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Beginners Guide Residential Advice Tips

Common Issues: an essential guide for homebuyers

We all know buying a house can be stressful, and it’s the biggest purchase we’ll make in our lives, so you need to know your time and money is being put into a sound investment. Whilst some buyers may be tempted to forego a building survey in the hope of saving some money, gaining a full understanding of your property and being made aware of any issues from a Chartered Surveyor is so important, and likely to save you a lot more money in the long run with research finding that 20% of buyers who don’t have a building survey pay £6,000 in unexpected repairs.

Damp

This is a common one and something we see in a lot of properties, but it’s not to be feared. There are a number of different types and causes of damp, but there are also plenty of remedial options.

Rising damp is often found in walls at ground floor level whilst penetrating damp can be located anywhere on a property, usually in an exposed location on the elevation or in close proximity to a rainwater pipe or other water source.

We’ll conduct moisture tests as we investigate the cause of the damp and will always explain your options. If damp is severe and we can’t gain access to enclosed parts of the construction which we suspect are at risk of decay, we may advise a further intrusive survey is undertaken by a specialist damp and timber surveyor.

Rot

You may have heard of some rot horror stories, but we believe there’s always a solution. Dry rot is able to form anywhere where you have timber, high moisture levels and air, and if untreated can develop into a costly issue. It’s one of the most feared types of rot for home owners as it has the ability to spread and develop across materials such as brick and in its final stages spores become airborne to other areas of the house not previously affected. Wet rot is usually confined to the timber where high moisture levels are present, typically rafter feet, joist ends and poorly maintained external joinery such as fascia’s or soffits. Building Surveys are non-intrusive so if we believe the issue needs a further intrusive investigation, we’ll recommend this within your report.

Our reports will highlight any rot issues we find, guiding you through your options and providing budget costs so you understand how much the issue may set you back. However, with any big  hidden issues found, it may be time to negotiate with your vendor on the costs of repair.

Failed pointing & spalling brickwork

We’ve seen this one in a lot of properties. When external walls comprising a traditional brick or stone are repointed using a modern cement mortar rather than an original lime mortar, moisture trapped in the walls has to escape via the bricks themselves as cement does not provide the porosity and flexibility needed. This can result in deterioration of the mortar and damaged or spalling brickwork. It’s not one to worry about too much, provided its dealt with in a timely manner to prevent further damage to the masonry, but it’s really important to use the right materials and budget for this in future repair works.

Structural integrity

Small cracks are often nothing to worry about and usually just a sign of historic movement or deferential settlement, and many localised settlement issues can be related to other defects we’ll identify, however your surveyor will highlight and explain any potential signs of more significant structural movement or subsidence.

The vast majority of structural cracks can be identified and diagnosed by our surveyors within our initial report without further investigation. However, If we do identify anything potentially more serious, we’ll recommend an investigation be undertaken to assess the severity of any issues on the structural integrity of the property.

Roof condition

A roof is designed to last for a number of years, and when repairs are needed, some key elements can likely be retained. We’ll highlight any visible issues with the roof, from slipped or damaged tiles and vegetation build up, to leaking joints and repairs needed to the underlay, and outline how much repairs are likely to cost. Your roof might not be leaking now, but it might be nearing the end of its useful life and soon become a headache, our surveyors provide advice around the approximate age of the covering and a guide on its expected longevity, so you know what you might have to deal with in the long term.

Trees & invasive species

We don’t just look at the building, we also take a look at external areas such as the garden, boundary walls and fences, gates, patios and outbuildings. We’ll include any issues and remedial works needed to these areas within our reports, and will also make comment on potential for issues caused by large trees in close proximity to the building where the roots could cause damage, and if we spot invasive plant species such as Japanese Knotweed or Giant Hogweed. These can be difficult and costly to get rid of, and can cause damage to buildings and gardens if not dealt with, so are important to be aware of before purchasing the property.

Asbestos & deleterious materials

Some issues just can’t be seen to the untrained eye, and especially not on a 15 minute house viewing, but our surveys will highlight materials that can be dangerous to health if not dealt with correctly, such as asbestos, lead pipework and horsehair plaster reinforcement. Although these materials haven’t been used in homes for many years, they are still in place in many older properties and it’s important to understand how they should be dealt with. Managing or removing deleterious materials can be costly and detrimental to the enjoyment of your new home.

Vermin & insect damage

It’s not a nice one to think about but at some point a property may have had a few visitors, be that rats and mice, bees and wasps, or wood boring beetle. We’ll highlight any areas where vermin and insects may have made a home, and if there’s an active infestation we’ll provide the advice you need to get it sorted

Radon risk

The bubble bath we hear you ask. No, that’s Radox. Radon isn’t an issue a lot of homebuyers think of but areas of high radon can be harmful to health and increase the risk of lung cancer. We’ll include the radon risk for your property within your report, and highlight any testing needed and your next steps if there’s a high concentration noted.

