Buying a house in winter

If you are buying a house in winter which is vacant there are a few extra items which need to be checked, particularly if the water has been turned off.

If you are buying a house in winter and it is occupied then the chances are that it is being heated (at least in part) and the service installations are being used.  But if you are buying a house in winter which is vacant there are a few extra items which need to be checked, particularly if the water has been turned off and the heating system drained down.  

If the water has been turned off you will not be able to check the water pressure, working order of the fittings, watertightness of pipework or be able to check whether the drains are flowing freely.  Ask the selling agent to arrange for the vendor to turn the water on so that these items can be checked by specialists before you agree to purchase the property.  

When the water is turned on, arrange for a heating contractor (contact a Gas Safe Registered contractor if the heating is gas) to inspect and test the heating and hot water system.  Have its age and condition checked and make sure the boiler is a sufficient size to adequately heat the property.  

If the house is damp, check whether this is simply condensation due to the house not being adequately heated and ventilated, or whether there is rising dampness or penetrating dampness.  If there is rising dampness or penetrating dampness find out the specific cause/s of the dampness and deal with the defect/s.  Some replastering may be required if plasterwork has been affected by salts.  See also Buying a 1930s House.   Consider instructing a Chartered Surveyor to report on any dampness and/or condensation issues.  This can be checked as part of a detailed house survey.  Visit RICS Find A Surveyor to find a surveyor in your area. 

Check whether and drains or gullies have become blocked by leaves.  Check whether gutters need clearing to avoid overflowing and/or rain penetration which may lead to dampness internally and staining externally.  

See also Selling a house in winter.

 

 

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Choosing replacement windows: things to consider

When choosing replacement windows there are many options to consider but don’t overlook important issues relating to Building Regulations, Planning, fire safety, means of escape and management of condensation.

Plastic or wood?  Fixed or opening?  Side hung or top hung?  Or even traditional sliding sash? When choosing replacement windows these are only some of the options to consider.  But there are important issues relating to Building Regulations, Planning, fire safety, means of escape and management of condensation which can easily be overlooked.

When choosing replacement windows:

  1. Check the installer is FENSA registered and obtain a FENSA Certificate to confirm compliance with Building Regulations. Keep a copy to pass to your buyer in the event that you sell the property.
  2. Consider matching the existing style, especially if only some of the windows are to be replaced.
  3. Try to choose a style which will maintain the character of the building.  This is particularly important for older properties. Think about the position of opening casements, and whether they should be top hung or side hung.  
  4. Have handles which can be locked in an ajar position.  This will aid security particularly at ground floor level, and and will make it safe to leave windows open slightly overnight. 
  5. Have trickle vents fitted into the frames to aid ventilation, reduce condensation and mould. The small additional cost will help comfort within the home.  
  6. Ensure that windows can be opened sufficiently and are of sufficient size to allow escape in the event of a fire.  This is particularly important for windows to upper rooms.  
  7. For flats, check the terms of the lease. In some instances windows will be the responsibility of the individual flat owners and in others they will be the responsibility of the Management Company.  
  8. For flats in blocks constructed with cavity walls, ensure the required cavity barriers/fire stopping remain in place to ensure the safety of residents within the block.

So when choosing replacement windows, don’t simply make your choice by appearance alone. Your final choice may be a compromise after considering all relevant issues.

buying and selling a house

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Avoiding condensation in your home

The key to avoiding condensation is to reduce the amount of moisture, help your home stay warm and let your house breathe. 

The key to avoiding condensation during winter months is to adequately heat and ventilate your home.  There can be a temptation to keep windows closed during cold weather to save on heating bills, but a lack of adequate heating and ventilation can lead to excessive condensation.  Condensation doesn’t only occur on window panes, it can form on any surfaces which are cold enough, including  walls and even within furnishings.  Condensation can also lead to mould which is not only unsightly, it can also be a health issue.

It is particularly important to let your house breathe during cold weather when condensation is more likely to occur.

Condensation doesn’t only occur in the living spaces of our homes, it can occur in any voids which are unventilated including roof spaces, floor voids and disused chimney flues.  If roof insulation is provided at ceiling level, ensure the roof space is ventilated.  Also, make sure vents are provided to floor voids and disused flues.

