Speaking as Chartered Surveyor I’d always recommend that you commission a detailed survey before making a commitment to purchase. The problem is that when you are negotiating on price the survey won’t have been done and if you go back later for a reduction the owners won’t hesitate to remind you that they’ve “already knocked X amount off the asking price”.
It is therefore a useful skill to be able to spot potentially significant defects when viewing the property so that you have a sense of the amount of work required before making an offer. I’ve listed 5 that you might want to look out for below:
Chimneys tend to be the most exposed part of any property so not only are they vulnerable to weather related defects but the difficulty of access makes those defects expensive to repair.
A combination of wet and freezing weather will cause pointing to erode and in more extreme cases the faces the bricks pay delaminate or ‘spall’. Re-pointing is fairly straightforward but cutting out and replacing spalled bricks is incredibly time consuming. If you’ve got eyesight like mine you’ll need binoculars to get a good look. Pay particular attention to the oversailing courses as they’re the most vulnerable. Tall slender chimney stacks are prone to leaning and once that occurs the only remedy is rebuilding so stand well back and in line to get the best perspective.
You probably won’t have your own damp meter but there are a few signs to look for while viewing. Rising damp is relatively rare and easy to spot; look for tide marks and salt deposits towards the base of the external walls. ‘Bridging’ of the damp-proof course (dpc) is a more common defect, that occurs when adjacent materials allows dampness to pass around the membrane. High external ground levels are often the cause so check to see whether paving is at least the recommended 150mm below the dpc.
The most common cause of penetrating dampness is defective guttering. Even if it’s not raining at the time of your viewing a wall that has been wet for a prolonged period will be stained and a layer of moss may have accumulated. Although this one is relatively cheap to repair it increases the risk of problems with adjacent floor timbers.
3. Roof coverings
Take a close look from the outside first, how ‘neat’ is the roof covering? Missing or slipped tiles are an obvious sign of problems but unevenness is indicative of problems with fixings or serial overhauls.
If there’s a pull down ladder take the time to go in to the loft. If it is tiled are the nibs (the bits that hook over the tiling battens) starting to perish and fall away? Once that starts happening you’re looking at annual maintenance bills. If the covering has been changed in the last 40 years there should be sarking felt present below the covering and if the covering is relatively new the felt will be of the breathable type.
Timber windows, particularly the box sash type that you find in period properties, are expensive to replace. Most sellers will ‘make good’ their windows before going on the market but you want to know that there’s nothing nasty lurking below the surface.
Even professional decorators struggle to get a perfect finish when using large amounts of filler. The joints are always the most vulnerable part of a window so look for some slight unevenness; filler will often sit slightly higher than timber. When paint deteriorates it tends to crack on the joint but if that joint has been filled the crack will appear at the edges of the filler.
Sockets and light switches, being the most visible part of the electrical installation, are often replaced by owners when decorating rooms but you want to know how old the hidden parts of the system are. Hunt out the consumer unit (often called the fuse box) and check the fuses. If they are the old fashioned wired type it’s at least 35 years old. The presence of a Residual Current Device (RCD) tells you that it’s been changed in the last few years. You could also ask for a copy of the most recent test certificate.
Boilers are expensive to replace and modern combination boilers only have a life expectancy of 8-10 years. If you open the flap to the controls the date of installation will often be noted but otherwise you’ll have to ask the owner or judge from the condition of the casing. Old fashioned system boilers last longer but are less efficient so if you’ve got one of them (there will also be a cylinder and a cold water tank) you’re probably going to want to upgrade in the near future.
While no substitute for a complete survey the sort of checks that I’ve outlined above will give you a sense of the work that is required when you enter in to the negotiating process.
Thanks for this guest post by Justin Burns BSc MRICS of Peter Barry Surveyors. Peter Barry are a firm of Chartered Surveyors with offices in Fulham, Greenwich and Winchmore Hill.
Images in the post courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net