House hunters are missing out on crucial signs

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Depending on which part of the country property hunters are looking in, they may be experiencing a market that’s still relatively hot or has cooled to the point where asking prices are being slashed.

But whether properties are on the market for only a few days, or are hanging around for months, it’s still crucial for buyers to ask sellers the right questions if they’re not to end up buying a home with many more problems than they bargained for.

Where homes are hot

While house prices may have generally cooled a little over the last two months, in a good number of places they’re still fairly hot and homes are being snapped up fast.

In these areas, home buyers have to move fast and in such fevered environments it can be easy to forgo asking sellers potentially awkward questions about the state of a property and its history after a sale price has been agreed.

But to do so could be a big mistake, and could potentially mean you end up buying a home which you have to spend far more on than you intended when you agreed a price or, in the worst case scenario, somewhere that’s literally falling down around your ears.

Where the market’s gone cold

In those parts of the country where it’s more of a buyers’ market, asking detailed questions about a home and studying the sales memorandum carefully can mean you end up in a good bargaining position to shave further sums off the sales price.

A survey can be crucial to uncovering serious issues such as wood rot and sagging roofs, but as many buyers don’t bother with them (for good reason in many cases) you need to keep your wits about you when dealing with sellers and reading between the lines.

Buyers missing out on vital signs during viewings

One of the UK’s largest home insurers, Aviva, recently found that house hunters are spending less time on property viewings than they should be, and missing out on home maintenance signs that they should be noting as a result.

On average, only 30 minutes is spent in and around a property before a buying decision is made, according to Aviva. Considering that for most people this will be the biggest financial decision of their lives, this really isn’t enough.

One in four only visit once: Ask for second or third viewings

Amazingly, Aviva’s research showed that many buyers, one in four, only visit a property once before buying.

Don’t be afraid to ask for second or third viewings, even if you’ve already agreed a sale price (in some areas, especially in London and the South, agreeing the sale price first might be necessary if it’s a ‘hot’ area).

If you’re worried the seller may become nervous and pull out, just say you’re asking to view again to remind yourself of the lay out. Pretend you’re thinking of moving a wall or two, opening a kitchen up to a living room, or buying furniture. Don’t give a reason that could potentially upset the vendor.

However, in reality you might be making a closer inspection of the home. If you’re still worried about upsetting the seller with questions, you could always wait until you’ve both become more committed, after solicitors have been engaged and possibly fees incurred, before asking them.

The vendor will be less likely to pull out of the deal and your solicitor will be able to advise you of the potential ramifications if the answers aren’t as you’d hoped.

For buyers who don’t ask the right questions or spot potential problems, the average repair bill on top of what they expect to spend is £1,094. However, if the problem is a serious structural issue, this could be far more.

Common problems home buyers miss

The most common issues which house buyers miss are:

• Plumbing problems

• Damp

• Cracks in walls and ceilings

Buyers missing out on easy checks

Aviva also discovered that many home buyers are missing out on making relatively easy checks. Almost one in three, 31%, failed to look for blocked guttering, invasive plants such as Japanese knotweed and problems with chimney stacks and pots.

Even if you don’t want to pay for what might be a fairly useless survey, ask a decent builder to go to the property with you as they should be able to identify many problems a home might have.

What it means for your home cover

If you don’t identify existing problems, and the seller fails to tell you about them, you can face serious issues with your home insurance.

When you complete the forms necessary to take out cover, you will be asked to provide details of any problems a home may have, in particular those of a structural nature or relating to flooding.

When someone is insuring a home for the first time, and they haven’t been rigorous in their attempts to identify such issues, they won’t be able to pass the correct information on to the insurer.

If the home buyer subsequently moves into a property and has to make a claim on their insurance, a claim could be rejected due to insufficient information being provided on application.

So if you do move in, only to find on-going problems come to light, you must inform your insurer immediately. This may or may not increase your cover premiums, but if you don’t, you could face a world of financial pain.

Policy Expert

If your home is your haven, you’ll want it to have the best protection. Compare quotes from our range of handpicked insurers and tailor a policy to suit you. For more information speak to one of our experts on 0330 0600 601 or email ask@policyexpert.co.uk

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Policy Expert.