Imagine this: you’ve bought the house of your dreams; every viewing you had made it seem like the perfect property; it was cosy, well-decorated and the owners seemed to have nothing to hide… But then, a month or so into your newly found domestic bliss, a suspicious stain has appeared on your previously blemish-free kitchen ceiling.
What you didn’t spot (indeed, couldn’t spot) when doing your own viewings was the roof tile above your beautifully extended kitchen weakening, until finally the inevitable would happen: leakage and damp spreading, which will then cost you hundreds to repair out of your own pocket. But there is a solution – a residential survey may be an additional cost to the already pricey process of buying a house, but it’s a precaution that’s well worth it. If the results of the survey bring back a tonne of maintenance work and future repairs, it can allow you to renegotiate the sale price or even decide not to go ahead.
There are two types of residential surveys available to you: the Homebuyer Report and the Full Building Survey – both of which are approved by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The former is a cost-effective way of assessing the state of any property less than 100 years old, in reasonable condition, and with no significant alterations, while the latter is necessary for older buildings which look to be in a state of disrepair or have undergone any unusual or large alterations. The survey you choose depends on the property in question, the level of detail you want and your budget.
Once you’ve decided, it’s time for the experts to do their thing. Living North sat down with Alex Hunter, Director of Silverstone Residential, to find out more about what they look for during their surveys, and how they spot those tricky, often hidden problems. ‘In general, we provide an evaluation of the construction and condition of the property, identifying anything that is causing or would cause it to deteriorate,’ she explains.
There are a number of things surveyors look for when assessing a property, and we asked Alex to give us the insight into their checklist. Movement was first on the list – properties often undergo structural movement, but the motions are usually so small that it’s virtually undetectable. However, the time for concern is when distortions begin to threaten the integrity of the structure. You can tell when this critical stage has been reached by cracks and bulges in the walls, and while these may be visible to a non-professional, chartered surveyors will be able to tell by the dimensions and directions of the distortions whether the problem is likely to get bigger and require expensive repairs.
Next up, everyone’s domestic nightmare – damp. A surveyor will check to make sure there are damp-proof courses present – DPC is a treatment applied to properties to prevent water breaching the house’s foundation and causing undesirable issues like dry or wet rot and black mould, or even eventual structural damage or timber decay. As damp can appear in many forms, they look for where the damp is, how far it has spread, how intense it is and whether it comes and goes. ‘From considering these conditions we will assess if it is damp rising from the ground, soaking through the structure, leaking pipes, or damp generated by the occupier,’ explains Alex. Although you’d be able to spot a distasteful patch of black mould, you’re probably not equipped with a thermographic imaging camera to fully assess the extent of the issue.
Dry rot is another undesirable and often hidden defect behind skirting boards or under floorboards, and because of this your surveyor is more likely to check out the property for causes of the dry rot, according to Alex. It does not require moisture to grow, therefore it’s essential to get your potential home checked for it, as it can spread quickly and cause severe structural damage.
Your surveyors will also look for any telling signs of structural weakness, such as a sagging floor, which can be caused either by over-loading of modern living requirements or wood-boring insects. A lot of homes have also undergone basement and loft conversions which do not comply with building regulations, something only a chartered surveyor would be able to spot.
Two of the most money-saving hotspots involve the walls and the roof. ‘We check the walls for wall tie failure and cracking and seek to determine if cavity walls have insulation within them,’ says Alex. ‘This allows us to report on energy deficiency and possible future defects.’
Any homeowner will know that roofs are a prime suspect for expensive repairs, and a surveyor will thoroughly check the roof of your potential new home. ‘Any evidence of repairs to roof slates and tiles can indicate that the roof is reaching the end of its life,’ explains Alex, ‘whilst damp stains on the timbers under the roof show where urgent repairs are needed. Roof repairs and replacements are a very common concern for prospective purchasers.’
Finally, they will assess any external risks to your future home by checking flood maps and mining data to ensure you are fully aware of any potential calamities.
All things considered, a residential survey seems a worthy investment during the house-buying process to save you from encountering any unexpected disasters in the near future.