Is your house falling down?!

By Philip Macdonald, managing director of Abbotts

Sarah Beeny’s new programme, ‘Help! My House is Falling Down’ made entertaining viewing for many people. Can home owners really allow their properties to get into this state? Well, I’m afraid, it wasn’t too much of a surprise to me and many other property professionals. Although the first cases are somewhat extreme, they are not, sadly, all that unfamiliar.

One of the biggest responsibilities of home ownership is maintenance, and this is even more essential if you buy an older property. Even brand new properties need to have their gutters cleared annually, and wooden window frames repainted every 3-5 years. Boilers should have annual checks (this is a legal requirement for rental homes, but not for private property) to ensure safety, and we should all do visual checks inside and out, to identify any persistent dampness perhaps arising from blocked drains, cracks, and to remove climbers, like ivy, which eat into the brickwork. Bats are a protected species, so if you find them in the attic you need to take specialist advice on how to deal with them from your local authority; wasps are a nuisance and nests should be removed professionally, whereas squirrels and mice can be dangerous because they chew electrical wires and cause other damage which can lead to fires. Estate agents should always check with sellers whether they have had any problems, and ask for evidence of routine maintenance for buyers’ information. However,

buyers do have a responsibility to themselves. For brand new properties, it should be sufficient to have a mortgage surveyor’s report, but for other properties, whether modern or old, and if of unusual construction, it is wise to have a full structural survey. Houses may look pristine, but even total refurbishments can be botched, and a survey will identify those hidden problems.

Deathwatch beetle, woodworm and brick-eating bees (which all starred in Sarah Beeny’s first programme) aren’t as scarce as one would think, or hope. Nor are flooding cellars that rare! Sellers who have tackled such problems with professional help should have certificates to prove what work has been done, by whom, when and how (use of certain chemicals are banned). It is also advisable to have similar evidence if a property has been rewired, or new kitchens and bathrooms installed. Any structural works should have the appropriate planning consents, and building regulations approval.You’d think this is all just common sense. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to knock down a structural wall without consent, to connect living areas, leaving their home unstable! This may not be immediately evident, but a surveyor would quickly spot the lack of the necessary support, and warn of the potential consequences.

It can be very expensive to put these things right, so don’t risk either not following the correct procedures, which are designed for our safety, when doing building work, nor risk taking on a property with serious structural or other failings by not having a full survey when recommended by either your agent, or your mortgage surveyor, who suspect a potential problem. It would be a false economy on both counts.

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