What to do if these are highlighted in your survey?

Don’t worry, it’s good to have these issues uncovered now and we’ll be here every step of the way. If we find any issues during your survey, we’ll explain the cause of this in full and thoroughly guide you through the remedial options, providing costings and detailing your next steps.

The Fourth Wall standard

Fourth Wall Building Survey reports are bespoke, developed with you in mind and designed to ensure you fully understand your property and can move forward with your purchase with confidence. We’re passionate about cutting the jargon and making property accessible, so you’ll be met with an honest personal service throughout your property journey.

Our reports provide a unique insight into your property which other types of report don’t, including mobile and broadband speeds, noise and disturbance data, and budget costs as standard, and we provide it in a format which is easy to understand with photographs throughout.

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Tips

Adding value to your home

We’ll start with extensions. If you do have access to a chunk of savings, or home improvement finance options, an extension is a great option. We have a full guide to extensions here, as there are so many options. From single storey to double storey, side, back or wraparound, the key to consider is what the extension will add to your home. Desirable features for buyers are often multiple bedrooms, an open plan kitchen-diner, and particularly in the current climate, office space. Think about why an extension would be appealing to your buyers. For example, if you live in a great school catchment, look at adding bedrooms to appeal to growing families.

If you don’t have the space to extend outwards, you may well have unused space ready and waiting above or below you. Loft and basement conversions are great options to use the empty space you have available and turn it into a functional extension of the home. Attic bedrooms are a great addition, adding thousands in value to your home, and extending the pool of potential buyers from couples looking for a 2 bed to growing families needing a good 3 bed home. There are of course considerations, such as roof height, access and light, but that’s where the experts come in. As with any alteration, it can be costly, but if you have a good sized space you think can turn from unused to functional, loft and basement conversions are definitely something to consider.

We’ll go down to some smaller, but still very impactful, updates you can make. Quality kitchens and bathrooms are pretty much always of interest to buyers. The kitchen to us is the heart of the home, and bringing it up to a better standard can seriously pay when it comes to the value of your home. According to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) a new kitchen or bathroom can add around 4% to the value of a property. As key areas of the home, a modern yet functional kitchen and bathroom is a key factor new buyers will look for, and can be done on a whole range of budgets.

This may seem simple, or may even be something you’ve overlooked, but if you don’t have double or triple glazing then get it done! Thermal upgrades are important for a significant number of homeowners, with double or triple glazed windows and doors seen as essential items, and not having these could really lower the value of your property. If you haven’t added these, along with roof and wall insulation, it’s something we’d definitely recommend looking into to add value to your home. Not only are they desirable features, but they’re key to reducing ever growing household bills.

Along with basic thermal upgrades to reduce bills, we believe more environmentally friendly choices will continue to soar in popularity among homeowners and prospective buyers. Solar panels and ground source heat pumps are just some of the improvements you can make, and whilst initially appearing costly, they can significantly reduce the costs associated with your home and increase the value of the property when you come to sell. There are a number of environmentally conscious materials coming to the fore in property and it’s definitely something for sellers and buyers to consider moving forward.  

As always, get in touch if you want to discuss your options. We’re brimming with ideas and offer a range of services from surveying to architectural design to really help you get the most out of your space.

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Beginners Guide Tips

The House Purchase Process

After weeks spent scrolling Rightmove and Saturdays spent on house viewings, you’ve finally found a property you LOVE so it’s time to get that offer accepted and move forward with your purchase.

If this is your first home or it’s just been a while since you last sold, we’ve put together a guide to the process of buying a new home to make things a little clearer for you and take some stress away.

  • Search for your new home

Before you begin searching, make sure you’ve saved enough for your deposit, have checked how big a mortgage you can borrow from the bank, and are sure you’ll be able to afford the repayments.

Speaking to a mortgage advisor can really help you understand how much you can borrow, and aid you arranging an agreement in principle from a suitable bank so you understand what price range you can view and how much you can offer.

  • Make your offer and have the house taken off the market

Give as much detail as possible when making your offer. The estate agent will want to know you can definitely afford the offer you’re making, and other factors may be of interest to the seller such as if you’re a first time buyer or if you’re in a chain.

Some agents will do it automatically but others may not so make sure to ask to have the house taken off the market as a condition of your offer. If not, you could end up ‘gazumped’, where another buyer offers more money than you and the seller backs out of your deal.

