The vendors reduced the price by £10k … best £500 I’ve spent!

We carried out at building survey on a small, late 19th century terraced house on the Kent coast. It needed some work as it had been lived in by an elderly occupant and hadn’t been well maintained.  There was an extension that appeared to have been constructed in the 1950s and although not pretty, it provided space for a better kitchen and bathroom and what was apparent is that other work had been carried out at around that time.

During our inspection we noted that the roof to the rear addition was of corrugated asbestos cement and that, combined with the age of the extension, set our surveying antenna off…

There was something about the ceilings that wasn’t quite right, but tapping and inserting a probe on the front ceilings revealed them to be plasterboard with cover trims over the joints. The ceilings to the rear were similar, or were they. They sounded slightly different, so we lifted a floor board in the rear bedroom and… yes, they were actually made of asbestos insulating board or AIB. Further investigation suggested that the kitchen and bathroom ceilings were of the same material, as were the partition linings to the rear rooms and a box casing in the kitchen.

In the ’50s and ’60s asbestos sheeting such as this was occasionally used to line ceilings and partitions in houses and we have also seen it used as dry lining on outer walls as it offers good damp resistance. In its stable and inert condition without damage, cracks or breaks the product offers little risk to health. The problem is that where occupiers are ignorant of the material it is cut into and treated as if it were plasterboard – in this case to add light switches and sockets and to fit brackets.

Any work on the material which releases fibres causes a risk to health and the HSE has extensive guidance for home owners confronted by this material. As the new owners of this house wished to rearrange and refit the kitchen and bathroom, there was nothing for it but for the material to be removed and replaced with plasterboard.

So, armed with our report our clients were able to renegotiate their offer by £10,000. It might not sound much, but it wasn’t an expensive property and this represented 6% of their original offer. Hence their email to me: “Just to let you know that the vendors have just agreed to reduce the price by £10k, so thank you…best £500 I’ve spent!”

We think a building survey is worthwhile. You could of course take your chances, but then are you confident of identifying an asbestos ceiling, let alone telling the difference between plasterboard and asbestos ceilings? The pictures here show both in the same property one in the front room and one in the back, one is asbestos and one isn’t.

The Homebuyer report would probably not have picked up the asbestos as invasive investigation was needed to confirm its presence, another reminder why the building survey (or full survey) is the preferred product for any older house.

Collier Stevens offer competitive rates for surveys in Kent & London. We can’t promise to save everyone ten grand, or get the purchase price down by 6%, but we can make sure you know what you are buying so that you can make an informed decision.

(By the way, the asbestos ceiling is one the right!).

Get a survey quote.

(Originally published by Steven Way, 18 January 2012)