When viewing a property you need to identify any structural or surface defects and calculate the cost of putting these right. You also need to establish if there is a need to investigate further, for example if there are signs of serious structural problems such as cracking in the brickwork. If you are unsure, then call in a specialist.
First examine the outside of the property. Note any points of concern so that you can check the corresponding internal area. The two most serious issues are water ingress and structural problems. Water can enter from the roof, walls or ground and can in itself be a cause of structural instability.
Start from the top – it helps to bring a pair of binoculars to check the roof. Examine the chimney pots, the stack and the lead work that seals the chimney to the roof (flashings). Are any slates or tiles missing from the roof? Has the property been extended? Once inside, view the roof of a single storey extension from an upper floor window. If it has a flat roof, look for standing water, cracking or blistering. If it’s a double storey extension, then check the ceiling from inside.
Look at the alignment of the gutters – do they overflow? Can you see stains on the surface of the walls? Cast iron downpipes may become corroded. Insert your hand between them and the wall to feel for any roughness.
Check the brickwork. Make sure the mortar (pointing) is in good condition so that water cannot seep through and cause problems within the property.
Are there any trees growing close to the house? Roots can cause a problem with foundations.
Look for stains and mould on the walls. Mould in one spot could just be a result of condensation and may be cleaned off. If it has spread then there might be a damp problem. If the property has no damp proof course (DPC) water may rise up to a metre above the floor, rot floor timbers, ruin decoration and create a health hazard. Tip: Check for rot by stamping on the edge of floors to see if they give.
Even if a damp proof course has been put in it may have failed. Buy a damp meter and run it around the walls and floors. If there are signs of damp, call in a specialist.
Check joists and skirting. Look for woodworm holes. If you see these then have the woodwork looked at by an expert. It may need replacing or simply treating with insecticide.
Try to check the roof from inside by looking through the loft hatch. Is there any daylight coming through? Turn on your torch and examine the roof timbers. Are there any water stains on the rafters or purlins?
Are there gaps behind or below the skirting boards? Do the floors bow or slope? Do the doors shut properly? If you suspect structural movement then you need to investigate further. If you have any concerns you need to call in a structural surveyor.
Are all the internal walls in place? If reconfiguration has been carried out, for example if the ground floor has been made open plan, make sure the floors above are correctly supported. Bounce on the upstairs floor to check for movement. Is there cracking on the walls? Where structural work has been done ask to see the completion certificate.
Check the electrics. If there are surface cables on the kitchen walls, surface fixed sockets and a fuse box with no breaker switches you will be looking to do full or partial rewiring.
And of course, don’t forget to check plumbing, sanitary fittings, gas appliances and pipework.
When it comes to surveying, remember that the more information you gather the greater your clarity on costs and the stronger your negotiating position will be when buying.