Buying a house has to be the biggest purchase most people ever make. Of course, some people might buy planes and boats, but even to them their homes are still going to be the most expensive things they own. So why then do most people only do the very basic checks on a home they are about to buy? The more you know about your potential purchase the less likely you are to be hit by an unexpected cost once you have moved in. But even more than this, finding out things about a home you are about to buy can actually lead to getting a better price and who wouldn’t want that?
We were very naïve when we purchased our home four years ago and if we were searching for another property I’d check it out much more thoroughly. Immediately after moving in we realised there was no water pressure at all. It took over one hour for me to run a shallow bath for Bella. We had to fork out over £2000 for a pressure fed water tank to increase the pressure. We also need to replace the windows and chimney, two more huge expenses on our to do list. These were things we never thought to check when looking around.
Here are 3 essential ways to assess and make sure the property you are buying in in tip top shape:
Photo by Scott Webb
Yes, everyone gets a survey do, but what kind of survey and what does it tell them? In many cases people simply opt for a mortgage valuation survey. This is in no way a detailed report and is simply designed to check the market value against the required loan amount. It is done by the lender to make sure they won’t lose money. Then there is a homebuyers report, this is a little more detailed and OK for really new homes but it still doesn’t go into the real detail of a property and could miss some serious issues, especially in older properties. In fact RICS recommends any property built before 1900 should have a full building survey and most surveyors think that should extend to newer building too. Nina Robinson from Chiltern Associates says “in all but the newest properties a full building survey is always the safest bet”
So the bottom line here is get a proper survey done. It will show up far more potential issues than a quick valuation survey by the lender. It could highlight any number of expensive to fix problems that you would otherwise have not known about and would have had to pay for yourself once you moved in.
A home buyer’s drain survey is something that is becoming more and more popular. Where a RICS survey will cover the whole house and grounds, a drain survey will go under the house and into the dark depths of the drainage system. The only time a surveyor would bring up drains is if they had seen some issue that was manifesting itself above the surface. In most other cases an issue like broken pipework or roots growing into sewage pipes would go unnoticed. Unnoticed that is until the system blocks up and you have to pay for expensive repairs. Companies like www.thedrainguys.co.uk have started offering these surveys and people are finding them very useful indeed. Again, the idea here is to identify issues prior to purchase so the price can be negotiated to cover any work but also to simply avoid buying a property that has hidden problems.
Fire and Heating Checks
While a fire may not seem like anything as serious as the drains or the house as a whole having a specialist check, this area of the property out can be very worthwhile. In many properties there is a chimney present and due to the growing popularity of real fires and stove they are in use again. But a chimney can have a number of issues that a surveyor might not see. Blockages, lining damage and tar residue build up could all result in expensive repair bills at best and a potential fire risk at worse. Adam Wakeford from Wakeford Fireplaces has seen it all and says “some people burn very poor quality wood and can severely damage their chimney, but you would never know unless you lit a fire and even then it might not be obvious. The cost of repair can be eye watering!”
The same goes for gas fires; if there is one in the house get it checked out or check for a very recent service. Having a gas leak does not bare thinking about and yet checking the gas fire before purchase is not always top of a buyers list of worries.
A final word on flooding
There is another area to check but in many cases this is not an issue so should not form part of the 3 main points here and that is flooding. Flooding in the UK is more prevalent than ever, partly due to more buildings and paved areas and less natural surfaces to soak up rain and partly due to climate change. Whatever the reason is, buying a property at risk of flooding is a bad idea because if it is at risk now it may well be in the direct path of a flood in the next 10 years. Companies like www.unda.co.uk specialise in flood risk assessment for planning and property purchase and can provide details information about flood risk in the larger area as well as very detail local drainage information. If you do feel your potential dream home might be at risk then getting it checked out may well save you a great deal of heart ache in the long run.
Homes at risk of flooding will also have higher insurance premiums, so make sure you get a quote. We were actually tempted to put an offer on a home, but it had flooded a few years previously. The home insurance quote was ridiculous, around £1500. So needless to say, we pulled our offer as soon as we found out.
By taking each of these steps prior to purchase you can have a much better idea of the state of a property and whether any repairs may need doing and how much they might cost. It may be that you carry on with the purchase and you don’t even re-negotiate, but you will be able to plan for repairs and have a rough time frame of when they may be needed. If the chimney is ruined by years of bad wood you can simply opt to not use it until you can afford to fix it. However, if a tree has grown into a drain in the garden and it is about to collapse you will know you have to get it fixed ASAP. The nasty surprise of sewage flooding the patio would be far worse than a few hundred pounds spend on a survey.
No method is fool proof and there is always an element of risk when buying anything but these checks can help minimise some of the inherent risk and maybe save you some money as well as stress and worry.