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I am considering buying an investment flat to let under the "Buy to Let" scheme run by the Association of Residential Lettings Agents. Should I furnish the property?

D Silvester


It really depends on how much capital you are willing to spend. Most agents would agree that a well-furnished flat is much more in demand than an unfurnished one and would be less likely to suffer from long vacant periods between tenancies. But it would be unlikely that this increased expenditure would be recovered straight away, and must be looked at in the long term.

If you do decide to furnish the flat you will need to comply with the Furniture & Furnishings Regulations 1993. These govern the use of any filling material in furniture or upholstery, whether foam or non-foam, and the requirements for furniture to meet the "cigarette test" which was introduced in 1980. Since March 1993 all newly rented furnished properties should only be furnished with contents that conform to this test and carry the appropriate label.

All furniture manufactured after 1983 should comply with the regulations but there is particular concern over foam-filled furniture made between 1950 and 1983. If you do decide to furnish the flat, it would be advisable to buy new furnishings to ensure that you meet the requirements set out in the regulations.


I DON'T want to instruct a surveyor unnecessarily. Are there any obvious defects that I could look out for when viewing a new property?

V Webster


The types of things to look out for will vary according to the age of the property but there are a few general things to be aware of. The most important is probably the type of construction.

If the property is not of a "conventional" construction (ie bricks and tile) it may be more prone to problems and you would be advised to employ the services of a specialist surveyor or a structural engineer. Also make sure that your mortgage lender is prepared to make an advance against this type of property.

If the house is of a standard construction you need to check that the chimneys are straight, whether the brickwork needs repointing and if the chimney breasts are still in place.

Also check that the roof is level and that there are no dips in the roof or missing tiles. If houses nearby have had roofs repaired or replaced, you may soon have a similar problem.

Check the internal walls for any signs of cracking as this could indicate something more serious. Check the windows for ventilation and draughts and ensure the floor is solid.

Make sure there are no leaks in the plumbing and even consider the bathroom and kitchen fittings. If you don't like them they could be expensive to replace. Dampness could be due to the lack of an effective damp course, or leaking gutters, plumbing leaks or condensation.

The electricity, central heating and gas systems should all be checked by a specialist. But you can check yourself that any extension or alterations have received the necessary planning consent. Beware of the newly redecorated house, a fresh coat of paint or new wallpaper can hide a multitude of problems.

If you wish to proceed with the purchase your lender will carry out a survey on the property. Do not rely on this alone as it is done for the lender's purposes and will almost certainly not cover everything you need to know.

Answers were supplied by a panel of experts at Woolwich Property Services and Ekins, the group's surveying services subsidiary. The panel is headed by Alan Oliver, the managing director of Woolwich Property Services, and will answer published queries on buying and selling, valuations, surveys and market factors such as price trends.