House viewings: What to look for

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Buying a property is simultaneously exciting and daunting. As one of the biggest purchases you’re likely to make, it’s important to get it right - so it’s no wonder that many home buyers find the process stressful.

viewing a house

This is why Admiral is on hand to offer a bit of useful advice and moral support. Here, we’ll give you a rundown of some important things to look for when viewing a house or flat. Although you shouldn’t expect perfection with all properties, it should help you in weighing up whether you’d like to put in an offer.

How to choose the location of your new home

You’ll no doubt have some target areas in mind already. Before committing to a location, ask yourself:

  • What are the local amenities like? Make a list beforehand of what’s important to you. Are there enough shops, pubs or leisure facilities within striking distance? There’s nothing quite like having a convenience store nearby if you realise you’re out of milk for morning coffee at 10 to 11 at night. Also consider local surgeries, and vets if you have furry pals
  • What’s the local school like? This is a big one. According to research by Santander Mortgages in 2017, quarter of UK parents with school-age children moved to a property on the basis of a school’s catchment area
  • Are the transport links good? Are you near a main road? Do you have plenty of public transport options, and are they regular?
  • Is it on a floodplain? This could have an impact on your home insurance. You may also want to make contingency plans for if your home actually floods.

Let’s go outside

terraced homes

If you choose to buy a property, there’ll be some level of professional survey that you’ll be getting for the building. But here are some early-warning signs to look out for before getting to that stage:

  • What shape is the roof in? Unless you’re looking for a proper fixer-upper, make sure the roof looks in a good state of repair. Keep an eye out for missing or cracked tiles. Also bear in mind that any areas of flat roof come with their own unique problems
  • How’s the guttering? Make sure the guttering and drainage is new and sturdy. If it’s raining, you’ll be able to check it’s draining as it should
  • What are the windows and doors like? Do they open easily, and have keys? Are windows double or triple glazed? Not only might doors and windows be costly to replace, but if they’re old or in poor nick, this’ll have consequences for heating the house - and potentially pose a security risk. Want to know more? Check out our guide on the different type of locks for your home
  • What condition is the render in? It’s easy to overlook this one, but if the render’s in poor shape, it could lead to damp problems indoors, and cost thousands to replace. Check for cracks on the outside wall. If you rap the render with your knuckle and it sounds hollow, that’s a red flag.

Also worth considering before you go inside:

  • Does the property have a garden? If so, how much work will it require? Which way does it face? Is there room if ever you want to extend, or put in a shed?
  • Will you be able to park? If there’s no drive or garage, is there plenty of on-street parking? Will you need a resident permit?

Inside jobs

Go from room to room, checking everything meticulously.

  • Is the decor to your liking? Obviously old or just plain garish decor can be brought up to date, but at a cost
  • What kind of state is the floor in? Be wary of spots that are soft or creaky underfoot. Consider ease of maintenance of floor covers, such as carpets or laminates
  • Are there damp patches? Check for areas of mould, condensation and musty smells, including near windows and behind large furniture. Although it can be problematic, it’s worth bearing in mind that - especially in some older properties - sometime a little bit of damp is inescapable, and not always the end of the world
  • Where are the power sockets? Are there enough of them? Are they in easily accessible locations?
  • Where’s the fuse box, and the gas and electricity meters? Are they also accessible? Can you get a smart meter installed?
  • Is there enough storage? Pay particular attention to this if it’s a relatively small house or flat
  • Do you have mobile coverage? In which rooms do you get the strongest reception?
  • Is there broadband and TV in place? If not, can the property get decent broadband - ideally a fibre optic connection?

The shape of the water

The plumbing is very important. Bear in mind that one of the things most commonly claimed for on home insurance is burst pipes.

  • Are the taps and shower up to scratch? Does water flow readily? Does it get hot quickly? Is the shower pressure strong enough?
  • Is the boiler in good condition? Hopefully you’ll have a new boiler, and it’s a reputable make. Boiler repair or replacement is an expensive business, and you certainly don’t want it conking out in the dead of winter. Ask if the boiler has a service history.

Don’t fall flat

block of flats

If you’re looking at buying a flat or apartment, there are a few other considerations to bear in mind. 

  • Is it a leasehold or a freehold? If it’s a freehold, you’ll buy the property and the land it’s built on. With leasehold you’ll buy the property for a fixed amount of time, but not the land (e.g. a flat). If you opt for a leasehold, see how many years remain on the lease. A lease of under 80 years is going to deter mortgage lenders, and will cost a disproportionate amount to extend
  • What is a service charge and does the flat have one? Service charges are paid by leaseholders to their freeholder landlord to cover maintenance and shared costs. This should be worked into your budget. Although it’s an extra expense, it should alleviate certain worries, such as keeping the roof and structure in good condition. If there are only a few flats in the building, and there’s no service fee, this isn’t necessarily a good thing - it could mean that you have to reach an accord with other leaseholders over repairs, which can be a headache. Check if there’s a sinking fund agreement in place
  • What are the communal areas like? Are they kept in good condition? Do you have to share any outside areas?

In all this, it’s really important to take your time, and consider everything carefully. Don’t feel rushed by the estate agent or anyone who’s showing you around, and don’t be afraid to ask questions - no matter how basic (or how difficult) they may seem. If in doubt, take someone you trust to lend a second opinion.

And finally - good luck! You’ve got this.

Flexible home insurance from Admiral