The 3 checks you must make when viewing a property
Viewing a house or a flat is one of the most exciting – and important – aspects of moving home but how you approach the visit can differ, depending on whether you’re renting or buying.
Tenants will be less concerned with the structural condition of a building and elements such as the plumbing and electrics, for instance, as they know these are the responsibility of the landlord. Buyers, however, will be responsible for every inch of the property, therefore repairs will be their sole responsibility to fund and fix.
While the best way to assess the condition of a property is to book a survey suitable for the age and condition of the building, there are a number of checks a purchaser can perform while on a viewing. The following may provide early warning signs, give you a list of follow-up questions to ask the estate agent and provide the surveyor with guidance ahead of their visit.
1. Check for cracks: subsidence is one of the most serious problems a homeowner can face, so spotting the signs on a viewing is important. Firstly, not all cracks are serious – fine, hairline cracks in plasterwork are common because houses settle and move subtly over time.
Clearly visible cracks – both inside and out – are of potential concern, especially if the crack is more than 3mm wide, follows a diagonal path that looks like a set of steps, is wider at the top than the bottom, or appears around doors, windows or where an extension has been added. Also look at door and window frames – do they look level?
Cracks, however, can be filled or papered over so a problem may not be immediately evident. There are other checks you can perform to detect a subsidence issue. Ensure you open and close internal doors. If any stick or don’t sit well in their frames (look for gapping), it could indicate subsidence. Floors can also move when subsidence is present so take a tennis ball on a viewing. If the ball rolls noticeably in any direction, the floor could be sinking.
2. Check for mould: the most common mould occurs when warm, moist air hits cold surfaces and turns into condensation, or when water is trapped somewhere and can’t evaporate. As a result, the most common places for mould to form is in the kitchen and bathroom.
If there’s mould on the sealant or grout, something may be leaking or a piece of silicone might be missing. Mould around windows is usually attributed to condensation but if the window frames are wooden or the units single-glazed, there could be damage to the frames or seals.
If you see mould on surfaces – especially on the inside of an external wall – it could indicate a serious damp problem. Mould below hip height could be rising damp and an issue with the property’s damp course. If mould patches are in the upper corners of a room, it may be penetrating damp where water is getting in through the brick work – perhaps due to a leaking gutter or vegetation growth.
Like cracks, mould can be covered up but there may be tell-tale signs it’s lurking underneath. Look out for bubbling wallpaper, peeling paint or conspicuous patches of fresh emulsion. Don’t forget, the most serious mould cases give off an unmistakable musty smell, so follow your nose.
3. Check the taps: turning on the taps in bathrooms and kitchens can tell you a lot about the property’s plumbing and central heating. Of course, if no water comes out, you’re either looking at a ‘do-er upper’ or there is a serious issue within the property. Bear in mind most mortgage lenders insist there is running water at a property as a condition of lending, unless it is a new build under construction.
Once turned on, check the water pressure. Low water pressure means a bath will take longer to fill but it’s also worth noting that some modern appliances and showers will not work below certain water pressures. In some cases, low water pressure indicates a leak within the property.
If the water comes out as a trickle – especially out of a shower head – the property may be in a hard water area, with limescale blocking the flow. If there are limescale deposits around the base of a tap, or there’s a constant dripping, the internal rubber washer or seal may have disintegrated over time. Finally, wait to see how long it takes before hot water flows from the hot tap. An issue with the system’s flow rate, sediment build up or a blockage may delay hot water coming through.
We advise all buyers to follow up an offer with a professional survey to determine whether issues spotted on a visit are purely aesthetic or of concern. If you would like an accompanied viewing or help with interpreting a set of survey results, please get in touch.
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