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Nine questions to ask an estate agent before you offer on a home

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Buying a property is often the biggest financial commitment in a person’s life and yet many homebuyers will spend longer test driving a new car or buying a TV.

According to new research, Britons are snapping up homes often after just one viewing and sometimes after spending 30 minutes or less in a property.

Roughly two in five home hunters who purchased a property in the last six months, did so after just one viewing, according to research by virtual property viewings platform, U-See Homes.

With house prices surging, reports of buyers queuing for viewings and bidding wars home hunters will be feeling under pressure

With house prices surging, reports of buyers queuing for viewings and bidding wars home hunters will be feeling under pressure

A further 43 per cent required two viewings before deciding it was the right home for them, with just 12 per cent of homebuyers returning for a third viewing.

Of those surveyed, more than half claim they took 30 minutes or less when viewing a property, with 41 per cent claiming they needed no longer than an hour.

‘We know that homes are going under offer incredibly quickly in current market conditions, and we’re now starting to see a shortage of stock entering the market to satisfy the overwhelming buyer demand spurred by the stamp duty holiday,’ said Simon Dempsey, head of marketing at U-See Homes.

‘Homebuyers themselves are also acting at pace, with the vast majority taking just one or two viewings before making an offer and rarely spending more than an hour or two in the process.’

But home hunters are not necessarily buying the first thing they see, with less than one in five purchasing the first property they viewed.

When it comes to finding the right one, two in five home buyers claim they viewed five or more other properties before they found the one.

‘The majority are viewing a number of properties before they discover their perfect home and while viewing times are brief, they can certainly start to add up when travelling from one house to the next,’ added Dempsey.

How can buyers make every viewing count?

The property market is going through somewhat of a boom, with reports of people queuing for viewings, bidding wars and the biggest sales pipeline ever seen. 

Buyers will therefore be feeling under added pressure to decide quickly – making every minute of a viewing that bit more important.

But despite this, buyers can often be guilty of failing to ask important questions during viewings.

Some refrain from asking certain questions because they don’t want to show their hand and scupper future negotiations, whilst others are so excited that they forget to ask anything at all.

There is no such things as a stupid question: Asking the estate agent questions can help you understand more about the seller's mindset and whether they might be flexible on price

There is no such things as a stupid question: Asking the estate agent questions can help you understand more about the seller’s mindset and whether they might be flexible on price

But asking the right questions on a viewing can be crucial in helping to determine the seller’s motivation, whether you face competition for the property, and whether there might be wiggle room in the price.

Most viewings take place in the company of an estate agent, who it must be remembered works on behalf of the seller. It’s their job to encourage you to make an offer on their client’s property.

‘Ask direct questions that are difficult to duck, and confirm anything you are told in an email so there is a record of what you believe you were told,’ says Henry Pryor, a professional buying agent. 

‘Never be afraid to ask anything that matters to you – you’ll be amazed what answers you will get.’

What questions should you ask?

1) When did it come to market?

Property portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla often reveal this, but if the property has been re-listed it may be difficult to tell.

‘You should want to find out how long it has sat around not selling,’ says Pryor.

‘Some websites include a listing date, but agents are cunning and sometimes juggle this by taking the property off the market and putting it back on.

‘You want to know if it’s in the first flush of youth or an old dog that has been passed over with a seller who is looking to take a dive on the price to move on.’

2) Why are they selling?

Buyers should try to establish what has brought about the sale, according to Jonathan Hopper, chief executive of the buying agency Garrington Property Finders.

‘Is it being sold because of a divorce and are the people desperate to move on?

‘Is the vendor selling up because they have accepted another job elsewhere? Are they in a hurry to get kids into a new school for the new term?

‘Information like this can give the buyer quite a degree of power as it might help indicate how flexible the seller might be on price and importantly, how committed they are to the selling process.’

3) Has the seller found somewhere to go?

If a seller has not found a property to move to, a buyer may not want to sit around waiting for them.

This might become an issue, if the buyer is under time pressure on their own property sale, or if they are moving home for work purposes.

‘Find out what the seller is looking for and what the chances are of them finding something,’ says Pryor.

‘If you offer them a delayed completion, would they then be prepared to exchange contracts?

‘At least, that way, you know you have the property.’

4) Has there been a previous survey?

Being able to look at a prior survey could save you both time and money. 

The price of a building survey typically ranges from £500 to £2000 depending on the size of the home, according to the Homeowners Alliance.

