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

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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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Renegotiating the purchase price of a property following a survey

Reasons for renegotiating the purchase price of a property

Renegotiating the purchase price of a property is an obvious thing to consider if your house survey reveals unexpected defects, particularly if they are going to be costly to repair.  Most purchasers would make an offer “subject to survey”, making it clear that firstly, they plan to have a survey, and secondly, if the survey reveals defects which they were not aware of they may consider revising their offer.   Visit the following:  https://www.gov.uk/buy-sell-your-home/offers

Renegotiating the purchase price of a property may also be necessary if you are seeking a mortgage and the mortgage valuation is less than the previously agreed purchase price.

 

How to renegotiate the purchase price

Renegotiating the purchase price of a property would typically be done through the estate agent.

After receiving the survey report, the buyer should obtain cost estimates from contractors for any recommended works prior to commitment to purchase.  The estimates can be used as a basis for negotiation.

It is important to remember that the seller is under no obligation to reduce the price, even if works are required.  Most sellers would have a minimum price for which they are prepared to sell their property.  This may be based on how much they need to repay a mortgage or how much they need to be able to buy their next home.  However, some purchasers may be in a position to agree a reduced price in order to achieve a sale.  The selling agent may know the vendor’s position and should be able to advise the buyer whether there is any room for negotiation.

Sometimes the selling agent or vendor will ask to see a copy of the survey report.  The survey report has been prepared for the buyer, and the buyer is under no obligation to provide this to anyone.  However, in some cases it may be helpful to show extracts of the report, along with quotations for the works, but this is entirely the buyer’s choice.

If the reason for renegotiating the purchase price is because the mortgage valuation is lower than the previously agreed purchase price then the purchaser may not be able to proceed with the purchase unless the price is lowered or the buyer has additional funds to put towards the purchase.

The success of negotiations will depend on a number of factors including the seller’s financial position, whether the seller needs to sell the property and whether there are any other potential purchasers on the scene who are in a position to proceed and are prepared to pay a higher price.

Remember that the seller does not have to reduce the price and may even decide to not sell the property if it does achieve  a particular selling price.  The success of any negotiation depends not only on the cost of any works but also on the individual circumstances of both the buyer and seller.

 

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Should I have a survey before selling my house? 

Some people consider having a survey before selling their own property as they think it might ease the sale process and prevent delays.  The survey itself does not typically result in a delay in the house buying process so long as it is arranged in good time and not left until the last minute.

As long as the property you are selling is in a reasonable order, in most cases it shouldn’t be necessary to have a survey before selling your home.

When you have agreed an offer (or an offer “subject to survey”) your potential purchaser will choose whether or not to instruct a surveyor to carry out a survey (if your buyer is buying the property with a mortgage then a mortgage valuation may also be undertaken, either at the same time as the survey or separately).

Reasons not to have a survey before selling your property include:

  1. Most prudent purchasers would instruct a surveyor of their choice to carry out a survey on their behalf, irrespective of whether you have already had a survey carried out.
  2. If the buyer instructs a surveyor then the report will be prepared in their name and will be for them to rely on.  If the seller has commissioned a survey then this would not typically be able to be relied upon by a third party, such as a potential purchaser.  It may be possible to transfer the report into the name of the buyer but this may incur a fee.
  3. If the buyer has particular questions about the property, eg, if the buyer is considering carrying out alterations, these points can be addressed during the survey.
  4. If the seller arranges a survey before putting the house on the market and if there is a time lag between the survey being undertaken and finding a buyer, then the report may not be up to date.

In summary, wait to see whether your potential purchaser wishes to have a survey, and if so, leave them to instruct a surveyor of their choice.  Allow the surveyor access to your property and be helpful with any questions he or she may have.  So long as your buyer arranges a survey in good time the survey is unlikely to result in a delay.

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Three things which might make your house more difficult to sell

There are some steps which can be taken to avoid your property being difficult to sell and avoid delays once you have found a buyer.

Alterations without approvals

Many homeowners realise that they may need Local Authority approvals for major works such as extensions, structural alterations, etc, but some works are controlled under Building Regulations which can easily be overlooked, including:

  1. Installation of a wood burner.
  2. Replacement of windows (FENSA certificate required).
  3. Works to drainage installations (above and below ground).

