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."

peopleJonathan Ross has got a left-field suggestion to replace Clarkson
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
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
footballDoes Hodgson's England team have an identity yet?
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
  • Get to the point
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: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

    Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss