Finding A Home: Overview and What To Look Out For
Part 3 of Beagle Street’s Home Buyers’ Guide is all about finding the right home for you. This is split into two pages:
With advice from Hende Building Services Ltd
We’ve worked with building expert Ian Henderson to outline all the things you should be aware of when viewing a property:
- Work that may need to be done and the potential costs of this
- Neighbourhood considerations
While any structural problems could be revealed in a survey, knowing if work needs to be done on a property could have an impact on whether you put an offer in. It could also give you an idea of the bargaining power you might have when putting in an offer.
With a bit of knowledge on potential pitfalls in the property provided in section 1, you’ll be able to gauge a reasonable offer. Section 2 outlines:
- Factors to consider before making an offer
- Deciding how much to offer
- How the offer process works
- Negotiation options and revised bids
By the end of Part 3, you’ll be fully clued up on:
- Structural or neighbourhood issues to bear in mind before making an offer
- Gauging a reasonable offer amount
- What to expect after making an offer
What to Look Out For
Assuming you have read Beagle Street’s Planning to Buy, you’ll be clued up on what you could afford, flicking through RightMove on the one hand and brandishing your Mortgage in Principle in the other. Now to Part 2 of our guide, loosely themed around making an offer. But first things first, you’ll need to find a property which you might actually make an offer on!
This section is all about what to look out for when viewing a property. It’s easy to get carried away with the potential of a place, only to exchange and then realise your new pad needs a lot of work. And yes, while significant problems could be uncovered by a decent survey:
- Surveys cost money
- You may not be aware of the scale of some problems
- There could be some neighbourhood issues that wouldn’t show up in a survey
Ultimately, it’s important to be prepared. That’s why we’ve enlisted the help of Ian Henderson, award-winning builder  and MD of Hende Building Services Ltd., to give an overview of the potential pitfalls to avoid when viewing a property. These have been split into:
- Non-new build – indoor checks and outside checks
- Neighbourhood checks
A note from our expert
“Don’t be ruled by your heart, use your head! It is easy to fall in love with a house and then overlook potential issues. Is the house (and area) suitable for your needs? Take a good look around outside the house at the roof, walls and windows/doors for any signs that work may be required. You can get a good feel for a house when you walk through the door. Remember to look beyond the furniture/decoration to the actual structure. As well as any budget you have for the work that you require, always allow a contingency budget of 10% for any additional unforeseen work.”
Outside checks for older homes
By older homes, we mean any property that has previously been lived in and could not be classified as a new build.
A lot could be learned about the health of a building by taking a look at the outside. Chimneys, roofs and even vegetation might reveal warning signs.
Working with Ian Henderson, we’ve listed a whole range of things to look out for below as well as a rough guide to the extent and inevitable cost of the work that could need to be carried out to rectify any problem.
In reality, though, the money you might need for repairs really does depend on the extent of the problem and other factors such as the age of the property or ease of access to it. That’s why Ian has labelled each point using a traffic light system:
⦿ – 9 times out of 10 a minor issue of minimal cost to fix
⦿ – something to get professional advice on; it could cost anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand to fix
⦿ – 9 times out of 10 a sign of serious issues; professional advice is essential and costs could be in the thousands
Please note these traffic lights are merely a guide. Always check with a professional for an accurate assessment of work required.
Resist the urge to go inside a property and take a look outside first. This is because outside problems may have had an impact on the inside – it’s well worth taking note of anything that catches your eye and cross-checking against it when you go inside.
Things to look out for
Drainage & waterproofing – roof, gutters and drains
On your first inspection of a property it’s going to be tricky to get a good view of the drains and roof tiles, but you might get a good insight into potential problems if you know what to look out for:
⦿ Flat roofs:
These are not a problem in themselves, but are prone to issues so it’s good to check if possible (try to also look from an elevated indoor window if possible). Primarily, any gaps or curled up edges on roof covering material are signs that the roof might need to be replaced. If pools of water are building up, this may also be a sign that work needs to be carried out.