If you plan to extend your property or carry out any works which require Building Control approval make sure that the relevant aspects of the work are undertaken to meet the requirements of Building Regulations.  Ensure that you keep all documentation for any works you have carried out to reduce the risk of your home being difficult to sell.  Pass a copy of all documents to your solicitor so that copies can be forwarded to your buyer’s solicitor when requested.

If works are carried out without the relevant approvals, this may cause a delay or a problem if your buyer is taking out a mortgage to buy the property.  Also, a lack of approval may lead to your buyer questioning the quality of work and in some cases may put them off proceeding with the purchase,  and may result in your house being more difficult to sell.

Alterations which are out of character

When carrying out any works it is a good idea to do work which is in keeping with the age and style of the building.

  1. Replacement windows should match the style of the original windows as closely as possible.
  2. An older house which originally had slates or clay tiles is likely to be ruined if modern concrete tiles are used as a replacement.

For older properties, it is worth spending time sourcing suitable materials, eg, good quality used slates or roofing tiles from a reputable stockist or a reclamation yard.

Poor presentation

Perhaps the most obvious is poor presentation.  A property which has been well maintained is generally more attractive to most buyers.  While your property does not have to be professionally “staged” before putting it on the market, there are a number of things you can easily do yourself to make your home more attractive to a prospective buyer.

  1. Clear out any unwanted items.
  2. Tidy up.  Make sure everything has a home.  A tidier home is more attractive and can make rooms look larger.
  3. Spring clean thoroughly.  Don’t forget windows, mirrors, taps, etc.
  4. Tidy the garden.  Make sure it doesn’t look as though hours of work are needed as soon as someone moves in.
  5. Attend to any small DIY matters such as dripping taps.  Make your home look as though it has been looked after rather than neglected.

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When should I arrange a survey?

The time to arrange a survey will fall somewhere within a band between agreeing an offer and exchanging contracts.  First of all, remember that a lender’s valuation for mortgage purposes is not a survey.

If your decision to purchase depends on the condition of the house or flat then it is a good idea to arrange a survey in the early stages.  This way, you can decide whether to proceed with the purchase at an early date and before your solicitor has completed their input.  Many house buyers initially make an offer “subject to survey”.  This way, the buyer makes it clear that the offer may be revised if the survey reveals that costly repairs are required.

A buyer who is relying on a mortgage to make the purchase should wait until the mortgage valuation has been carried out and have received a mortgage offer before instructing a surveyor (unless the valuation and survey are carried out at the same time, in which case the additional cost of the survey may be wasted if the property is valued lower than the purchase price and a mortgage offer is not received).

The most important date to consider before you should arrange a survey is the proposed date to exchange contracts.  Once contracts have been exchanged, a buyer is committed to the purchase and there may be financial consequences if the buyer pulls out after this stage.

Remember to allow sufficient time for the survey to be arranged, undertaken and the report completed before exchange of contracts.  Also, allow some time after receipt of the report to read the report carefully so that you are not rushed into making a decision.  Bear in mind that the report may make recommendations for further investigations or to obtain cost estimates prior to commitment to purchase, ie, prior to exchange of contracts, so that you are fully aware of any terms which may require significant expenditure.  And don’t forget to allow for busy periods and bank holidays, and check whether any parties, advisers, etc, have holidays or time off during the crucial period.

 

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3 common myths about buying a flat: management company, repairs, and flooding 

I’m buying a flat so the management company will take care of any repairs 

In some ways this is true, but in most cases the management company is made up of the individual flat owners. In the majority of cases, flat owners each pay an amount of money to the management company to cover items such as insurance, maintenance and repairs. Sometimes additional payments need to be made if there are insufficient funds to cover outgoings such as unexpected repairs.

In cases whee there is no management company, such as with a two storey terraced house which has been converted to two flats, there may not be a management company.  However, in most cases the leases for the individual flats will set out liability for repairs to the building as a whole.  If there are two similar sized flats then it is likely that the cost of any repairs will be shared equally, but the precise terms would need to be checked.

In a nutshell, in most cases the flat owners are responsible either directly or indirectly, via a management company, for repairs to the building.


I’m buying a ground floor flat so it doesn’t matter what condition the roof is in 

If you are buying a leasehold flat then you will need check the lease clauses. A typical lease will clearly set out a leaseholder’s obligations to repairs and maintenance and will state what proportion of the repairs each leaseholder is responsible for. Many leasehold flats have a management company which will deal with certain repairs, which often includes external repairs. It is possible that each flat owner has to contribute to any works to the roof.