Some houses are more prone to condensation including:

  1. Those with low levels of insulation, eg, to some 1960s homes.
  2. Older properties with solid walls.
  3. Large windows, particularly if they are single glazed.
  4. Those with metal framed windows.

With some buildings heating and ventilation alone may not be sufficient to reduce condensation.  Improvements may be necessary such as:

  1. Provision of additional roof insulation.
  2. Replacement of single glazing with double glazing (ensuring the new windows have opening casements and trickle vents).
  3. Provision of cavity wall insulation (following an assessment for suitability).
  4. Provision of thermal board to solid walls (modification may be required to electrical sockets and/or switches).
  5. Provision of insulation to any cold bridges, eg, window reveals.

Tips to help your house breathe and reduce the risk of condensation and mould include:

  1. Provide heating.  Keeping the heating on at a lower setting for longer periods will help to heat the building itself (in addition to the air in the rooms), will provide a more comfortable environment and will reduce condensation. Avoid turning the heating on for short bursts as this will only heat the air and not the building itself.
  2. Open windows when cooking and after taking a shower or bath.
  3. Don’t dry clothes on radiators or clothes airers.
  4. When windows are replaced ensure that they have trickle vents to aid background ventilation and make sure they can be locked in an open position if needed, eg, overnight.
  5. Check insulation levels in the roof/s and upgrade where necessary.
  6. Where roof insulation is provided at ceiling level, ensure the roof space/s are ventilated.  Where additional  insulation has been provided make sure eaves vents are not blocked.
  7. Avoid the temptation to block vents such as those to floor voids and to disused flues. 

See also https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/blog/dealing-damp-home

In a nutshell, the key to avoiding condensation in your home is to reduce the amount of moisture, help your home stay warm and let your house breathe.

buying and selling a house

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Decorating an old house

Unlike decorating a modern house, unless the property has been maintained to a high standard it is likely that extra preparation will be needed when decorating an old house.

Decorating an old house can be rewarding.  After moving in to your new home no doubt you will be keen to add your personal touches to turn the house you have just purchased into your home.  But unlike decorating a modern house, unless the property has been maintained to a high standard it is likely that extra preparation will be needed.

 

Before decorating an old house:

  1. Check whether any areas of wall plaster require replacement, such as plaster which has been affected by dampness and/or salts, or where it has become unbonded.  If plaster finishes contain salts (sometimes present even after damp proofing works have been carried out) have the affected areas of plaster replaced with a salt retardant plaster.
  2. Ensure any lath and plaster ceilings are firm.  Lath and plaster ceilings can become unbonded over time and can be extremely messy if they fail.
  3. Carry out any repairs and/or alterations to the room/s which are to be decorated, such as rewiring, plastering, replacement of windows, kitchen or bathroom fittings, etc.
  4. Check whether there are any asbestos containing materials (ACMs) in the property.  If any ACMs are going to be disturbed, eg, by cutting, drilling, sanding, etc, then then you should contact an asbestos removal contractor.  ACMs can be found in many forms, visit:  

http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/common-materials.htm http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/building.htm

 

Tips when decorating an old house:

  1. Don’t use a steamer to remove wall and ceiling coverings from lath and plaster.  The steam may cause the plaster to become unbonded leading to repairs or replacement.
  2. Ideally choose decorations which will allow the walls to breathe, such as emulsion.  Do not use vinyl coverings as they may entrap moisture.
  3. If there are stains on chimney breasts, seal the stains with a proprietary stain blocker before decorating to avoid the stain showing through new paintwork.
  4. If wall surfaces are uneven, the plaster surface could be skimmed to improve the finish.
  5. Consider decorative effects such as rag rolling or use of a sponge to disguise imperfect plaster finishes.
  6. Don’t be tempted to remove or block vents or fireplaces.  Ventilation is essential to reduce levels of condensation, which may in turn affect decorations.

