Given that buying a house is by far the largest purchase most people will ever make, it would be crazy to go in blind. Finding out about the property can help you to understand what you’re getting yourself in for if you do choose to go ahead with the purchase.
The real estate agent is motivated to sell, so they won’t necessarily be forthcoming about certain things – you’ll have to ask. You might find they avoid talking about certain areas as well, in an attempt to make the property seem more appealing but not intentionally misleading either.
Here are some questions you need to be asking before you buy, and what they can tell you about the property you’re looking at.
How long has the property been on the market?
The length of time that a property has been on the market can help you to gauge buyer interest, and understand how aggressive you’ll need to be in your negotiations. Be aware that sometimes the property can be listed, taken down, and then relisted to make it seem like a fresh offering.
A house that has been on the market for a long time raises some questions for buyers – notably, why? There could be issues with the property, or the asking price might be too high. It’s even possible the asking price is too low, as a very low price can scare buyers off in case there is some hidden flaw.
Owners who have had their property listed for a long time are generally more likely to accept a lower offer, so it could be a bargain – although it could also indicate that the owners are in no hurry to sell and are happy to wait for the right offer. Just proceed extra carefully and put lots of effort into researching the area and the property, in case there is some issue that you might be overlooking.
If a property hasn’t been available for a long time and you love it, it might be a good signal that you should go for it. You don’t want to wait and find that other buyers are just as passionate as you, but a bit quicker with their offer.
Why is the owner selling?
Selling a house is expensive and time consuming, and it’s not likely that the owners have chosen to sell for no reason. There’s a good chance they just need more room or are moving for a job opportunity, but their answer might give you some clues about the area.
If they’re moving to a better school district, or say the area is in decline, it might give you some clues about the location you’re choosing. If they “want somewhere quieter”, it’s worth having a listen and really thinking long term – that traffic noise might be ok in small doses,
but how will you go over long periods of time? If they need to be closer to a train station for work – is that something that might affect you?
Of course, there’s no guarantee that anyone selling a house will be entirely truthful, but if you ask the question and listen carefully to their answer it could give you clues about what it’s really like to live in the area.
How much will the owner accept?
You may not get a straight answer, but it’s worth asking the question directly. If the property is new on the market, the agent might keep their cards close to their chest, but if the property has been around for a while you might get a helpful nudge in the right direction.
You could also ask what offers they have received so far, to get an idea of whether your offer is in the right ballpark and what you need to offer to remain competitive.
Are there any known issues with the property?
Once again, you might not get the whole truth, but it’s a good idea to ask. In fact, the purchase of your home is covered by Australian consumer law, which states that the seller is legally required to disclose material facts that are relevant to the sale of the property. Each state has slightly different regulations, so research your rights.
If the property has been flooded, for example, you could have ongoing issues with paintwork, swollen wood, and many other areas, not to mention the question of whether it could happen again. You need to ask so you can be prepared, even if you still go ahead with the purchase.
Legally you should be told anyway about big issues, but if you ask the question and the sellers are not entirely truthful, you could be protected by law. That means the seller could be subject to fines and even harsher penalties, and you could be able to withdraw from your contract. It’s better not to have to deal with a difficult situation later on down the track, so a better strategy is to ask the question early on.
What's included in the sale?
You might love those light fixtures, the in-built refrigerator and the tailor-made blinds, but are they actually included in the sale? Anything attached to the house is considered a fixture and should be included, but there are some legal grey areas about what absolutely needs to be included.
If you ask the question, you won’t be disappointed when you move in and those lovely fixtures aren’t there, especially if you’re left scrambling to replace custom-made items that are an unexpected cost to you.
Have any renovations been done? Are they certified?
Updated plumbing is a great asset for a property, unless it’s a home job that has been poorly executed - then those fancy-looking renovations could end up costing you thousands in repairs and a great deal of heartbreak. Come into your inspection with a broad knowledge of what renovations need a permit, and if you do consider the purchase, ask to see it.
Bear in mind that some renovations can even invalidate your insurance, causing major heartache down the track. A fireplace put in without approval, for example, can mean in the event of a fire you are not covered by your insurance. It’s not worth the hassle – make sure any renovations have been done correctly and approved, otherwise you might be the one who inherits the problems.
Conclusions - Asking the Questions
Don’t be afraid to ask the questions early on. Agents are trained negotiators and they are motivated to sell the property as quickly as possible, for as high a price as possible. Your motivation is to get a great place at the right price, that won’t cause you major headaches down the track.
As well as the questions you want to ask, come armed with your own research. There is plenty of information available, like past sale prices, information on the area and other information like council rates and potentially hidden issues.
You might want to check flood zones to see if the house could be in a risky place, look at a map to see the surrounding area, and putting the address into insurance estimators to see how much you might pay to move into the area.
The more serious you are about the property, the more questions you should be asking about the property itself and the surrounding areas. Do your best to avoid future headaches by asking as many questions as possible, doing your research, and going into your next property purchase with eyes wide open and extra negotiating power.