Doing your own survey

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If you are investing a lot of money in a house, it makes sense to engage a professional surveyor to make sure everything is in order structurally. But this will only come at a later stage in the buying process when you have put in an offer on a house. In the meantime you should take trouble to examine the condition of the houses or flats you are inspecting, to minimise the risk of the surveyor finding nasty surprises and you having to call the sale off whilst still having to pay your surveyor anyway. If you are renting, the same applies apart from the fact that you will be more concerned about whether the house will be comfortable to live in than whether it is likely to fall down at the first puff of wind. Look for the following commonsense issues as you go around (we are into checklist territory here once again):

  • Do the windows fit well, or do they rattle or have draughts coming through? Can you open them easily, to air the house? 
  • Are there any cracks in the wall big enough for you to put your finger into? If so, there may be a subsidence problem. 
  • Are there any damp patches in the upper parts of the walls? If so, there may be a problem with the roof or the guttering.
  • What state does the plumbing and wiring seem to be in, as far as you can tell? Dark sooty patches around sockets or light fittings are a giveaway that all is not well with the electrics, and funny smells indicate drainage problems.
  • Ask about whether the house has cavity wall insulation and whether there are any other energy saving measures in place.
  • You should also check older properties have what is known as a damp proof course, or a layer of waterproof membrane a couple of bricks up from the ground (you can usually see evidence of this from outside with the naked eye). If things have been built on breaching the damp proof course, or there is a lot of soil in the form of a flowerbed pressed up against the wall, then the property might have potential problems. Check whether you can smell damp, as this is also a giveaway.
  •  How recently was the boiler serviced, and is it likely to need expensive repairs in the near future? What will it cost to heat the home? If you are going to have to rely on storage heaters, you will need to cost their use particularly carefully, for example.
  • Do the neighbours seem friendly and compatible? There is no worse fate than to live underneath a party animal when you need your sleep, or next to someone wanting peace and quiet when you have three under fives.

Image: Simon Howden /


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