Should you buy a house that’s been
refurbished by a builder or developer?
Single storey extension
Rear and loft extension
We have come across a massive number of loft conversions that aren’t true loft conversions as they haven’t had planning permission and building regulations. They are really not much more than a boarded out loft. There are several key things to look at with regard to loft conversions when looking at a house with a view to buying.
Loft conversions in Victorian houses
Loft conversion with Building Regulations is a habitable room rather than just a storage area
Loft conversion without
Fire Regulation Problems
Ceiling joists would usually be replaced with floor joists in a conversion with Building Regulations
Have the common rafters (the ones that form the pitch of the roof) been amended as required for a loft conversion?
Has the original roof material been replaced with a heavier roof material that is more appropriate?
In addition to this we have come across stairs that don’t meet the building regulation requirement and windows that overlook neighbours land when they
Beams are often added to support the roof structure with a regulated loft conversion
Before you start reading this article you may want to know who we are. We are Building Surveyors who carry out full structural surveys and have lots of experience and many decades of looking at property sort of problems and traps you may fall into when buying from an experienced builder or developer and skilled DIY’er. The aim of this article is to give you some things to look out for when you are viewing that next ideal home that has recently been refurbished by a builder.
Many builders do understand old properties, many builders don’t understand old properties, but whether they choose to carry out the work that is appropriate to them is another matter as this can often be the most expensive way to carry out works so they cut corners. They cut corners knowing that the inexperienced person buying a house once every few years or so simply won’t have the knowledge to see how they have covered something up – so TAKE CARE when you are looking at your new house.
Familiarity breeds contempt
We didn’t know how to start this section, but what we are saying is that because you live in house, doesn’t mean that you understand how a house is put together. Often until you have experienced problems, you do not know how big a problem they can be! We have set out below a few of the problems that we have come across fairly often which may help you when you are looking around a property.
We often get people phoning us to say that they are not sure what is wrong with the property, they just have a feeling there could be problems and their sixth sense is often the best thing to use if you don’t happen to know a surveyor that can walk around and help. We would also add that beware of builders helping and advising you, whilst many times it can be good you have to be aware that often builders resolve the affect rather than identifying the cause. Also builders that come from a particular trade background tend to be stronger in their knowledge of that trade for example a carpenter who has become a builder while a bricklayer who has become a general builder tend to be more focussed on that area and could miss other areas.
The hiding of dampness is very common. This is where a freshly painted building is not always a good sign as paint can hide almost anything for a short while. Look very, very closely at the paintwork to see if it is recent and if dampness has been painted over.
Property has been painted to sell- this process may hide damp or other issues
Papering over the cracks or filling in the cracks is common with many builders/developers. Properties are purchased that have cracks and structural movement, possibly due to the drains or a nearby tree -look out for these! The developers may try and pass the house on to you complete with the problems but the problems have now been covered up or cut down as in the case of trees.
Tree removed but can have caused structural problems
A major loft conversion being carried out in Fulham
A general view of a road in Fulham. If you look closely you can see that there is building work taking place part way along it
Movement has caused hairline cracking above door
Hairline crack above window
Good and bad cracks
With old and new properties there are what we term as good and bad cracks. There are of course cracks that mean settlement, subsidence or heave appearing in the property.
Downward movement caused by compression of the ground by foundation loads. Settlement does not crack buildings – only differential settlement potentially does so; damage due to consolidation of poor or made ground usually becomes apparent within the first ten years.
Downward movement caused by activity in the ground. However, in the absence of trees, progressive subsidence on shrinkable clay, i.e. continuing beyond the duration of a drought, is most uncommon where clay soils are involved (see Building Research Establishment Digest, current at the time of writing this report).
Upward movement caused by activity in the ground.
As with every profession and trade, there are of course people that simply just don’t know what they are doing. It is the same with builders and developers, particularly because there isn’t anyone to check their work other than themselves. It is a bit like marking your own homework!
The other problem is where DIY people have developed and developed their skills or lack of them, until they get to the stage where they are refurbishing buildings with very little of what they are doing. They may be using techniques used by a professional on one building which will not necessarily work on another.
Some would argue that no one is checking them.
We would say that Building Control (the Local Authority) do have a remit to check properties (at set stages during the construction) that have applied for Building Regulation permission. This depends upon:
1. The builder actually getting Building Regulation permission (we recently came across toilets and showers that had been installed without permission which were causing problems with the neighbours drains)
2. How unscrupulous the builder/developer is - as they can always show only the parts they want to be seen to the Building Control Officer/Surveyor.
Of course they may not show the Building Control at all and then try to get retrospective permission at a later date.
What sort of building survey do I need?
We would highly recommend a full structural survey where a builder or developer has been involved. You need to employ someone to spend the time looking at the building and not just carrying out what we would call the ‘checklist type’ survey.
If you truly do want an independent expert opinion from an Independent Surveyor with regard to building surveys, structural surveys, structural reports, engineers reports, specific defects reports, dilapidations or any other property matters, please contact 0800 298 5424 for a surveyor to give you a call back.
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