Henry Pryor’s six ‘easy to forget’ questions to ask during a viewing:

1. Has anyone had a survey of the property?

2. Is there anything that a building survey will throw up that you want to tell me about before I commission one?

3. What would you client sell with the property? White goods, carpets, curtains, Labrador?

4. Can you show me the internet speed now using an app like SpeedTest?

5. Have there been any issues with noise or neighbours?

6. Has the property ever flooded? 

‘Press the estate agent over whether there have been any previous surveys of the property,’ says Hopper.

‘Consumer protection regulations mean the agent and the seller are legally obliged to provide you with information which could have a material impact on your purchase.

‘This also serves to avoid mid-transaction surprises later on, when you get your own survey done and have spent significant sums of money.’

5) Have you had any offers?

Other viewings taking place at the property is one sign of interest, but offers are the real test when it comes to revealing competition.

A buyer’s greatest fear is often whether an estate agent might be fibbing about other offers. 

Further questioning can help a buyer determine whether such offers are to be believed or taken seriously.

‘Their answer will tell you if anyone else fancies it,’ says Pryor. ‘If no one has offered, then why not? And if there have been offers, why weren’t they accepted?

‘Agents will often say Oh we had an asking price offer, but it wasn’t accepted” and when you probe, it turns out it was because the buyer has a house to sell or needed a winning lottery ticket!’

6) Is the asking price yours or the seller’s?

‘Find out who set the price,’ says Pryor. ‘Was it the agent; keen to get instructed, or the seller, high on news of rampant house prices?’

‘If it was the seller then maybe the agent will be helpful and admit what they advised.’

7) Will the seller take the property off the market if I make a good offer?

Here you are testing whether the seller is willing to take the property off the market for the right offer, or whether they are hell-bent on having multiple viewings before accepting anything.

‘If they are prepared to take it off the market then it pays to put your best foot forward,’ says Hopper.

‘If on the other hand, they have a desire to do dozens of viewings, then it pays to keep your powder dry.

‘You don’t want to end up being used as a stalking horse to whip up competition.’

8) What would they accept to take it off the market today?

Sometimes, it’s best to put the ball back in the seller’s court and see how they respond.

‘If there is competition for the property, the sellers may not be willing to accept any offer on a given day – all you’ll be doing is setting a bar for other buyers to jump over,’ says Pryor.

‘But if they will do a deal – perhaps so they can make an offer on a property they wish to buy – then find out what that number is they require.’

9) Are there factors apart from price that are important to the seller?

There is a tendency to think that everything rests on price, but this isn’t necessarily always the case, according to Hopper.

‘Don’t ask the estate agent “What do I need to bid to be in with a shout?”‘ says Hopper.

‘Try asking “What is your seller looking for from a buyer and what aspects of an offer will be most important to them?”‘

‘It’s definitely not just about money, it’s about the dependability of the buyer and, right now, flexibility on move dates also ranks highly.

‘Sellers are nervous about getting pushed out of their home into rented accommodation by a demanding buyer and many of them need time to find somewhere suitable to move on to.

‘I have seen countless situations where the highest bid hasn’t carried the day.’

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Buy-to-let landlords didn’t take advantage of the stamp duty holiday to buy more

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Britain’s landlords did not embrace the stamp duty holiday with the same fervour as owner occupiers, new research suggests. 

Buy-to-let investors completed tens of thousands fewer transactions than they did during a similar 15-month period in 2016, despite rents heading higher in much of Britain during the pandemic. 

The share of properties bought by landlords in the run-up to the tax holiday, which started in July 2020, was 11 per cent – and only rose to 12 per cent during it, according to estate agent Hamptons International.

The stamp duty holiday failed to leabeing in to take advantage of rising rents

The stamp duty holiday failed to lead to a buy-to-let boom, despite landlords being eligible for the tax saving of up to £15,000 and having the chance to take advantage of rising rents

This was despite rents rising at their fastest pace for more than a decade in the year to July. 

There were a total of 215,000 investor purchases across Britain between July 2020 and September 2021. 

This was below the 242,400 purchases which were made during the 15-month run up to the introduction of the 3 per cent stamp duty surcharge for landlords on 1 April 2016.

During the stamp duty holiday, the average landlord who did buy a property saved £3,000, the equivalent of around three months’ rent and a 35 per cent reduction on their £8,500 average tax bill before July 2020.

What was the stamp duty holiday?  

The stamp duty holiday was introduced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in July 2020, in a bid to jump-start the housing market after the first national lockdown. 

It lasted for 15 months in total. From July 2020 to July 2021, both owner-occupiers and investors could save up to £15,000, as they did not need to pay stamp duty on the portion of any property purchase under £500,000.

