Residential property specialist Victoria Cranwell considers common problems with older properties.
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Problems with older properties
Older properties are not for everyone, but many of us aspire to live in a period home. And there are certainly plenty of them. With around one in five UK homes built before 1919, our housing stock is the oldest in Europe and probably in the world. In large part, a legacy of the Industrial Revolution, houses constructed in haste two centuries ago still form the backbone of our urban housing stock.
In some contexts, age is a byword for quality. Unfortunately, compared with modern construction standards, that does not readily translate to the methods employed by the builders of yore. Indeed, the quirkiness attracting us to a building may also be an enormous red flag.
Depending upon its age, condition, and status (e.g. listed or in a conservation area), expect your surveyor to recommend a significant contingency budget. After all, it’s not unusual to find that a primary motivation to move is the seller’s realisation that a substantial expense is imminent.
Do not scrimp on the survey
Broadly, you can choose between three types of survey when buying a house. But with a period property, always treat the cost of a full building survey as a sound investment. They are key to identifying structural problems with older properties. Unlike less expensive alternatives, your surveyor will look behind the walls, under and between the floors and above the ceilings. They will advise on repairs, including costs and timings, and what to expect if you ignore their recommendations!
For most work affecting the “special architectural or historic interest” of a listed building, you will require listed building consent from your local planning department. Remember, that’s in addition to the usual requirements for planning permission and building regulation consent. Listed building consent is likely to require your use of traditional methods and materials, significantly increasing costs.
Legal kerb appeal
Boundaries, easements and other legal rights and responsibilities are rarely static. While changes may border on the glacial, the older a property, the more likely the reality on the ground will not quite match up with what is in the deeds. That is particularly common if the property has not been on the market for many years.
Some materials in older properties are either dangerous, have the propensity to become so, or represent a significant or recurring expense.
Lead is wonderfully versatile and durable, still used in roofing and, for centuries, indispensable in plumbing and as a paint additive. It also happens to be highly toxic. Although banned since the 1970s, lead remains an issue in many homes.
In older twentieth century properties, beware of asbestos. Building materials containing asbestos were common from around 1930 to the mid-1980s and not banned altogether until the 1990s. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that if asbestos materials are in good condition and unlikely to be damaged, they should be left undisturbed. That’s because removal can potentially result in higher levels of asbestos fibres in the air.
A thatched roof is stunning, quintessentially English – and expensive. They can last anywhere between fifteen and forty years if properly maintained, although the ridge will likely require replacement every ten to fifteen years. Replacement costs vary dramatically depending on location. But with rates of between £1,500 to over £3,000 per thatcher’s square (around one hundred square feet), not forgetting VAT, a new roof might set you back £50,000.
Today, more crucial than ever, energy efficiency was not so much of a priority in the past. And you may discover that construction methods restrict your energy-saving options, particularly in a listed building. Older windows, doors and suspended floors cause draughts, and walls may lack a cavity for insulation. In rural properties, your renewable energy dream may face the hurdle of reliance on bottled gas or oil-fired central heating.
In most residential scenarios, installing photovoltaic and solar panels is usually classed as ‘permitted development‘. However, a formal application is required for listed buildings and those in a conservation area or World Heritage Site.