Buyers beware – common property problems and how to avoid them

Common property problems

When it comes to buying a property, many things can affect its value or leave you with an expensive repair bill if things come to light only after you’ve signed on the dotted line. A home survey is the best way of gaining a complete understanding of the property you are buying and any potential hidden issues. Some of the most common property problems to be aware of include:


Damp is a common problem that can affect properties of any age or construction type. If left unchecked, it can cause extensive damage, pose a real health risk and render a property uninhabitable. While any property can be impacted by damp, older properties and homes with insufficient damp-proof coursing tend to be the worst affected. There are two main types of damp that occur.

Rising damp is where bricks absorb water from the ground up. It can lead to salts forming on the property’s interior walls, rotting floors and skirting boards and visible ‘tide lines’ on the walls if it particularly bad. Installing new damp-proof coursing can help prevent further damage, though these are not always 100% effective. The rising damp may also be due to bridging of an existing damp proof course by high ground levels, plaster or render finishes on the walls or debris in the foot of wall cavities. An independent survey can help to identify the likely cause and whether a damp proof course is required or other works.

Penetrating damp is where water finds its way through to the inside of your home. Defective rainwater goods, faulty window seals, cavity wall insulation issues and damaged bricks or pointing can all lead to penetrating damp. It is also often found where walls are retaining (with ground on the far side) due to the slope of the site or in basements.

Salts or damp patches to walls which are retaining, or at a level above about a metre above floor level are more likely to be caused by penetrating damp.
Condensation can also cause damp which, in turn, can lead to mould. Good ventilation is key to preventing condensation and allowing air to circulate properly around the property.

Corroded wall ties

Many properties built since the late 1800s are constructed of two layers of bricks concrete block with a cavity in between. Metal wall ties hold the two skins in place to stop them from falling apart. However, after several years the metal can start to rust, especially in areas that are damp or exposed to extreme weather conditions. Certain types of mortar, or salt in the atmosphere, near the sea, also significantly increases the risk of corrosion. Rust is up to seven times the volume of the original steel and the corrosion will therefore force mortar joints apart. The classic symptoms are horizontal cracks to mortar joints, every five to seven courses and with about a metre spacing in the cracks horizontally within a joint. The cumulative effect in the height of a wall can result in the edges of roofs being pushed up. Bulging to the face of a cavity wall is also a danger sign. If caught early enough, remedial ties can be fitted and the existing ties removed or isolated to prevent further damage. If not treated the outer face of the wall could eventually require at least partial rebuilding.

Roof issues

Many roof issues can affect a property’s value and be expensive to sort out, ranging from simple missing or damaged roof tiles or slates to rotten beams or dangerous structures. Faulty installation, water damage and membrane shrinkage can also be a problem. So, too, can damage caused by weather or trees.
An incorrectly installed flashing can lead to damp and flooding issues within the property itself. Flashing is the sealant that protects the joints and other exposed areas of the roof from water damage. Once it’s breached, the roof may no longer be watertight.

Subsidence and structural movement

Subsidence is a serious property problem that can affect the safety and value of a home. It occurs when the ground the property is built on moves or sinks, causing the building’s foundations to shift. Cracks, wrinkled wallpaper and warped door or window frames are all signs of subsidence. Resolving subsidence and structural issues can be extremely expensive and time-consuming, so getting a property checked out and assessed by a professional is vital.

Japanese Knotweed

Japanese Knotweed can cause a big headache for homebuyers and property owners. This highly invasive, aggressive plant grows at a rapid rate. It can spread fast and damage a property’s brickwork, concrete and other structural elements. It’s an extremely hardy plant that can thrive in difficult growing conditions and spreads quickly underground. Its stems can grow through most materials, including any small cracks or gaps in a building’s bricks, concrete or foundations, damaging its structural integrity. It can also compromise underground pipework. Japanese Knotweed is expensive to remove, requiring specialist equipment and expertise, and can take up to five years to fully resolve the problem if the ground is contaminated.

Some lenders won’t approve mortgages on properties where Japanese Knotweed is found unless there is a remediation plan in place. Unfortunately, the presence of Japanese Knotweed can be difficult to spot unless you know what you’re looking for. The only way to get peace of mind is with a home survey from a RICS registered surveyor experienced in identifying potential Japanese Knotweed problems. You can find out more about Japanese Knotweed and the problems it can cause in our blog.

Electrical issues

Electrical issues can be difficult to spot within a property until it’s too late and can be extremely dangerous. Wiring and circuitry are hidden in walls and above ceilings, so the first sign of any problems is usually if they burn out or blow. A home survey doesn’t cover an in-depth inspection of a property’s electrics but we do seek to provide an overview and would report on dated systems which would be unlikely to comply to modern standards and damaged fittings. An Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) should be obtained every five or ten years, depending on the age of the system. If your seller can’t provide you with one, you should proceed with caution. A full rewire can cost £2,000 or more, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Drainage problems

Issues with guttering and drainpipes can cause damage to a property and decrease its value. If they are left unchecked, the problem can worsen, leading to damp, mould and water damage. Signs to look out for include sagging gutters, damp walls, open joints and vegetation or debris in the gutters causing overflowing. While the majority of the underground drainage is concealed, if there are inspection chamber covers within the boundaries of the property which can reasonably be lifted, then these can often provide evidence of blockages, root penetration or pipe materials which could lead to significant issues.

Decay and beetle infestation

Properties with significant damp can have decay in the timbers. Experienced surveyors are of the areas particularly at risk and can flag these upfront further investigation, even if decay is not directly visible and can often identify the type of visible decay and, therefore, its likely scale of repairs required. Dry rot can be particularly expensive to eradicate. Beetle infestation is often found in properties dating from before the 1960s. We can often make an assessment of the likelihood that the infestation is recent and requires treatment or, in more extreme cases, that timber repairs will be required.

Let us help

At GB Home Surveys, we offer a different approach to getting a home survey. Our service is quick, convenient and hassle-free. It will provide you with all the information you need to make the right choices. We’re an independent, RICS regulated chartered surveyors and have provided trusted services for almost 30 years. All our surveyors are RICS registered valuers and have vast local expertise and specialist knowledge, so you can be sure you’re getting the best advice to help you buy or sell with confidence. We can tailor our home surveys to your exact requirements. If there are any specific issues you would like us to inspect, please let us know. For a free initial consultation and a no-obligation quote, give our friendly team a call today to discuss your requirements.

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