 

Finishing touches when decorating an old house:

  1. If internal joinery such as skirtings, architraves, doors, etc, need replacing, try to match the existing profile to maintain the character of the property.
  2. Where features such as fireplaces have been removed, try to find a suitable replacement, possibly from a local reclamation yard.

Visit also DIY in the home.

buying and selling a house

 

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Mortgage Valuation: Is it really a bad thing if your house is down valued?

Unless you are happy to pay more than a house is worth, it may not be not such a bad thing if your mortgage valuation is less than you had been prepared to pay.

Is your mortgage valuation less than the agreed purchase price?

A number of buyers purchasing a property with a mortgage see the mortgage valuation as a potential hiccup in their purchase.  If a buyer is relying on a mortgage with a large loan to value they may not be able to proceed as planned if the lender’s Valuer provides a valuation lower than the agreed purchase price.   Similarly, some buyers are concerned that the mortgage valuation may lead to a buyer pulling out (or making a lower offer) if they don’t get the mortgage offer they had expected.

If you had your heart set on a particular property and find you are unable to proceed (unless you use some of your own funds) then at minimum this is likely to be a disappointment.  If you have to start and look for another suitable property this may cause a delay, which could possibly lead to problems with the chain and you may even lose your own buyer.

But is it really a bad thing if your mortgage valuation is less than the purchase  price?

If you spend the time finding out why the property has been valued lower than the price you have agreed to pay, you may find there is a good reason.  A Valuer will use details of similar properties which have recently sold or are under offer, in conjunction with their knowledge of the local area, to arrive at the valuation figure.  It is possible that you have made an offer which is too high.  Other factors which may affect value include:

  1. Condition of the property (remember that a valuation is not a survey).
  2. Tenure.
  3. Works carried out without Local Authority approvals.
  4. Planning proposals which may affect the property.
  5. Detrimental use of land/property in the vicinity.

Once you establish the reason for the lender’s valuation being less than your agreed purchase price, you may wish to revise your offer, or even reconsider the purchase.  So, unless you are happy to pay more than a house is worth, perhaps it is not such a bad thing if your mortgage valuation is less than you had been prepared to pay.

buying and selling a house

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DIY in the home

Remember to stick to the jobs which are within your capability and expertise and employ specialists where necessary to ensure works are carried out safely and to the required standard. 

Whether you’ve recently moved house, are preparing to put your house on the market or simply wish to catch up on maintenance or make some improvements, a Bank Holiday weekend gives an extra day to tackle some DIY in the home.  

But take care.  Many accidents in the home or garden could be avoided by taking necessary precautions.

  1. Ensure there is adequate ventilation when using paint, solvents, etc.
  2. Be careful when using ladders or step ladders. Make sure they are in a good condition, used not on a sound surface and have someone to foot when in use.
  3. Wear appropriate safety clothing when using tools such as goggles, mask, dust mask, gloves, footwear, etc, when carrying out DIY in the home.
  4. Take care when using tools.  Read the operating instructions and take note of safety. Only use tools for their intended purpose and which you know how to use safely.
  5. Keep children and pets at a safe distance.
  6. Do not attempt to carry out any works which require specialist knowledge and training such as electrical works, works to gas appliances, installation of wood burning stoves, etc.  Instruct relevant specialists for such work.
  7. Do not carry out any structural alterations without obtaining advice.  Structural alterations are controlled by Building Regulations and in many cases require design by an Engineer.
  8. Do not disturb any materials which may contain asbestos when carrying out DIY in the home.  Asbestos can be found in many materials used in houses built up to 2000, including cement soffit sheets, textured coatings to walls and ceilings, asbestos cement pipes and gutters, some types of insulation, and more.  If there is a possibility that a product contains asbestos then have it tested and obtain advice on it’s removal and disposal from a specialist.  Visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/

Remember to stick to the jobs which are within your capability and expertise and employ specialists where necessary to ensure works are carried out safely and to the required standard.

 

 

buying and selling a house

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Choosing a survey: Does it really matter what your survey report is called?

When choosing a survey, the name of the survey report does not really matter.  The most important thing is to check what your report will cover and make sure it will provide the information you are looking for. 

