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Professional Negligence

Key questions to ask before buying a house

With so much uncertainty in the property market at the moment, many across the country will be questioning whether now is a good time to purchase property or not, especially if you’re a first-time buyer.

Questions to Ask Before Buying a House

One of the only measures that survived the previous ‘mini-budget’, stamp duty cuts aimed at incentivising homebuyers have now been confirmed to stay in place until 2025 in the most recent Government budget announcement.

But how can prospective buyers make sure they take all necessary steps to secure the home of their dreams?

With the help of our solicitors and external experts, we put together a guide on the key questions homebuyers should ask each professional they come into contact with during the process, to secure the best possible outcome for the property transaction.

1. Why do property sales fall through?

According to a recent Government report, around a third of all housing transactions in the country fall through, and end up costing people hundreds of millions of pounds each year.

There are multiple reasons why a property transaction can fall through. Sometimes the buyer simply changes their mind on the property, or the housing chain breaks, but often this can be down to other areas of the process such as conveyancing or the initial survey.

Problems in these areas are mainly down to the conveyancing solicitor or surveyor not reporting on key issues, that then come up just before finalising the process, stopping the sale in its tracks. Or, what’s worse, you could even find out the home you have chosen has major issues after you’ve already secured it.

Initiating the home buying process can be costly, and you certainly don’t want to spend time and money on each stage to then realise the property is not for you, or find out that the home you have chosen and are paying for has major issues.

However, there are ways you can make sure the property you’re going for is the best possible one for you, or at least avoid wasting your time on one that has ‘hidden issues.’

Here are the key things to ask about and be aware of before buying.

2. Questions to ask the Estate Agent or homeowner

Of course, anyone in the market for a home will also have countless questions when they arrive to view – hopefully – their dream property, and this is before the homebuying process is even initiated.

We asked Gus Harding, property expert and founder of Harding Mortgages, to outline a few other key questions that buyers might miss:

How long has the property been on the market for?
It’s key to research this aspect before you decide to make an offer. Look out for properties that have been on the market for a while – they may be overpriced.

What are the neighbours like and have there been any recent changes to the local area that could affect the value of the property?
Always make sure you are aware of the property’s surroundings and look for signs of change in the local area. New developments or infrastructure projects could either increase or decrease the value of your property.

What is the council tax band?
It’s key that you don’t overlook this aspect before making an offer. You don’t want any nasty surprises when the first bill arrives!

What are the EPC ratings for the property?

Ask for copies of the current EPC ratings – you want to know how energy-efficient the property is.

What is included in the sale?
Finally, make sure to know what is included in the final sale. Things like furniture and fittings can be costly to replace!

3. Questions to ask your conveyancing solicitor

In any property transaction, conveyancing is a crucial part of the process. This covers the legal transfer of property ownership for both buyers and sellers, resulting in the exchange of contracts and final completion.

It’s key for conveyancing solicitors to inform you of the process and outline any legal implications as a result of their searches, and failure to do so can result in a dispute further down the line.

According to the most recent data from the Legal Ombudsman, 30% of complaints received in 20/21 were related to residential conveyancing, up from 28% in 19/20. From the cases that had an ombudsman decision made, 65% showed evidence of poor service.

20% of upheld complaints were related to poor communication, and another 20% were due to a failure to advise, while a further 17% of upheld complaints related to delays or failure to progress.

While the same conveyancing rules apply to both first time buyers and those who are moving again, the process can be overwhelming, and first-time buyers in particular may not know what to expect from their conveyancer and may not know the right questions to ask.

Here are the key questions to ask your conveyancing solicitor according to Rob Godfrey, Head of Professional Negligence at Been Let Down:

Aside from me, who will have right of way for the communal areas?

You should always ask your conveyancer who has the right of way for communal areas around the property you’re looking to buy. This could be anything from a communal path or access running through the garden of a property, or a shared driveway.

For example, you may be moving next to a building used for business purposes, so business waste and rubbish may impose on your home. In any case, right of way should be highlighted in your legal documents, and as a buyer, you will need to consider the impact this will have on you and your home.

If it might make your life difficult further down the line, it may be reason for you to renegotiate the sale or back out altogether. Revising right of way once you buy the property can be a difficult and long process.

Is this a freehold or a leasehold, and what are the terms and conditions?

When buying a leasehold property, you are buying the right to live on the land for a specified amount of time, so you only own the building (i.e. The property you’re buying), but not the land itself (this would be freehold).

When you’re buying a leasehold property, you should always look out for these clauses:

Ground rent – Ground rent is the amount that you have to pay to the land owner if you don’t own the land your property is on. Always check the terms of the ground rent and whether that will increase, or how often it is expected to increase. It’s not uncommon for clauses to state that ground rent will increase after a few years, which can be an additional expense that you may not have accounted for.