⦿ Visible gaps in roof tiles or missing tiles:
If there is a gap with either a displaced or missing tile, this means water could be getting in. This is even more likely if the house is fairly old, as it probably won’t have a protective felt layer. When you go inside, have a look to see if there are any damp patches that could signify a leak.
⦿ Rusty nails:
If you look closely, you should be able to see the nails keeping the roof tiles in place. If these are rusty they might need replacing, otherwise tiles could fall away/water could seep through.
⦿ Overflowing gutters or gaps and vegetation in gutters:
Clearing a gutter from debris and leaves is relatively easy to sort and not a huge issue on its own. However, if it’s been like that for a while, any drips could have rotted wood and in some cases soaked through solid walls causing damp on the inside. If you spot anything, make sure to follow it up when you look inside.
⦿ Blocked drains:
As with gutters, blocked drains might lead to a build-up of water that could cause dampness in walls. Even if it’s a dry day, the same signs of a build-up of debris, cracks or vegetation should all be noted. Foul smells around the drains are also a tell-tale sign that they are blocked.
Even if the fireplaces are covered up on the inside, if the property has a chimney, make sure to check out for the following:
- Loose cement (pointing)
- Broken/missing leadwork
Any of the above could point towards a need for repairs, particularly with cracks, loose cement or missing leadwork. This is another one to follow up on the inside: check for any dampness or stains to chimney breasts to see if these problems are having an effect internally.
Minor cracks and holes may be no more than a pull for resident arachnids! However, serious cracks and dampness are worth consideration:
⦿ Leaning or cracked garden walls:
Particularly in gardens, you’ll find walls that either stand in as fences, or withhold raised beds and decking. These are called ‘retaining walls’ and are not as strong as the main cavity walls. If you decide to go for a property with bulging, cracked or leaning retaining walls, this may be a job you could defer – but beware the garden walls may eventually topple, causing a health and safety hazard. They’ll then need to be rebuilt.
⦿ Long gaps in the main brickwork:
If you see a continuous gap between outside bricks, commonly in a zig-zag, or sometimes in a straight line, this could be a sign of what’s known as ‘cavity wall tie corrosion’. Essentially, most walls actually consist of two walls with a small gap or ‘cavity’ in between. These two walls are held together with metal ties which might expand if rusted. This breaks the wall apart, causing a problem which generally needs urgent attention.
⦿ Bulges in the main walls:
This normally signifies a more serious, aggravated cavity wall tie problem. In this case the wall may need to be completely rebuilt.
Most might agree plants outside a property add to the character and visual appeal. However, there are some particularly nasty crops to be wary of:
⦿ Japanese knotweed:
This is an invasive weed which, to the untrained eye, looks fairly harmless. However, it is able to permeate through brickwork and cement and has resulted in some homeowners being refused a mortgage due to the damage it might cause. The problem lies in the fact that a lot of damage is unseen, beneath the surface: knotweed could have extensive roots that spread up to 7 metres in all directions .
How much?: £100 per square foot for removal 
⦿ English ivy and wisteria:
As with Japanese knotweed, these plants could have a detrimental impact on your building. However, here the damage caused is less severe.
Indoor checks for older homes
You’ll undoubtedly be excited to get through the front door of your potential home, but it’s normally best to have a good look at the exterior of the building first. This might alert you to any potential warning signs on the inside. Once you’ve made a few notes, enter in and look out for the following:
⦿ Stiff doors and sloping frames:
If the door is difficult to open or close (particularly external doors), it could signal movement. While this is natural in all buildings as they get older, severe movement could point to structural defects in the property which may need addressing. This could be as minimal as adding in a new beam (rolled steel joist ‘RSJ’), to something more serious such as subsidence.
Visible cracks in plasterwork, or larger ones in external brickwork, as well as sloping floors and door/window frames could all signal a movement problem.
Smell and damp
A damp and musty smell may not necessarily signify a serious issue. Particularly where an older building has been left uninhabited for a long time, these sorts of smells could be the result of the house not being heated after a deep clean, for example. However, if this is accompanied by other factors such as physical dampness, this could signify a damp or rot issue. Here are a few possibilities:
⦿ Mouldy walls accompanied by damp smell:
This could either be a sign of poor ventilation which could in most cases be fairly easily addressed or a deeper lying insulation problem, whereby the property is not able to retain heat and condensation is forming on the inner walls.