What type of survey should we have?  This is a question many house buyers ask when choosing a survey, puzzled at the assortment of terms, including Building Survey, Homebuyer Report, Condition Report, and more.

Putting terminology aside, what do most buyers want from a survey?  A typical house buyer would want to be aware of any repairs needed, the urgency of any repairs and have an idea of costs involved.

Some buyers choose a property knowing that works will be required and the survey will help them plan the works and obtain estimates from contractors.  After all, there is little point going ahead with fitting out a new kitchen or decorating when more disruptive works such as rewiring need to be attended to first. On the other hand, some buyers seek a property which needs as little work as possible (although, inevitably it is likely that some work will be necessary).

Whatever the name of the survey, it is important to check what will be included.  Most pre-purchase surveys have a similar level of inspection, but the information within the report can vary from one surveyor to another.  This can be due to the level of knowledge and experience of the surveyor and the amount of time spent carrying out the survey and preparing the report.  Some firms place high demands on their surveyors and expect two (and sometimes more!) surveys to be carried out in a day, whereas other firms allow more time for each survey and are more likely to produce a more thorough and detailed report (which may be reflected in the cost).

In a nutshell, when choosing a survey, the name of the survey report does not really matter.  The most important thing is to check what your report will cover and make sure it will provide the information you are looking for.  And most importantly, make sure you choose the right surveyor, ideally someone who has been recommended to you and is familiar with the local area.

 

buying and selling a house

 

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Why do surveyors ask for further investigations?

An experienced surveyor will be able to use his or her knowledge and experience to assess whether there are likely to be any hidden defects which require further investigations.  

Some buyers may wonder why their surveyor has asked for further investigations or a report from a specialist.  Firstly, it is important to remember what the surveyor was instructed to do.  Typically, a surveyor would carry out a single inspection.  The property may be occupied, furnished, have floor coverings and in some cases there may be many stored items which hamper the inspection.   In most cases a surveyor would not carry out any opening up to inspect hidden areas such as floor timbers, wall ties, etc (unless previously agreed and with the permission of the vendor).

Most properties will have some restrictions to the inspection including:

  1. Roof spaces without access hatches or with unsafe access, for instance where a roof hatch is positioned above a stairwell.
  2. Floor voids without access and floor timbers generally.
  3. Areas covered by furniture and/or floor coverings.
  4. Areas at high level, such as behind parapets, stacks, or simply not visible due to the roof configuration or height.
  5. Flat roofs to upper storeys, including bay roofs.
  6. Wall ties within cavities.
  7. Underground drainage runs.

Even though not all parts of a building may be visible, an experienced surveyor will be able to use his or her knowledge and experience to assess whether there are likely to be any hidden defects which require further investigations.

For instance, a surveyor will recognise the distinctive pattern of cracking associated with wall tie corrosion and may recommend that a sample of ties is checked using a borescope (instrument to view within a cavity).

Similarly, if movement is noted and there is a possibility of defective drains which may affect the property, the surveyor may recommend a CCTV survey to confirm the route and condition of the hidden drains.

Also, a surveyor may suspect rot and/or woodworm to a timber floor even without an inspection, particularly if there is springiness, dampness and/or a lack of ventilation.  Further investigations may be recommended in the form of opening up, to establish the extent of defects and repairs needed.

In addition to further investigations, a surveyor may ask for one or more specialist reports, such as from an electrician, Gas Safe contractor or HETAS engineer.  This is simply because these are specialist matters which need input from the appropriately trained and qualified specialist.

After reading your survey report, don’t feel inconvenienced if any further investigations or specialist reports are recommended.  This is simply part of the process of finding out the true condition of the property you are thinking of buying so that you can proceed with the purchase in full knowledge of the condition.

buying and selling a house

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Property survey:  things to remember when reading a survey report

Consider the findings of the survey against your expectations, taking into account your budget and how much work you are prepared to carry out. 

Some people read their property survey report and think they should look for another property instead.  It may sound as though an endless list of repairs are needed and that the property is far worse than anything else they could have chosen. While this is possible, in many cases the property may not be significantly worse than others in the area. It is a case of putting things into perspective.