If you are having a survey then it’s a good idea to arrange for the surveyor to have access to any roof spaces (possibly via another flats/s or communal areas) to check for any defects.  See instructing a surveyor. Also, you should enquire with the management company to find out whether they are aware of any defects and whether any repairs are programmed in the near future or medium term.


I’m buying an upper flat so I won’t be affected by flooding

While upper flats are less vulnerable to flooding than ground floor flats and basement/garden flats, you should check the terms of the lease so that you are aware of your liability to any repairs to other flats in the block, including ground floor flats and basement/garden flats.

If parts of the building have flooded previously, then the insurance premium may have increased, or there may be a higher excess in the event of flooding.  In some cases flooding may be excluded from the insurance cover. It is likely that you will contribute to the insurance premium either directly or indirectly through the management company and if this is the case then yes, you may be affected by a risk of flooding.

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Buying a refurbished house: what to check

Many people can see the attraction of buying a refurbished house as they can move straight in and unpack rather than spend weeks, months  or sometimes years getting the house the way they want it.  But can you be sure that any works have been carried out to an acceptable standard?  And more importantly, have the works been carried out legally?

 

New kitchen and bathroom

A brand new kitchen is perhaps a one of the most desirable things in a house.  Everything bright and shiny and with no stains to cupboards or worktops left behind by the previous owners.  When buying a refurbished house this may be one of the biggest attractions.  However, some works involved in refurbishing a kitchen and bathroom are controlled under Building Regulations for the purpose of ensuring that works are carried out to an acceptable standard.

Any works carried out to waste pipework are controlled under Approved Document H of the Building Regulations.  Minor works would often be carried out on a Building Notice.  The building contractor would submit a Building Notice to the Local Authority Building Control Department and the Building Control Officer would inspect the work at the appropriate time to check that the works meet the required standard.  Obtain all documentation for any works controlled under Building Regulations.

Don’t forget the things you can’t see.  Everything may look new, but if you are buying an older house do you know whether the incoming water main has been replaced?  Check whether there is any remaining lead supply pipework.  If the cold water supply pipe is lead then this will require replacement.  If this involves disturbing floors, kitchen fittings, etc then this will add to the cost of this work.

 

New windows and doors

The replacement of most windows and doors is controlled under Building Regulations.  The purpose of this is to reduce energy loss.  The FENSA scheme was set up to allow registered companies to self-certify the installation of windows or doors.  This saves time and makes it easier for home owners to replace windows or doors without having to apply to the Local Authority for Building Regulation approval.

Any glazing installed from April 2002 onwards (except new buildings) requires a FENSA certificate to confirm that the windows or doors comply with Building Regulations.  However, if any glazing has been carried out by a company which is not registered with FENSA , or carried out in a DIY manner, then the homeowner will be responsible for applying to the Local Authority to obtain Building Regulation approval.  Sometimes the installer may apply for approval on the homeowner’s behalf but obtaining approval is still the responsibility of the homeowner.

 

PVCu fascias and soffits

New PVCu fascias and soffits save the time and cost of redecorating timber eaves joinery and are another attraction of buying a refurbished house.  However, the new PVCu eaves joinery is often clad over the original fascias and soffits, with the original eaves joinery being left in place.  Depending on the age of the property it is possible that some of the original eaves joinery was asbestos cement (commonly used for soffits).  If there any asbestos containing materials remain then it is important to be aware of their location and condition.

Asbestos cement typically does not pose a problem if it is in good condition and not disturbed.  Ask the vendor if they are aware of any concealed asbestos containing materials (including asbestos cement eaves joinery).

 

Cavity wall insulation

The provision of cavity wall insulation is also controlled under Building Regulations.  CIGA (The Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency) was set up in 1995.  It is an independent body which operates and administers a Cavity Wall Insulation Self Certification scheme (CWISC) in association with the British Board of Agrément.  A CIGA registered installer will assess the property prior to installation, carry out the installation and will apply to CIGA for a guarantee on behalf of the homeowner.

This guarantee is transferable to future owners of the property.  Also, if the cavity wall insulation has been installed by a CIGA registered installer then the installation will comply with the requirements of Building Regulations.

If the work has not been carried out by a CIGA registered installer then the work may not comply with Building Regulation requirements.