  • Instruct a conveyancer (solicitor)

Once your offer has been accepted it’s time to instruct a conveyancer and really get the purchase moving. A purchase is typically advised to take 8 weeks but there may be holdups along the way that can make the process longer by a fair few months. We’d advise keeping in regular contact with your solicitor to make sure you know what’s happening and when.

  • Apply for your mortgage

You should already have your mortgage in principle but it’s now time to apply for the real thing. If you’re using a mortgage advisor, they’ll prepare you and ask for the relevant documentation, but if not, ask the bank you’re applying with what you’ll need such as bank statements, pay slips (or accounts if you’re self-employed), identification and proof of deposit.

The bank will very likely carry out a valuation survey at this point, but remember this is not a building survey and will not highlight issues beyond high level observations which might affect the value. The valuation surveyor here is working on behalf of the bank so to get a thorough overview of the property from someone impartial, make sure to instruct a Chartered Building Surveyor.

  • Instruct a building surveyor

Make sure this one is on your list early on. It’s so important to really understand the property you’re buying, this is probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make. Instruct a Chartered Building Surveyor accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to conduct a homebuyers report or a full building survey. We have a full guide to which survey is best for you here but do get in touch with any questions.

A Chartered Surveyor will be working for you and only you to ensure you fully understand the property you’re buying and any issues it may have. They’ll spend time at the property conducting a visual inspection of all internal and external areas so they can explain any issues and advise on remedial works. We want to support you as much as we can, so we’ll always offer follow up calls to talk any questions through and advise on your next steps.

Our report may also raise additional queries for your solicitor, or may help them when setting out their enquiries for the seller, so it could be beneficial to instruct your surveyor when you’ve instructed your solicitor. Unlike other reports, Fourth Wall’s bespoke building survey reports include an Executive Summary that can be sent straight to your solicitor so they can see the key findings quickly and raise any necessary enquiries.

  • Discuss the findings of your survey and searches with your solicitor and make necessary enquiries to the seller

Your surveyor may suggest some further enquiries for your solicitor to make, such as boundary walls, historical party wall disputes and planning permission. Our bespoke building survey comes with an executive summary that can be sent straight to your solicitor so they can see issues, remedial works and necessary enquiries quickly and clearly.

  • Hire a removal company

It’s time to get packing! With your survey and searches done, start prepping for exchange and completion by contacting some removals companies. The property market is extremely busy so don’t leave this until the last minute!

  • Pay your deposit, exchange contracts and arrange completion

Once you’ve exchanged, you’re legally bound to the purchase so make sure you’re happy with the enquiries and your understanding of the property before you say yes at this point. This is also a good time to look at buildings insurance as you’ll now have responsibility for the property.

  • Complete on your property, pay your solicitor and stamp duty if necessary, and collect your keys

When you exchange contracts all parties will agree a completion day. This is the most exciting part as you count down the days to the move into your brand new home. The less exciting bit is seeing all that money leave your account, but it’s all worth it!

  • Give yourself time to settle in, and then instruct a surveyor or architect if you’re looking to make changes to your new home

You’ve moved in and started unpacking, but now your mind is racing with all the exciting updates you can make to your new home. Give yourself some time to settle in your home and understand what you’d like from the space, and then get in touch so we can help you design your dream home!

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Tips

Improving not moving

We’re spending more time at home than ever before, and you may be wondering if your current space is right for you.

Maybe you’ve been working from home and need more office space, or you have a growing family and want to make sure there’s enough space for everyone to have some peace and quiet.

Moving is of course an option, but often it may be better for you to stay where you are. Being near family, in a great area, in a good school catchment or just sticking with a home you love are incredibly important, and moving house can come with added stress and costs. That’s why a lot of homeowners find improving, not moving, is the best option and a great way to add value and create the perfect home for them.

At any stage, it’s important to invest in qualified advice and expertise, ensuring you make improvements that match the quality of the house you’ve already invested in and don’t leave you with issues to sort out later down the line.

We’ll talk you through some extension options, but we do offer architectural services so to discuss the perfect option for you, get in touch with us here.

The first, and arguably most common, option is a single storey extension to the rear or side of your house, perhaps creating a large open plan kitchen diner for the family to enjoy, adding an extra bathroom or creating a handy home office. A single storey extension could typically cost £25-35k*, but whilst also improving your home, will likely add significant value if you invest in the right improvements, so if you do come to sell or re-mortgage in the future, it will have more than paid for itself.

To maximise your living space even further, a wraparound extension is a fantastic option, utilising space to the side and rear of your house if you have it and creating much need extra ground space for the family. The typical cost of a wraparound extension is around £30-40k* so a big investment, but a worthwhile one to make the most of the space you have a create the perfect home for you.

