The main pitfalls
By Vicki Potter
The very mention of the 'D' word often prompts buyers to run a mile. In truth, older buildings without damp are an exception. The key is to understand where the damp is coming from and work out how much it will cost to put right.
If you find rising damp, the usual repair is to inject a damp proof course. The cost of injecting a damp proof course into a three-bedroom semi and the subsequent redecorating will cost you about £3,000.
Other localised sources of damp that can be repaired easily and cheaply are leaking gutters (about £100 to repair), blocked and poorly vented chimney stacks (install a couple of air bricks at about £50), condensation in a bathroom or kitchen caused by inadequate ventilation.
Damp is only a major problem if it is allowed to continue over a long time. Long-term damp can lead to extensive wet or dry rot, crumbling mortar and bricks or timber infestation. All of these conditions should be picked up in a building survey. Replacing the timber in a three-bedroom semi could cost a significant amount of money, plus disruption to floors, ceilings and walls. Costs could be well above £10,000.
Major subsidence can be caused by the foundations failing, an underground mine or tunnel collapsing, movement in an old landfill site or even land shift on a steep hill. The cost of underpinning a three-bedroom house can be as much as £20,000 to £30,000. On rare occasions, the damage cannot be repaired. The solicitor's search will identify any existing or historical mining or land use in the area.
Much more common is local subsidence. This can be caused by something like a leaky underground drain that is washing away soil from around the foundations. This type of subsidence can easily be halted and repaired by fixing the drain and underpinning the part of the house affected. This may only cost around £3,000.
Whether buying a new development like this one or a Victorian house, check, check and check again for potential pitfalls
It's very easy to find out whether the property you're interested in is at risk. The environmental search carried out by your solicitor will give you some information, but if you want to find out more the Environment Agency has a very useful website (environment-agency.gov.uk) with a large section dedicated to flooding, with maps and advice on protection against it.
Asbestos only poses a risk to health if it is damaged, disturbed or moved. The fibres released are very harmful if breathed in. The use of asbestos in construction has been largely banned since 1985 so you will not find asbestos in a house built since then. It was introduced in the 1950s so you are unlikely to find it in an older property that has had no alteration or modernisation since then.
Asbestos is commonly found in Artexing, bath panels, ceiling and wall tiles, heating appliances, and external corrugated sheets used for garage roofs, sheds and lean-tos. There is no requirement to get rid of asbestos in a residential property until you want to make any alterations that impact on it. Most asbestos will need to be removed by a licensed company and disposed of by an approved method. The cost for removing and disposing of a single garage roof is around £2,000.
5. SURROUNDING LAND USE
The main concern here is the installation of power pylons or mobile-phone masts. No one really knows the impacts on health of living very close to a power line but some mortgage companies are beginning to hedge their bets. A few companies are now refusing to lend against homes within 200 metres of the base of a pylon.
The local authority search carried out by your solicitor will highlight any plans for use of the land and the surrounding area but it is worth checking with the planning department.
Whatever the problem blighting a house, the good news is that most are fixable and if you find one of these issues but still want the house you can use the potential repair bill as a very strong negotiating tool. You may well be able to significantly reduce the cost of your dream home.
To make sure you spot potential trouble get a survey done, and when making an offer on a house stipulate that it's 'subject to survey'. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (rics.org) can recommend a good surveyor in your area.
There are three types of survey available:
A Valuation survey - This isn't really a survey at all, it is a check on the property to see if the mortgage lender is prepared to loan the amount you are asking for. You can expect to pay about £300 for a valuation survey.
A Homebuyer's survey - The is a concise report on any significant problems that could affect the value of the property. It will often highlight potential problems but will rarely involve any further investigation. It usually takes a surveyor one to two hours to complete the inspection. This will cost about £600.
A Building survey - especially recommended for all residential property if it is dilapidated, extensively altered or you are planning a major conversion or renovation. The report will be a lot more extensive and should include investigation and possible solutions for any issues raised. It usually takes a surveyor at least half a day to complete and will cost about £900.
Top 10 Tell Tale Signs
These are the top 10 things to look out for when viewing a property. They don't necessarily spell disaster but they need checking out:
1. Damp patches or staining on the walls or ceilings.
2. Mould or mildew (particularly in kitchens and bathrooms).
3. Cracks in the walls running through a series of bricks.
4. Bent chimney stacks or an uneven roof line.
5. Crumbling plaster, brickwork or stonework.
6. Dry rot which looks like a white fungal growth with orange spores and silvery strand running through the wood.
7. Crumbling timber or timber with woodworm holes with signs of sawdust around the holes.
8. Missing roof tiles and missing or rotten gutters and down pipes.
9. A large number of doors and windows that won't open.
10. Ceiling tiles, panels, Artexing or exterior sheeting that could contain asbestos.
Editor's note: Please beware that this article is targeted at people living in the United Kingdom. Always consult property experts before making home buying decisions.
With many thanks to Interactive Investor, where this piece first appeared.
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