A cosy white and blue living room. SAM Conveyancing's recommended questions to ask when viewing a flat to buy in the UK
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Questions to Ask When Viewing a Flat to Buy

14/12/2023
(Last Updated: 17/01/2024)
17 min read
Key Takeaways
  • There's a lot to take in! Bring a list of questions and make notes of any details you don't want to forget.
  • Be friendly to the agent, but keep your cards close to your chest.
  • Always view the property twice, if you can, before making an offer.
  • Ask permission before taking photos or touching things like taps and radiators.
  • There are some additional considerations when deciding whether a flat is a good investment, compared to a freehold house

What questions to ask when buying a flat:


  • 1

    Why is the seller selling? Is the seller keen to sell quickly?

Find out if they have found their new home and if their offer has been accepted. If that's the case, they may be under pressure from their own seller to find a buyer and complete the chain. They may also be moving for work or for their child's school and be tied to a timescale. This can help you make a winning offer, if you decide this one's for you.


  • 2

    How much interest/how many viewings has the property had?

This will also give you an opportunity to see how long the property has been on the market, and along with the other questions, you should be able to determine whether the seller is ready to accept under their asking price or if they're happy to wait indefinitely until they get the price they want. It usually takes about ten viewings to sell a house, but that's not to say that an offer can't be made and accepted on the first viewing if it's a mutually beneficial deal.


  • 3

    Has the value of the property changed recently?

If the property has been on the market for a while with a fixed value, the seller may now be ready to consider offers under their asking price. If the price has just come down, it might not be the right time to try and haggle them down further. However, you can always try if the asking price is still more than the property is worth. Read our guide on calculating How Much to Offer On a House and use our handy House Offer Calculator to make a well-adjusted offer.


  • 4

    Has the property been bought and sold repeatedly?

This can be a good sign or a bad sign. It may be that the property is a great 'starter' home, and it has been steadily increasing in value, allowing its owners to build equity and then move into something bigger and more suitable for their growing household. Unfortunately, one should never be blindly optimistic when it comes to buying property.

When a property changes hands frequently, it is often a sign that living there hasn't met the buyers' expectations. Be extra wary of problem neighbours, crime rates, noise and environmental pollution, regular local events, the reputation of the local school, EPC rating and other indicators which may affect your enjoyment of the property.


  • 5

    What are the best and worst things about the neighbourhood?

You'll get a more authentic answer from the seller; if it's the estate agent handling your viewing, ask a neighbour instead if you pass any out in their front gardens. It will help you to determine if the area is the right fit for you, as well as indicate that you are serious about the property, which can help your offer stand out if you're competing with several other hopeful buyers. You can also find out about the transport links, local businesses the sellers recommend and the local culture.


  • 6

    What are the noise levels like?

Ask about the road traffic levels and congestion, any parks, playgrounds or pubs within shouting distance, and particularly regarding other flats adjacent to the property. A seller may not answer this question entirely honestly, but you might, for example, be able to ask the occupant of an upstairs flat to walk around while you are viewing to give you some idea.

Watch out for viewings held on a weekend or bank holiday, as well as roadworks and diversions; these are common tactics vendors use to hide heavy traffic passing by a property.


  • 7

    What fixtures and fittings are included in the sale?

Sellers often include white goods, particularly in a fitted kitchen, but they may also include large furniture if they are moving long distance or if the property is part of an administered estate. This might be a win for you, or you may have to consider the cost of removing them if they're not to your taste.

If they are important to you, make sure to check they are listed in the TA10 before you sign your contracts on the purchase.


  • 8

    Are pets allowed?

This is huge for pet owners but may be irrelevant if you don't live with animals. As flats are almost exclusively leasehold, they are subject to additional terms under the lease, which may include a strict no-pets policy. If you have a beloved pet, this may be a dealbreaker for you, but if you can't stand hearing neighbour dogs barking at the doorbell, it might be a bonus, as this rule will usually apply to a whole building.


  • 9

    What is the broadband speed like? The mobile phone reception?

Whilst Ofcom reports that 96% of urban areas can access reception from all four operators, just 62% of rural areas can, and 5% of the country has no reception at all (although these areas are largely uninhabited). 5% of homes have no access to superfast fibre broadband. This will be more important for some buyers than others, and it may well be that there are plans to lay fibre optics to the property in the near future.

