11 July 2016

The most common problems found during a homebuyer survey

If you’re in the process of buying a home, you’ve probably come across some scare stories about surveys and solicitor searches turning up major problems.

We're not experts but we've explored some ‘homebuyer horrors’ and below is a summary of what they might mean for your property purchase. If any of these issues effect you and your property purchase you should always seek independent expert advice.

You can use the buttons below to navigate through our article, taking you straight to the problem you're interested in.

japanese knotweed

This harmless–looking plant is dreaded by anyone looking to buy or sell a home. Introduced to the UK in the 19th century, knotweed proved to be highly aggressive, killing other plants and spreading at lightning speed, even infiltrating the structure of buildings.

It’s now an offence to grow Japanese knotweed or allow it to spread, so if your property has even a little bit of knotweed nearby, you are responsible for the difficult task of controlling it. Additionally, many mortgage lenders are wary of lending upon properties with Japanese knotweed.

What can you do?: If you’ve got your heart set on a property with Japanese knotweed, find out as much as you can about eradicating it, including costs and timescales. There may be a way to resolve the problem without pulling out of the sale, especially if the seller will negotiate on price. You should also talk to your mortgage lender as soon as possible to find out their policy on the issue.

It’s well–known that asbestos is bad for your health. But rather than affecting homeowners, most cases of asbestos–related illness involve construction workers and tradespeople who are exposed to asbestos over the long term.

If your home was built before 2000, there might be asbestos somewhere, for example in your shed roof. If the asbestos is in good condition and it’s left alone, there may be no issue. But problems could arise if it’s exposed or disturbed, for example during renovations, as it releases dangerous fibres into the air which can be inhaled.

What can you do?: If your surveyor thinks there’s a risk of asbestos in your future home, you need to know where it is and whether it’s in good condition. You can get a specialist asbestos survey carried out via your local council, to set your mind at rest.

dry rot

Dry rot is a type of fungus that can weaken the timber within a property, including floor joists, window frames and stairs.

It can spread rapidly within a property, but it only sets in in damp conditions, which could mean anything from a leaky pipe to a defective roof.

If you’ve got dry rot noted on your survey, it means there’s work to be done eliminating the problem and repairing any damage.

What can you do?: Once you’ve confirmed the extent of the problem with your surveyor, you need to think carefully about your options. You could negotiate with your seller and ask them to cover the cost of repairs.

However, this might mean a lot of disruption and delay in moving into your home. With serious dry rot, some people choose to cut their losses and pull out of the sale – it all depends on your personal circumstances.

It sounds like something from outer space, but radon gas is actually found under the ground. It’s a radioactive substance that’s present all over the place. Most of the time, radon levels are too low to be harmful, but concentrations can be higher inside buildings, and if too much of it is breathed in, it can lead to lung disease.

Certain areas of the UK have higher radon levels than others, and your solicitor’s searches will check your property’s location against a map of high–radon areas to make sure it’s not at dangerous levels. Properties with excessive radon levels will need special ventilation or fans put in place to make them safe.

What can you do?: If the property is in a radon affected area, talk to your buyer to see if they’ve carried out tests to check the radon levels, as it can vary from property to property. If not, you’ll need to test when you move in. You could discuss this with your solicitor, to see if your seller can help meet the costs of testing and fixing any problems.

house wall with subsidence

Subsidence happens when the ground underneath your property moves, affecting its stability. This generally happens in an uneven way, causing cracking to the structure of the property.

It sounds pretty dangerous, but it can be fixed through a process called underpinning. As a buyer, the most important concern is getting buildings insurance. If a property has a known subsidence problem, even if it’s been underpinned, you’ll have a smaller pool of insurers to choose from, and they will likely charge a bigger premium.

What can you do?: First, you'll probably need to make sure you have a full structural survey to understand the extent of the problem and any repairs that have already been done. If you then decide to go ahead with the purchase, you could consider negotiating with your seller on the price to see if you can offset the extra insurance costs.

