House Doctor: My survey shows the house I'm buying has asbestos. Should I pull out of the deal?


Question: The survey on a home we're buying has just shown a likelihood of asbestos in the property and in the attached garage.

Obviously, I'm upset and in two minds to either pull out or ask for a huge discount.

However, everybody including the estate agent, seller and mortgage broker tells me I'm kicking up a fuss for no reason. Surely this isn't right? I thought it was still a nasty threat.

James Pelling, Stoke

Answer: The spectre of asbestos-related deaths and serious illnesses – largely from inhaling the deadly fibres – continues to frighten. Although actually a natural mineral, its long-term use in building materials to fortify structures and improve fire resistance thrust it into the public arena throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

Those parts of your home where you might typically find asbestos include eaves, fire blankets, garage and shed roofs, ceilings and doors, insulation panels in some storage heaters, central heating flues and packing between floors and in partition walls.

However, asbestos-related deaths usually followed long-term exposure to the raw material and it was this that sparked industry reviews that led, in January 2005, to a European Union ban on its use.

The critical factor on safety remains whether it is exposed or not and whether you come into contact with it. For example, the asbestos contained within your roof shed cement is common and usually fairly safe.

"If an asbestos roof on a domestic garage or shed, say, is in good condition and doesn't leak, there is no reason to change it," says a spokesman for home improvement advice website Whatprice.co.uk.

But as for likely asbestos inside the house you're buying, you'll need a specialist to determine its location and risk factor.

This is a big job and needs an inspector recommended by your local authority or council to come to visit the property to take a sample or extensively survey the home.

For details on how to find such asbestos inspectors, go to the Government's own advice website Direct.gov.uk and type in asbestos for a list of companies.

What this all means for your house purchase will depend, I suspect, on the inspector's report. If there's little work to be done inside the property to make it safe – and that won't cost hundreds of pounds – then there's little reason to press the stop button.

"You could rightly use it as a bargaining chip to convince the seller to lower the asking price," adds Gavin Brazg at online property adviser Theadvisory.co.uk.

"At the very least, you could fairly ask for the cost of the asbestos to be taken into consideration."

If there is a lot of asbestos, it could take a hefty sum to restore. But the report should help you to make the right decisions.

housedoctor@independent.co.uk

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