9 crucial questions to ask your estate agent when viewing a home

The best way to make an informed decision at the house-hunting stage is to ask the right questions.Picture: Kindel Media/Pexels

The best way to make an informed decision at the house-hunting stage is to ask the right questions.Picture: Kindel Media/Pexels

Published Dec 6, 2023


Buying a home is an exciting time but you should not let your emotions get in the way of keeping a level head.

After all, this purchase will not only be the home in which you and your family will spend the foreseeable future, but is probably the biggest investment you will ever make.

The best way to make an informed decision at the house-hunting stage, says Arnold Maritz, co-principal of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International realty in Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs, is to ask the right questions when viewing a potential property.

“It’s not uncommon for emotions to run high when looking for the perfect property to call home, so it's vital to approach the process with a clear and level-headed mindset and to balance enthusiasm with a pragmatic approach.

“Decisions based largely on emotion often lead to regret and financial strain down the line, so asking pertinent questions during a home viewing is not just a formality; it's a strategic approach to home buying.”

The information you gather empowers you to make decisions aligned not only with your preferences, but also your budget and long-term goals. Therefore, he advises that you ask your estate agent the following nine questions:

1. What is the property's history?

Ask about previous owners, renovations, and any significant events that might have occurred. This insight will provide a better understanding of the property's condition and potential future maintenance needs.

2. How long has the property been on the market?

The length of time a property has been for sale can reveal a lot about its desirability and potential issues. If a property has been on the market for an extended period, it's worth investigating why. It could be due to pricing, condition, or other factors that might affect your decision.

3. What comparable properties have sold recently in the area?

Knowing the prices of recently sold properties in the same neighbourhood helps you gauge the property's market value and active price bands in the area. This comparative analysis ensures that you're making a competitive and informed offer based on the current market conditions.

4. Are there any planned developments in the area?

Knowing about any future developments in the vicinity is vital so ask about upcoming projects, infrastructure changes, or zoning plans that might impact the property's value and your living experience.

5. What is the neighbourhood like?

Understanding the neighbourhood is as important as knowing about the property itself. Ask about the local amenities, schools, safety, and community atmosphere. A home is not just a physical space, it is also a lifestyle based on the surrounding area.

6. How does the property’s price compare to similar listings?

Comparative pricing is crucial. Your estate agent should be able to provide insight into how the property's price compares to similar listings in the area. This information helps you determine whether the asking price is reasonable or if there's room for negotiation.

7. What is included in the sale?

Don't assume that everything you see during the viewing will come with the property. Ask the estate agent for a detailed list of what is included in the sale so that you have a clear understanding of what you'll be getting when you purchase the property and avoid surprises later on. This could range from appliances to custom fixtures.

8. Why is the owner selling?

Understanding the seller's motivation can be valuable information. For example, if the owner is relocating for work or downsizing, it may indicate a quicker and more straightforward transaction. Conversely, a rushed or distress sale might raise red flags.

9. What, and how much, are the property’s running costs?

Beyond the purchase price, enquire about ongoing costs such as property taxes, utility expenses, and any home-owners association fees. Understanding the full financial picture helps you make a well-informed decision.

Maritz says a thorough understanding of the property and its surroundings ensures that your dream home is not just a fantasy but a well-informed and practical investment for your future.

“And arming yourself with the right questions is crucial for making an informed decision and making your home buying journey a rewarding and memorable experience.”

Buying or selling a home without an estate agent

Being able to gather this important information is one of the main benefits of employing the services of an estate agent as opposed to buying or selling a home on your own. In fact, Paul Stevens, chief executive of Just Property, says the first concern that springs to mind when he is asked whether it's better to DIY the business of property is security.

“Property is usually the most significant investment South Africans make in their lifetimes – sellers need to know that they will realise the full value of their property, buyers have to be assured that they're paying a market-related price, and landlords need to know that their tenants have been vetted and are looking after the property properly.

“Secondly, viewing homes without an agent, whether as a buyer or prospective tenant, can be risky. Apart from physical safety, there are numerous property scams. An experienced property professional will take steps to mitigate these risks.”

They also use technology such as video conferencing and virtual tours, have clear safety protocols in place for managing viewing days, and are able to verify the identity of all sellers, buyers, landlords and tenants.

Property professionals will also:

  • Check for any defects or liens on properties
  • Conduct entry and exit inspections
  • Ensure that all contracts are legally binding
  • Provide guidance on how to avoid common property scams

In addition, they have access to networks of other professionals, such as lawyers and conveyancers, who can help to protect their clients from fraud.

If, however, you do choose to go the DIY route, Stevens offers the following tips:

– Do your research: Learn as much as you can about the property process. This includes understanding pricing trends, legal requirements, and how to avoid fraud and scams.

– Get professional advice: Consider hiring a lawyer or conveyancer to help you with the legal aspects of the transaction.

– Be prepared to negotiate: You will need to be prepared to negotiate the price of the property and the terms of the contract.

– Be patient: It may take some time to find the right property or tenant or to sell your property for the best possible price.

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