Your questions answered by experts

I live in a Victorian terrace house with a suspended timber floor. On the ground floor, I have started to notice damp on the walls. What is the likely cause of this and how much is it likely to cost to rectify?

Nick Gordon Brown


The first thing you should look for is any obvious sign of penetrating damp caused by a defect such as leaking gutters or downpipes or maybe poor pointing to the brickwork. If none of these apply, then the damp on the walls is likely to be either condensation or rising damp, and you can usually tell them apart easily.

Condensation, which appears on cold surfaces, is usually accompanied by mould. Rising damp contains salt, on to which mould cannot grow.

Condensation is the less serious of the two and even if you are unable to eliminate it completely, you can alleviate it by increasing ventilation. Cutting down on the use of either Calor gas or paraffin will also help.

Try to avoid drying washing indoors and close doors when running a bath or boiling water.

If you have rising damp, the solution is neither as simple nor as cheap. Rising damp is common in older properties and the usual cause is lack of a damp course. By far the most popular and proven method is a silicon damp course which works by injecting silicon under high pressure into a course of bricks. This creates a waterproof barrier between twocourses of bricks which prevents moisture rising.

The cost of the treatment will depend on a number of factors including the size of the house, but for a standard Victorian terrace house it is likely to cost between pounds 600 and pounds 1,200, to include the re-plastering.

More important, however, is how much damage the damp has done and how far it has spread. If you are lucky, you will merely need to install a damp course. But you could be looking at other remedial work such as replacing part or all of the floor, replacing the joists.

Obtain estimates from two reputable companies. The companies you choose should ideally be members of a recognised body such as the BWPDA and they must offer a guarantee for 20 years backed up by insurance so it will still be valid if they go out of business. When you receive the estimates, check to see that the companies agree the extent of the damage.

When the damp course, and any remedial work, has been carried out, make sure that the lower walls are replastered using salt resistant plaster. If they are not, salt crystals can often appear, with the result that it will look as though the damp has reappeared.


I have seen a property near me which is to be sold at auction. How accessible is this means of purchase?

Giles Field


Most properties sold at auction are to developers and investors who pay cash. However, if you are a private buyer and you have seen a property you like, you should not be put off. Buying a house at auction is straightforward enough. However, for your own protection, there are a number of precautions you should take.

First, you need to act quickly. Most properties offered for auction are advertised for just three or four weeks before the sale.

Contact the auction house and obtain the catalogue for sale. This will contain the instructions to view. If having seen the property you still like it, you need to make the appropriate structural and legal inquiries using the services of a solicitor and surveyor. This is vital. While it will cost you money, it could save you a great deal in the long term.

If you need to borrow money to purchase the property it is important that you have a written offer from your lender before you attend the sale. Mortgages on property sold at auction account for a fraction of total bank and building society lending, but they can be obtained.

Your lender will confirm the maximum they will advance based on the valuation. This may need to be adjusted if you obtain the property for less.

Once you have confirmation from your lender, it is worth making an offer before the property comes to auction. The auction house will relay this to the client and you will receive an acceptance or refusal.

If the sale goes ahead in the auction-room, the auctioneer agrees a reserve price with the client, usually on the morning of the sale. The sale ends when the last bid is received. If this bid is above the reserve price, the gravel comes down and the property is sold.

One word of warning here also - don't get carried away in the bidding. Once you have decided your maximum price, stick to it!

At auction, contracts are exchanged on the same day and you must hand over 10 per cent of the purchase price in the form of cash, a bankers draft or a building society cheque as deposit.

Once you have signed the contract, completion usually takes place 28 days later. However, certain lots will be offered with 14 or 21 day completion. Make sure you check. The normal law of contract applies. If you fail to complete, you lose your deposit.

Auctions work under "caveat emptor," the principle that the buyer must bear the risk for the quality of goods purchased. In other words, it will be assumed that you have made all the necessary inquiries and if major faults arise after the sale has taken place, there is nothing that you can do. This underlines the importance of making the appropriate legal and structural inquiries beforehand.


I am looking to purchase a three-bedroom house, but there is a chronic shortage of such properties in my area? How long is this likely to continue?

Danny Walsh


There is no simple answer to this question, but there are a number of factors which might have a positive influence on housing market activity over the next six months. This may improve the availability of property across all price ranges. There seems to be a shortage of smaller family homes because many first time buyers are opting immediately for this type of property.

We are now approaching the busiest time of year in the housing market. This may bring more properties onto estate agents' books.

May is the likely month for the general election. Many people who are thinking of moving may be putting off the decision until after the election has taken place.

The house market recovery itself may also act as a stimulant. Many who bought in the late 1980s saw the value of their properties fall. It is likely that the recovery will bring the value of these properties to the same level or beyond their purchase price.

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 will answer published queries on buying and selling, valuations, surveys, and market factors such as price trends.