If you are happy to take on a ‘project’, buying an older property to renovate can really open the market up to you, and reveal a few bargains. Period Living magazine advises on what to consider when looking at older homes.
The lure of an older property – especially one with period detailing – is rarely overlooked. Even simple Victorian workers’ cottages are adorned with touches of craftsmanship that are rarely found in the majority of modern houses. What’s more, if you are prepared to buy a property than needs a bit of work, you could get far more for your money.
However, you need to ensure your renovation project is profitable and not a drain on time and resources. So here we explain how to tell when you are looking at a good opportunity, or a potential money sink.
Look out for damp
A little bit of mould in the corners of rooms of an empty home is not enough to write if off, but you need to ascertain what the cause is. Mildew loves dark, poorly ventilated areas and will thrive in a home that has been left unheated with the windows closed and covered. However there are other things to look out for that could indicate the home might have a serious damp problem, such as:
- Damage to the roof which may be letting in water
- Blocked gutters and downpipes
- Plants growing on walls
- Spongy floorboards
Ask to investigate the roof space to check for leaks, and make sure you check behind curtains, in cupboards and under carpets for signs of damp.
Rule out structural issues
Many older houses have sloping floors, crooked windows and wonky doors, which are often down to historic settlement, but you need to make sure these are not the result of ongoing subsidence. Cracks and bulging walls are particularly telling of serious structural issues, so only go ahead with the purchase if a chartered surveyor or structural engineer tells you these are repairable. Also look out for drains and trees near the property as these can be causes of subsidence.
Assess the quality of the materials that the building is made of too. Eroded brick or stonework, crumbling pointing and damaged render can also be indicators of underlying structural damage or damp.
Seek out original features
Finding original features such as exposed beams and sash windows adds to both the character and value of the property. Of course, certain measures have to be taken to modernise a property for contemporary living (such as new wiring, plumbing and modern amenities), but replacing good traditional windows with inappropriate PVCu or replicas has a negative impact and can be pricey to put right.
Also keep an eye out for ‘improvements’ that might cause further problems. Old homes were often built using lime-based plasters and mortars and repairs made with modern cement-based ones can damage brickwork. Traditional building techniques preserved the breathability of the home using permeable paints and plasters — modern paints and coatings often seal the building. This prevents water vapour from escaping, locking it in the walls and leading to damp.
Consider whether the home can be made more energy efficient
Solid walls and single-glazed windows do not offer the high levels of efficiency that modern homes are built to. However, there is much that can be done to improve the thermal efficiency of an old home, without impacting on the character and it pays to think about this ahead of purchase.
Ask (or check) what insulation has already been added to the property, and check the home’s Energy Performance Certificate rating. This tells you the current standard of efficiency and suggests measures for improvement. You want to take these measures – and their estimated costs – into account when deciding if a project is financially viable.
Check for consent and permissions
Homes in Conservation Areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks and those with Listing Building status carry restrictions over what can and can’t be done to them. Alterations can be made – in fact some quite daring contemporary extensions have been built to period homes in Conservation Areas – but you have to get consent from the local planning authority first.
If you buy and make alterations without consent, it is a criminal offence and you will face heavy fines, so many people enlist the help of a conservation or listed buildings officer before planning any works. It pays to talk to these people before you buy though too — that way you can be sure that your plans are realistic, before you exchange contracts.