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I am buying a late 19th-century property. Is a standard home buyers' survey and valuation sufficient or should I go for a full structural report?

Lisa Herron

London W10

As a rule of thumb, if a property has been built since the turn of the century and is of standard brick and tile construction, a Home Buyers' Survey and Valuation (HBSV) is likely to be adequate. However, if the property was built before the late 1800s or is of non-standard or mixed construction - having, for instance a felt or cedar shingle roof, or if it is of timber-framed construction, then a structural survey is advisable.

In the HBSV the surveyor will assess your property in a concise report under standard headings such as roofs, ceilings, dampness and drainage. A structural survey is a more detailed assessment of your property.

Of course, as with any guidelines there are exceptions. If, for example, you are buying a six-bedroom detached property dating back to the 1920s or 1930s, it is unlikely that a detailed assessment of a property of this type could be contained adequately within the concise HBSV report, so a structural survey may be appropriate.

In the case of either the HBSV or a structural survey, the extent of the inspection will be agreed beforehand. The structural survey gives more scope for individual requirements and most buyers ask the surveyor to check out particular areas of concern - if you are thinking of making any alterations to the house in the future, then a structural survey is probably the one to go for, but make sure the surveyor knows what you are thinking of doing.

As you would expect, a structural survey is more expensive - possibly costing about pounds 100-pounds 300 more than a HBSV because the surveyor is on-site for longer and is submitting a more detailed, tailor-made report. But most property purchasers will only ever need the HBSV. So don't spend money unnecessarily.

If in doubt about the appropriate survey, ask your lender to put you in touch with a surveyor who will advise you.



There are so many estate agents, how do I choose a good one?

Anita Ashwick

London SE8

There is a perception that all estate agents offer the same services. Not true! In fact, they differ widely in terms of what they provide, how they provide it, and what it all costs. So shop around and find out what you get for your money.

For a start, ask to see evidence of sales progress - such as the number of "viewing" appointments and the prospective purchasers' reaction to those viewings. Ask how you will be kept up to date as your sale proceeds. Good agents will be pleased to show you their records. In addition, find out what newspapers and magazines your home will be advertised in and how frequently your property will appear in them.

And, if you want to show how really on the ball you are, ask about other activities like direct mailing, door drops and special promotions offered typically in conjunction with an associated or parent financial institution.

Some agents will have the added benefit of a financial adviser at hand. They can act as a filter, ensuring that only potential purchasers who can really afford your property get a viewing.

At the end of the day, base your decision not so much on agency fees, which will vary from less than 1 per cent of sale price to around 3 per cent, but rather on their service quality. That could make the crucial difference between a full-blown, co-ordinated sales strategy for your property, using different marketing techniques and advertising media, to merely having your property details filed in a rarely-opened drawer. In other words, from selling quickly to not selling at all.


What tips do you have to make properties look their best for sale?

Ashley Etheridge


We're talking here about first impressions. These are all-important, so try and imagine yourself in your prospective purchaser's shoes. But do be sensible as there is little point in going overboard. Generally:

Ensure your home looks as spacious as possible - a good tidy-up helps.

Vacuum and dust round. It's important that your home looks well cared for.

Make the garden look its best.


Polish brass door furniture.

Buy flowers. They create a focal point and are bright and welcoming.

If you have a dim room, turn on the light before your visitors arrive. They'll notice the difference if you do so when they are there.

You don't need to have bread baking in the oven, but an appealing aroma helps. Have coffee percolating - then if things are going well you can offer them a cup!

It is not really worth redecorating to sell unless it is absolutely vital. If it's liveable, leave it. The time, trouble and expense is unlikely to be reflected in an increased offer as your purchasers will have their own ideas.


Are prices really going up or is the Government trying to talk up the market prior to the general election?

Sarah Hunt

London SE12

Housing industry assessments recorded price increases of 4.2 per cent on average during 1996 compared with the previous 12 months. This recovery is likely to be sustained and we expect prices to rise by around 5 to 7 per cent during 1997. As far as we can predict, we expect modest rises to continue for the foreseeable future - probably, broadly in line with retail price inflation.

Among the reasons for the buoyant market are faster income growth and low interest rates - with homes now more affordable (incomes in relation to monthly repayments) than they have been for 20 years.

It is important to note that property price rises are likely to be modest compared to the Eighties boom, though it is true that in some areas, prices have increased by as much as 10 per cent. Of course, price rises have knock-on benefits as more house owners fall out of negative equity, further fuelling confidence and strengthening recovery.

These 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, managing director of Woolwich Property Services, and answers queries on buying and selling, valuations, surveys and market factors such as price trends.