 

Additional loft insulation

Improvements to insulation in the loft will help to reduce heat loss and energy consumption.  However, if insulation is provided at ceiling level (to form a “cold roof”) it is important to ensure that the roof space above is adequately ventilated.  This is often achieved by vents in the soffits and/or tile ventilators.  If insulation has been increased, make sure that the insulation does not block any ventilation openings at the eaves.  This can be done by going into the roof space to check whether there is air movement and by checking that ventilation openings are not obstructed.

 

Laminated flooring

New laminated flooring looks clean and does not have the disadvantages of carpets which have been in use for many years.  However, it is important to know they are not covering defective floors, otherwise they may need to be taken up.

When buying a refurbished house look for signs that might indicate that timber floors may be damp, rotten or have woodworm:

  • Check each floor for springiness which may indicate rot, woodworm or inadequate floor structures.
  • Walk around the outside of the house to check for high ground levels. Ideally, external ground levels should be 150 mm (6″) below the damp proof course.  If the external walls are damp the ground floor timbers may also be damp, rotten and/or have woodworm.
  • Check that vents are provided at regular intervals to the external walls at low level to ventilate the sub-floor void. If the void below a timber ground floor does not have sufficient ventilation then this may lead to rot and/or woodworm.

 

Electrical work

Most electrical works are controlled under Approved Document P of the Building Regulations.  This can be achieved by employing an electrician registered with one of the government approved schemes who can self-certify any works.  Obtain the Building Compliance Certificate/Part P Certificate to confirm any electrical works have been carried out to the required standard.

 

New central heating

If gas fired central heating has recently been installed, check whether this was carried out by a Gas Safe contractor and obtain any documentation.

 

Recently redecorated rooms

Moving into a house which has recently been decorated through sounds perfect.  But when buying a refurbished house, can you be sure that new decorations are not hiding defects such as cracks?  Look for other signs of movement such as sloping floors, racked doorways, cracking externally, bowing walls, etc.

 

Generally

Above all, don’t get carried away by the newness if the interior.  Remember to check that the house as a whole has been maintained.  There is little point having smart and newly decorated rooms if the roof leaks or if the wiring needs to be replaced.  If in doubt, instruct a surveyor to make sure that there are no major defects.

 


 

 

 

 

 

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Buying a house in Spring: what to look for

Spring usually sees a surge in properties on the market.  This is a time when gardens will be at their most attractive with an array of flowers and new vegetation in contrast to the preceding months.  Also, many families who are relocating hope to complete their move in time for their children to start their new schools in September.  When buying a house in Spring don’t get carried away.  Its important to stop and think about what sort of home your proposed purchase will make at other times of the year.

 

Rainwater gutters and downpipes

If there hasn’t been very much rain for some time it might not be obvious whether the rainwater gutters, downpipes, gullies and hoppers are functioning.  When buying a house in Spring, it is a good idea to check joints of gutters and downpipes for signs of leakage such as staining and make sure rainwater hoppers are not blocked.  Also, check that gutters are adequately supported with brackets at regular intervals and check that all gutters have stop ends.  Examine walls carefully for any signs that rainwater goods have been leaking or overflowing.

 

Drives and paving

Drives and paved areas may look fine during a dry spell but it is important to look for clues to determine whether they are adequate during wet weather.

Check for signs of ponding to low areas such as stained areas or silt.  Puddles on the drive or patio are not ideal and can be a hazard when they freeze in cold weather.  Areas of ponding can also cause the surface to deteriorate more quickly, particularly after sub zero temperatures.

If the drive (and any other hardstanding areas) are steeply sloping then look to see where rainwater will run.  If paved areas slope towards the building then there may be a torrent of water during heavy rainfall.  Rainwater should ideally fall towards gullies or drainage channels and be discharged into surface water drains or to a soakaway.

 

Gardens

When buying a house in Spring, remember to check there are sufficient paths to access important areas of the garden such as the garage, sheds, bin store and the washing line.  Some external areas may be acceptable during dry weather but may turn to mud in wet weather.  You may not mind walking across the lawn to a shed or bin store in the spring or summer when the ground is dry, but the same route could quickly become a quagmire during wet weather.

 

Natural light

On a bright day in spring or summer rooms can look much brighter than on a dull day in the autumn or winter.  When buying a house in Spring, consider the size, location and orientation of windows to assess how much natural light the same rooms are likely to have during the winter months.  If certain rooms are likely to need lamps during the day it is better to know before you decide to buy the house.

See also instructing a surveyor when buying a house.

 

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