  • 10

    Is the property in a listed building or a conservation area?

This may limit the changes you can make to the flat in the future, so you'll need to make sure you've got the finances going forward to keep up with maintenance at the required spec; plus, you may have to give up any hopes of remodelling. This can cause a problem when it comes to heating the property, as improvements to insulation can be severely limited, meaning you'll be cold, spending a fortune on utilities, or both.

Even if it not listed, older buildings can be much more expensive to upkeep.


  • 11

    Is there any asbestos in the property?

Asbestos may be present in any property built pre-2000; it is particularly common in 60's and 70's houses and flats and kills thousands of people each year. If your seller had a survey when they bought the flat, then signs of asbestos should have been flagged then. If it was, ask if you can see the results of their asbestos survey, or be sure to order one before you sign contracts.


  • 12

    Are there any smoke alarms? Have they been maintained properly?

You'll need to maintain your own smoke alarms if you buy the flat, but there should be alarms in common areas such as stairwells; if these are missing or poorly maintained, this is a big red flag that the building is unsafe and isn't being managed well. In some cases, this will only be the tip of the iceberg, and you may find larger problems like a leaky roof or a busted front door won't be dealt with swiftly (or at all).

  • 13

    How does the heating and plumbing work?

Splitting the plumbing into separate dwellings can be challenging, particularly when converting a large building into flats. Does the flat have gas central heating? Do all the taps work? What is the water pressure like in the shower?

Test the taps and see how fast the faucets flow and how quickly they run hot. If there are problems, they may be much harder to resolve in a large shared building than they would in a house with direct mains connections.


  • 14

    Where is the boiler and stopcock? How old are they? When was the boiler last serviced?

A boiler should be serviced every year. If the boiler is old or hasn't been regularly serviced, you may have to fork out for a new one sooner than you'd like. It's possible you can use this to negotiate the purchase price. Both boiler and stopcock should be easy to access. If not, you might find standard repairs or maintenance are more of an issue (and more expensive) than they need to be.


  • 15

    Where is the consumer unit or fuse box? When was it last checked?

The homeowner should be checking on their consumer unit or fuse box for exposed wiring or signs of heat damage about once a month, but it should be thoroughly checked by an electrician every ten years (5 for landlords). Units without an RDC should be replaced immediately, and you may want to consider replacing a plastic unit with a metal one, which will contain an electrical fire for longer.


  • 16

    Where are the utility meters?

In flats and maisonettes in larger buildings, these may be grouped together in a meter room. If you end up buying the property, you'll need to know where these are so you can check the readings and update the utility companies as soon as you arrive in your new flat after picking up the keys.


  • 17

    Has any work been done to the property? What guarantees are there on the work?

Find out if any of the rooms have been recently decorated and why, as people often paint over damp patches to hide problems when they're trying to sell their property.

If any upgrades to the electrics, plumbing or boiler, or major renovations have been completed, ask if the owners got the relevant planning permission and building regulations consent and certificates.

Any new windows and doors should have a FENSA Certificate.


  • 18

    Is there loft access? Can you view the loft?

This will only apply if you're in the top floor flat. If you can, check to see if it is insulated; if it is, you will save large sums in heating bills; if it is not, you have the potential to insulate and boost your EPC rating, which will save you money on heating and may increase the resale value.

You'll need to find out if you'll own the loft or if it belongs to the freeholder. With freeholder consent, you may be able to convert the loft into more living space, but this may involve an additional purchase. If it is floored already, it makes it cheaper to convert.


  • 19

    Are there any chimneys? Do they work? When were they last swept?

Most flats with chimneys will have had them sealed up in favour of modern central heating, but if a real fire is a dream of yours, you may get lucky. It may also be possible to reopen closed fireplaces, but you'll need to inspect their condition and check what permissions you need from the freeholder and from the local authority.

Before you get carried away, you should familiarise yourself with the latest restrictions on domestic wood and coal burning in the UK, particularly in smoke control areas.


  • 20

    Is the property leasehold or share of freehold? How many years does the lease run for?

This is one of the most important questions to ask when viewing a flat for purchase.

