When you’re hunting for your first house, it feels like there are a thousand and one things to look for, questions to ask and compromises to make. That first rung on the ladder is tough and can involve a few mistakes. Already being a homeowner doesn’t make you immune either; it’s easy to get carried away, safe in the knowledge you’ve already successfully negotiated one sale. Your Legal Friend is working with homeowners to pass on helpful bits of knowledge around home buying and safety concerns, such as asbestos, damp or bad plumbing.
Before buying a house, here are a handful of important things to look for when viewing properties. These tips could save you a lot of heartache, time and money.
You walk into a house and smell fresh paint and are told it’s part of them preparing the house for sale. After all, they made some bad choices with paint colours. “Oh how lovely,” you think, “they’ve painted over the horrid green in the second bedroom. That’ll save us a job.” This, however, is something that should have warning bells ringing.
A fresh coat of paint can hide so much, from ugly wallpaper right through to structural issues. It sounds extreme but it’s true. Unfortunately, some people are so eager to sell they don’t think about the next owners, or don’t care. Paint can hide damp from view for anything up to a few months. By then, you’re living there and the problem is now yours. Causes of damp can range from a slow leak in the plumbing that’s been around for years, through to the foundations of the house not having a membrane which is a common issue in much older houses.
Paint can also hide cracks in plaster which can be a sign of two things; one, the plaster is old and needs replacing, or two, the house has subsidence. The latter is obviously an extremely difficult thing to fix, if you can at all. In order to avoid these issues, get a full RICS Building Survey as it should reveal most of these issues.
Gorgeous high ceilings with alcoving? Retro lights? Original bathroom fittings? These features quite often throw you when house hunting in the 21st century. Exciting as they might be, they can be a sign of hidden nasties. Houses that haven’t been updated may contain substances and building methods that aren’t considered safe now.
Plumbing and wiring are essential elements of a home; if they’re ancient they may not be fully functional or safe. Standards for houses have changed over the decades and what passed for great plumbing in the sixties certainly doesn’t now. In a house with original plumbing and wiring built before 1970, you could find lead pipes and electrics with no earth. This exposes you to lead poisoning and makes it dangerous just to plug something in. The electrics from the era will be in a bad state anyway as the wiring has a lifespan of 25 to 40 years.
And now onto that alcoving; asbestos was used heavily in house building from the thirties to the early eighties and was only completely banned in 1999. From partition walls to tile grout, window sealant, boiler lagging and more, asbestos was used as an easy and cheap building material. It’s hard to spot as well, so a specialist asbestos survey will be needed. As good as the RICS survey is it doesn’t cover asbestos. It is very worthwhile investing in this specialist check as asbestos can be expensive to remove and dangerous to your health as much as 50 years later.
Finding a kindred spirit in the form of a fellow DIYer is always nice. But if it goes beyond painting, tiling and fixing up furniture you might want to find out what work they did and make a few checks.
As we all know, making changes to the structure of a building, such as knocking out walls or adding an extension, requires expertise and building permission. However, there are those who have either not had the sign off from the council, meaning you could be dealing with the legal fallout, or those who see a massive project and think “I can do that” without having the skills. This can lead to missing walls that are structurally important. It can also lead to added walls that are badly installed and extensions that don’t meet building standards.
You can always ask about work done on a house and, as part of the sale, the owner has to disclose the work and provide the documents to say it was allowed. Usually though, getting to that point means you’ve begun the process of buying a house. Asking a lot of questions may save you many problems down the line.
Do you have any more tips for buying a house? What did you discover about your home after you bought it?
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