9 Investigative Questions to Ask a Home Seller
A home is typically the largest single investment you’ll ever make, and you’ll likely spend a lot of time and energy searching for the perfect place. By the time you’re ready to buy, you’ll already know a lot about the house. However, it’s a good idea to do a little more detective work and get answers to a few investigative questions. It will give you additional peace of mind in your purchase.
A conversation with the seller and a review of the URA Private Residential Property Transactions or public HDB records can fill in detail blanks that will help you make a better decision. Here are the ten investigative questions to ask a home seller.
- Questions to ask a home seller include: Why are they selling? And how long has the home been on the market?
- What did they pay for the home? And what’s included in the sale?
- Any nuisances or hazards (traffic congestion, noise, crime, or problem neighbours, natural hazards, or lead-based paint)?
- What’s the age and condition of parts of the house (i.e. roof)? And any major repairs or renovations and if so, when and by who?
- What did they love about the home, neighbourhood, and community?
There are many reasons why people move, including job relocation, desire to get into a smaller/larger house, life events (marriage, the birth of a child, death of a spouse, or other reason), and retirement. While you may not always get a truthful answer, asking why the seller is moving can be helpful in determining how much room there is for negotiating.
Depending on the reason for moving, the seller may be willing to accept a lower offer if it means they can be out of the home faster. Of course, if the seller is in no hurry to sell, there may be little room for negotiation.
One of the primary reasons a house ends up staying on the market a long time is that it was priced too high to begin with. This mispricing is often a function of a poor strategy.
The longer a house stays on the market, the harder it becomes to sell since the listing becomes “stale,” and buyers think there must be something inherently wrong with the property (otherwise it would have sold by now, right?). If the home has been on the market for a long time, the seller may be motivated and more willing to negotiate.
Knowing how much the seller paid is helpful for a couple of reasons. First, it tells you if values in the local market have gone up or down since the seller purchased the home. Second, it may help you determine how open the sellers may be to negotiation, and here’s why: If the sellers bought the home at rock bottom, they may be more willing to move down on price since they will still make a reasonable profit. If your sellers purchased the home for close to or more than the asking price, however, they probably won’t be willing to move much—if at all—on price.
Anything that is permanently attached to the home (for example, faucets, cabinets, and window blinds) is considered a fixture and is generally included in a home sale. Sometimes, legal definitions determine what is—and what is not—included in the sale, but sometimes an item can fall into a grey area.
When in doubt, and to avoid disappointment, ask what’s included in the sale and get it in writing. Pay close attention to items such as lighting fixtures, appliances, window curtains, wall-mounted air conditioners, and anything else you would be upset to find missing if you moved into the home.
In many real estate markets, a light fixture is considered a part of the property, and if the seller is taking it—because it’s an expensive chandelier, for example—he must replace it with at least a basic light fixture.
Neighbourhoods can be affected by any number of nuisances including speeding on community streets, traffic congestion, noise (from traffic, neighbours, barking dogs, and/or nearby businesses), crime, bothersome odours (including cigarette smoke), litter, poor maintenance, bright lights, and problem neighbours who cause disturbances. While you may not get a particularly detailed answer, it’s a good idea to at least try to find out about any problems before going through with a purchase. In addition to asking the seller about nuisances, you can visit the local police department to research crime statistics for the neighbourhood.
Home sellers generally must tell you about any current problems with the property—but they don’t have to tell you about any past problems that have been corrected. If it’s already fixed, why is it important to know? Because it might lead to another problem in the future.
A leaky ceiling might have been repaired, for example—but what was done about the water that ended up in the ceiling? Ask if the seller has had to fix any problems with the house, and how well the solution worked. It’s also helpful to find out who did the work in case there is a similar problem in the future.
Ask about the age and condition of key components of the house so you are prepared for any big expenses you could be facing. Ask about the cooling systems, appliances, water heater, septic, plumbing, and electrical systems.
Bad renovations and sketchy plumbing can end up costing you both financially and emotionally—and even in terms of your health. It’s important to ask if any major repairs and renovations have been done to the home and who did them: Was it a licensed contractor or a DIY project?
If a permit should have been issued—but wasn’t—HDB official may have the authority to force the current owner to reinstate the flat and satisfy the current HDB requirements. This could turn into a very costly project.
This question might put the seller on the spot, or seem a touch personal. But it can get the person talking about the home, neighbourhood, and community. You might learn something positive that you might not have known otherwise—the tight-knit community, the short walk to the library, the way the sun shines through the living-room windows in the afternoon, the low cooling bills, or the flowers that grow in the park behind the block.
The Bottom Line
Listing and marketing materials include lots of details about a house (the number of bedrooms and baths, and the square footage, for example) and the showing lets you see it firsthand. But talking to the seller can help you learn exactly what you could be getting into.