way to find out more about your possible future neighbours is to go and meet them. That way, you get to judge for yourself how living next door to them will be.
While it’s probably not a good idea to knock on the door and just ask a lot of questions, if you can find out any of the following answers, you’ll have more insights into the neighbours:
- Do they own or rent? Neighbours who rent are more likely to change more frequently.
- Are any of them musicians? If they are, you may have a problem.
- Do they have pets? While a cat or a fish tank won’t be an issue, loud or aggressive dogs can be.
- Do they work from home? They may get a lot of visitors, which could affect parking and noise levels.
- How often do they entertain? If you’re moving in next to students, then be prepared for a lot of parties.
You should also look at how well maintained the neighbouring properties are. Bad neighbours can present in many ways, but an unkempt property is a sign that they don’t care about the area or the people they live near. A slightly overgrown front garden isn’t a lot to get too wary of, but rubbish in the garden, peeling paint, empty beer cans on the doorstep, and cars sitting on the drive covered in rust and going nowhere are all signs you might be moving in next to people you’d rather not be near.
Once the conveyancing process is underway, you will receive a copy of the SPIF (this is the Seller’s Property Information TA6 form). The form has a section dedicated to disputes and complaints that the seller has been involved with, including neighbour disputes. Unfortunately, the SPIF may not tell you everything you need to know so it pays to find out what you can.
20. Average Bill Prices
When you’re spending such a large amount of money, it can be easy to forget to check any future spending. Household bills will impact your quality of life, so it’s always good to get some idea of what to expect from them. This isn’t an exact science, but you could try tools like the Money Supermarket’s online home bill health check.
21. Home Improvements
It’s always a good idea to ask about any home improvements the seller has made. You may find that the description on the listing doesn’t match with property records, often due to any renovations, improvements, or major repairs the seller has done. You may also find that a property is advertised as being four bedrooms but that one of the rooms has been added to or changed in a way that doesn’t conform to local building codes.
If you’re using an experienced conveyancing solicitor, they will handle this for you during the conveyancing process. The more you know about any home improvements, the easier you’ll be able to spot any issues with planning permission. It can also be an opportunity to make a lower offer if there are possible problems ahead and you have a good idea about what they will cost to get sorted and you’re comfortable with that. If you’re buying with a mortgage, your lender will need to be comfortable with it too.
22. Is the Seller Part of a Chain?
Property chains are usually part and parcel of the home buying process. It’s always a good idea to find out if the seller is part of a buying and selling chain. If they are, it means one or more successful house sales need to be ready before you can start moving forward with your purchase.
For a very simple example of a chain, let’s say you’re a first-time buyer but the sellers of the house you want to buy are buying a new home. But they can’t buy until they sell. Because you can’t buy until they sell, the transaction will only be ready to go through when both the sale and the purchase are ready. It’s all about dependencies, and if your purchase is on a chain (which will often be more complicated than the one in this simple example), the process can be a lot slower.
Avoiding a property chain is one of the ways to speed up the sale of a home, but if you’re buying, chains can be tricky to avoid. This isn’t impossible, so always find out about any dependencies and how long a possible chain is.
23. How Long Has the Property Been on the Market?
If the home you’re interested in is a new listing, you’re likely to be one of many people going through the viewing process. But if a property has been on the market for a while, that may be a sign that a) there may be a problem with it and b) the seller may be more open to a lower offer than the asking price.
It could be that the seller is in more of a rush simply because they’re struggling to find a buyer, or they are part of a chain where everyone is delayed until they sell. The sellers of listings on the market for a while are usually more likely to accept a lower offer. So this is a question always worth asking.
24. Will Your Furniture Fit?
This is a great little observation that is easy to forget when viewing. If you can’t tell just by looking, make sure you take measurements of your biggest and most important furniture and bring those measurements (and a tape measure) to your next viewing.
It will be very frustrating on moving day if your king-sized bed doesn’t fit in the master bedroom or your living room furniture is simply too large to fit through the door.
The alternative is to get new furniture but you may not want to or may not want to face the cost. By asking the question, you go in with your eyes open.
25. Check the Structure
One of the most important actions when viewing a property is to quickly inspect the structure. Take a walk around the property’s exterior, making note of any damp, hairline cracks and any damaged guttering.
If you spot any possible problems with the structure, ask as many questions as possible about the causes and any attempts to repair the issues. If you make an offer, your surveyor will highlight any structural issues. But it’s helpful to be alive to potential structural problems early on.
Properties That Make Lenders Nervous
There are some kinds of property that you may struggle to find a mortgage lender for, and these are properties that are different and will entail specialist mortgages and advice. So if the property you’re interested in is any of the following, be prepared for roadblocks to your purchase:
- Houses of unusual construction. These are homes not made of brick and mortar. They could be made of timber, wattle and daub and may even have asbestos in the foundations.
- High-rise flats. Struggling to find a mortgage lender is common for buyers who want an ex-council flat in a high rise.
- Homes with cladding. If a building is higher than 18-metres, it needs to have something called cladding — an aluminium composite material known as ACM. It will also need a fire certificate. The problem is there are not yet any firm rules about whose responsibility cladding is, so mortgage applications are often rejected for homes with cladding.
- Access issues. If you’re looking at a flat above a shop, office, or restaurant, access to your property is potentially more open, with employees able to enter what should be your private space. With properties like this, you will struggle with security, and you may even find it difficult to have that property valued.
- Leaseholds. A short leasehold makes mortgage lenders very nervous. If you’re considering a property with a leasehold of fewer than 80 years, lenders may not lend unless the lease is extended, which can be expensive.
- New builds. This can be a tricky one, but surveyors can value a new build at a lower price than the seller is asking. So if you want to buy a new build, you may need a larger deposit.
- Industrial land. Known as brownfield sites, these are homes built on former industrial land. Your conveyancing solicitor will need to thoroughly check all of the property certificates so you can be sure all of the land is decontaminated.
- Coastal homes. If a property is too close to the sea, it may be at risk of coastal erosion, which will make it trickier to find an agreeable mortgage provider.
- Listed buildings. They might look beautiful, but getting a mortgage may be noticeably more difficult. Repairs and maintenance are likely to be a lot more expensive and older buildings can be more vulnerable to fires, so mortgage lenders are warier of them.
- Character homes. These are properties repurposed from an original function. Pubs, churches, windmills, and lighthouses can make great homes, but they will often require you to find a specialist lender that may cost more.
Know What to Look for When Buying a House
This “what to look for when buying a house” checklist should make it much easier to ensure you don’t end up with a property lemon. Remember that it’s in your best interest to ask as many questions and conduct as many viewings as you need. Buying a home involves a lot of time and money. Unless you ask the questions and know what to look for when buying a house, you’ll never be confident about the property.
One of the best ways to make buying a home easier is to ensure that you hire your conveyancing solicitor as early into the process as possible. It’s a common mistake for people to wait until they’ve made or had an offer accepted on a home before they hire their solicitor. This not only increases the chances of slowing things down but also increases stress levels.
So if you’re conducting viewings and making shortlists of homes to put an offer on, contact the friendly office team at Lockings. You can request a callback and get a FREE initial chat.