Where your surveyor has spotted any significant defects – which are normally highlighted with a red condition rating – they may advise you to get quotes for the repair work before you buy the property.
It’s also quite common for surveyors to advise that you get the services tested – things like electrics, heating/hot water and drainage.
Where a defect is more complex, such as structural movement / cracking or suspected timber decay and serious damp issues, then a specialist may need to be appointed investigate the extent of the problem.
Surveys don’t normally include estimated costs for fixing the defects that have been highlighted. This is where builders should be able to provide estimates (or ideally fixed price quotes) based on the survey report after a quick look at the house.
For more serious works, some surveyors will write a detailed specification or schedule of works, for an additional fee. This is a detailed list of the work required, which can be used to accurately price the job by obtaining builders’ quotes.
Structural engineer’s report
All properties move and most show some signs of minor cracking, which in the vast majority of cases will not be significant. However, some mortgage valuation forms pose questions such as ‘Are there any signs of movement?’ and then insist on a standard phrase being used, which may then trigger the requirement for an engineer’s report, even for relatively minor problems.
From a mortgage lending point of view, there are basically two kinds of movement – ‘progressive’ and ‘historic’. The former is of concern because it is ‘live’ and ongoing, as opposed to something that happened in the past and is no longer a threat.
However, the cause of cracking isn’t always simple to diagnose, so even if you pay for a full Building Survey, it may still recommend that a second opinion is sought from a structural engineer, especially where a property has been underpinned or has a history of subsidence.
The engineer will then visit the property to inspect the problem and will write a brief report, usually concluding by stating whether the movement is significant or not, and advising what (if any) remedial works are required.
More often than not, cracking will turn out not to be serious. But in some cases – notably those linked to insurance claims for subsidence – it is fairly common for ‘monitoring’ of cracking to be required over a period of six months or more. This traditionally requires the fitting of a small ‘tell-tale’ measuring device across the crack, to record any ongoing movement. Which isn’t much help when you’re due to exchange next week. So in such cases the solicitors normally advise that the buyer takes over the existing buildings insurance policy, perhaps after some limited renegotiation of the purchase price.
Timber and damp reports
Over the years, many timber and damp contractors have reaped big profits carrying out totally unnecessary treatments, because mortgage lenders made such works a condition of their loans. To add insult to injury, a lot of injected damp-proof courses and timber treatment works have been done incompetently, causing more damage to the building than they remedy. But mortgage lenders weren’t bothered as long as the contractor provided a ‘guarantee’.
The problem is that the causes of damp or rot are sometimes misdiagnosed, and the ‘specialists’ who carry out the subsequent inspection have a vested interest in confirming problems that, surprise, surprise, turn out to require expensive remedial treatment. It takes a very honest contractor to tell you they’ve checked the property and found that no work is necessary.
Damp-proofing and timber treatments for rot and beetle (woodworm) are normally carried out by a ‘timber and damp contractor’. The industry has a trade body, the Property Care Association (PCA). By all means obtain a quote for treatment, but if the problem is not serious try living with it for a while before paying good money for unnecessary work.
In many period properties it is quite normal to find a certain amount of damp and some old beetle boreholes. What may appear to be rising damp is often caused by something completely different – such as condensation, leaking gutters, defective windowsills or high ground levels. A good flow of air under timber ground floors is important to prevent rot, so check that there are sufficient airbricks in the walls near ground level, and that they aren’t blocked. If the floor is made of solid concrete it’s obviously not going to be at risk from rot.
Our next blog – coming soon …….
Claims against surveyors
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