How to choose a surveyor for a period property

Thatched Roof 3

Older properties can make wonderful homes as well as good investments. From early clay-lump buildings and thatched country cottages to generous Edwardian family homes, their unique location, size and original features combines into a set of qualities that modern homes simply cannot compete with.

However, not all old buildings are worth the purchase price. One of the most important things you can do as a house buyer is to commission a comprehensive building survey before you buy. That way, you get a professional overview of the condition of the building including any potentially serious structural issues to be aware of and recommended remedial action.

Alan Rance Surveyors offers a broad range of surveying services to homebuyers and householders including in-depth building surveys for older homes and listed buildings. We have particular expertise in thatched roof surveys and clay-lump building surveys. Whether you have your heart set on a flint cottage or a Victorian mansion, we’re here to tell you that the skills needed to expertly survey old buildings are very different to those needed to survey modern properties.

With this in mind, we have put together our professional guidance to help you find the best building surveyor for a period property.

Specialist expertise

When it comes to old buildings, historic structures and non-standard materials and methods of construction, specialist knowledge and expertise is worth its weight in gold. More than any other quality, the right surveyor must have demonstrable experience to show that they are an expert in the field.

Find out if they have advanced knowledge of timber framing, roof constructions, lime mortar, traditional plasters and linseed paint. Be warned that any building professional recommending modern construction methods and materials for a period building can do long-term damage and should be deleted from your short list immediately.

Professional qualifications and memberships

It should go without saying that a competent surveyor for a period building must have a comprehensive knowledge of surveying practices and related disciplines. Professional qualifications include those conferred by SAVA (Residential Surveying and Valuation) and RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors), and membership of RPSA (Residential Property Surveyors Association) is highly desirable.

Of course, formal qualifications are merely one indicator of the service quality you can expect from your chosen surveyor. To find the right building surveyor with experience in period properties, it’s a good idea to research their past work so you can assess their suitability for the job.

Building surveys offered

In your search for the most suitable survey for a period property or listed building, we recommend steering clear of surveyors who offer no more than an RICS Building Survey. While this is the most in-depth of the RICS-accredited home surveys, it uses a standardised approach that is unlikely to be the right solution for your requirements.

When it comes to historic homes, no two houses are the same. The right structural survey for an old building goes beyond an assessment of the size, age and condition of the property. Crucially, it must specifically address the building’s unique architectural characteristics and construction methods.

Why Alan Rance Surveyors?

At Alan Rance Surveyors, we are ideally placed to help you with period property surveys and listed building surveys. We are passionate about historic structures and old buildings and provide specialist thatched roof surveys and clay-lump surveys. With a wide expertise of the geographical and construction issues in the area we cover across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, we understand buildings, how they perform and how they can be affected.

Alan Rance has more than 30 years’ experience and expert knowledge in surveying. He is a qualified Building Surveyor and a member of RPSA. Our team takes great pride in providing honest, impartial and credible advice to our clients, empowering them to make intelligent purchasing decisions based on factual information and advice.

For more information about any of our services or to discuss the purchase of a period property, please get in touch with our team.

Why a mortgage valuation is not enough

Home buyers who have found their dream home and had their offer to buy it accepted may think it’s all plain sailing from here, as long as their lender approves the mortgage on the property. Regrettably, it’s rarely as simple as all that.

It is an unfortunate misconception to think that the mortgage valuation will provide the buyer with any insights into the condition of the property, therefore making redundant the need to have a separate home survey carried out. There is a big difference between an in-depth property survey carried out by a professional surveyor a basic mortgage valuation. If you are keen to protect your investment into a property asset, we would never advise a buyer to rely solely on a mortgage valuation report.

What is a Mortgage Valuation?

The first thing to stress is that a mortgage valuation is commissioned by the lender and carried out on behalf of the lender. It is designed to be a risk assessment exercise to verify that the mortgage loan will be secure. As such, the valuation report will only comment on aspects of the property that directly affect its market value.

A basic visual inspection of the property will take around ½ hour – enough time for the lender-appointed assessor to list the main details about the property and tick them off or rate them against specific lending criteria. The final report will only be a few pages long and the buyer is not entitled to a copy of it although they may be required to pay for this valuation as part of the mortgage application.

Most importantly, a mortgage valuation is not a home condition survey. It doesn’t provide an impartial overview of the property’s condition, nor give details of any urgent repairs. As such, it is not a useful document to inform the purchaser’s decision making.

What is a Home Condition Survey?

A Home Condition Survey (HCS) is a clear, concise and jargon-free report on the condition of a residential property. It’s a professional survey carried out by qualified surveyors whose job it is to deliver impartial information, using a simple 1-2-3 rating guide to flag up any risks or unforeseen expenditure that could crop up.

Also included with the Home Condition Survey are advice sheets to help new home owners deal with some of the more common building problems that may be encountered.

Alan Rance Surveyors provide a cost-effective service, with a site inspection and report that allows home buyers to make speedy, intelligent decisions.

What does a HCS cover?

Our Home Condition Surveys start with an external inspection of the chimney stacks, roof coverings and guttering, evidence of settlement or subsidence cracks on the main walls, the condition of timber fascia and bargeboards and windows. We will also comment on patios, ponds, garden fences and walls.

