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Home Buyers Guide

For those of you who haven’t noticed, we are most definitely in a buyers’ market. House hunting is presenting better opportunities than ever before, with the economic climate stagnating sales and leaving our lucky buyers with more choice and a greater likelihood of a bargain. Once you’ve fallen in love with that perfect property, it’s all too easy to rush in and seal the deal. So before you start your search, it’s important to know how to spot defects and pitfalls in your potential dream house before you offer. No one wants to settle into a new home only to have the ceiling fall on their head three weeks later. So learn to be savvy and you can make your biggest investment a sound one.
Understanding the Home Report
Our current system requires each seller to provide a Home Report as part of the property marketing process. The Home Report gives more clarity to buyers by providing them with more information than they have ever had before. It also gives a prospective purchaser more information at an early stage enabling a more informed view on the need for additional surveys/specialist reports. As a smart buyer, you should spend time looking over the Home Report in detail before you even think about taking things further. There is a grading system employed in all Home Reports which awards each part of a building a category 1, 2 or 3 for repairs and you should use this as a guide to assess any potential issues. A category 1 means no immediate repair is required, a category 2 means there are repairs requiring future attention and a category 3 means urgent repair is required. This grading system will highlight potential problems in advance and will help assist you in making an informed decision about what figure to offer. Some of the more common issues you will find mentioned in the Home Report are subsidence and heave, damp, rot, woodworm infestation, high ground levels, non traditional construction, flat roofs and the current headline maker, Japanese Knotweed. You should always call in a specialist to address any of these problems, but it is helpful to be able to spot the basic characteristics for yourself.
Subsidence & Heave
Subsidence and heave are both types of building settlement. Subsidence is the downward movement of a building caused by a change in the condition of the earth beneath the structure. In contrast, heave is the opposite upward movement caused by swelling of the ground below.  Subsidence usually occurs where there has been previous mining activity on the land or where the property has been built on clay soil, since clay can shrink and swell. Heave is caused by swelling or expansion of soil, usually due to heat, and it does occur in Scotland despite our less than tropical climate. Obvious signs of subsidence and heave are new or expanding cracks in plasterwork or masonry, doors and windows sticking for no reason and rippling wallpaper that isn’t caused by damp. Externally, they can also be characterised by uneven courses of stonework/brickwork or by cracking to the masonry. Look out for these signs as a smart buyer because to remedy these types of settlement can be costly.
Damp, Rot and Woodworm Infestation
Damp, rot and woodworm infestation should usually be highlighted in your Home Report and will be graded with regard to severity.  It is always advisable to get them checked by a specialist as there are many different types of each. Damp comes in two main forms – penetrating and rising. With penetrating, you will often be able to see a damp patch through a wall or a ceiling. Leaking rainwater goods can also cause penetrating dampness in some cases. Rising damp is not always easily noticeable but in some cases it will cause a tidemark on the wall just above skirting level. Both penetrating and rising damp can cause rippled or peeling wallpaper or occasionally a slight odour. Dampness can also lead to rot. Wet rot is caused by saturation of timber work whilst Dry rot is a fungus that breaks down the enzymes of the timber. The ideal breeding ground for Dry rot is in damp conditions combined with a lack of ventilation. Dry rot can spread up to a metre a month in such conditions and can ultimately be very expensive to treat if left unattended. Tell tale signs are red dust or red spores and white or greyish strands stemming from these spores. Last but not least is woodworm, which can be a common issue in roof and floor timbers and particularly older properties constructed pre 1960. It is easily treatable if spotted early however and will seldom be a huge cost to remedy
High Ground Levels
High ground levels can often be found in property where a patio has been installed or gravel has been laid and generally where the ground level against the outside walls of the property is high. High external ground levels can, over time, compromise or breach a damp proof course which in turn can potentially cause problems to timber flooring or create dampness inside a property. The solution for high ground levels is simple….. lower them! 
Non traditional Construction
A non traditional constructed property is harder for an untrained eye to spot at a viewing and as a smart buyer you should take care to check the Home Report for mention of it.  Buying a property of this type can have an impact on the availability of mortgage finance so further investigation is always necessary.
Flat Roofs
Flat Roofs are common particularly in older tenement properties, particularly of those of an older style. The more dated felt versions have limited life spans and higher than average maintenance costs with eventual re-roofing being necessary. New flat roofs have an average shelf life of around 10 – 15 years. Pay attention to roof comments in the Home Report and discuss any concerns you might have with your solicitor.
Japanese Knotweed
Last but not least is the current hot topic, Japanese Knotweed. First introduced by the Victorians, this is a giant weed with purple shoots and bamboo like stems which can grow up to 10cm per day and several metres high in season. There is no natural control for it and it is estimated that around £150 million was spent last year in Britain on preventative measures to stop it spreading. There have been various horror stories in the media about its capability, since its method is to exploit weaknesses in building structures and compromise them by growing through them. Like some type of cartoon monster plant, it has the ability to grow through walls, tarmac and concrete. It can also create a risk of flooding if it clogs waterways. It is commonly found by river banks and railway banks because, ironically, it is good at stabilising the ground. Lenders are very sensitive to properties affected by Japanese Knotweed and often severely restrict their lending or refuse to lend at all. There is good news however – your Home Report should note whether there is any Japanese Knotweed in the locale of any property you are seeking to buy so you should know in advance to avoid it. There are also specialists out there who can go out to examine it and give you an opinion as to the risk it presents.
Whilst the above is a general overview of some of the problems you might find in your potential purchase, not all properties will have these issues. If the property you love does, don’t be daunted by them as most are treatable – speak to specialist and find out what is required to go forward. Above all, remember that buying a home is one of the most exciting and important purchases you will ever make, so be savvy and make sure your investment is a sound one.  
For more advice or information on buying or selling your property, please contact Ken Robertson.