Property: Look behind the perfect style and check out the substance

You can't judge a book by looking at its cover - and the same applies to property. By Penny Jackson

RARELY DOES someone walk into a new apartment and ask what is underneath the pristine wooden floor and gleaming stainless steel. If they did, a few developers might have some uncomfortable moments. As it is, it still surprises many in the business how little curiosity the public shows.

Buyers have been swept along in the rush to buy new properties, particularly in London, sometimes suspending critical judgement so that they could move fast. But the price of getting in at all costs only becomes apparent after a few years, as poor workmanship and low quality finishes begin to tell.

At present, developers are having a much harder time selling anything that is not of a high quality. Heavy advertising and the kind of offers we have not seen for some time suggest they have more on their hands than they are comfortable with.

Buyers should look around and make careful comparisons, advise agents. Nick Sutton, managing director of Crown Dilmun, which has converted five listed houses in fashionable Notting Hill, west London, into 20 apartments, says it never pays to save on the quality.

Nick Sutton says: "I have seen some disgraceful work. People should ask to see other work a developer has done and they should not rely solely on a homebuyers' pack. Ask precisely what method of insulation is used between floors, for instance. If it is poor, everyone's life is made a misery."

At Chepstow Place, solid timber floors and wood fittings have been used throughout the building. "It might be tempting to save thousands of pounds, but those details are what make a property a good investment, even if you are going to let it out. Tenants are far more discerning than they were."

But how can anyone be sure that the apartment that looks so good now will be equally saleable or lettable in four years time? In the narrow streets of Shad Thames, an area just south and east of Tower Bridge, the experience of two buildings, completed within a year of each other, tell very different stories.

The first, Boss House, a warehouse conversion, was completed in 1995. A spacious two-bedroom apartment would originally have sold for about pounds 175,000. Thames Heights, slightly closer to the river and restaurants, was a newly built, and a smaller two-bedroom apartment was around pounds 100,000. Today, the Boss House apartment would sell for at least pounds 100,000 more, while at Thames Heights, there is no evidence that the flat will sell for even 30 per cent more.

Location is not enough to cover its shortcomings, which include gloomy communal areas with worn carpets, and a vast expanse of brick wall. Significantly, it was sold almost exclusively in the Far East. "People should remember that it was common to buy on the basis of a brochure, a model and a few English estate agents. Quality is only put to the test when it comes back on to the market," says Tom Marshall of Cluttons Daniel Smith.

It therefore makes sense for buyers to ask whether a flat being resold for the first time was part of a large number sold abroad, since the owner may never have even set foot in it.

Marshall's advice is to check every detail of a new apartment. Is the wooden floor solid or a thin laminate? Is the tiling done well, regardless of the cost of the tiles? Are the door surrounds going to chip and discolour or wear well? Are the light fittings cheap plastic or robust?

"People who are buying new resent spending pounds 500 on a survey, but in the end, it could be well worth it," he adds.

Walking past developments in Bermondsey a few months old, it is possible to spot wood missing from balconies, main entrances with ill-fitting doors, and paint that seems only one layer thick. These are the signs that warn of an uncertain investment. If the common areas have defects, it does not inspire confidence in the quality of workmanship in the flats.

Even in Mayfair refurbishments, there are no guarantees. Linda Beaney, of estate agents Beaney Pearce, has found the most ostentatious of developments can hide a multitude of sins: "When we walked into one, it was obvious that, on the surface, no expense had been spared, but when I looked at the window frames there were tell-tale signs of problems to come.

"The curtains are worth about pounds 20,000 but within a week the windows could be leaking," she says.

"I have also seen expensive carpets put down on terrible floors, covering grease and even greater horrors, like dry rot. Within two years, those sort of properties will be looking terrible."

Beaney Pearce offers buyers a check list when buying new, but there are some hitches that even she has not considered.

A prospective buyer at Chepstow Place was horrified by the kitchen floor. "It is not all the same colour. It will have to be changed," he demanded.

When Nick Sutton explained that the floor material was natural slate, and that's the way it comes, the buyer responded with: "Well, that's not good enough."

peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

    £70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all