Buyer's Checklist


Don’t get caught out with costly maintenance on your home before you’ve even had a chance to move in.

On the 3rd of December, 2014, George Osbourne made his autumn statement, and one of the major announcements was a huge overhaul of the Stamp Duty tax - a complete reform, in fact.

As of midnight that day, the old system of ‘slab structure’ price brackets, which would see someone buying a home for £250,000 pay £2500 in stamp duty, but nearly £8000 if the house cost £251,000, will be replaced by a graduated rate.

The good news is that Stamp Duty will be cut for 98% of home buyers, meaning cheaper transactions and a little bit more breathing room when it comes to counting your costs. But for those people in the luxury London home market (£1m plus properties), the announcement meant a frantic scramble to exchange contracts in order to avoid significant charges.

London estate agents reported scenes that were more like city trading floors as buyers tried to push through sales as quickly as possible. Some lawyers were even offered £10000 ‘success fees’ if the sales were completed in time, according to the Evening Standard. Hectic times.

But one side effect of the events of December 3rd, is that it offered a neat illustration of the frantic world of the London property market. This is most definitely not something to boast about, but in the capital, everything involving the property market is bigger, faster, and more competitive. Buyers, sellers, landlords, lawyers and agents are all competing for a slice of a very popular pie.
And this is putting home buyers, specifically, under a huge amount of pressure to make quick and seriously daunting decisions when it comes to buying a property.

A recent study from Aviva Insurance revealed that on average, people in the UK spend about 33 minutes looking at properties before making a decision about whether or not they’re going to buy them. The pressures put on people to move fast means that as much as 24% of house buyers view a property just once before making an offer. And even more staggeringly, the report from Aviva also says that as many as 40,000 people a year buy a home without viewing it at all.

This pressure means that although some people can now expect to save themselves a decent wedge of cash due to the reforms in stamp duty, they may well lose out down the line by buying a house and missing significant existing problems that are affecting the property.

The Aviva survey of 4,000 homeowners states that ‘buyers are forced to spend £1,094 more than they had expected on essential repairs once they move in to their property, with the average total bill coming in at £3,490.’

These problems can include plumbing and drain blockages, damp and structural issues such as cracks in walls and ceilings. “Renewed competition and rising prices have combined to make many buyers more pressurised to snap up a property quickly,” said Heather Smith, Marketing Director at Aviva. “Our research showed that buyers in the past year devoted under 10 seconds to looking round a property for every £1,000 they spent purchasing it.”

The report also says that one in three (31%) home buyers did not make any specific checks for issues or problems when viewing their future home.

So to avoid costs down the line, it’s imperative that you go into house viewing with both your eyes and your heart open. Of course it has to feel right, but you don’t want any nasty surprises down the line that might lead to some serious costs. With that in mind, here’s a handy checklist of things to look out for and check the condition of.

Japanese knotweed
You’ve seen the horror stories in the news about people’s houses becoming infested with this horror plant, like something out of science fiction novel. But in reality it is a very serious issue. Introduced to Britain in the 19th century, this is a pervasive weed that will ruin garden walls and paths over time, and given the chance, will even undermine your entire house. It’s such an issue that some lenders will restrict lending on a property infected with Japanese knotweed. Keep an eye out for new shoots in March and check with neighbours to see if they have seen a plant. Depending on the level of growth and infestation, it could cost between £5000 and £20000 for a specialist to get rid of.

In older properties with wooden floors, it’s important to check for signs of fungal infection as this can rot the wood. This would manifest in a musty smell and perhaps springy floorboards as wood begins to change shape. Above all it’s important for you to be vigilant when viewing a property. And if possible, see it twice, or even three times.

It’s not just the outside that needs your keen eyes and attention. There are plenty of things inside the house that need to be checked. In the bathroom for example, you should check to see if the sealant around bathes and showers are in good condition as leaks here can cause serious water damage and lead to major renovation jobs.

The Roof
Most modern properties will have a secondary layer of roofing felt below the tiles that will act as second line of defence against the weather. But older properties may only have tiles and these need care. First of all you need to take a step back and take a look at the roof to spot any missing tiles and to check the condition of the roof in general. Inside the house you need to look out for damp that may indicate a leak, and if you can get into the attic, look out for any rusted nails as this may indicate that the tiles need some attention. It might sound stupid, but bring a pair of binoculars so you can properly examine the roof and chimney stack. Fixing a roof should cost between £1000 and £5000, depending on size and condition.

On wooden window frames, check the quality of the wood and look for signs of rot. If there are PVC windows, examine the frame for cracks in the sealant.

Cavity Walls
If you’re buying a period brick house that was built around the 1920, you likely have cavity walls (two walls of brick with a space in between). These are held together with metal ties that may become damaged overtime and lead to serious damage, like your wall falling down. Look out for horizontal cracks on exterior walls, particularly end terraces. Bulging walls are also a sure sign that the wall needs immediate attention. Depending on the condition, it will cost anywhere between £1000 and £10000 to repair.

It’s very likely the house you’ll be buying will be made of Victorian era bricks, which makes the brickwork very old indeed. Over the years the exterior brickwork will have deteriorated in places and individual bricks will need replacing. This can be very costly, especially when you factor in the cost of the necessary scaffolding to do the works.

Gutters and drains
It’s not sexy, but it’s important. Gutters channel the water away from the roof but they are prone to getting blocked with leaves and other detritus, especially in the winter. This will lead to overflowing gutters that can cause serious problems internally. Look for damp staining on the walls, plants growing from the gutters, interior dampness and damp smells. Check the drains too, as leaves and other rubbish may gather here and cause blockages, as indicated by some seriously bad smells. Not good. Gutters can cost upwards of £2000 if they’re in a really bad way, but otherwise the cost of cleaning and maintenance shouldn’t be too bad.