Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Valuation survey

The valuation survey for the mortgage has come back today, and the surveyor has picked up on the damp, and the shocking condition of the flat-roofed rear extension.
He's valued it at the price we're paying and given an estimate of £15,000 for the repairs, with a final value of £20,000 more than we're paying.
So, a quick call to the mortgage provider and they seem happy, pending the report going to the underwriters.
The underwriters may request a copy of the detailed report and cause a bit of a hold-up, but we'll see.

Update: the underwriters are happy, and the mortgage is approved. 

The strange Concrete moulding

I had one question from the Survey which I hoped that the previous owners, who had been resident for 30+ years could shed some light on. The odd concrete moulding at the upper end of the house. Was it some kind of structural support, or maybe a flood defence? We couldn't tell.

You can see it creeping around the corner of the house.

And here's the gable-end. Structural, or what?
Unfortunately, the response from the vendor doesn't shed any more light.

"I have spoken with my parents who confirmed that the "concrete moulding"  referred to below was already in place when they bought the house over 30 years ago. They have no idea what its purpose is, but have certainly never experienced any flooding during their time in the house.  The only thought they had was that the ground may have originally sloped down to that end of the house and a previous owner may have dug away from the side of the house to allow a path to go all the way around the property.  However, they have no evidence to support this possible theory."

These two photos: Copyright

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Offline reading material

I picked up a copy of the Haynes manual for Period Property by Iain Alistair Rock, which is a great introduction to purchasing, and the possible pitfalls of owning an old house.
I noticed that Pete Ward, who did the survey on The Cottage, is listed as a contributor, which is confidence inspiring. It also echoes everything Pete said during our day at the property and his subsequent report on what will need doing and why.

Link to the book here: Haynes

Old-Building Survey - the results

We've had the survey report back from Pete Ward at Heritage House, which gives us something written to plan around. Hopefully it will also help when we talk with Building Control about what we plan to do, and why. Here's an extract:

Building construction type:
The house is what is known as ‘solid walled’ construction.  The building needs to be treated as a breathable structure – local brick, stone and timber, built with lime mortar, and lime plaster to the walls.   The building and additions need to breathe – and problems are endemic in such structures when modern materials are used that trap water into them.   There is a modern addition to the rear which is built with what appears to be cavity brickwork.

The building is in poor condition as a result of a lack of maintenance over the years.  The building is suffering badly from dampness from a variety of sources.    Stormwater drainage is unmanaged.  Ground levels are too high and causing penetrating dampness.  Chimneys may need rebuilding, and most certainly need correct flashing. The building needs total re-wire, and re-plumbing. Windows are similarly in poor condition.
I will attempt to describe the issues seen below in no particular order of importance:


  1. The roof appears in good condition structurally.  I can find little or no sign of water ingress at this point in time, although there are signs of past problems.  Chimneys are in very poor condition – tops need re-building, repointing in lime, and re-flashing.
  2. Verges to the roof have been cemented, and are cracking – these should be done using lime mortar.  There are numerous slipped tiles, especially towards the verges and some are sliding into the gutters.  Gutters need attention – I suggest most joints leak.
  3. Stonework around the house appears to have been painted in some sort of peculiar green paint, which apart from being unsightly is probably causing moisture entrapment – ideally it should be removed.
  4. At the right hand gable end, is a rather strange concrete structure which may or may not be supporting the wall.  It is most certainly trapping moisture into the wall which is transferring into the house and showing as excessive penetrating damp internally.
  5. Some of the stonework is in good condition – other areas are very poor – with mortar falling out, heavy cement strap pointing, and disintegrating stone.  These areas will need raking out and re-pointing in lime mortar. 
  6. The ‘flat’ roofed extension to the rear is scrap.
  7. The ‘new’ kitchen extension is cement rendered – ideally this should be removed.  It is already hollow in places and showing signs of moisture entrapment.
  8. Internally there is extensive condensation and dampness – mainly because gypsum plaster has been used to coat the walls – this is trapping condensation into the walls and soaking them.  All of this needs to be removed, and the walls allowed to dry out.  Lime plaster should be used to replace – and clay based paints or limewash used to decorate. 
  9. Many skirtings and architraves are damp and rotten.  Door frames show a peculiar form of twisting and cracking at the base of the frames – I have never seen this almost rotational cracking before...
  10. I would go so far as to say wiring is dangerous and needs total replacement.
  11. Plumbing is in similar condition – many pipes appear to run under concrete, and are badly corroded.
  12. Ground levels, especially at the front, are way too high – these should be at least 6” below the top of the internal floors.  Rainwater is being trapped around the house, and is undoubtedly causing penetrating damp internally.
  13. There are a number of trees around the house which are too close – root systems will be drying out the ground (which is mainly boulder clay) and can cause shrinkage and consequent structural problems.  Ideally all these trees should be removed.
  14. Install humidity controlled ventilation £1,000  I’ve added this as an item for consideration – most problems in buildings of this type are related to human interference with the fabric – moisture is the key to damage.  Remove moisture, and the building stays dry on its own.  Moisture sources are people, kitchens, bathrooms,  and point sources such as high ground levels.  Good ventilation and removal of humid air as it occurs is vital.  

