Whether your dream home is a Georgian townhouse or a brand new loft apartment, buying a home is one of the biggest financial investments you’re likely to make.
We’ve worked with a group of surveyors to create this handy checklist on some things to look for when you’re looking at a new property — inside and out.
Outside the property
Introduced from Japan in the 19th century, this invasive weed can spread uncontrollably and damage garden walls, pathways and — given the right circumstances — affect the structure of your home.
Look out for signs of knotweed on any neighbouring land, and on the grounds of the property. Early signs of growth can be seen in mid-March, but new shoots have been identified as late as November.
Chimney stacks come in all shapes and sizes, so remember to bring a pair of binoculars to check from ground level. Look out for:
- Dampness leaking into the roof space below
- White ‘furry’ salts coming out of the brickwork
- 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 or displaced render or leadwork
Most brick houses built after the 1920s are constructed using 2 skins of brickwork with a gap between them. These are held together by metal ties which can get wet and rust, causing the metal to expand and eventually break, so the outer skin eventually falls away from the building. Look out for:
- Regular horizontal cracks - the early stages of cavity wall tie failure
- Bulging of the wall which likely shows serious problems
Sometimes garden walls aren’t built to the same standard as the main building, which is why they can become unstable. Look out for:
- Leaning or cracked walls
- Disintegrating bricks or stonework
Flat roofs are often used on extensions as they’re cheaper to build than a pitched or tiled roof. These are usually covered in materials like mineralised bitumen felt, which has a limited life. Look out for:
- Standing water or ‘ponding’
- Cracking in the covering at the edges
- Lifting or cracked joins
- Signs of vegetation growth
Inside the property
Generally, in older homes, the joists supporting the timber floor are bedded into the walls around ground level, and can become damp and rot. If this isn’t fixed, the floor could collapse as the timber ends get eaten away by the wood rotting fungus. Look out for:
- Springiness in the floor
- A damp, musty smell
- Dampness in the wall
- Water drips leaving damp staining on the wall
Leaks around the window could mean the timber window and door frames are poorly maintained or rotting, or that the sealant is old and worn around PVC windows. Look out for:
- Poorly maintained or signs of rot on timber windows
- Any signs of brittle or cracking sealant around PVC window frames
Any signs of black mould could indicate condensation. This can be caused by too much moisture and a lack of ventilation — or, it could also be a sign of poor building design.
Where the walls can’t hold the heat when the temperature is low, condensation can form on the inside of the building. This is much more significant and could be expensive to solve. Look out for:
- A musty smell
- Water running down windows and regular pools at the base
- Dampness on walls and ceilings
- Black or green mould growth — especially in the backs of cupboards on outer walls
Baths or showers that have worn-down seals can cause significant water damage. But the problem can be solved easily and fairly cheaply, as long as leaks are nipped in the bud as soon as possible. Look out for:
- Cracked or failed sealant around sinks, showers, and baths
- Damp stains on the ceilings of rooms below the bathrooms
One of the biggest threats to timber is wet and dry rot. Wet rot can sometimes be dried out and repaired, but dry rot needs to be removed completely.
Contrary to its name, dry rot is actually caused by damp conditions allowing fungal spores to spread, so you’ll need to remove the source of the moisture.
Signs of wet rot include:
- Timber that feels wet
- Softness under the paintwork
- Timber that easily cracks or crumbles
- Fungal growth
- A damp, musty smell
Signs of dry rot include:
- Timber that feels dry and crumbly
- Clear signs of cracking across the grain
- A white, cotton-wool-like fungal growth with red bodies and black thread-like strands
- Reddish dust throughout the building, which could be spores spreading
Risk of flooding
When you’re looking to buy a new home, flooding might be low on your list of considerations, if you think of it at all.
But just because a property isn’t near any obvious potential causes of flooding, such as a river, it doesn’t mean it’s not at risk.
When viewing a property, both inside and out, ask the following questions:
- Is the property in a flood risk area?
- Has it flooded before?
- Are there any flood defence measures in place?
- Are there any obvious causes of potential flooding nearby?
You can find out if the property is at risk of flooding by using the Government’s flood risk checker.
Sellers must tell you about any past floods and provide a flood risk report, if one has been carried out. However, it’s best to be aware of any potential issues early on, so you know all the property’s good and bad points. This way you can make an informed decision before getting too far along the buying process.
Remember, the common symptoms we’ve outlined are for guidance only and shouldn’t be used in place of a HomeBuyer Report.
We recommend consulting a surveyor to get a house survey carried out once you have an offer accepted on a property.