The first time buyer’s guide to spotting problems in a property

Making an investment in a property is a worrying time for any first time buyer. The financial commitment can feel overwhelming, but this is combatted by the excitement of finally getting on the property ladder and creating your own home.

When looking at properties to buy, the range of emotions you are feeling risk blinding you to the potential defects in a property. While your emotional reaction to a potential property purchase is an important element in the decision making process, counter it with a more rational approach to make sure that your excitement doesn’t blind you to any of the problems that could face you when you move in. 

Balance your emotions with rationality

Don’t forget that the current owner may be, literally, plastering over a number of cracks to make the property look superficially better than it actually is. To help you create a more structured approach to house hunting, we’ve put together a quick checklist of the main areas you need to explore further to give you a clearer idea of any potential problems in a property.

They don’t necessarily have to put you off the purchase, but if you know that a particular property could involve additional works that come with a big bill, then it gives you greater leverage when it comes to negotiating on the price, and a wider margin for adding value should you wish to resell at a later stage. If you buy with the knowledge that, for example, remedial damp treatment is going to land you a $10k bill, then you can look at nocking that off the asking price. 

How to spot damp in a property

Damp is often easier to smell than to spot. A damp property is has a particular musty smell, which is usually stronger in confined spaces such as basements. However, whether there is an odor or not, make sure you visibly check the ceilings, walls and floors in every room. Are there any darker patches which could indicate water seepage. Physically press hard on the skirting boards and door frames. Is the wood soft and crumbly to the touch? Is there a white powdery substance appearing across the surfaces of the walls? Can you spot any mildew or mould growth?

Damp is probably one of the more common issues affecting an older property, and if you suspect damp then call in the experts to give you a potential quote for carrying out any remedial work.

Structural integrity of the building

Structural issues can either be blindingly obvious, or appear overnight out of nowhere, so be extra cautious about checking out the structure. Although you may not have the knowledge of a qualified surveyor (who will be called in the carry out an official structural report and valuation), you should be able to spot the signs of any potential red flags.

These red flags include:

  • Worrying cracks in and around the foundation of the building – particularly in the corners.
  • A sagging roof line, and any missing tiles or shingles.
  • Uneven floors and walls which might indicate a possible problem with subsidence.
  • Doors and windows that don’t open and close properly, possibly indicating a shift in the property’s standing.
  • Cracks in walls and ceilings, particularly around door and window frames.

Neighbourhood disputes

One are that can be overlooked is possible past disputes with neighbors. It is not explicitly required to declare any disputes with a neighbor when selling a property, so you have no idea what problems you could be inheriting. Before making a final decision, make sure you dig into the area a little deeper and do your due diligence. You may also want to make that a point of your contract and request that any dispute is declared. 

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