There are a few kinds of damp to be aware of. Rising damp, dreaded by many homebuyers, is potentially the most expensive to sort out. It’s caused by water coming up from ground level, often through a faulty or missing damp–proof course in the wall.

Other causes of damp include condensation, where there’s not enough ventilation in the property, and penetrating damp, where water’s getting in from outside via a leak in the roof, walls or windows.

What can you do?: If your surveyor finds damp, it’s important to investigate the cause and assess how much it would cost to resolve, as this can vary hugely, from thousands of pounds for excavation and a new damp–proof course to something as simple as buying a dehumidifier. You can then decide whether to negotiate with your seller on covering the cost of repairs.

wood with woodworm

Woodworm is actually caused by beetles, not worms. Their larvae burrow into timber, including furniture, woodwork, floorboards and joists, causing structural damage.

You might see woodworm referred to as ‘wood–boring insects’ on your survey. The tell–tale sign is small, rounded holes on the surface of the wood, although if woodworm affects a structure that’s out of sight, the problem might not be obvious to the untrained eye.

What can you do?: You should follow your surveyor’s guidance, which might be to get a specialist survey to assess the extent of the problem and the type of beetle you’re dealing with. Some species of beetle can cause devastating damage to structural timbers, while others prefer softwoods and furniture. The methods and costs of treatment can depend on how severe the problem is, too.

Your solicitor or conveyancer will check for disputes relating to the property, which can include problems with neighbours over boundary issues, noise, pets or parking. Your seller has an obligation to tell you about any disputes that have occurred.

However, there may be less cut–and–dried issues that could affect your decision. For example, if you like peace and quiet and there’s a lot of late–night noise around the property, it might be a deal–breaker for you, although your seller has no problem with it. It may be wise to save yourself heartache (and headaches) by walking around the neighbourhood at different times of day and night to check noise levels, traffic volumes and the general feel of the place.

What can you do?: If you discover a history of disputes with neighbours, the next steps depend on what the problem is, or was. Some issues might be easy enough to resolve or may be in the past, but problems like noise or anti–social behaviour could be more complicated, and may put you off the sale.

It’s worth considering whether past disputes were down to personal differences between your seller and their neighbour, and might not affect you in the same way.

neighbours talking over a hedge

Right of way, also known as easement, is when someone has the right to cross another person’s land to get access to or from their property.

There are different types of easement with different conditions that say who can cross the land and under what circumstances. Your solicitor or conveyancer will investigate whether this affects your new home.

What can you do?: Talk to your solicitor or conveyancer to find out more about the situation and what it means for you. It might be that there's an easement on your property, or that you need to have one to access your home. Often there’s no problem, but it’s best to get all the information you can before proceeding, both for the sale and for your future reference.

If there’s been an alteration to the property, for example an extension, your conveyancer will need to check whether it was done according to the necessary building regulations. This can include a building warrant, completion certificate or in the case of major work, planning permission.

Delays can crop up if the documentation isn’t in place, as the seller will need to go back to the local authority and ask them to check the work is compliant. If the local authority finds a problem, there could be extra building work required, and you may need to negotiate with the seller about how to pay for this.

What can you do?: There may be delays to the sale if the seller can’t produce the right paperwork, which could put pressure on you if you have a buyer of your own. If the situation is very complex, the repairs or structural changes are major, or you’re having trouble negotiating a solution with the seller, you may look to reconsider the purchase. However, it’s unusual for things to be this severe.

contaminated land

Some areas, for example old industrial or landfill sites, may have unsafe levels of certain substances in the soil. If there’s a risk that the property is on contaminated land, it might be difficult to sell or remortgage, and you could even be liable for cleaning it up.

Your conveyancer or solicitor will run a check with the local authority, which keeps a register of contaminated land areas.

What can you do?: Many buyers would consider contaminated land to be a major issue and consider pulling out of the sale. However, the conveyancer or solicitor’s report will indicate if there’s a risk that the property’s on contaminated land, not that it definitely is. It’s important to speak to your solicitor and the local authority first and make sure of the situation.

Looking for more information?

Why not take a look at our homebuyers guide?

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