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The old house survey

I'm no fan of the Homebuyer's Report type of survey. I had one done once and the surveyor missed a fairly obvious structural flaw which resulted in my claiming compensation to help rectify the problem. I think that there's much more value in viewing a property with a specialist builder (or surveyor) and working around it together discussing the implications and options for any problems.

I found a superb source of information online called Heritage-House, and gave the chap who runs it a call on the day we viewed The Cottage to see whether, if our offer was accepted, he'd be free to come and help survey the property with me as soon as possible. His name is Pete Ward and on the phone he made a great first impression by taking the time to talk about the house and my expectations.

Our offer was accepted by the vendor within an hour of making it, and a call back to Pete at Heritage-House confirmed a visit to have a looksee on the following Monday.

It's a hell of a drive from Surrey to The Cottage, so I set off early and collected the keys from the estate agent, who was happy to just leave us to it as the property was empty.

Pete turned up in a well abused Discovery with his bonkers companion Soot the Collie, and set about in a manner akin to a man assessing the temperature of a swimming pool before jumping in wandering around all sides of the property to get a feel for how it sat in its location, and what its purpose in the world was.

Over the following 6 hours, Pete paid more attention to the details of the house, it's original Victorian construction, adaptations, and butchering with modern materials than anyone I've ever seen do any job before. No wall was left un-tapped. No carpet left un-lifted. No rafter left un-checked. And no patch of condensation left without tracing its cause. We went in to the drains, the loft, the cupboards and the chimneys. And at every point Pete took his time to explain WHY each problem was occurring and how it should be remedied. This was so much more than the stark white-paper survey that some modern firms would produce. This was a lesson from a man who knows old properties inside-out, and how modern materials can damage the structure in a fundamental way. In my opinion it was worth every penny of the £600 bill.

Finding the right house

I reckon that I must have browsed through the on-line details for over a thousand properties on Zoopla and Rightmove. Those two sites have grown in to an amazing resource for anyone considering a wide property search, and in particular the map views which allow you to draw areas for consideration allow a superb away of discovering areas which you don't know exist.

And as we browsed properties over the course of around 6 weeks, our criteria changed and adapted because of what we saw. Our initial thoughts on getting a smaller house (2-bedroom) were realised to be a false economy because of less adaptable space, and our early searches in the cheapest areas of the country (West Wales, Lincolnshire, Dartmoor, Scottish borders) all became less viable as we looked at maps of rail, bus and road networks, and considered what would happen if one of us was injured or sick.

And slowly we narrowed it down to a search based on 3-bedrooms, the keyword 'outbuilding' and a price of under £275,000. We had a shortlist of 10 properties and two clear favourites.

When the choices numbered only a few, I took to my copies of Ordnance Survey maps and scoured the areas around each house for Pros and Cons which don't show up on a street map. OS Mapping is, in my opinion, one of the most valuable tools for rural house-hunting. A 1:25000 map will show up hills, tracks, public rights of way and local features which no other kind of map will be able to. For instance, we ruled out one property which was surrounded by farmland and otherwise stunning because there were no public footpaths anywhere nearby and thus no ability to take the dog for a walk and enjoy the countryside outside of the garden. For £8, an OS map is a cheap and foolproof tool for property search.

And, of course, Google Earth (or Google Maps and Streetview) is a stunning piece of software which gives you a real feeling for the area you're moving in to. Be warned that some of the photos can be years out of date though (our current house is still shown with the people who lived here over 5 years ago).

So, armed with our map research we visited the two favourite properties on Friday 27th September, and of the two we both decided that The Cottage was the one we could see ourselves throwing our passion and time in to, and we made an offer of £249,950 on the same day.

An introduction to the project

The Wife and I live in a small village at the foot of the Surrey Hills, where the price for property has escalated beyond anything sensible and would require us to be slaves to our wages for another 20 years. We've just finished a long-term project to transform a tiny little 1930's terraced house in to a cosy nest and it's being bought by a couple who are trading up from a 1-bedroom flat.

We've decided that the time is right for us to make The Big Move, the one where you take the leap in to a property which you hope to be in for 20 years, rather than the stepping-stone properties that we've both bought and sold before now. But we're combining that leap with the desire to drop our mortgage, and for The Wife to give up her job and concentrate on making a small business out of her crafting hobby instead.

This rules out any property in Surrey. Even the scarcely available derelict ones are out of budget so we've looked further afield.

And we've found a property which ticks all our boxes; land for growing, plenty of outbuildings to convert to a studio, 3-bedrooms and scope to improve and maximise a long-term investment.

But, it's been neglected over the past few years as the couple who owned it have grown old and less able to maintain the house. It's very, very damp with condensation, and colder than the ambient temperature on any given day. This blog will follow the story of us purchasing, renovating and living with The Cottage for anyone interested, or those considering purchasing a similar property. Thank you for reading.