Property: the tools you need

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Indy Lifestyle Online
HOW MUCH time will you spend before deciding to buy a property, and how will you use that time?

"People usually spend two hours, but often as little as 45 minutes, to decide," says Paul Greenwood, managing director of Stacks Relocation. "They can spend more time looking at a second-hand car than at a second- hand house."

Like most househunters, Philippa had been casual, especially in her initial inspections. She did not even notice the seriously sagging bedroom ceiling on her first viewing, and when she spotted it the second time round, she needed a third visit, stepladder in hand, to access the loft.

Although she examined the roof space thoroughly, a quick glimpse as soon as the trap door was opened confirmed her worst suspicions. In a windowless space that should have been totally dark, light streamed in through several gaps in the roof.

If she had seen the light during her first visit, she might have been warned off the property from the start. In the event, by the time she discovered the serious water damage in the roof, she had already spent several hundred non-refundable pounds on legal and other fees. She promised herself to have a more aggressive attitude, and the right tools, for future viewings.

Few people need reminding to bring paper and pen. After viewing only three or four properties it can be hard to recall which was which, and the problem intensifies with each additional property. Detailed notes are essential. A camera might be a tool too far for most househunters, but it is an excellent aide-memoire.

A torch and binoculars are essential. The torch enables you to penetrate the darkness of cupboards, cellars and other concealed areas where woodworm and dry rot lurk. The human nose is a valuable tool for sniffing out the heavy mushroomy odour of the dry-rot fungus. Binoculars provide close- up views of roof tiles, chimneys, downpipes and other features on the property's exterior.

To place the property in relation to the sun, a glance skywards may suffice, but a compass will provide precise readings, and maps are also helpful.

Richard's house-hunting expeditions took him to a distant part of town.

"I didn't mind it at first, but after a few trips my petrol costs were adding up, and it really bothered me if I made a trip to a house that had no hope when I should have known it in advance. One house backed on to railroad tracks, and that's when I realised I should have been using my A-Z more intelligently."

Town plans and, for suburban and rural areas, ordinance maps reveal the locations of schools, busy roads, railroad lines, sewage treatment plants and other landmarks.

Use tape measures to verify that a sofa, piano, wardrobe or bed will fit into the nook or cranny of the new property.

Never feel too embarrassed to look in the attic or cellar or cupboards again. Don't feel uncomfortable turning on the taps to test the water pressure or flushing the lavatory, or opening the windows. And remember, providing you are polite, there is no need to rush - take the time you need.

Robert Liebman