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House hunting warning signs

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Whether you’re a first-time buyer looking for a new home or a property developer after your next investment, it is incredibly important to be vigilant when house viewing.

After inspecting thousands of properties in my career as an estate agent and developer, I want to offer advice to prospective buyers on the tell-tale warning signs to be aware of and what to avoid before committing to a purchase.

In order to make a home as saleable as possible, a vendor will often undertake quick fixes to make a property look presentable, and this can sometimes involve masking issues. The most common and cost-effective measures usually taken are to paint internally and externally, change light fixtures and to clean or replace the flooring. But don’t let the smell of fresh paint fool you, it is essential as a buyer to look beyond the cosmetics for signs of any existing or pending problems that may occur in the future.

Structural damage can often be the most expensive to repair, look out for internal cracks in walls, ceilings and around bay windows. Additionally, external cracks in the rendering or dropped bays could be a sign of historical or progressive subsidence. Using a leveller, check to make sure these cracks aren’t much over 10mm wide and if in doubt, arrange for a structural engineer to inspect as it could be a sign of severe damage.

Movement over time can also cause uneven floorboards or deflections, which are costly to fix as structural support columns will need correcting, and the existing floor could need replacing. It is worthwhile taking a spirit level or a marble on viewings to place around different areas of the floor in each room. However, if floors are very uneven, foundation work might also be needed, which requires additional budget. Additionally, keep an eye out for any doors that have dropped in their frame as this can also signify movement.

Damp and mould can signal ventilation problems or leaks from defective pointing or damaged rainwater pipes, so make sure to examine walls and ceilings for stains, water marks or peeling paint. A freely painted patch or painting in vulnerable areas may be a suspicious sign that the seller has tried to cover up a leak or hide damp or a mould patch. It’s also a good idea to look carefully at the underside of drawers and windowsills and take note of any damp smells in rooms and cupboards.

It is imperative to check the age of the boiler and fuse board in a house as it can be a costly procedure to replace if you purchase a property with issues in these areas. For the boiler, check for signs of leaks, that the pressure relief valve is working and that the wiring is sound. Be sure to test the hot water and that the temperature and water pressure is up to standard.

Another key area is switches and power-point sockets. Brown areas can be signs of a poor wiring condition. Replacing wiring and fittings can be very expensive. If you encounter this, continue with caution.

Most purchasers obtaining a mortgage only rely on a building society valuation survey which entails a minimal inspection of the property. I would recommend spending the additional money having at the very least a homebuyer’s survey or preferably a full structural survey carried out, as this will provide peace of mind by highlighting any of the above potential issues.

As a purchaser, identifying any of the above problems before exchanging contracts will allow you to re-negotiate the purchase or withdraw from the sale.




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