Inside, we will inspect each room for damp, and check the condition of internal plaster, electrics and gas, oil or electric heating. We will also survey timber floors, doors, skirting boards, cupboards, kitchen and bathroom fittings. Finally, a loft inspection will include looking for timber defects and roof coverings, penetrating damp and rising damp.

Benefits of a Home Condition Survey

Buying a home can be a stressful process and the principle of ‘buyer beware’ still largely applies. Regrettably, it isn’t always in the seller’s best interest to be completely transparent about the property’s issues and idiosyncrasies, and a Mortgage Valuation isn’t designed to provide this kind of information either.

This is where the Condition Survey can add real value, informing the buyer of any aspects that constitute serious building faults, need urgent attention or may be long-term repair issues. A HCS can only be carried out by a fully qualified and accredited surveyor including SAVA (Surveyors and Valuers Accreditation) and BRE (Building Research Establishment), trustworthy professionals who will deliver a valuable in-dept report.

What to do next

Buying a property is a major investment and it makes good financial sense to be equipped with all the salient facts in order to make the best possible purchase decision.

At Alan Rance Surveyors, we have more than 30 years’ professional experience and an unrivalled knowledge of the local property market in Dunstable, Bedfordshire and beyond. Always acting in your best interests, our property surveys are produced for your benefit alone. To find out more about our services and to discuss your surveying requirements for your next property purchase, please contact us today for excellent service and competitive fees.

Does a crack in the wall always mean subsidence?

Chocolate Box Cottage, Woburn Sands Grade II Listed

Buying a property is a major financial commitment, which is why you need to make sure that the building you have your eye on is in good condition before you exchange contracts. However, many building defects are simply not recognised by the untrained eye, which is why an independent surveyor can be a homebuyer’s most important ally. Take a crack in the wall for instance. Would you be able to tell if a crack was a minor cosmetic defect or an indication of a serious structural issue? Chances are you won’t know what to look for.

With a professional property survey and the help of an experienced building surveyor’s beady eye carrying out an in-depth visual inspection of all the building elements, on the other hand, you will know exactly what you’re dealing with. Armed with all the important facts, you are then able to make a reasoned and informed decision on how to proceed with your purchase.

At Alan Rance Surveyors, we have more than 30 years’ experience of surveying residential property in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire including homes in Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable and Tring. Our Building Surveys are detailed inspections, reporting on any defects found and advising on upkeep and maintenance and providing cost estimates for remedial action. And while we know that most surface cracks are usually nothing to worry about, cracks that are the result of structural movement can be very serious indeed. Let’s take a closer look.

How does a crack in the wall come about?

First off, let us reassure you that cracks in a wall of a house are by no means unusual. In fact, most properties have them at some point. Cracks can occur naturally as a result of settlement, such as is in the following situations:

  • The foundations of building extensions and new build properties may need time to settle under their own weight, leading to hairline cracks appearing in walls.
  • Recently plastered interior walls can also show hairline cracks as a result of the plaster drying out.
  • Temperature and humidity fluctuations in older properties lead to minor expansion and contraction with associated cracking, which is entirely normal.
  • UPVC double glazed window replacements may show cracking around the window if the original timber window did not have a supporting lintel.
  • Houses near busy roads could experience cracking as a result of ongoing road traffic vibration.

What causes subsidence cracks?

As mentioned above, most cracks are superficial, with painting and decorating all that’s required to deal with them. However, large cracks could be a sign of structural movement in the building’s foundations, which is a major issue and could ultimately lead to the building falling down.

Structural cracks can be the result of a number of causes including:

  • Tree roots

One of the biggest culprits causing subsidence are large trees planted too close to the house. If tree roots work their way under the building and absorb moisture there, they can destabilise the foundations and movement may occur. Willow, oak, ash and poplar are known to be particularly ‘thirsty’ species that should be planted at a minimum distance of 10 metres from the building.

  • Defective drains

If a leaky drain or a burst pipe lays undetected underground for long periods of time, the ground can become saturated and the subsoil may be washed away. In this scenario, the ground may no longer be able to properly support the building standing on it, and structural movement and damage to the building could occur as a result.

  • Prolonged dry spells

Did you know that home insurance claims for subsidence damage rose by 300% after the long, hot summer of 2018? Heatwaves and dry spells are especially dangerous for properties that were built on clay soil which shrinks and hardens when dry, pulling away from the foundations.

  • Heavy rainfall

Clay soil can absorb large quantities of water after rainfall, becoming heavy and sticky as it expands. Heavy rainfall and flooding can be particularly dangerous for homes built on clay-rich soil. In the UK, most subsidence is seasonal, involving shrinkage in the summer and expansion during wetter winter weather.

When does a crack indicate a structural issue?

The shape and width of a particular crack can be an important indicator of its severity in terms of structural movement. Tell-tale signs of subsidence cracks include cracks that

  • are more than 3mm thick
  • have appeared suddenly
  • run diagonally across a wall
  • are wider from top to bottom
  • occur around windows and doorways
  • cause rippling in wallpaper
  • are visible from inside and outside

What to do next?

If you are worried about the cracks in the wall of a property that you are interested in buying, we urge you to seek professional advice at the earliest opportunity. At Alan Rance, we’ve been surveying properties old and new for over 30 years and pride ourselves on providing honest, impartial in-depth advice to our clients. Get in touch to request a survey quotation today.

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