20 June 2019
After spending so long saving for a mortgage and poring over house listings, the process of putting an offer in and having it accepted can often move much faster than expected. As a result, many people find themselves making snap decisions.
“Often first viewings are restricted to half hour slots, or another buyer is coming in right on top of you,” says chartered building surveyor Brian Duffy of McGovern Surveyors.
With 20 years of experience in the business, Brian knows the structural alarm bells to look out for. Here are his tips for tackling that first viewing with a professional eye…
“When you arrive at a house, you’ll get a general feel outside of how well it’s been maintained,” says Brian.
If the gutters are leaking and the place hasn’t been painted in a while, there’s a chance the property hasn’t been looked after over time, which could mean ongoing problems like leak and decay.
Brian advises taking a “good long look” at the exterior before going in, and also having a glance at other houses around the place. “Is there an access way or laneway that’ll take you around the back of the estate? Use it,” he says.
A musty smell is the first sign of a damp house, but don’t think you’re safe just because the place smells fine, warns Brian.
“If I step inside an older house and I can smell the fresh paint, that’s an alarm bell for me.” So, aside from the lack of odour, how does damp reveal itself?
You might see paint bubbling or flaking, or a slight tide mark on the walls. Rising damp can only go up to about 4.5 feet, so keep your eyes low. Outside look for damaged gutters or staining of the exterior wall.
Hairline cracks in walls and ceilings are generally fine, but if you can spot a crack from the other side of the room, then it’s probably big enough to be concerned about.
Brian advises going by the width of the crack, rather than the length. “Anything in excess of about 5 or 6 mm wide could be a sign of structural issues,” he says. In older houses, take a good look at windows and roofs.
Window frames can slope downward if there are poor ground conditions underneath, and the roof of the house can sag in too. Take a look at the place you’re viewing and check out other properties on the road too.
Doing some cursory research with insurance companies to enquire about things like flood insurance could save you costly surprises later.
“If you’re looking at a place by the sea or near a river, ask the estate agent if the owners had any difficulty getting flood insurance. And put a call through to your own insurance broker too to find out how much it would cost,” advises Brian.
The words “rear garden with plenty of room to extend” are an estate agent’s dream, but just because there’s space doesn’t mean building an extension will be simple. Check the manholes, says Brian.
Their positioning will give you a good indication of the drainage and pipe layout, which could add a complication to future extensions.
While you’re out there, take a look at the neighbour’s houses. Have they extended too? “If next door’s extension comes right up to the boundary wall, you could disturb their foundations with your own building work.”
Estate agents will go out of their way to show off the good elements of a house, but you may find they need some probing on the grittier details. As Brian puts it, ask the nosy questions:
And finally, if your appointment is up but you feel you have more to see, don’t be afraid to ask for more time.
“Spend as much time as you think you need to and even go back and do another viewing,” says Brian.
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