Are you one of those people who rush through an open home, thinking about where you’ll put the sofa and how you can renovate? If so, then you are probably also the one filled with regret before the ink has even dried on the contract. It’s always exciting to see a new property, but it’s crucial to not get so distracted by the possibilities that you forget to ask important questions about what will probably be one of the biggest investments of your life. There are lots of things to look out for at an open home so it’s important to not get distracted from the questions that need to be asked.
Forming a good relationship with agents can be extremely useful at an open home. You can get great inside information about the property and the vendor’s position, but also put yourself in the agent’s mind for other properties they have on their books that may be suitable for you. So, to get yourself ahead of the competition, here are the top 5 questions you should ask agents at open homes.
1. Why are the vendors selling?
There are plenty of reasons why someone might be selling their house, but it’s important for you to understand if their choice is because of the house itself. You may not specifically get this kind of detail from the agent but you can ask some leading questions and read between the lines in many instances. It may be that they are upsizing as their family grows, downsizing due to divorce or separation, or simply relocating for work or personal choice. It may also, however, be due to issues with the neighbours, increasing crime in the area, or worst of all – they are drowning in debt due to constant repairs and maintenance required by the property. Of course, you will only get so much from the agent, but asking such questions such as “what is the reason for the sale?”, “have they been happy here?” and “how long have they lived here for?” may give you some insights. The answers to these questions will not only inform your thinking, they will also give you some leverage when it comes to negotiating a price as you know more about the specifics of the vendor’s position.
2. How long has the property been on the market?
You may already have parts of the answer to this question after asking the previous question. However, getting the exact detail about when they decided to list it, how long it has been on the market for and what kind of interest it has generated are key to your negotiating position. Knowing that there is some urgency to the sale for the vendor can drop thousands off the price in some cases. If you have seen the property numerous times over many months and know that there has been little interest, it also puts you in the vendor and the agent’s mind to be open to discussions with you, knowing that you are committed and genuinely interested.
3. How old is the property and what kind of major renovations have been made?
Although the property may look a million bucks at the open home, this may not be a true reflection of its history. Being dazzled by the fresh flowers, baking bread and gorgeous scatter cushions is a rookie mistake. Ask when the property was built, what the original structure was and if any major renovations have been made. There could be signs of issues with the property such as mould, rising damp, water damage stains on walls and ceilings, or the odour of dampness, so you should try and grasp the potential extent of any lurking issues. They may tell you something has been dealt with, yet you can see evidence that is clearly has not. This kind of questioning helps inform your overall research around the property, the agent and the vendor, which in turn prepares you for the negotiations.
The agent is legally obliged to advise of known issues and material facts, however remember that their job is to present the positives, as their goal is to sell. Your priority is to make sure the house is in an appropriate condition for its price and will not become a sinkhole for your savings in the future.
Most importantly, you should confirm that renovations have been conducted with council approval and to the relevant building code. Any further renovations you might like to make can be seriously affected by shoddy work from the previous owners. The vendor may have arranged building and pest inspections before they listed, but you can also request relevant inspections as your negotiations proceed.
4. What has been the buyer interest so far?
To know your ranking amongst the competition, you should try to understand how many other buyers are also seriously considering the property. Ask questions such as “are there any contracts currently out and if so how many?” or “have any offers already been made on the property?”. Knowing how many buyers are interested helps you to understand the competition you are up against and also how competitively priced the property is, considering the interest. This kind of detail is what gives you the edge when it comes to negotiating.
Depending on the circumstances of the sale, you can also enquire about other negotiation options. If the property is going to auction, discuss if any other buyers have made pre-auction offers and assess if there is an opportunity for you do so also. Just because a property is advertised for auction does not mean that the vendors would not be interested in pre-auction opportunities. Remember, knowledge is power so the more you know the better placed you are to be the successful buyer.
5. What’s the neighbourhood like?
Even if it is an area you are very familiar with, or even in fact currently live in, it’s great to ask this question to see how informed the agent really is. If you don’t know the area, then you can further expand on the agent’s information with your own research. Ask questions that are relevant to your particular life stage but also ones that are not. Just because you don’t have kids doesn’t mean you don’t need to know where the local school is. A school located nearby means you will have altered traffic speeds, children’s crossings and multiple cars parking and creating congestion twice a day for most of the year. Similarly, if you commute by public transport, you need to know where the nearest train, tram and bus stations are; if you don’t, you need to know how the activities of people who do, will impact on your lifestyle.
Another great trick is to say things like “we’re off to lunch now, any suggestions for a good local café?” The agent’s answer will tell you how much they actually know about the area, if they can make solid recommendations and instruct you how to get to them - and if the food is good then you know you are on a winner! You should also ask if the owners have had any issues with their neighbours, what the demographics are of the street i.e. is it mostly families, professionals, unemployed people and so on.
The following advice is of a general nature only and intended as a broad guide. The advice should not be regarded as legal, financial or real estate advice. You should make your own inquiries and obtain independent professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances before making any legal, financial or real estate decisions.