From July to September 2021, the limit was reduced to £250,000, offering them a maximum saving of £2,500. The rates returned to pre-pandemic levels on 1 October.  

Average bills are set to return to around £8,400 from 1 October 2021, just below what investors were paying on the eve of the stamp duty holiday. 

The figures suggest landlords were not willing to outbid home buyers as house prices continued to rocket. 

This may have been a result of increasing taxes and regulations on landlords over the past few years, which started with the introduction of the 3 per cent surcharge in 2016. 

At the time, many landlords bought up properties beforehand to get in under the wire.  

As well as the standard stamp duty bill, buy-to-let investors and anyone buying a second home must pay a 3 per cent surcharge on top of the standard rates for owner-occupiers.

In the run-up to that policy being introduced, the proportion of home sales made up by landlords in Britain was much higher at 17 per cent, according to Hamptons.

The deeply unpopular surcharge is often cited by landlords as a reason for not expanding their portfolio, or even quitting the market altogether.

Landlords bought up more homes ahead of the introduction of new taxes on buy-to-let in 2016, than they did during the stamp duty holiday over the past 15 months

Landlords bought up more homes ahead of the introduction of new taxes on buy-to-let in 2016, than they did during the stamp duty holiday over the past 15 months

Overall, the stamp duty holiday meant that the average investor paid less in stamp duty than at any time since April 2016, when the 3 per cent stamp duty surcharge was introduced.

Despite this, the average bill during the holiday remained twice the level it was before the surcharge was introduced. 

What about those landlords who did buy?

There is little indication that landlords who did buy properties during the stamp duty holiday took advantage of the saving to buy bigger properties in more expensive areas.

Instead, 83 per cent of investor purchases were under £250,000, meaning their savings from the holiday were significantly smaller than those enjoyed by home movers.

During the holiday the average price paid by a landlord rose by just 1 per cent to £181,000, despite wider house price growth of 10 per cent over the same period. 

Landlords who did buy homes during the stamp duty holiday paid just 1% more for them, despite house prices as a whole rising by as much as 10% according to some estimates

Landlords who did buy homes during the stamp duty holiday paid just 1% more for them, despite house prices as a whole rising by as much as 10% according to some estimates

According to the September House Price Index from Nationwide, £22,613 has been added to the cost of the average home in just a year, with the average price of a home increasing 10 per cent to £248,742.

Commenting Aneisha Beveridge, head of research at Hamptons, said: ‘The overall impact of the stamp duty holiday on investor activity has been relatively muted.

‘The holiday resulted in a small uplift in the number of new buy-to-let investors, but despite their reduced bills, they were not outbidding owner-occupiers on any significant scale.’

What is happening to rents? 

Average rental growth across Britain hit 8 per cent in September, the third fastest annual rate of growth recorded this year, according to Hamptons.  

Regions in the South of England, but outside of London, led the way.  

The South West saw the highest rent increases in the past year, reaching £1,011

The South West saw the highest rent increases in the past year, reaching £1,011

The average rent on a new home rose 14.8 per cent to £1,011 in the South West, 14.7 per cent to £1,252 in the South East and 10.8 per cent to £1,106 in the East of England.

September marked the sixth consecutive month where annual rental growth hit double figures in the South West. 

The region has benefited from people relocating away from cities during the pandemic, as well as an increased appetite for longer-term holiday lets. 

London rents have also continued to recover. 

Although Inner London was the only region in the UK to see a decline in rents year-on-year, the 4.4 per cent or £100 year-on-year fall was far smaller than the 22.1 per cent decrease recorded in April when the market bottomed out.

In Outer London, rents grew 3.2 per cent annually in September, rising for the thirteenth consecutive month. This kept Greater London rents overall in positive territory, up 1.8 per cent year-on-year.

Beveridge added: ‘While rental growth rates typically peak over the summer months, this year they have continued to rise into the autumn. 

‘This means average monthly rents have passed £1,100 for the first time nationally, led by big increases on larger homes. 

‘The average four-bed home now costs 120 per cent more than a one-bed, up from 95 per cent pre-pandemic. 

‘While we are expecting this growth to moderate in the final few months of the year, it is likely 2021 will mark some of the fastest rates of rental growth in a generation.’

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

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Johann van Graan non-committal on prospect of Conor Murray return

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Johann van Graan was somewhat less than adamant that Conor Murray will make his seasonal re-appearance in their United Rugby Championship (URC) fifth round match away to the Ospreys next Saturday night, which is just two weeks out from the first of Ireland’s November test series, with the All Blacks to follow a week later.

