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Wednesday, 11 November 2009

24 Things Homebuyers should look out for on an inspection

OK so you have decided now is the time to buy a property and the estate agent has sent you a load of particulars. What should you be looking for when viewing a property? Here's 24 suggestions for you to possible consider.

1. Look out for unauthorised alterations, that is to say, which have been carried out without necessary planning permissions, building regulation approvals or if leasehold without Landlord's consent. Ask the Seller questions if they are present during the viewing. Classic issues which can arise where a property has been extended several times and outbuildings, greenhouses or conservatories which go beyond the permitted development limits. The government planning portal has good information on this which can be found here

2. Look out for other properties enjoying rights over the property. Tell tale signs might be a gate in the garden fence leading to another property or such similar signs of rights enjoyed by third parties.

3. Is the property right next to a highway maintainable at public expense or does it appear that it is necessary to pass over private land to get to the property. Ask what the rights are? Has the Seller had to contribute to maintainance of the access road? Have there been any problems using the private accessway?

4. Does the property appear to need rights over adjoining or neighbouring properties?

5. Is any part of the property subject to commons rights? These are historic rights to use land for recreation purposes, to graze cattle or to cut turf or to hunt or shoot. These rights are common in the country and not many inner city properties are affected by these rights. The local authority search should reveal commons rights registered at the County council.

6. Is the property near to a church which might result in liability to repair the chancel (the area of roof over the altar)? This liability can be substantial. A simple search can reveal if the property is within the boundaries of a parish which could have chancel repair liability.

7. Is the property on land with a potential contaminative history such as an old landfill site, old brickworks or gas works. You can sometimes tell by the name of the road the property is situated in eg. Old Brickworks Lane, Pottery Close, Station Road, Gas Works Avenue etc. There is an environmental desktop search which can reveal these matters but lots of Buyers choose not to do this search. Environmental clean up costs can run to the hundreds of thousands so it is false economy for a search which costs about £50 and takes 48 hours to do.

8. Is there a development nearby which might affect the use and enjoyment of the property? Tell-tall signs to look out for are open fields or countryside near to a modern housing estate which might have the potential for being re-designated from green field land to housing stock. Other developments can be very worrying such as large commercial redevelopment for say a supermarket or car park which could affect transport and traffic.

9. It is a good idea to come back and see the property you are interested in at 9pm on a Saturday night to see if there are noise issues or youth disorder concerns. You may also pick up on noisy neighbours and parking issues. Go undercover and do a bit of sleuthing.

10. Make enquiries of neighbours and at local shops. Do they know of any issues or problems? There is no guarantee they will tell you but it might unearth some issues.

11. What schools are in the catchment area of the property? It can be really difficult to get children into good schools out of the catchment area. What criteria do the schools apply? Do they have an admission policy? Entrance exam? These questions may not affect you but they could affect your buyer when you come to sell.

12. If the property is leasehold, is the Landlord an absentee landlord? Has this caused problems with managing and repairing the building? It is possible to get an indemnity policy to cover the risk of there being a problem but you may feel that an indemnity policy is not really a solution if the building needs repair and no one seems to be taking responsibility.

13. If the property is leasehold, is the building being well-managed? Ask the Sellers and other residents in the building. Gather as much information as possible. Have the tenants ever tried to buy the freehold? What price did they offer? Were there any tenants who did not want to participate? You need at least 50% of the flat owners to serve a notice. What are the service charge levels like? Are there any major items of expenditure looming such as lift replacement, roof repairs or car park resurfacing? All of these might affect your decision to proceed.

14. Has the property had new double glazing / front or back doors fitted since 2002? Does the Seller have building regulation approval for this or a FENSA certificate if the fitter was part of the trade association.

15. New central heating systems/boilers also need building regulation approval now. Has the system been recently replaced?

16. Is there evidence of dry or wet rot in the property? Test the window sills by gently squeezing them. Can you see woodworm in the beams if it is an old property? Does the Seller have guarantees for any woodworm treatment? These areas will be covered by your survey but the surveyor will often omit an opinion on this and suggest specialist reports.

17. Can you see any signs of subsidence, movement or settlement? Are there any large cracks in the walls? Have any underpinning works been carried out? Is there are a guarantee for the work? Do the buildings insurers cover the subsidence now?

18. Can you see any tell-tale signs of dampness in the property such as flaking paint on walls or ceilings, running water or dampness, condensation on the windows, a smell of dampness when you go in certain rooms? Ask the Seller whether the property has an effective damp course and/or ventilation. Are there any guarantees for work carried out?

19. Is the driveway to the property shared with another property? What rights would you have in respect of the drive? Could you resurface it? Who would contribute to the costs? Have there been any disputes over the use of the drive?

20. This is especially important for flats and terraced or semi-detached properties. What are the noise insulation properties of the property like? Can you hear the neighbours? Can they hear the Seller? Does the flat above have laminate or hard wood flooing? This noise can drive you mad especially late at night. Are the walls to adjoining properties paper thin? This can be a big issue for modern properties which have very insubstantial walls.

21. Do the drains pass over land privately owned or do they connect straight to mains drains in the street? Look out for inspection covers which may give clues as to the route of the drains/sewers.

22. For leasehold properties, does the flat have an allocated parking space or spaces? Where do visitors park? Is it easy for visitors to park? Is there a legal right in the lease for visitor parking? What about bicycles? Is there a cycle rack/shed? What rights are in the lease to put bicycles there? Is there a limit on how many bicycles you can park/store there?

23. For leasehold properties again situated on the upper floors, does the block have a lift ? You would be amazed how many upper floor flats have no lift access which can be a major headache for bringing furniture etc. into the Flat. Does the lift work or is permanently vandalised/broken?

24. Leasehold properties: gardens: Do you have a right to use the garden? Is this exclusive or shared with other flats? Does this cause problems? What about garden sheds and refuse areas? This can be a major issue for homebuyers and needs to be flushed out.

One final thing which you may wish to consider which is not in the standard legal enquiries, is whether the property is haunted or has experienced any paranormal activies. You may laugh but a friend of mine bought a flat and the shower doors kept exploding in the morning. Turns out the property was situated on the site of an old mental institution where many unfortunate inmates passed away in distressing circumstances. I would definitely want to know about anything like that leaving out whether I believed in ghosts or not!

Anyway, I hope you will find some of these issues helpful. They are based on issues which have been raised by clients in the past some of which have proved to be enough for the buyers to pull out. Many of the issues will be flushed out by a good thorough conveyancer and surveyor. So don't feel you need to tick off every point. It is not usual for conveyancers to inspect the property themselves but you may find that this is necessary if there are problems. Many conveyancers are happy to do this as part of their service. We certainly are so do shout if you need us to view the property with you if a particular concern arises from this checklist.