Buyers guide to doing your due diligence

Found your dream home? Kate Watson-Smyth presents the essential buyer's guide

So you've found your dream home. It's taken you two minutes to fall in love with it and you are already visualising yourself on the roof terrace on a Sunday morning with croissants and the morning papers. It's now not a question of if you'll buy, but how much you are prepared to pay. First you need to have a second visit and, as any property professional will tell you, be ruled by the head, not the heart. And it's the details – brick equivalent of the small print – that matter.

Jeremy Leaf, a north London estate agent and chartered surveyor, says only one in five purchasers bother to invest in a survey, homebuyer's report or comprehensive building survey. "A survey can tell you if the house has damp or condensation from being empty for a few weeks. It can tell you if those cracks are from subsidence.

"Just because a mortgage valuation is done by a chartered surveyor, it doesn't mean he has spent three hours examining in a property," he adds.

You'll need to follow the clues to find out what your dream home is hiding, he says, recalling a time a vendor positioned an elderly relative, apparently asleep, on a strategically placed armchair to hide a patch of expensive damp.

So, snoring pensioners aside, what should the sensible buyer be on the look out for?



DAMP

Julian Murch, a former estate agent turned chartered surveyor, starts with the obvious: "Obviously you need to have a good look around but your nose is a pretty good tool, too. Does it smell damp or musty? Look up at the ceilings for signs of damp." You should also be looking at the corners of wallpaper for any bubbling or looseness.



SUBSIDENCE



Check brickwork for diagonal cracks which may have been partly hidden by repointing. Come back inside and open and close a few doors – do they stick? Ask why? Internal walls often have plaster cracks but look for long diagonal ones – particularly where they might correspond to outside cracks.

Murch tells of one tale where a vendor had tried to cover up a problem: "I was in the roof space and there was a door propped up against the party wall. It seemed like an odd way to store an old door so I moved it and found a huge hole between the two houses.

"Do look out for things that appear to be in the wrong place – piles of laundry or bookcases in odd places – then move them."



PLUMBING

Spencer Cushing, associate director of John D Wood's South Kensington office, has experience of problems arising from bad plumbing. "Check the silicon sealant round the bath and shower," he says ruefully. "I didn't and, on the day we moved in, my wife went to run a bath and I was in the kitchen when water started pouring through the lightbulb fitting. When I took the panel off the side of the bath I discovered a huge pile of rubble. That wasn't a problem in itself, but did point to sloppy workmen and you start wondering what else you are going to find."



ELECTRICS

Gavin Scott-Brooker, a seasoned chartered surveyor from Nantwich in Cheshire, recommends checking out the electrics. "About half of all old houses don't have up-to-date circuit breakers and that can cost about £800 to upgrade. That might also point to problems with the rest of the electrics and wiring."



INSULATION

"This is increasingly an issue," says Scott-Brooker. Check for double glazing and ask if the vendors have taken steps to improve insulation. If there are window locks, make sure to ask if they've got the keys."

Scott-Brooker says: "It's a total myth that, in a modern house, there is less to look for. These days a development is often run by a project manager rather than a builder and things are just thrown up in a hurry to avoid penalty clauses. Just because it's new, doesn't mean it won't have problems."



THE BOILER

One good tip is turn on the hot tap and ask someone to stand near the boiler to check how much noise it makes, says Cushing. A new boiler is a big expense so find out how old it is. The ideal is a modern condensing boiler.



PARKING AND NOISE

The best way to assess the noise and the neighbourhood is to visit at different times of the day. This will tell you about parking and about the neighbours. Visiting a house at 11am may not reveal the chaos at 8.30am caused by the school in the next road. Drive round the block a few times and find out if the local supermarket has adequate parking, or will shoppers use your road. Cushing recommends checking on a Sunday evening as that's when people come back from a weekend away. In a flat or a maisonette, find out if they've got floorboards and see if you can check the noise levels. Ask how old the neighbours are – if you've got a small baby you don't want 20-year-olds playing music at midnight.



THE 'NEIGHBOURS'

No, not those living above or next door, but those of the pest variety. Check all the carpet for signs of moths, which are tricky and expensive to get rid of. And Cushing has a cautionary tale. "If the vendor isn't there, kneel down and take the kickboards off in the kitchen. One buyer found mousetraps filled with dead bodies."

In a Victorian house, you can't be surprised if there are mice from time to time, but it's worth checking for poison and traps and asking if the vendors have tried to proof the place.



ONE MORE THING

Take a look at homecheck.co.uk to find information about flooding, subsidence, pollution and landfill in your area. There are also links to planning information and crime rates. Otherwise, Scott-Brooker says: "Make sure you have a contingency budget for those minor trivial matters that might crop up in the first 12 months as the seasons change and you get to know the house."

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SEO Specialist

£21000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an e...

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat