10 May 23

As an estate agent, you know that securing the sale is just step one of a successful journey. But with issues uncovered by surveys threatening to derail the process and buyers sometimes getting cold feet, it’s easy for sales to go off-track – but does it have to be this way?

With years of experience in the property sector, James Brook FRICS, founder of Novello Chartered Surveyors offers his advice on tackling some of the main issues that arise, and ensuring your house sales go smoother.

1. Make sure loft conversions are up to standards and have approvals

Loft conversions have become a highly sought-after renovation option for homeowners seeking to add valuable living space and increase the overall value of their property. Despite their popularity, loft conversions present various potential challenges often uncovered during a building survey.

One such challenge is ensuring compliance with building regulations; for instance, low headroom or unconventional staircases, such as spiral staircases, space savers, or drop-down ladders, may render the conversion non-compliant with building regulations. Reinforcing floor joists is also crucial, as most lofts are not designed to support anything beyond storage. The loft should boast natural light, a minimum headroom of 2.3 meters, and proper insulation, ventilation, and fire safety measures, including alarms and escape routes.

When visiting a property with a loft conversion, it is advisable to assess these criteria and verify that the seller possesses all necessary approvals and documentation. This will save time and eliminate any potential complications down the road.

2. Check basements are properly damp-proofed and safe

Basement conversions, much like loft conversions, have emerged as a popular solution for homeowners seeking to expand their living space. However, these conversions can also pose a range of potential challenges, particularly with regard to dampness and mould. To mitigate these risks, verifying that the seller has installed a tanking and pump system is essential.

And as with lofts; there are building regulations to follow; such as an external escape route, either an exterior door or window to escape from the basement to ground floor level, with any opening guarded to prevent people from falling into the well. As well as the standard smoke alarms and fire doors.

3. The hidden dangers of unsupported chimneys 

In the process of renovating older properties, it is not uncommon to encounter instances of chimney breasts and supporting walls being removed to create more space or alter the internal layout. However, if these chimneys have not been properly supported, it can result in dangerous collapses risking life.

Unfortunately, these removals may be concealed behind plaster or floors, making it difficult to determine whether proper precautions were taken. Therefore, it is advisable to inquire with the seller regarding the method and safety measures taken during any chimney removal and whether they have a building regulations certificate for the work.

4. A leaky roof can be a warning sign of many other issues

Any roof issues highlighted in the survey can be off-putting for potential buyers, causing a property sale to fall through or result in price renegotiations. Unfortunately, the seller may not be aware of the problem until the Building Survey is conducted. Because of this, it’s always worth chatting with the seller in advance so they can let you know of any issues they know about – such as any leaks.

Keep an eye out for any references to spray foam. Many homeowners have installed it to enhance insulation or as a temporary fix for roof leaks. However, they may not realise that this makes the property un-mortgageable, and most lenders will require it to be removed prior to approving a mortgage. This can be an expensive process and may necessitate a complete roof replacement.

To avoid potential complications and provide peace of mind for both the seller and buyer, a seller could arrange for a comprehensive roof inspection before putting the property on the market. These inspections can be performed by RICS-qualified roof surveyors using drone technology, such as Novello Chartered Surveyors, and are a cost-effective solution to ensure the integrity of the roof.

5. Indicators of dampness and timber deterioration

Dampness and decay are frequent discoveries during property surveys and valuations. They can serve as warning signs of more severe issues, such as leaky pipes, damaged damp membranes, or faulty guttering. These issues, if left unaddressed, can cause significant harm to a property and its inhabitants.

When dampness is detected prior to or during the sales process, it’s vital that clients hire an independent damp specialist to identify the cause and recommend a solution. Avoid damp-proofing contractors as they are not independent and may suggest expensive and unsuitable fixes that don’t address the root cause. Sometimes, dampness can result from simple problems such as a leaking drainage pipe or a paved driveway bridging the damp-proof course, which can be fixed more affordably and with less disruption than chemical injections or damp-proof cement plastering.

6. Addressing structural issues to avoid future stress

Property surveys often reveal some form of cracking in walls, which can be alarming for potential buyers. While it may be tempting for sellers to adopt a “wait and see” approach, addressing these issues before viewings start is recommended. While hairline cracks are often insignificant, they can quickly deteriorate and pose dangerous consequences, so any buyer will require peace of mind before proceeding with a sale.

More significant structural problem indicators include significant internal or external cracking, distorted walls, sloping and uneven floors, and windows or doors that are out of square. These may be signs of structural movement, which can be caused by shallow foundations, clay soils, or nearby trees, and may require the expertise of a structural engineer. Common areas of concern include cracks around bay windows and lintels.

If you are located in an area where properties are susceptible to movement, such as London with its shrinkable clay soils, you should inquire with the seller about any previous structural issues. If the seller has claimed insurance to resolve the problem, ensure they possess a Certificate of Structural Adequacy, which will reassure potential buyers that the issue has been resolved.

7. Japanese Knotweed: A tiny garden weed with potentially major consequences

While a property’s interior often takes centre stage during a building survey, you should also consider potential problems in the garden. One such issue is the presence of Japanese knotweed, a highly invasive plant that can cause significant damage to paths, gardens, and the structural stability of a home.

Fortunately, the discovery of Japanese knotweed no longer has to halt the sale of a property. According to RICS guidance, surveyors have the discretion to assess the impact of infestations and make informed decisions, making it easier for homeowners to sell their homes. Keeping the infestation under control, rather than attempting to eradicate it, is deemed sufficient, so sellers must show they’re managing the problem effectively rather than ignoring it.

8. Managing the cladding conundrum 

In recent years, cladding on properties has posed a significant challenge for many buyers and sellers, as fire safety concerns have led to properties becoming unsellable or selling at a reduced value. Although the rules and regulations surrounding cladding have evolved, it remains a significant issue for those in the market to buy or sell.

To mitigate these concerns, it’s essential to make sure the building has a valid EWS1 form, which provides assurance to both lenders and buyers. Not all buildings with cladding require an EWS1 form, however, those over six storeys or with potential areas of concern, such as substantial amounts of cladding or stacked balconies with combustible materials, are likely to need a certificate.

The process of obtaining an EWS1 form can be lengthy, so sellers should initiate the process as soon as possible. By doing so, they can provide peace of mind to potential buyers and lenders and avoid the possibility of the sale falling through or being delayed due to cladding concerns. You should also ensure the seller has a Leaseholder Deeds of Certificate and Landlord’s Certificates

How to Stop a Sale From Falling Through 

A building survey is a critical component of any real estate transaction, and while it may reveal unexpected issues, these rarely need to be the cause of a sale falling through.

For estate agents, engaging with sellers to understand potential issues upfront is key. A full building survey by a professional surveyor can be a valuable tool in this process. As part of its Building Survey, Novello includes a solicitor summary, a condensed version of the full report highlighting any areas of concern. This summary is a helpful resource for estate agents and solicitors, providing crucial information that can be used to avoid any issues that could jeopardise the sale.

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