This week our building survey saved a client £80,000

Every now and then we can’t help but be a bit self-congratulatory. This email came in:

“Had a survey carried out last week in Kent on a semi-detached property and have decided to walk away from the purchase due to the costs and extensive repairs found to be necessary. The survey was very comprehensive and we feel the cost well worthwhile as it has probably saved us £70,000 to £80,000 in repairs and a long period waiting to move in. Many thanks to you and the surveyor.”

So what did we find?

Well, the property actually looked to be in pretty good shape, if a bit tatty and in need of some general maintenance, and then we started to scratch below the surface. The roof had an unusually high pitch and the timbers were much smaller than you would use now. The purlin was poorly supported and  located at approximately a third of the length of the rafter rather than at midspan. As a result the rafters had deflected and the lower end of thereafter had been forced outwards. As the rafter foot had moved outward it was pushing the top of the outer wall over. This in turn had caused the roof tiles to open up, the gutter to separate and water penetration to occur. Further inspection of the timbers revealed extensive blow holes from woodworm infestation. A bit more digging and jabbing with an awl and we found that pretty much all the timbers were deeply damaged by woodworm. Our advice: a new roof – not just the covering, but a whole new roof, timbers, structure and all. We think a budget of about £25,000 would do it.

So what of the walls? Well, other than the misplacement because of the roof spread, we identified some wall tie failure manifesting itself as horizontal cracking in the mortar joints. Not a dramatic problem and a fairly straightforward repair, but another unexpected £3,000. That’s before the local rebuild needed to the misaligned brickwork.

Internally we found very extensive dampness at low level, some caused by condensation, but most by penetrating dampness. The driveway and side paths had been raised above the damp proof course level. Bridging the damp proof course was allowing large areas of dampness to develop. No need for a chemical DPC (as most damp firms would recommend), but the need to drop the outer ground level and to replace the damaged plaster inside. The dampness though was causing another problem – timber decay in the ground floor hidden beneath the fitted carpet and only to be found when the sofa and furniture was pulled back. And then we found not just damp but wood work in the floor structure as well. So, damp repair and floor repairs – say about £4,000.

Onto the windows – old but serviceable, except that at least one had been jammed in place with a piece of wood! The doors, fair but inadequate security. The kitchen? Replacement needed. The stairs? Oddly already replaced and no obvious reason, but we surmised that timber decay and worm attack may have occurred.

We could go on. New electrics and boiler, blocked drains, etc. We quickly totted up to about £80k in a house with a market value of about £200k. As is often the case the survey revealed to our client what they couldn’t see, but our trained and experienced eyes could. Our client was by no means naive to house repairs, but had not seen the roof or timber problems and had assumed the damp was an easy fix.

So, is a property survey worth it?

Well, that’s up to you, but in this case our client had reasons to be cheerful that he had commissioned a £500 report. RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) research suggests that 80% of buyers do not have an independent survey and on average have a surprise bill of about £2,000 for repairs when the move in. The same research found that those who do have surveys pay less for their properties as they can negotiate from a position of strength.

We would love to save you thousands too. Get a quick, no obligation quote for your building survey.

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(Originally published by Steven Way, 28 September 2012, please note the image is not the house described)