By Emma Magnus
Buying a property? These questions will help you assess the price and decide whether there may be wiggle room for negotiation
For most of us, buying a property is the most significant investment we’ll ever make. But how can we know whether we’re getting a fair price, or judge whether a negotiation will be fruitful? Asking the right questions is key.
“Information is critical to be able assess price, ability to negotiate, timescales and whether there are any potential hidden reasons why you may not want —or be able — to buy that property,” says Camilla Dell, founder of buying agency Black Brick. “It’s a very British thing to not ask and be polite, but buying a property is one of the most expensive things a person buys in their lifetime.”
From sussing out the seller to probing the price, here are eight questions you shouldn’t be afraid to ask an estate agent, according to leading buying agents.
Why is the seller selling?
“Understanding why the seller wants to sell is critical when working out how to position offers and, importantly, how amenable the seller may be to negotiating,” says Dell. “A seller that’s getting divorced, probate or receivership sales indicate a higher probability of being able to negotiate successfully. A seller with no mortgage and no real reason to sell other than ‘if they get their price’ suggests far less chance of negotiating anything.”
What is the seller’s timescale?
“This is often overlooked at the offer stage, and many deals fall apart because this isn’t discussed at the outset,” says Ashley Wilsdon, Head of London Buying at Middleton Advisors.
Understanding the seller’s timescale may also help negotiations, adds Dell. Find out whether they have somewhere to move to if your offer is accepted. It might be possible to negotiate a price reduction in return for a delayed completion, for example.
Is the property deliverable?
“This basically means: is the seller actually going to sell?” says Dell. “It’s a good question to ask, particularly for an off-market property where the seller may just be playing at selling rather than being serious about a sale.”
Is the seller ready to sell?
Specifically, Dell recommends asking whether the seller has appointed a law firm on the sale, and whether a legal pack is ready to be sent out. Do they have finance, or a mortgage on their property? This is available to access publicly on the Land Registry.
It’s also worth finding out who the decision maker is, Dell advises. Is it down to one seller, or is the sale a family decision, involving multiple people?
Are you the main agent?
“It is important to know if your agent is directly instructed by the seller. Very often people are unknowingly viewing via a sub-agent,” says Roarie Scarisbrick, partner at buying agent Property Vision. Not having direct contact with the seller may disadvantage buyers — plus, in competitive bidding, the main agent will favour their own buyer over the sub-agents, who will want a share of their fee.
What offers have been received previously – and what happened?
Dell and Wilsdon both recommend asking about previous offers. Crucially, find out what happened. If a past offer was accepted, why did the buyer withdraw from the purchase? Or, if a sale fell through — why?
On that note, also ask how long the vendor has been trying to sell for, adds Dell.
Can you tell me more about your current offers?
“If you are being hustled by an agent who has an offer, then you really need to push them on the terms of the bid,” advises Scarisbrick. “What are the conditions? Are they cash buyers or subject to finance? What timings are they proposing? Do they have a related sale? Are they represented by a buying agent? People tend to focus on the headline figure, but the terms and the quality of the bidder are more important.”
Is this your price or the vendor’s?
“If the price doesn’t seem right, then it is worth finding out how they got there,” says Scarisbrick. “Very often vendors get greedy and disregard their agent’s advice on price. If this is the case, then there is a problem, and it may take time in the market for the penny to drop. Sometimes waiting is the best strategy.”
If it’s the agent’s price, on the other hand, Wilsdon suggests asking for evidence of comparable properties that have sold at a similar value to justify the guide price. “If they can’t, then you know it’s too much.”