It’s a disappointing fact that approximately 80% of buyers don’t commission a survey which could identify costly defects before making a commitment to purchase.
Chartered Surveyors advocate the benefits of having a detailed survey prepared but we accept that with some properties it’s more necessary than with others; the problem is that most buyers don’t know which. We, therefore, thought it would be useful to come up with a list of 3 costly defects that are relatively easy to identify but potentially costly to repair.
If you have a pair of binoculars in the house, take them with you when viewing properties; that’s how surveyors do it! Missing tiles or slates will be easy to spot but general unevenness is also a sign of trouble ahead.
You’ll often learn more from inside the roof space so don’t be shy about asking to go into the loft. If there’s sarking felt present then you can assume that the tiles or slates have been renewed in the last 40 years or so and should have plenty of life left in it yet. If that felt is breathable (smoother in appearance and thinner) then the roof covering is probably less than 20 years old.
Flat roofs can often be seen from the upper windows. Felt is the most common covering and has a lifespan of around 15 years or 25 if it is the modern ‘high performance’ type. Any bitumen type repair, creasing or tearing to the edges will indicate that the covering should be replaced. The pooling of water or a build-up of moss are signs that the surface is not draining properly and more expensive reconstruction work may be necessary.
The first thing to check is whether they are plumb. Chimneys can start to lean as the bricks to the side that gets the brunt of the weather to become frost damaged and expand. Stand in line with the stack and sight it though, a very slight lean is not a cause for concern but anything more than about 5% and you’re looking at re-building in the medium term.
Get your binoculars out again and take a close look at the brickwork. Has the pointing eroded or the bricks spalled? Spalling is the term used when the outer face of brick comes away after suffering frost damage and is difficult to repair; patching up, even with colour matched mortar, will look terrible so you are looking at chopping out and replacing individual bricks.
The cost of doing any work at roof level is significantly increased due to the difficulty of access.
Surveyors will test with a damp meter but there are signs that you can look for during a viewing.
All properties built since Victorian times will have a damp-proof course present to resist dampness rising from the ground. DPCs in older properties will normally consist of a bed of slate and can fracture and fail over time but the cause normally lies elsewhere.
High external paving levels are a common culprit. The surface of any paving that abuts an external wall should be at least 6 inches below the DPC to prevent rainwater penetrating through. Often we’ll see DPCs that are bridged, either by very high external paving, or the later application of render to the outside face of the wall. Both will allow dampness to pass around the DPC.
The most common cause of dampness is defective rainwater goods. A leaking gutter that is left unchecked can saturate a wall within a short period of time and if that wall belongs to an older style property and is solid the internal surface will also be wet.
Dampness often leads to other defects, such as deterioration to adjacent timbers, so the problem may be more widespread than is immediately apparent.
If you find any of the defects outlined above you will want to make allowance for the necessary remedial works when negotiating.
An RICS Homebuyer Report will flag up small and costly defects and could be a useful tool when re-negotiating the price. Most surveyors will also be happy to provide costings as part of a more detailed building survey. The alternative method is to arrange estimates from suitably qualified tradespeople.