Home Residential PropertyFirst-Time Buyers What first time buyers should look out for when jumping on the property ladder  

What first time buyers should look out for when jumping on the property ladder  

by LLP Finance Reporter
17th May 23 5:31 pm

Every homeowner will remember buying their first property. From securing a mortgage in principle, to going for viewings and trawling through paperwork with your solicitor, there’s lots to do and think about.

When you’ve never been through the process before, however, it’s not always clear what exactly you need to do, and many first-time buyers find themselves lost in their quest to get a foot on the property ladder.  

James Quinn, Director at GB Home Surveys told LondonLovesProperty.com, In their haste to find the home of their dreams, first-time buyers often miss important details about the property they’re looking to buy that could come back to bite them further down the line. To avoid making a costly mistake, therefore, prospective purchasers must be extra vigilant when viewing properties, and mindful of the defects that sellers may have attempted to conceal from them.   

With that in mind, here are some of the key things that first-time buyers need to be on the lookout for when searching for the home of their dreams.  

Look out for asbestos  

Many people looking to get on the property ladder are attracted to older homes that are brimming with character and space. While late Victorian and early 20th century properties are often associated with a high build quality, certain harmful materials that are no longer used can sometimes be found to have been involved in their construction.   

Asbestos, for example, is a natural mineral found in rock that was crushed and added to building materials due to its strong and flexible nature, as well as its resistance to chemicals and fire. It was widely used in the building industry throughout the 20th century, but its use in new homes was stopped in 2000, after it was discovered that inhaling its fibre could cause cancer and lung disease. As such, if you’re looking to buy a property that was built prior to the turn of the 21st century, you should bring a chartered surveyor in to check for signs of asbestos that could pose a potential health risk.   

There are various places throughout the home where asbestos might be found, some of which are more visible than others. For example, Artex –swirly patterns often found on ceilings – contains trace amounts of asbestos. While it’s not necessarily a dealbreaker, you should take note if Artex is covering all the walls and ceilings, as you will need to remove it if you plan to run pipes, wiring, or hang pictures. Many people choose to simply ignore it and drill through regardless, without realising that doing so could create a severe health hazard. Removing Artex can be expensive and requires a specialist, who may charge roughly £15 to £20 per square metre, plus disposal costs, or as much as £80 per square metre in the most severe cases.  

Signs of serious defects  

It is not only dangerous construction materials like asbestos that first-time buyers need to be on the alert for. There are a variety of defects found commonly in both old and newer properties that might end up costing you a lot of money to fix in the long run.   

Subsidence, for example, is among the most serious issues that a homeowner can face, and is relatively common in the UK – particularly in the South East and London. It is caused by the ground under the property sinking, which can lead to the foundations of the property becoming unbalanced. This may move the walls and floors from their original groundwork, resulting in cracks and destabilisation of your house.  

There are a number of visible signs of subsidence to watch out for. If you see a crack on a wall and it’s more than 3mm thick, its diagonally positioned and wider at the top and slimmer at the bottom, or its visible near doors and windows, there’s a high probability that subsidence is the cause. If a surveyor discovers evidence of subsidence, getting a mortgage may prove very difficult, but not impossible.  

Damp, meanwhile, is an umbrella term referring to ‘moisture in the air’. Seeing that we live on an island with some of Europe’s most humid weather, there’s always going to be water somewhere, and that’s pretty much unavoidable. In homes, damp comes from stationary moisture and, with good ventilation, it is normally harmless. Problems often arise from a lack of airflow, or from burst pipes, leaking drains, or issues with roofs and gutters.  

Common signs of damp to look out for include condensation on windows, mirrors, and other metal surfaces, mould, noticeable damp patches under plaster, a damp smell, poor or no ventilation in bathrooms and kitchens, or wooden windows that stick.  

Despite the name, woodworm is actually a form of beetle larvae. When eggs hatch on timber, the larvae grow by eating their way through the sap, forming tunnels in the wood that eventually compromise its structural integrity. To make matters worse, once the beetle larvae reach maturity, they burrow to the surface, fly away, and begin laying eggs elsewhere, thus starting the process all over again.   

Typically, woodworm is difficult to spot, but you may notice it in exposed beams in the roof or in historic properties. Small holes in dry wooden surfaces that are a couple of millimetres apart and surrounded by frass – which looks like sawdust but is actually beetle droppings – can be a tell-tale sign.  

Avoid remote valuations 

Regardless of how many properties they’ve purchased in the past, most people will not be able to spot all the costly defects or potentially hazardous materials present in a house. This is why it’s a smart move to hire a professional surveyor to carry out a full inspection of the property – particularly as a first-time buyer. A responsible and experienced surveyor will be able to identify if there are any issues with the condition of the home, and assess whether these issues are minor or significant structural problems. They will highlight what repairs or alterations you will need to make, and carry out a valuation of the property, either to determine the asking price or confirm the value to your lender.  

However, in recent years, drive-by, desktop, or automated valuations – whereby the surveyor does not physically visit the property, and the valuation is conducted remotely instead – have become increasingly common. This is often done because these types of valuation are cheaper and less time consuming than attending the property to carry out an on-site valuation.   

Of course, there is no substitute for seeing the house in person, so any valuation that does not include a physical visit is unlikely to be as accurate as one that does. Remote valuations typically involve lots of assumptions, providing a skewed view of the property and its value to first-time buyers. As such, you may end up buying a home on false pretences, and paying a heavy price for it further down the line.  

While it may not matter to the surveyor carrying out the valuation remotely – some are seemingly more concerned with saving their own time and money than helping homebuyers – buying a house is a huge investment for any first-time buyer. Therefore, using a responsible and committed surveyor to conduct a physical valuation can help offer you peace of mind, and avoid you making a very costly mistake.  

Buyer beware.. 

Although buying your first home can be a stressful process, it doesn’t necessarily need to be. By knowing what to look out for when viewing properties, and investing in the services of an experienced and dedicated surveyor who puts your best interests before all else, you can remove much of the stress that comes from the uncertainty of purchasing.  

After all, homebuying should be an exciting experience and, with a little knowledge and the right people in your corner, it absolutely can be. 

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