In the UK you buy property under the principle of ‘caveat emptor’, Latin for ‘let the buyer beware’. This means once you have completed on your purchase ,you will be responsible for any defects that you uncover. A Chartered Surveyor can help ensure you don’t uncover any nasty surprises, however here are 10 common defects that you should look out for in your new property:
1. Structural Movement
Structural movement can normally be spotted most easily around the window frames and the door of a property. A quick way to check for signs of structural movement is to stand back and see how the frames around the windows and doors line up with the other lines above. A small amount of movement is to be expected in older properties, however if it is recent or progressive it should be treated as a serious defect. If you believe there are signs of recent or progressive movement, you should seek the advice of a suitable professional such as a Charted Surveyor or Structural Engineer. In the first instance a Building Survey will give you an idea of the severity of the problem, however a Structural Engineers Report will give you the greatest insight into the required repairs.
Trees close to a property can affect the foundations or drains, which is a common cause of subsidence or structural movement. Trees sucking moisture out of the soil is estimated to cause up to 70% of all subsidence cases. Trees can require a significant amount of water to survive and certain mature species can remove in excess of 50,000 litres per year. You should seek the advice of a Surveyor or an Arborist if there are large trees close to your property, and they will be able to advise you on the risk to the property and the best course of action.
If the property has modern uPVC windowns you need to check the casements open and close freely, as they are vulnerable to thermal movement and are sometimes badly fitted. You should also check the seal on the double glazed unit, as it can sometimes fail leading to condensation becoming trapped between the two pieces of glass. Period properties with sash or wooden windows require regular maintenance and you should ensure the top and bottom sashes flow freely and the sash cord is intact.
4. Flat Roofs
Flat roofs are common in properties that have been extended and have a lifespan that is considerably shorter than that of slate or tiles. A flat roof can be inspected from a first floor window and if it looks bare or is bulging up in areas, it is likely to be close to the end of its lifespan. Properties that have more than 30% flat roof usually require specialist insurance cover.
5. Loft Conversions
You should check loft conversions to see whether they were converted for use of storage or as a bedroom. Bedrooms should have an escape route out to the front door and should be closed off with a partition. Bounce up and down on the floor a couple of times to test if a new floor was installed or if the first floor ceiling joists have been used. Your Conveyancer or Solicitor should always request a Building Regulations completion certificate for loft conversions and you should seek the advise of a Chartered Surveyor. A Building Survey will provide you with information on the construction and condition of the loft conversion.
6. Chimneys Stacks
The part of a chimney that projects above a roof is known as a chimney stack and they are susceptible to deterioration of pointing and movement. Access to a chimney stack can be difficult, which makes remedial work expensive. You can stand at the front or rear of the property in line with the chimney breast to see whether the chimney stack looks straight. Anything more significant than a slight lean could be a sign of a serious defect.
7. Chimney Breasts
The part of an interior wall that projects to surround a chimney is known as a chimney breast. Chimney breasts that are no longer in use are often blocked off and where this is the case, the chimney breast should be vented. This will alleviate the build up of moisture within, which can penetrate through to the internal surface of the chimney breast and cause staining.
8. Removed Chimney Breasts
If the chimney breast has been removed from the property you need to check the chimneys have also been removed, or are adequately supported. 2-3 steel supports known as gallows brackets with a lintel laid across supporting the remaining brickwork is the most common form of support. A Building Survey from a Chartered Surveyor will detail the type and quality of supports used.
9. Timber Decay Caused by Insect Attack
The most obvious signs of beetle attack are exit holes on the surface of timber in the property. You should look closely in areas where the timber is usually exposed, as wood boring beetles thrive in warm, damp areas. The best places to check are places such as the stairs leading to the basement or the cupboard under the stairs.
10. Electrical Installation
Locating the consumer unit and determining its age will indicate whether the electrical installation is safe and up-to-date. . Modern units will have circuit breakers rather than old style fuses or fuse wire, however a modern consumer unit does not necessarily mean that the property has been re-wired. You should check that there are a sufficient number of sockets for modern used and the positioning of them. For modern installations, it is not permitted to have sockets in the skirting board.
Seeking Additional Advice
If you have noticed signs of any defects in the property you are buying, you should seek the professional advice of a Chartered Surveyor. An RICS Building Survey will provide you with the most detailed information about any defects and the repairs required.
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