How long of the term is left – always check how much of the term is left because some lenders have stipulations around this, and therefore it could impact your mortgage agreement. It also means that when you come to sell in the future, there may be fewer lenders willing to offer a mortgage on the property and in the worst-case scenario, you may be limited to cash buyers.

Which building or planning permissions will I need, if I want to get any work done on this property?

Building or planning permission issues can be problematic for those that want to develop or build upon their home in the future.

The best way to avoid any miscommunication here is to let your conveyancer know from the get-go what your intentions are, so they can work with that in mind.

They have a duty to carry out searches accurately regardless, but by communicating any plans you have, you’ll reduce the chance of something going wrong later down the line, which could disrupt the sale or leave you with a property that is not what you originally signed up for.

Your conveyancer should also look into building work that has already been completed, like an extension or loft conversion for example, to make sure they are compliant.

If you move into a home without being made aware of non-compliant building regulations, your property could be devalued, and you may find it difficult to sell it on in the future.

Does my property have a septic tank, and if so, is it compliant?
Often found in rural areas, you will also need to check if the property you’re looking to buy has a septic tank. The conveyancer should bring this to your attention anyway, but it’s always best to ask if you’re not sure.

As of January 2015, new regulations came into force that banned the way septic tanks discharged waste and new compliance rules were introduced.

It’s really important to check this if you’re moving into a property with a septic tank, as if it’s not compliant you must upgrade or replace it. This can cost anything between £10,000 and £50,000 depending on the location of the septic tank, and the work involved.

If a septic tank is not upgraded and found not in compliance with the new regulations, you could face a fine up to £100,000 from the Environment Agency.

4. Questions to ask your surveyor

Although it is not a legal requirement to get a survey done when buying a property, it is always advised to undertake one.

A property survey can identify any issues or causes for concern on the home you’re looking to buy, which can sometimes prove to be costly to fix later down the line. Your conveyancer should advise that you get a survey carried out, as this can also impact your mortgage offer and your decision to finalise the sale. They may also act as a ‘middleman’ between you and who conducts the survey.

For the most basic home buyers’ reports, the surveyor will conduct a visual inspection, and will report back on their findings and recommendations.

At this point, if any potential issues arise, you will be able to negotiate the conditions of the sale to accommodate the estimated costs of the work involved. If anything is missed, it could result in you paying more than the property is worth, plus the additional cost to fix any issues.

And often things do go wrong in this area, as demonstrated by the latest available data from the Property Ombudsman showing that between 2020 and 2021, 256 complaints filed with them were against property surveyors and professionals.

To avoid any issues, here are the key questions to ask your surveyor according to our Professional Negligence team:

Has the roof of the property been checked and confirmed safe?
A standard check for a surveyor is confirming that the roof of the property is safe and in a reasonable condition. Weather conditions can affect this – so it’s best to double check with the surveyor that this has been accounted for. For example, if a visual inspection is carried out on a dry day, pools of water or leaks may go unnoticed.

Are there any signs of damp throughout the property?
Surveyors may miss signs of damp or mould if somebody is currently living in the property you’re looking to buy. If at the time of inspection, the property holds personal belongings such as furniture, these will not typically be moved, and this leads to the risk of issues being disguised.

Has the floor been checked and confirmed as level throughout the property? An uneven floor level can be an indicator of subsidence or uneven groundworks, so always make sure you ask about this.

Have staircases been checked against regulations?
Your surveyor should be checking whether the staircases in a property meet regulations and the required rise for safety and usability. Always make sure to ask about this.

Is there any possibility of asbestos throughout the property?
Asbestos is not only costly to remove professionally but can be a serious health hazard.

If the property has wooden features or beams, have these been checked?
Rotting structural beams can become unsafe if not treated. If there are any wood features in the property you should confirm with your surveyor that these are free from wood rot.

How thick are the internal walls?
This is a key question to ask if you may want to make structural alterations to the property. You should always confirm your surveyor has checked the thickness of the walls, especially where the construction is not a typical masonry build.

If you’re buying a rural property, for example, internal walls can be much thinner, meaning you may not be able to make any structural changes further down the line.

Are there any potential signs of subsidence?
This can be particularly prevalent where there is a new extension or section of the build that is clearly not part of the original property. If part of the building is subsiding, it can pull the rest of the building with it, impacting a larger part of the property with the potential to cause serious damage, so you should always ask about this.

5. Conclusion

Whether you’re a first-time buyer or looking to purchase another home, it’s always best to ensure you know what to ask each professional you come into contact with before you make an offer.

We are here to help with your conveyancing negligence case

If you want to know more about claiming against your conveyancing solicitor or licensed conveyancer and believe you may have a legitimate claim, please get in touch with us on 0800 234 3234, by requesting a callback, or by filling out the online claims form. One of our expert legal negligence lawyers will be happy to help you.


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