Digging deeper

Things to look for when viewing a potential new home.

Buying a new house can be a stressful process at the best of times. But what happens when your new home has underlying problems which weren’t discovered before you moved in? We asked our friends, family and previous customers what they wished they’d looked into before moving into their current (both owned and rented) properties. Here are their responses.

“We bought our grade 2 listed property in 2010. Since then it’s been a long list of repairs to be done. We’re not trying to put people off buying these beautiful old houses, but we didn’t realise that there was so much upkeep for these places.”

Living in a listed building can be expensive, so be aware of your budget and the fact that there might be certain requirements for repair work (specialist materials etc). Don’t let this deter you from living in a listed property though, as they typically appreciate in value compared to other properties – unless the building has had some serious damage, it is virtually unknown for a listed property to depreciate in value.

“A few years ago we rented a fairly modern house. We were aware that it had no central heating, only storage heaters, but we found it was very expensive to heat the house. Had we known how large the bills were, we probably would have looked elsewhere.”

Another thing to look out for is whether the heating system is up to date. Inefficient heating systems can eat into your utility budget and are expensive to fix or replace if something goes wrong.

To ensure that the heat is actually warming your home and not drifting off into the atmosphere, it is also wise to check the loft insulation is up to scratch. If not, rolls of fibreglass insulation are relatively inexpensive and easy to install; however it is important you don’t then compress the new insulation by burying it under boxes of stored belongings. If you are unsure it’s always best to call a professional in to do the job for you.

Double glazing also helps to keep the heat in. If your property doesn’t have double glazed windows and you’d like to have them installed, it’s possible that you will also need to have lintels put in or upgraded if you’re changing from metal or wood to PVC. Some old houses rely on the structural integrity of the window frame itself to hold the masonry above in place and PVC is simply not strong enough. It’s worth taking this into consideration when budgeting for your new windows.

Also check any existing double glazing – if there is condensation in between the two panes of glass, it means the window is faulty and would need to be replaced.

“After living in our house for several years we decided to have an extension added. When the water was turned off to do the plumbing, the entire floor sunk by a few inches. Turns out the old lead pipes had been leaking under the floor for years and the water was keeping it in place. Luckily our insurance covered it but it could have been prevented if the pipes had been inspected earlier.”

Definitely make sure the plumbing is up to scratch. Don’t be afraid to take a look under the sink or check out the airing cupboard to make sure the pipes are insulated and there are no leaks or damp issues. Also question if you see evidence of previous water damage to make sure the problem was fixed accordingly. As well as examining the pipes and fittings, it’s also a good idea to turn on the taps to check water pressure, flush the toilet, and even ask for a glass of water so you can see how it tastes.

“This was a flat we didn’t end up moving to. The reason being that both times we went to view it, there was a strong smell of mould. At the time our daughter was only 6 months old, and knowing that mildew can cause breathing problems made us reconsider. Also, who wants to live in a stinky home?”

Mould and mildew can be extremely detrimental to the health of your lungs. Breathing in or even just touching it can cause sneezing, runny eyes, skin rash and even asthma attacks. Not only does it look unpleasant, the smell can permeate into your soft furnishings and clothing and can be difficult to get rid of. Mould can be removed, but it is best to find the source of the problem and remedy it to ensure the mould doesn’t resurface. Always make sure you wear protective clothing and a mask when dealing with possible toxic spores and if in doubt, call someone qualified to deal with it.

It’s not only mildew that can cause unpleasant smells. Waste pipes in older houses can be damaged by tree roots or become clogged. Question any unusual odours, especially if it smells like gas or sewage, and check out any smells of new paint – this may have been done to try and cover signs of water damage.

Other major things to look out for are whether the building is structurally sound, if the roof is in good condition, and what state the wiring and electrics are in. These three things can be the most costly to rectify or bring to modern standards.

Look for big cracks, especially around bay windows or where extensions join to the existing building as these are areas which could potentially move and cause further structural damage.
On the roof, make sure there’s nothing glaringly obvious like missing or broken tiles, signs of multiple repairs on a slate roof, missing parts on chimneys, and if there’s a flat roof check there are no splits in the material.

Take a look at the fuse board. The state of this will often indicate how the rest of the wiring looks. Dodgy wiring is dangerous, and if anything looks out of place, DO NOT try and fix it yourself.

Ultimately, there’s only so much that the untrained eye can spot, so it’s always recommended to get a surveyor or qualified builder in to inspect the building. Their years of experience enable them to spot potential flaws in a property to give you peace of mind that you’re making the right decision when purchasing your new home.