The first time buyer journey- viewing houses: questions, estate agents and staying calm

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Just FYI, I’m putting photos of houses I would love to own but never will in these posts, because we have to dream don’t we? 

So- viewing houses. It struck me really quickly how little we knew about property, house buying and estate agents the moment we walked into the first flat we viewed. We’ve been to about eight now and dealt with 20 or so estate agents, and my confidence and knowledge feels like it’s grown tenfold because it’s had to.

I’m starting to feel more like my inner Kirsty and Phil is blossoming  more and more every day. That being said though, take in as much help as you possibly can and research EVERYTHING. 

You can also read my ramblings on lifestyle changes that helped while saving a deposit and about the general experience of deciding to buy.

We researched and wrote down loads of questions to ask the estate agents and owners and of course spoke to friends and family, but I feel like I could have used a quick masterclass to tell me what to expect from estate agents, how to maximise time and what to do under pressure. So this is essentially my attempt at making a masterclass in a blog post in the hope it’ll be helpful to other first time buyers with viewings. Buckle up, this is quite a long one.

Booking viewings and open houses

I thought getting booked in would be the easy bit, but we’ve come across all sorts of issues that have meant we haven’t made it to places we like the look of, or there’s been a catch that you don’t expect. We realised early on we needed to be on the property search websites every single day, as early as possible- like 7am early. We’re in the south so the market is very fast and full on. 

It’s also worth looking on the actual estate agents website as well as the big sites like Right Move. Also like their Facebook pages. Sometimes they leave a property up on Facebook for a few hours before it gets a listing on a property site.

When you see something you like, don’t dally. Make the call and ask if they can do a time convenient for you- you may as well ask. If they can’t, just ask for the first possible slot and take it, especially if you’re really keen. We lost out on somewhere I was so excited to see because we booked a viewing a week away, and someone else got in, made an offer and got accepted. Things are fast and competitive- more so than I ever imagined.

We’ve also learnt that if you’re making a day of it, it is worth filling any gaps with any other stuff in the area that you wouldn’t normally consider seeing. I did this on Saturday and out of the whole day, the only place I’m following up on was one we booked to kill some time.

Also, keep a diary- things get hectic. Not all agents will send you any kind of confirmation, so you need to keep track of your bookings. Agents will also offer to book you in to other properties that fit your bill, and if they don’t, ask them to. They might have something else they can show you on the same day and save you some time.

When it comes to an open house, be prepared to see loads of people crammed in. Listen to their questions, watch what they’re doing- you might gain some extra knowledge. 

What do you need to ask estate agents when you’re in the property?

We used the Home Owners Alliance website to get together a list of general questions. Most are fairly obvious and include the condition of the boiler, roof, windows, age of the house, structural issues etc. 

We’re lucky that we have a property contractor in the family who pointed out things we would never imagine asking or even consider. A few extra questions worth adding:

  • Can you see a guarantee for the boiler and all the certificates that come with it?
  • Is there a loft/basement? Is the loft boarded and can you look in it?
  • How recently has the house been painted? (Why so recent if not just to spruce it up?)
  • Do night buses/train lines run near the house and how loud are they if so?
  • Is there a sewage plant near? What direction does the wind carry the smell?
  • How old is the guttering?
  • What’s the drainage like in the surrounding area? 
  • Have neighbours had extensions? (Scopes out if you likely to get permission to build on)
  • Is there a specific month the sellers are aiming to move?

I’ve also felt quite rushed by agents who aren’t keen to spend more than seven or eight minutes (literally, that fast) in a house, but just stand your ground. If you might be handing over tens of thousands in a deposit for a place, you want to know as much about it as possible. If an agent can’t answer your questions, say you want to speak to the owner, or give them a list of stuff to find out. We had a really helpful agent recently who went away and got answers to a whole load of questions we put to her within two hours. 

Also, be brave and just outright ask if there have been offers. I felt too intimidated by the whole thing to do that at first, but if it’s not sealed bids, you can ask and you should get an answer. Also ask how many other people have viewed and if there are other viewings booked and also if you can arrange a second viewing.

Questions you can expect from estate agents

I spent so long fretting over what I should ask agents and owners that it never much occurred to me that they would ask us for stuff too. I’ve found during my extensive questioning of colleagues and family members that these vary hugely. Some agents will ask, some won’t- but we didn’t expect some of the questions we’ve had, which caused unneccsary stress and aggressive emailing.

  • Some agents will ask for your final offer and highest price by a set time. No negotiating, no extra 24 hours to deliberate- if the interest is high so are the stakes.
  • You might be asked to send estate agents your mortgage in principle, your bank statements to prove you have a deposit, and a bank statement with a signature of anyone who’s giving you money towards the sale- I was taken back by this, but when I spoke to a broker I was assured it’s normal and we should expect agents to ask. I’ve been told this more a London thing.
  • When do you want to move by? You might just feel like this is obivous- as soon as possible, duh. BUT- it can apparently be helpful to name a month and find out if the seller can work with you to achieve it. If you got with what they need they’ll be keen to seal the deal, so we’ve been told.
  • You can also expect follow-up calls, Sundays included, to ask if you want to bid on Monday, how much you were thinking and if you want to remain on the ‘interest list.’

Stuff to remember among the madness

I keep reminding myself that this is not anyone else’s money or home, it’s going to be mine and Dan’s, so we need to choose wisely. Pressure might be put on you from all angles- the seller pressures the agent, the agent pressures you, other buyers are chomping at the bit and will outbid you- just keep cool.

I’ve also been told by about a hundred people who I’ve pestered into giving me insight and tips that when you find the home for you, you’ll just know. It sounds cliched but I think it’s right. I’ve been to places these past few weeks which have felt okay, I could probably live in them, I could probably make it a home, but if you aren’t in a giant rush, it’s worth waiting right? Patience is your best friend in the process I think, so I hope I have lots of it to get me through. I’m expecting things to take a long time, so anything that feels quick will be a pleasant surprise.

Oh and don’t forget to enjoy it. Easy for me to say a few weeks in (you can probs tune in for some crying and stress meltdowns before Christmas) but it is exciting. It’s also so far quite exhausting, it takes over, there’s so much to learn and so much to consider, but you’re choosing your first home, so y’know- YAY. WELL DONE YOU.

If this interests you- come back for me banging on about area scouting, bidding and poker faces. 

4 thoughts on “The first time buyer journey- viewing houses: questions, estate agents and staying calm

  1. Pingback: The first time buyer journey- choosing somewhere new to live | Lauren Rellis

  2. Pingback: A guide to being a first time buyer | Lauren Rellis

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