Guide to viewing a property

Buying a home is almost certainly the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, so wouldn’t it be great if you knew exactly what you were doing?

Whether you’re a first-time buyer or are looking to step up the property ladder, make sure you read the eight-step Taylor Wimpey guide to Viewing a Property – and give yourself some house nous before you take the plunge!

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Drive around

In old American crime movies they call it “casing the joint” – and the principle is the same when viewing a house (minus the criminal bit, obviously).

Give yourself a first impression; not just of the house you’ll be viewing, but the area it sits in. Get a feel for the neighbourhood by driving up and down the nearby streets.

Where are the nearest shops, the nearest park, the nearest school, the nearest takeaways? Does it get busy during rush hour? Does the house and its location feel right to you?

Be prepared

Visit the house with a partner or friend. It’s invaluable to have two people looking round together, and chatting about what they’ve seen. 

Get a feel for the price houses are going for in the area – the internet is a brilliant tool here. Make sure you’ve both read the blurb from the estate agent and don’t just leave it to the most organised one.

Make a list of all the things that are important to you and any questions you want to ask before you get inside the house.

Keep taking notes

At the risk of looking like a pushy reporter, make notes of everything that strikes you as you look around, and take photos on your mobile.

You may be looking at four houses on a Saturday, and another three on a Sunday. By the end of all that, you won’t remember which one had the washing machine in a cupboard in the living room and which one had wallpaper in five different rooms so terrible you couldn’t live with it for even an hour.

A notebook can also remind you of what the vendor or estate agent said to you, from “it’s in the catchment area for an outstanding school” to “all carpets and curtains included”.

Take your time

Don’t rush round a house you’re viewing like children playing hide-and-seek. Make sure you spend at least 30 minutes viewing a house, so you can really get a feel for it. Chat to the person who’s showing you round too – it’s good to build a relationship with the seller.

And don’t be embarrassed to go back to houses you’re interested in. Research by Which? showed that three-quarters of house buyers had visited the house they eventually bought at least twice. Many went back three or four times.

Experts at Which? also say that the longer a buyer spends viewing a property, the more likely they are to secure it for under the asking price. Taking your time saves you money, it seems.

Be thorough

Unless you’re the MD of a large company, a house is the biggest thing you’ll ever buy. So be thorough.

Open a good selection of cupboard doors and windows. Check the taps and the light switches. If the lights are on during the day, turn them off – does that make the room too dark?

Find out about the age of the boiler and the wiring. Check out the number of power points. Feel the heat of radiators, from top to bottom. Find out if your mobile works here.

Look in the loft (take a torch) and in the cellar, if there is one. Look up at the ceiling – not just for cracks, but because ceilings rather than floors give you the best idea of floor space.

Be wary of unusual smells, whether it’s a sewage smell in the garden or the musty smell of damp in the dining room. Unexpected smells are often warning signs. 

Ask polite, but direct questions about anything you’re not sure of.

Analyse each room

Look at each room, and ask yourself how it would work for you. The key here is not to be put off by what the current owner has done.

Measure everything. It would be awkward, wouldn’t it, if your expensive corner sofa didn’t fit in the living room, or the bunk beds don’t fit in the bedroom with the sloping roof?

This is also the time to think about what work needs doing. How many rooms need decorating? Can you live with what you’re getting in most rooms, and re-decorate gradually? Is there any major work required? How expensive will it be?

Check outside

It’s surprising how many people check every room inside their prospective house – and then forget to look outside.

So check the back garden, including the fences / hedges; check the garage; make sure the garden shed isn’t on the verge of collapse. Find out how much land and its boundaries are actually yours. That will avoid uncertainty about parking spaces and fence replacement.

Most important of all, look at the outside of the house. Is all the painting up to scratch?  Are there loose tiles on the roof? Are there any cracks? Are there any signs of damp, like peeling paint or tide marks on the walls?

Have a survey

Many people think they’ve had a proper survey of their home, when actually they’ve just had a mortgage valuation. That’s something done by the estate agent, and it isn’t likely to uncover potential problems.

So get a professional surveyor in. There are two main types of structural survey available for those buying a property: a Homebuyer's Report or a Full Building Survey.

The former is cheaper, and likely to be enough for any standard property under about 30 years old, unless you’re going for major renovations.

The Full Building Survey is more suitable for older homes and will alert you to any potentially costly issues that you might otherwise only discover after moving in, such as a damp problem or a leaky roof. It may be a more expensive option in the short term, but it could potentially save you thousands in the future.