Buying a property? Things to look for before committing to a survey

Ned Browne

According to a recent survey, most people spend less than 25 minutes viewing their prospective home. Given that the average property prices stood at £179,492 (in London £458,282), this is, undoubtedly, a very expensive per-minute decision. So, why not slow down and undertake your own assessment, before paying for an expensive survey?

Check the roof

Stand back from the property and take a look at the roof. If the ridgeline isn’t horizontal, sagging has occurred. This happens when the original timbers have been clad with heavy concrete roof tiles without having been reinforced. 

A sagging roof will need to be replaced in due course and the timbers may need to be reinforced. (If you are planning on undertaking a loft conversion, this could be an astute purchase as you can negotiate on price, knowing you will replace the roof anyway.) Other things to look out for include missing slates, leaking/blocked gutters and leaning chimneys.

Finally, look into the loft space to see if there is roofing felt under the slates. If it's not there, the roof is almost certainly more than 50 years old. While you’re in the attic, check for insulation between the ceiling joists.

 

Smoothing the walls

Larger cracks may have been caused by subsidence. Ask the owner whether the property has been underpinned and what guarantees are in place. In older properties, smaller cracks are usually the result of historic movement and should be of little concern.

Bowing or bulging external walls are usually caused by the original walls being insufficiently thick or misaligned floor joists/beams bearing down incorrectly. To rectify significant cracks or bulging could be expensive. If they are obvious, get a full structural survey.

You can also inspect the pointing between the bricks. Poor pointing will allow water to seep into the walls.

 

Look over the electrics

Have a look at the fuse box. Does it look new? Are there sufficient sockets in each room? Are the sockets in good condition and free from cracks?

 

Condition of the windows

Check they open and close properly. Are they double-glazed? 

If they are wooden, is the wood in a good state of repair and have they been freshly painted?

 

The boiler

Ask when the boiler was installed and if it has been regularly serviced. If it is more than eight years old it should probably be replaced for a more efficient model.

 

Uncover the drains

If you are feeling brave, lift the drain covers and check they are free from blockages and roots.

 

Check for damp

Damp tends to occur at lower levels, typically under windows or external corners. Look behind furniture for signs: black spots, peeling wallpaper or a damp smell.  Damp can be caused by condensation, lack of damp proof course and rain penetration (often caused by poor pointing).

 

Woodworm/wood rot

If you are able to inspect the floorboards, look for woodworm holes and decaying wood. In serious cases, swathes of timbers will need to be replaced.

You can use this information to negotiate on price, better guide your surveyor and, most importantly, whether to proceed with the purchase.