House Viewing Checklist

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Whether your dream home is a 30s terrace house, a detached 80s bungalow or a more modern property, buying a house is probably the most significant financial investment you will ever make. Yet while the prospect of a new home is incredibly exciting, the actual process of house buying can be stressful. Viewings are usually quick and pressurised, with lots of competition for the best properties.

That is why we’ve worked with a group of surveyors to create this interactive house to help you identify common signs of maintenance trouble when viewing a property. Select each area of the house to read the tips that can help you identify a potential problem

Outside the House

Roof tiles

The roof is designed to take water away from the building and so any break in the surface needs urgent attention. Modern properties should have a secondary layer of roofing felt which prevents immediate entry by water, but older properties are unlikely to have that second layer.

Signs to look out for:

  • Look for displaced tiles or slates, the slates in the picture are just going and should be re-fixed or replaced urgently
  • Look for little metal tags on a slate roof indicating some past displacement and indicating more may go very soon
  • Tiles or slates are usually held by nails and if you can see the underside of the roof look to see if these have corroded, if so they are more liable to slip
  • Damp patches on a ceiling due to displaced roof coverings

Chimney

Chimney stacks come in all shapes and sizes in an attempt to make sure they draw the fumes away from the heating appliance below. Don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars to check from ground level.

Signs to look out for:

  • Dampness leaking into the roof space below
  • White ‘furry’ salts coming out of the brickwork in the chimney breast in the roof space
  • 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 / displaced render or leadwork

Gutters

A seasonal problem usually due to leaves falling from trees in autumn, but other debris can collect in gutters and causes them to overflow. Regular dripping onto woodwork can cause it to rot and on solid walls the dampness can penetrate and damage internal plasterwork and cause internal timbers to rot. So on older houses with solid walls this is a very significant issue.

Signs to look out for:

  • Damp staining down the outside of the wall
  • Vegetation growth in the gutter
  • Split or damaged gutters or whether gutter joints have been pulled apart
  • Dampness on the interior of the wall, with possibly some salts on the surface of plaster
  • Damp smells

Drains

Drains may become blocked due to leaves, other debris or if greasy substances are regularly washed down the sink. This may be hard to spot when viewing a property in the summer but there could be symptoms to keep an eye out for.

Signs to look out for:

  • Water overflowing from the gulleys
  • Damp or unpleasant smells
  • Build up of leaves
  • A build up of gungy residue is an indication that water is not flowing freely
  • Vegetation growth in the drains

Flat roof

They are usually a cheaper form of construction than a pitched and tiled roof, often found on extensions and are covered in materials like mineralised bitumen felt, which has a limited life.

Roof problems to look out for:

  • Standing water or ‘ponding’ on the roof
  • Cracking in the covering at the edges
  • Lifting or cracked joins
  • Any signs of vegetation growth

Tree Root Action

During the warm days of Summer moisture is taken up through the thirsty tree roots from the surrounding soil.  Particularly in areas of clay soil, the result is that the ground becomes dry and shrinks.  In winter, and other periods of rainfall, the soil rehydrates and swells.  That alternate swelling and shrinking can cause movement in structures, leading to subsidence and damage.

Signs to look out for:

  • Cracking in the soil around the base of the tree
  • Gaps or spaces between the base and roots of the tree and the surrounding soil
  • Cracking or movement in nearby structures

Retaining walls

Quite often garden walls are not built to the same standard as the main building and when they retain an area of garden then they need to be more substantial. If the walls are not built correctly there’s a risk they can become unstable.

Signs to look out for:

  • The wall is leaning
  • There is cracking in the wall
  • The bricks or stonework are disintegrating

Inside the house

The inside of the home may reveal signs for potential repair for you as a home buyer. Spend time to take a proper look around the house. We’ve included here some common signs to look out for. You can also take a look at the outside of the house.

Ceilings

One of the biggest threats to timber is fungal decay. There are two principal types of rot that affect woodwork, wet and dry both created by fungal spores. The main difference being that wet rot requires persistently higher levels of dampness than dry rot.

Both types of rot will damage the wood, but wet rot can be dried out and repaired in some cases, whereas dry rot needs to be eradicated usually requiring replacement together with remedying the initial source of dampness

Common signs of wet rot:

  • The timber will feel wet
  • Softness of timber under the paintwork
  • When dry, timber will easily crack and crumble
  • Fungal growth
  • Damp musty smell

Common signs of dry rot:

  • The timber will feel dry and crumbly with clear signs of cracking across the grain
  • A whitish cotton wool like fungal growth, red fruiting bodies and blacks thread like strands
  • These all come at various stages of the growth
  • A smell of mushrooms
  • If the spores have spread there could be reddish dust throughout the building

Bathroom

Baths or showers where the sealant has failed is a common problem that can cause significant water damage and yet it can be solved easily and cheaply provided it is not allowed to develop or remain leaking for long.

Signs to look out for:

  • Cracked or failed sealant around showers, basins and baths
  • Damp stains from water coming through the ceiling

Walls

Any signs of black mould growth is an indication of condensation, which could be a lifestyle problem through creation of too much moisture with inadequate either physical or mechanical ventilation with the current owners. It could also be an indication of poor building design in that the walls or other elements of the house have poor thermal qualities i.e. when the temperature is low then they cannot hold the heat within the property and become cold allowing condensation to form on the inside of the building.

This latter aspect is significant as it could be expensive to solve.

Signs to look out for:

  • 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
  • Musty smell
  • If no obvious cause can be found and increasing the heat or ventilation does not solve the problem you may need specialist help to fix the problem

Doors

If a door sticks then this could be an indication that there is some movement within the property. Doors and window openings are the weak parts of a building as they form breaks in the main structure.

Signs to look out for: Cracks in the plasterwork, and any ‘rippling’ effects in the wallpaper that isn’t caused by damp Signs of cracks more than 3mm in the exterior brickwork Any signs throughout the property or garden of sloping floors, settlement of paths or driveways in close proximity to drains

Windows

Leaks around the window could mean poorly maintained or rotting timber window and door frames.

Signs to look out for:

  • Whether timber windows look like they have been poorly maintained and show signs of rot
  • For PVC windows, notice any signs of brittle or cracking sealant around the frame

Floors

Generally in older homes the joists supporting the timber floor are bedded into the walls of the property around the ground level, these can become damp and rot. If this is left then the floor could collapse as the timber ends get eaten away by the wood rotting fungus.

Signs to look out for:

  • Springiness in the floor
  • Damp musty smell
  • Dampness in the wall
  • Raised external ground levels i.e. above the damp proof course
  • Water drips externally leaving damp staining on the wall

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