What to look out for when viewing a house

Whether your dream home is a 30s terrace house, a detached 80s bungalow, a converted Victorian terrace flat or a Georgian townhouse, buying a house is probably the most significant financial investment you will ever make. Yet while the prospect of a new home is incredibly exciting, the actual process of house buying can be stressful. Viewings are usually quick and pressurised, with lots of competition for the best properties.

That is why we’ve worked with a group of surveyors to create this interactive house and handy viewing checklist to help you identify common signs of maintenance trouble when viewing a property. Select each area of the house to read the tips that can help you identify a potential problem and see the average cost to fix them.

Outside the house

Flat roof

Deteriorating flat roofs very typically look like the roof in this picture. They are usually a cheaper form of construction than a pitched and tiled roof, often found on extensions and are covered in materials like mineralised bitumen felt, which has a limited life.

Roof problems to look out for:

  • Standing water or ‘ponding’ on the roof
  • Cracking in the covering at the edges
  • Lifting or cracked joins
  • Any signs of vegetation growth

Cost to fix —

Between £250 – £1,500

Fix by —

Tradesman

Don’t forget to take our house viewing checklist next time you visit a property.

Chimney

Chimney stacks come in all shapes and sizes in an attempt to make sure they draw the fumes away from the heating appliance below. Don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars to check from ground level.

Signs to look out for:

  • Dampness leaking into the roof space below
  • White ‘furry’ salts coming out of the brickwork in the chimney breast in the roof space
  • Brown staining on the chimney breast
  • A leaning or bulging chimney stack
  • Small plants growing from the top or sides of the stack
  • Deterioration of the mortar pointing (brickwork joints)
  • Failed / displaced render or leadwork

Cost to fix —

Between £250 – £2,500

Fix by —

Tradesman

Don’t forget to take our house viewing checklist next time you visit a property.

Roof tiles

The roof is designed to take water away from the building and so any break in the surface needs urgent attention. Modern properties should have a secondary layer of roofing felt which prevents immediate entry by water, but older properties such as the one shown here are unlikely to have that second layer.

Signs to look out for:

  • Look for displaced tiles or slates, the slates in the picture are just going and should be re-fixed or replaced urgently
  • Look for little metal tags on a slate roof indicating some past displacement and indicating more may go very soon
  • Tiles or slates are usually held by nails and if you can see the underside of the roof look to see if these have corroded, if so they are more liable to slip
  • Damp patches on a ceiling due to displaced roof coverings

Cost to fix —

Between £1,000 – £5,000

Fix by —

Tradesman

Don’t forget to take our house viewing checklist next time you visit a property.

Gutters

A seasonal problem usually due to leaves falling from trees in autumn, but other debris can collect in gutters and causes them to overflow. Regular dripping onto woodwork can cause it to rot and on solid walls the dampness can penetrate and damage internal plasterwork and cause internal timbers to rot. So on older houses with solid walls, usually built before the 1920s, this is a very significant issue.

Signs to look out for:

  • Damp staining down the outside of the wall
  • Vegetation growth in the gutter
  • Split or damaged gutters or whether gutter joints have been pulled apart
  • Dampness on the interior of the wall, with possibly some salts on the surface of plaster
  • Damp smells

Cost to fix —

Between £500 – £2,000

Fix by —

Tradesman

Don’t forget to take our house viewing checklist next time you visit a property.

Drains

Drains may become blocked due to leaves, other debris or if greasy substances are regularly washed down the sink. This may be hard to spot when viewing a property in the summer but there could be symptoms to keep an eye out for.

Signs to look out for:

  • Water overflowing from the gulleys
  • Damp or unpleasant smells
  • Build up of leaves
  • A build up of gungy residue is an indication that water is not flowing freely
  • Vegetation growth in the drains

Cost to fix —

Between £100 – £500

Fix by —

DIY

Don’t forget to take our house viewing checklist next time you visit a property.

Retaining walls

Quite often garden walls are not built to the same standard as the main building and when they retain an area of garden then they need to be more substantial. If the walls are not built correctly there’s a risk they can become unstable, as shown in this picture here.

Signs to look out for:

  • The wall is leaning
  • There is cracking in the wall
  • The bricks or stonework are disintegrating

Cost to fix —

Between £1,000 – £6,000

Fix by —

Tradesman with specialist supervision

Don’t forget to take our house viewing checklist next time you visit a property.

Cavity walls

Most brick houses built since the 1920s are constructed using two skins of brickwork with a gap between them. These skins are held together by metal ties which in some cases get wet and rust causing the metal to expand. They eventually break and the outer skin could fall away from the building leading to catastrophic failure.

Signs to look out for:

  • The early stages of cavity wall tie failure show regular horizontal cracking as in the picture
  • The more serious stages show bulging of the wall and then the need for urgent action
  • Whether replacement ties need to be inserted if caught at an early stage
  • Leaving until bulging commences may mean rebuilding is required

Cost to fix —

Between £1,500 – £10,000

Fix by —

Tradesman with specialist supervision

Don’t forget to take our house viewing checklist next time you visit a property.

Japanese knotweed

Japanese knotweed is a plant introduced from Japan in the mid 19th century. It is an invasive weed that if allowed to get out of control can spread and damage garden walls, pathways and given the right circumstances affect your home.

Some lenders will restrict their lending on a property affected by Japanese knotweed, so its presence could leave you seriously out of pocket. Japanese knotweed takes on different characteristics in different seasons. Early signs of growth are seen in mid March and new shoots have even been identified as late as November. If it is found growing in the garden, then a specialist knotweed remover must be contacted.

Signs to look out for:

  • Growth in the garden that looks similar to this picture
  • Whether the neighbour has Japanese knotweed on their land, as the plant may encroach onto the property you are viewing if left unattended. If there are indications of Japanese knotweed in an adjoining area of land, then the neighbour will need to be formally advised in writing.

Cost to fix —

Between £5,000 – £20,000

Fix by —

Tradesman with specialist supervision

Don’t forget to take our house viewing checklist next time you visit a property.

By taking a look at our interactive home and using the house viewing checklist, you can make a note of any warning signs you spot to make you feel more confident about the offer you are making. Spotting these symptoms in advance can limit the surprise of unexpected maintenance and repair costs after you’ve moved into your new home. We found that 1/3 of home buyers didn’t carry out any specific checks when viewing their future home and spend an average of £3,500 on repairs after moving in* – an additional cost home buyers may not have budgeted for.

The most common problems found were plumbing issues (12%), damp (12%) and cracks in the walls or ceilings (11%), making thorough viewings all the more important. Some maintenance issues can mean that a house sale can fall through if your surveyor picks up something seriously wrong with the house you are buying.

Don’t forget the common symptoms outlined on these pages are just for guidance and should not be used in place of a HomeBuyer report, so always consult a surveyor to get a house survey carried out once you have an offer accepted on a property.

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All prices quoted are rough estimates of typical costs only and should be used for information purposes only. Prices will naturally vary significantly depending on the size of the job and the property. Daily rates for tradespeople and material costs will also vary. Some issues could be the sign of more serious underlying problems which could cost significantly more. Prices have been obtained from Building Sheriff and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and are accurate of 7 July 2014. Recommendations to fix by DIY are for guidance only. Please refer to a tradesman if you have any concerns about doing the job yourself.

* Source: Aviva commissioned polling with OnePoll of 4,000 UK homeowners online between 13 and 19 June 2014.

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