⦿ Springy floorboards, water dripping on an external wall or dampness in the wall accompanied by damp smell:
This could be a sign that the floor joists supporting the floorboards are rotting/rotten.
⦿ Fungal growths on ceilings, wet timber/soft beneath paintwork accompanied by damp smell:
This is usually a sign of wet rot, particularly in ceilings and floorboards – this could be repaired depending on the extent of the damage.
⦿ A smell of mushrooms:
It may sound odd, but a sense of smell is really useful when viewing a property and it’s not just damp you should be aware of. The smell of mushrooms could signify dry rot, especially if you spot dry/crumbly woodwork and or fungal growth with a cotton-wool like appearance. Unfortunately, this is more difficult and expensive to fix than wet rot.
Cracks and gaps
Cracks and gaps could simply be a sign of age, but may also point to something more sinister. For instance, cracks around timber frames or down walls may be cosmetic: a common sign of age. Obviously, it is very important to have a surveyor check any cracks before purchase, but some warning signs could be as follows:
⦿ Broken or missing sealant around baths, showers and washbasins:
Sealant might naturally need to be re-applied after a few years and is a relatively cheap job. However, if the areas have been exposed to water for a long period of time, it may have caused water damage which might need to be assessed. If you are viewing a property with an upstairs bathroom/kitchen, check to see if there are any damp walls/ceilings beneath taps and plugholes. Also look out for cracked sealant around PVC window frames.
⦿ Window leaks and cracked window frames:
Wooden window frames could be repaired depending on the extent of the damage. In some cases, with extensive cracking or signs of rot, these may need to be replaced.
⦿ Visible cracks in plasterwork, or larger ones in external brickwork:
This could be a sign of a severe movement or subsidence problem, especially if you also see sloping doors/window frames.
⦿ Old plug sockets, wires that don’t lead anywhere and exposed wiring:
When considering an older property, make sure to check out the electrics. An easy way of doing this is to check the fuse box which could give a clear indication of when the electrics were last checked/updated. If the electrical system hasn’t been updated for over 20-30 years, it could well cause a fire risk and need replacing.
You may have found the perfect property, but have you found the perfect neighbourhood? Unfortunately there is no hard and fast way to work this out, but there are things you could look out for as well as crafty ways of finding out more about the area:
It may look a picture now, but is there a chance of flooding? Check this easily with an Environment Agency post code search.
Could you have noisy neighbours? Make sure that there is no music playing in the property when you look around. If you are serious about the property, try visiting the area at different times of the day:
- 7-9am – how many people go to work in the street? Any traffic noise?
- 12-2pm – are there any schoolchildren on their lunch break?
- 6-8pm – any musical instrument practice going on after school? Children playing?
- 10-11pm – last orders! Any pubs, bars or restaurants nearby?
Failing your own checks, sellers are required to complete a form during the conveyancing process which asks ‘whether there are any disputes or complaints regarding the property being sold, or in relation to any neighbouring property’. They are warned that giving ‘incomplete information’ could result in compensation claims, giving you insight and peace of mind as a buyer.
Extending your property or carrying out a loft conversion could add a lot of value. However, getting planning permission is not always straight forward. You might gauge an idea of how difficult building work might be by having a look at other houses on the street. Not only could you look out for converted garages and rear extensions, but any sign of skylights in some properties is a sign that homeowners have had a loft conversion.
Any new developments, be it as minor as a new partition wall, to something major like a property development must by law be made public by your local council. Check this easily with a government post code search.
Of all our guides, this one on ‘what to look out for’ may save you the most amount of time, stress and money. There is no replacement for a surveyor or registered tradesman to give insight to the level of work a property may need. Having said that, you should now have a far greater understanding to the potential pitfalls in buying your first property. More importantly, knowing the facts could enable you to ask the right questions of an agent and mean you are as prepared as anyone when it comes to getting on the housing ladder. The second stage to this guide is about making that all-important offer.