“He might possibly be involved next week,” said the Munster head coach after their latest act of escapology to beat Connacht 20-18 at Thomond Park on Saturday night.

Might possibly?

“We’ll see how the week goes. We’ve taken our time with his recovery, so if he comes through the week then we’ll make a call at the back end of the week whether we’re going to select him or not.”

Van Graan assured us that Murray is not injured.

“No, he’s good. He had non-23 training on Friday so really looking forward to getting him involved.”

Van Graan wore the smile of a relieved man after Connacht had pushed them to the wire with a clever, fired-up all-round display in a spicy derby, during which the lead changed hands five times.

“I think if you look at the table, it’s three Irish teams at the top. Connacht are always such a big team in the interpros and you’ve got to give credit to them. Last season they beat all three of the Irish teams away.

“That’s why the players and the coaches and the supporters, and everybody involved loves an interpro, because that’s what you get. It’s not a classic but for the purist it’s a battle.

“That’s what the game is about and that’s why Irish rugby is in such a good place because they have got four top teams and some very good players across the four teams. That was a grind from our side, and proud of the way we finished that with that try and the conversion,” he said in reference to Diarmuid Barron’s 78th minute try and Joey Carbery’s nerveless conversion.

His counterpart, Andy Friend, was left with immense pride in his team’s performance mixed with acute frustration at their infuriating inconsistency and key mistakes, not least at restart receptions, but also the key decisions that went against his team.

Most notable of these was the failure by TMO Brian MacNeice and referee Chris Busby to spot that Tadhg Beirne was clearly in front of the ball before hacking on Rory Scannell’s crosskick in the build-up to Chris Cloete’s 39th minute try.

“I’ve got to be careful here,” he said when asked if he felt Connacht don’t receive a fair rub of the green from officials. “I’ve been here three and a bit years, mate, and if it’s a 50-50 I rarely see it going our way.

“I know that, but listen we’ve got to keep pushing our limits and making sure that we’re trying to be as squeaky clean as we can with things. I’m just…. to me, that try and the missed offside there – that’s inexcusable. Whether it’s Connacht or somebody else, I don’t know, it’s just inexcusable.”

To compound his frustrations, nor does the URC have channels to go through.

“We don’t have a referees’ manager, so I’m assuming that URC will be looking at that and hopefully something happens to the TMO that missed it. But it doesn’t help us, mate.”

Putting his own team’s errors into perspective, Friend highlighted their lineout pressure, strike plays, kicking and defence.

“On the whole the majority was really good, there’ll always be elements we need to work on. Otherwise we’d be out of a job.”

With next Saturday’s home game against Ulster at the Aviva in mind, Friend said: “What we will use is that we know we’re a good football side.

“We’ve just pushed a good Munster team who haven’t looked like losing a game this year and have played some really good rugby.

“We’ve turned up at their home field, where we beat them last season, knowing full well there was going to be a kick-back and we pushed them all the way to their limits.

“So, we know we’re a good football side. Our blip last week (against the Dragons) was a blip. We just have to make sure we never drop to that again and we keep our standards high.”

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Irish man (24) who drowned in swimming pool in Marbella is named

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A 24-year-old man who drowned in a swimming pool near Marbella in Spain has been named locally in Co Clare as Irish Defence Forces member Gerard McMahon.

Authorities responded to a distress call at 10.25am on Friday. The alarm was raised by friends who found Mr McMahon lifeless in the pool.

Spanish authorities are treating the death of the holiday maker as a “tragic accident”.

Mr McMahon lived in the Killaloe area of Co Clare. Local priest Fr Jerry O’Brien confirmed he had met the family of the young man and expressed his sympathy on behalf of the community.

Ogonnelloe GAA posted a tribute to Mr McMahon who was well known and liked in the community.

“It is with profound shock and sadness that we learned today of the sudden passing of our young member and friend, Gerard McMahon. Our thoughts and prayers are with his parents, Pat and Carmel, his sister Bríd, and all the McMahon family at this extremely difficult time.”

The club Facebook page posted a picture of Mr McMahon from 2016 when he and his team mates won the Division 3 League.

Scarriff Hurling also paid tribute to Mr McMahon who played for them at juvenile level. “Always with pride, great skill and giving all to the team and club.”

Meanwhile, local Fine Gael councillor Joe Cooney said the family of the young man were in the thoughts and prayers of the community.

Mr McMahon was a Private in the First Infantry Battalion in Renmore Barracks in Galway. St Patrick’s Garrison Church posted a message on Facebook asking for prayers for Mr McMahon and for his “family and comrades”.

A postmortem was expected to take place over the weekend at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Malaga.

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