Pretty much all flats are leasehold; the 'freehold' is the ownership of the whole building and the plot it stands on. The freeholder may be a third party, or the leasehold may come with a share of the freehold, meaning share-of-freeholders are collectively responsible for the building.

You'll want to know who manages the building (i.e. an individual, a property management company, or a residents management company) and whether you'll become a member of the resident's management company. Is the managing agent a member of a recognised professional body? Some buildings aren't managed very well and changing this may be more of a challenge than you want to take on.

The length of the lease is very important as leaseholds lose value swiftly once they run down to 80 years or less. They become almost impossible to mortgage or resell, and you can't rely on being able to extend the lease later. If you want to buy a short lease, you'll need the seller to agree to start the process off by serving the section 42 notice on the freeholder, or you'll be stuck for at least two years. If you're purchasing a share of freehold it's usually much easier to extend the lease.


  • 21

    What is the ground rent? Is it reviewed & when?

New leases have peppercorn ground rent. If you are purchasing an older lease, it may be subject to high annual ground rent charges. This can usually be resolved with a lease extension. But you'll want to check if you can extend after purchase, how much it will cost, and whether the current leaseholder can start the process.


  • 22

    What are the service charges & How often are service charges levied?

As the freeholder is responsible for maintaining the building and the plot it stands on, service charges are levied on the leaseholder to pay for regular maintenance. However, major works (see below) may incur additional charges. Find out if the service charge covers building insurance, roof repairs and maintenance of common areas.

Has the property manager carried out an up-to-date fire risk assessment of the common areas? If not, you may have to pay for expensive fire safety upgrades when the time comes.

How many leaseholders in the building are in arrears for their service charge payments? If these payments aren't made, necessary repairs and maintenance could be delayed.


  • 23

    Are there any major works planned?

Find out if it has been funded already and if a 'sinking fund' is already in place to absorb any future works. You might find the seller has put the flat on the market because they've just received notice of major works and they can't afford or don't want to pay for them.

You'll also want to be aware if the lift is about to be out of action for months or the building will be wrapped in scaffolding, with builders and power tool disturbance.


  • 24

    What services are shared, for example, drainage?

Where you share services such as drains, you'll need to be more mindful of the property management and cooperation between leaseholders. If shared drains are not dealt with swiftly and efficiently, you could be stuck without running water while you chase a resolution.


  • 25

    What is the council tax charge & how much does the flat cost to run in utilities?

This will help you work out if the flat comes in on budget. Remember that, on top of your monthly mortgage payments, you need to factor in council tax, utility bills, ground rent, service charges and your regular expenses. If the heating system is different from what you're used to, you might be surprised by the monthly costs.


  • 26

    Are there any restrictions on what you can or cannot do?

Most leases contain Restrictive Covenants, which might, for example, prevent you from subletting the property or even having a lodger. You might also have to get special permission from the freeholder to carry out work in the flat. This is a good opportunity to find out from the seller how responsive and cooperative the freeholder has been in previous instances.

Your conveyancing solicitor will find out about restrictive covenants as part of their legal enquiries, but asking now can save you time if you discover a dealbreaker.

If you run a business from home or plan to in the future, now is a good time to check if you can do so from the property.


  • 27

    What access is there to a garden (if applicable)? Or parking?

Though most flats don't have a garden, this is a good opportunity to find out about any access to a shared garden or communal outdoor space, how much it is used and whether, for example, you could have a BBQ there in the summertime. If you drive a car, you should also enquire about parking as street parking can be notoriously hard to find in high-density residential areas.


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Caragh Bailey, Digital Marketing
Written by:
Caragh is an excellent writer in her own right as well as an accomplished copy editor for both fiction and non-fiction books, news articles and editorials. She has written extensively for SAM for a variety of conveyancing, survey and mortgage related articles.
Andrew Boast of Sam Conveyancing
Reviewed by:
Andrew started his career in 2000 working within conveyancing solicitor firms and grew hands on knowledge of a wide variety of conveyancing challenges and solutions. After helping in excess of 50,000 clients in his career, he uses all this experience within his article writing for SAM, mainstream media and his self published book How to Buy a House Without Killing Anyone.

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