If you have more to invest and want to transform your home and create even more space, a two storey extension could be the right choice for you. Typically costing from £30-60k*, it’s a big investment but will turn a house into a forever home and allow you to make the changes and additions you really want out of a property. Adding significant extra space could mean an open-plan living area, and extra bedroom and bathroom, and maybe an office (or home gym if you’re going all out).

If you want to add space and improvements but keep the costs slightly lower, a conservatory is a great option to give you more living space, and at an average £15-20k* is a cost efficient way to extend your kitchen and dining area, improving your home and adding value in the future.

There are of course other things to consider, such as conservation areas, permitted development, planning applications and party wall matters, but we’re here to help.  

We offer architectural and building surveying services to support you and provide expert advice every step of the way, so get in touch to discuss the options for you and your home, we’d love to chat.

*Prices are used as a guide and estimate but will vary based on individual circumstances such as size, materials used, labour costs and geography.

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Tips

10 Tips for House Viewings

Have you been spending time scrolling on Rightmove and finally have some viewings booked in? It’s so easy to just glance around a house and like what you see without really looking, so we’ve put together a few tips on what you should do on viewing day…

1. Ask Questions

This may seem simple but so many people don’t actually do it. Make sure you’re asking plenty of questions of the seller and estate agent. Think of what you really want to know to save you a headache in the long run, such as how old the boiler is and when it was last serviced? Are there any rights of way or shared access arrangements with the neighbours? Have the sellers had any work done on the property recently? Have there been any issues with vermin?

2. Get in the roof void or loft

If there’s a ladder there, get in the loft! Have a good look at the beams to check for damp or rot, look for signs of leaks or vermin, and check the roof covering is in a good state of repair from inside. Any staining or wet timbers are a clear sign you need to have things looked at more closely. There’s a lot of hidden clues in the roof void so if you can, make sure you check it out.

3. Look at exterior areas

Don’t just head straight in, step back and take a good look at the property from the outside. Check for any obvious defects that could be costly in the future. Your surveyor will look at these in more detail but it’s always good to be aware of potential issues.

Is the brickwork above the bay window sagging? This might indicate overloading of the window lintel which could lead to the lintel needing to be reinforced or replaced.

Are any roof tiles missing? Many people don’t look at the roof, and we’ve seen a fair few where we’ve had to recommend repair or full replacement, so make sure you’ve had a good look.

Are the boundary walls or fence panels in a good state of repair? So many people don’t look after these to keep them in good condition, so have a look to see if there’s a job you’ll be needing to do there.

4. Check for damp

Keep an eye out for signs of damp in key areas such as corner junctions, ceiling joints and external walls. There could be flaky paint, peeling plaster, water marks or even an obvious smell.

If a room has recently been re-painted, keep in mind that it could be a sign of covering something up.

5. Test water and electric

Turn the taps on and even ask if the vendor or estate agent can turn the shower on to check the flow. Knowing that key services like water are working as they should is essential, and is often overlooked on viewing day. Whilst you’re at it, switch lights on to check the electrics are in order and go have a look at the fuse box to see if it’s a modern consumer unit or not.

6. Keep an eye out for recently decorated areas

Sellers will usually be trying to make the house look as beautiful and inviting as possible to get some good offers, and they may even re-decorate to make the property seem fresh and modern. However, keep in mind which areas have been redecorated and if this could be hiding any issues such as damp or cracking.

7. Keep an eye out for cracking

Hairlines cracks are common as some natural movement occurs in houses, but there are some key areas to look out for cracks. Check by windows and doors, and joins in walls such as where new extensions join to the original building. If there are big cracks or a lot of them, keep in mind that there could be a bigger issue your surveyor will need to check.

8. Check the rooms work for you

Rooms may be staged beautifully but always think if it would work for you. Are the rooms big enough? Is there enough storage space? Are there enough plug sockets and where are they located?

It sounds obvious, but don’t be fooled by staging and really try to imagine yourself living there and bringing in your existing furniture and belongings.

9. Check which way the house faces

We all love some sun, and where the sun rises and sets is important to know if the rooms will work for you. When does the garden get the sun? Which room has the light in the morning and which in the evening? Try to view the house more than once, at a different time of day to see where the light falls.

10. Test windows and doors

Are all the windows and doors working and do they all still have keys? Is the double glazing still in order or is condensation visible between window panes? Do windows and doors have a safety mark? It’s easy to overlook on viewing day but windows and doors are pricey to replace, and if they’ve been kept in good order it could be a sign that the rest of the house has too.

These are just some key pointers that many people miss on viewing day, but to be sure of the condition and structural integrity of your property, always get a Chartered Building Surveyor to conduct a survey – it could save you a lot of time, money and hassle in the long run. Get in touch with us here.