If a property survey was commissioned on every similar property in the area the chances are that many would have issues to some degree.  It is even possible that a survey on your present house may reveal some issues, even though you may not have been aware of them and these have not stopped you making the house your home.

It is important to remember that you have employed a surveyor to report on any items which may affect your decision to purchase the property or renegotiate the purchase price so that you can make an informed decision.

Highlight any major issues

A property survey report will always report some issues (I have never known one which hasn’t).  Some may be major issues which require urgent or costly repairs, whereas others may be matters which can be dealt with over time and/or with insignificant cost.  Read the report carefully and highlight  any major issues.

If the report identifies any major repairs are needed (or may be needed depending on the results of further investigation or enquires) you should obtain cost estimates before you commit to purchase (usually exchange of contracts).

Most issues will fall into one of the following categories :

  1. Further investigations/enquires which should be carried out/made prior to commitment to purchase/exchange of contracts.
  2. Costly repairs which are urgent (these may or my not affect your decision to purchase, depending on your expectations and budget).
  3. Costly repairs which can be spread over time  (again, these may or may not affect your decision to purchase depending on your budget and how much work you are prepared to carry out).
  4. Minor repairs/maintenance which can be dealt with after moving in (and should be anticipated for most properties).

The important thing is to consider the findings of the survey against your expectations, taking into account your budget and how much work you are prepared to carry out.  The final decision can only be yours.

buying and selling a house

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Advantages of using a local surveyor when buying a house

If you instruct a surveyor in a local practice you can be fairly sure that the survey will be carried out by someone with local experience.

Most prudent house purchasers will arrange a survey, but there are advantages in using a local surveyor when buying a house.  Some surveyors cover a wide area and inspect properties in locations which vary considerably.  However, if you instruct a surveyor in a local practice you can be fairly sure that the survey will be carried out by someone with local experience.

  1. Firstly, a surveyor who is already known to you or who has been personally recommended, either by a friend, family member or solicitor, is more likely to be a local surveyor.  Most people would prefer to instruct a local surveyor when buying a house who has been recommended to them by a reliable person rather than someone who is not known to them.
  2. A local surveyor is more likely to be familiar with properties in the area, their form of construction, local materials and associated defects.  A local surveyor may have inspected other houses in the same road, or possibly even the house you are considering purchasing.
  3. Local knowledge is important particularly for items which cannot be seen.  For instance, a surveyor from another area may not be aware that a particular housing estate has pitch fibre drains.  Sometimes the drains are not visible, eg, if a manhole cover has been concealed by paving or decking or is simply too heavy to lift.  A local surveyor who has experience of inspecting other properties in the area will be able to warn of the possibility of pitch fibre drains where present in the area, and recommend further investigations prior to commitment to purchase to avoid unforeseen costly repairs at a later date.
  4. Similarly, a local surveyor is more likely to be aware of areas where black ash mortar has been used, which may sometimes not be visible, eg, behind rendering.  It is important to know whether back ash mortar has been used as this can increase the risk of wall tie corrosion which requires costly repairs.
  5. A local surveyor is more likely to be aware of areas which may be affected by mining.  Be aware that not all areas affected by mining will be obvious, particularly to someone who is not local.  Some green rural areas and built up areas of cities, such as parts of Bristol, may have former mine workings, with no or few visible signs.
  6. Some surveyors from outside the area may not recognise ex-Local Authority properties which have been rebuilt.  A local surveyor is more likely to have such knowledge and be aware of which properties are traditionally built and which are non-traditionally built.  This is important as some non-traditional properties may be defective and not be mortgageable.
  7. Many purchasers view flood maps which show a potential risk of flooding, but a local surveyor is more likely to know whether a particular area has actually flooded in recent years or within living memory.
  8. Similarly, some searches indicate that properties in a certain postcode area have a higher risk of subsidence.  A local surveyor is more likely to be aware of areas with a higher incidence of subsidence and is able to warn of the risk even if there are no visible signs.

For indication of the cost of a survey visit how much does a survey cost? 

To find a local surveyor when buying a house visit RICS Find a Surveyor

buying and selling a house

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