A residential property purchase is always a big financial decision, whether you’re a first timer buyer or a seasoned BTL landlord. You may well have a good eye for property in that you can spot a great location when you see one or a building with bags of value-add potential. But without the assistance of a professional surveyor to literally cast his eyes over the bricks and mortar, how do you know that you’re not about to buy a pile of problems?
Buying a house or flat is governed by the principle of caveat emptor (buyer beware), so it is absolutely your responsibility to check out every potential issue. Unless you know exactly what you’re dealing with, what may seem like a trifling matter can quickly escalate into a costly repair, turning your dream home into a nightmare scenario and a savvy investment into a never ending money pit.
RICS property surveys are the ‘go to’ solution for most prospective purchasers, but if you want an in-depth report whose primary purpose is to identify major defects and likely areas of future expenditure, there are alternative options such as this type of survey.
Whichever professional building survey you choose, here are some of the key building defects you should be looking out for:
Whether the roof of the building is covered with slate or concrete tiles of the flat or interlocking variety, it’s important to check for damage. If the roof tiles are cracked, have slipped out of position, are overgrown with, say, ivy, or are missing completely, this presents a weakness to the integrity of the roof. The same goes for lead flashing around chimneys, vent pipes or sky lights. Any leak in the roof will, over time, let water into the interior of the building, causing major problems including damp, mould and timber rot.
A sagging roof may be a quaint reminder of a building’s authentic heritage, but this is not a desirable period feature. The structural integrity of the roof will be reduced, and this may be a consequence of long-term overloading, of weak roof timber or even of insect infestation – all serious issues that will need urgent attention. While you’re casting a keen eye up there, don’t forget to inspect the guttering for signs of blockage or leakage, including the fascia boards below, which can cause damp problems to walls and ceilings.
You will no doubt have heard of dry rot and wet rot – two types of fungus that can cause substantial damage to timber structures. Wet rot forms during prolonged periods of damp and moisture in the wood, while dry rot can spread fast and affect the strength and integrity of surrounding timbers. Moss is typically found on external surfaces, often causing blockages to drains and guttering that leads to real problems.
Two of the most fear inducing words that no homeowner wants to hear, both ‘settlement’ and ‘subsidence’ refer to structural movements of the building. Stepped cracks may appear through the brick and mortar joints, either on the inside or outside of the building, while doors and windows may be out of alignment and no longer open/close. Whether the cause is weather, plant or soil related, urgent professional attention must be sought.
Render can be chipped or cracked exposing the blockwork behind it to the dangers of moisture absorption during wet conditions. If there’s no render, the brickwork should be crack-free with no defects in the masonry pointing. Chimneys, in particular, are susceptible to faulty or poorly pointed brickwork and their high-up location can turn any repair job into a potentially expensive undertaking.
Does the property in question have old timber windows? Period box sash windows are prone to a raft of problems, especially if they’ve been neglected for years – but they can be fully restored and brought back to life. Modern double glazed UPVC windows may have poor framework, missing fittings or foggy glass panes that can be part replaced, but once these windows get to the end of their lifecycle, there’s no other option than wholesale replacement.
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