Like a nasty disease that had been kept it check, it suddenly burst though the lashings of filler and spread its tentacles across the ceiling and walls. The structural engineer nodded like a doctor satisfied that his patient was showing all the correct symptoms. Full-blown subsidence and the only cure is underpinning.
As the insurance company gears up for action it brought home to us the dangers of not getting a full structural survey. Black Horse Agencies, not for the first time, has warned of the risks. Some 80 per cent of buyers rely solely on a lender's valuation and nearly two in 10 of those buyers face unexpected repair bills. More than 40 per cent of those had costs of more than pounds 500 - the cost of a building survey. Simply replacing drains will run into the thousands. For those buying a property built after the turn of the century, the Homebuyers' survey (from pounds 250) would be adequate.
In its third quarterly review for 1997, Hamptons International reports that it has seen a marked slow-down of price increases in London with a number of price reductions in some of the more expensive areas. Those who sold up in the frenetic early summer and moved out of town can feel pleased with themselves. Before sellers swing from euphoria to deep gloom, the review notes a levelling off, but definitely not a downturn. Good news for those outside the South- east is that the ripple effect is finally being felt. The West Country has seen the highest increases recently, with Gloucestershire and Wiltshire in particular achieving up 5 per cent increases in the middle to upper section of the market.
The same agents have an extraordinary cottage for sale made entirely from boulders. The single-storey building in Alton, Hampshire, looks rather like the kind of place made overnight as a matter of survival from whatever materials are available. In fact the stones are believed to have been salvaged from a demolished priory in Selborne, and the cottage is Grade II listed. It was built in the late 19th century close to the old Watercress steam railway. The asking price is pounds 120,000.