Questions to ask when buying a house

No one likes to believe they’re being lied to. However there are times when it’s even more important to make sure you’re getting the whole picture – such as when you’re buying a house. If you’re a first time buyer (or even if you just want a refresher), our guide covers all of the big considerations, including questions to ask when viewing a house. However, revealing the truth about subtler issues, like relationships with neighbours, can be tricky. Unless you’ve seen our video with Colin Cloud showing how to spot lies…

As you can see, there are a variety of tells that can reveal much more than the words someone is saying. Even if you’re not as attuned as Colin Cloud, people’s body language can give a lot away; it’s just a case of paying attention. But what more can you do to ensure you know what you’re getting before it’s too late?  

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Dream house or nightmare?

How to discover the truth on a house viewing

Recent research has revealed that one in four house sales failed at the end of 2015 when buyers received bad news in their survey and changed their minds.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that disappointing revelations, such as rowdy neighbours or noisy pets, quickly cause cold feet when the sums of money involved are so large and the time spent viewing is so short.

So how can you find out what’s really happening when you are shown around a property by the owner? We asked three experts in uncovering the truth – a barrister, a journalist and a psychologist – for some ways to, charmingly, find out the real story.

Questions to ask when buying a house

1. Build empathy

‘How long have you been here? Do you have kids?’

BARRISTER: It’s fine to start off with a few simple questions that will get you simple answers. This helps put people at ease, but it also helps to build a clearer picture of how they behave when they are relaxed and telling the truth – making it easier to spot when they aren’t. Reading body language isn’t as straightforward as it can often seem, but if the owner seems nervous, rushed or changes their behaviour, then there may be a reason. You could also give up something more personal (but not too personal!) about yourself to establish a more relaxed atmosphere.

2. Do your research

‘I notice you haven’t mentioned the aeroplanes…?’


JOURNALIST: Do your research before you view. Find out all about an area so you can ask questions and assess answers from a position of knowledge. They don’t know what you know, so you could ask a general question about noise, then when they ‘forget to mention’ the flight path overhead or the recycling plant over the road, you can follow up with your well-researched fact.

BARRISTER: Have a plan, a list of things you want to know and a good understanding of the property and local area. Be ready to direct proceedings back to these. Don’t get swept along in the conversation – stay in charge.

research questions for buying a house

3. Get a second opinion

‘Do you mind if I just ask my friend…?’


PSYCHOLOGIST: Take someone with you who knows you well, who isn’t emotionally invested in living there and who can give you another – more objective – point of view.

JOURNALIST: Compare notes afterwards. It’s easy to hear only what you want to hear or miss something, but this is a lot less likely to be the case for an objective friend.

second opinion on buying a house

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4. Use open questions

‘What’s the best thing about living here? What’s the worst thing…?’

PSYCHOLOGIST: People have an emotional connection to a property, either good or bad. By nature human beings like to talk and tell the truth, and by nature you are well equipped to pick up on their emotions. Leave the technical details to the lawyers and surveyors. Your job is to talk to the seller, their neighbours, other local residents – to get a sense of whether or not this is the place you’re looking for.

5. Ask big questions first, or last

‘Oh, I’ve just remembered…? / Actually, before I go can I ask…?’


JOURNALIST: You get some of the best stuff at the end when the official interview is winding down. It’s like doctors always say: patients say the most important stuff when they have their hand on the door handle to leave.

questions for buying a house

6. Don’t talk too much


JOURNALIST: Don’t be afraid of silence. Letting people fill in the gaps gives them the chance to say more than they intended.

BARRISTER: Silence is golden, and listening is just as valuable as talking. Don’t focus so much on questions that you don’t listen to answers. If something doesn’t sound quite right, store it away or challenge it. But don’t ignore it. You don’t buy a property every day, but you pick up cues and assess behaviour all the time in everyday life, so never ignore your gut instinct.

7. Probe for more details

‘Excuse me, did you just say…?’

JOURNALIST: Look for extra information in their answers. So listen carefully to everything they say. And then pick them up on it – you don’t have to be Jeremy Paxman, but be enquiring and persistent. Also, if the owner is like a politician, then the agent is like their spin doctor – are they giving you the same story? If not, then you can use that to get to the truth.

8. Focus on what you need, more than what you’re worried about

‘Is it horribly noisy/is it beautifully quiet…?’

PSYCHOLOGIST: You will make better decisions if you know exactly what you are looking for, are true to yourself and try to see the positives. If you’re confident about what you want you will be more positive and better able to identify what will give it to you. After all, close neighbours may be a positive thing for a person who lives alone, a nearby motorway may be ideal for someone who travels frequently. What’s best for you? Try to see the value of the good things you can actually see, not be fearful of ‘bad’ things that may not be relevant to your enjoyment of living in that property – or may not even exist!

forgotten questions when viewing a house

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