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Nine warning signs for first

Sep 01, 2023Sep 01, 2023

FAST increases to interest rates mean taking the first step on to the ladder is no mean feat right now.

Mortgage rates may have dropped a little since highs seen earlier in the summer, average two and five-year fixes remain well above levels just a year ago.

For those first timers lucky enough to be in a position to buy, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of hunting for a home.

But there are some red flags you need to watch out for during a viewing.

Fail to notice the tell-tale signs on problem properties, and you could find yourself faced with hefty bills for DIY or remedial work further down the line.

Some problems could even make it hard to get a mortgage to buy the house or flat in the first place.

As a newbie to the buying process, it can be hard to know what to look out for, according to James Forrester, managing director of estate agent Barrows & Forrester.

The property expert told The Sun: “Buying your first home is a daunting task, and it’s important to appreciate you won’t know every trick in the book.

"That said, there are a few key warning signs you can watch out for that could indicate something is wrong with the property.”

First, the onus is on you to do your research.

James explains: “Never be afraid to prod and probe, and to ask as many questions as you want.

“Ultimately, the viewing process is your opportunity to really get an idea of the home you could be about to buy – and what work may need to be done to it once you move in.”

If there are minor issues with the property, this needn’t stop you from buying it – as long as you know these can be remedied.

“The key is to know what these are before you make an offer,” said the property supremo.

“That way, you can take the cost of sorting them into account – and deduct this from the asking price.

"Fail to spot the red flags, and you could end up with a bill running into tens of thousands of pounds to put things right.”

If you look around a property and notice it’s been recently painted, this should set the alarm bells ringing.

“On the one hand, this could be a sign that the seller has given their home a harmless refresh,” said James.

“But on the other, it could be a sign that something is lurking underneath. The things most commonly covered up are water damage and mould. If the entire property is covered in mould, this could cost you as much as £1,800 to remove.”

You need to think about whether you can factor this potential cost into your budgeting.

James added: “Be sure to inspect newly-painted areas to check for any signs of hidden issues.”

If walls have been recently plastered and this is visible to you during your viewing, you need to try to find out the reason for this.

“It could simply be that the seller wants to cover up the wear and tear of family life,” said James.

“However, fresh plaster could also indicate a far more serious issue, such as subsidence, with the homeowner trying to cover up pre-existing cracks.

"Given the average cost of addressing subsidence in a property is a whopping £12,500, you certainly want to know about it before you make an offer.”

For many house hunters, a serious subsidence problem is likely to be a deal-breaker.

As smells can be a major turn-off for potential viewers, sellers may try to provide a ‘clean-smelling’ environment by using air freshener.

“A particularly strong whiff of air freshener could be a potential warning sign,” said the property whizz.

“In many cases, it may be masking a relatively minor issue, such as the smell of a pet or a smoker within the house. But it could also be an attempt to cover up the smell of damp.”

With this in mind, you need to stay alert.

“You should be able to eradicate any trace of smoke or pets from a property with a thorough deep cleaning, costing around £500,” said James.

“But if a leaking pipe is causing water damage, you could be looking at a repair cost of £330 per pipe. And, if it’s an old property, there’s a good chance that the plumbing needs attention in more than one place – so costs could quickly spiral.”

Take a moment to try the taps in each room, as low water pressure could be a red flag.

“The idea of turning on all the taps during a viewing may seem a little strange,” said James. “But if there’s only a trickle of water coming out of any of them, you need to find out more. Low water pressure could be a sign of plumbing problems.”

Keep a close eye out for discoloured areas on the walls or ceiling, as this could be a sign of water damage.

“Old or current water stains could indicate problems such as damp, or even a plumbing leak,” said James. “This should set the alarm bells ringing,.”

Another thing to keep in mind when viewing a property is the temperature of each room.

“This can be harder during the summer months, but if one room is noticeably hotter or colder than another, it could be a sign of a heating problem – or of poor ventilation or insulation,” said James.

“Hiring a professional to repair your heating system or boiler will cost you around £300 per day, so you want to get to the bottom of it before it’s your problem to solve.”

Doors left open when viewing might not feel like something to worry about, but this could be a red flag.

“This might suggest there’s an issue with fully closing them,” said James. “The same can also apply with windows.”

While this could be a minor issue associated with the fitting of the door or window, in some cases it's a sign of something more serious.

“It could be an indication of structural issues or damage,” warned James. “This can be very costly to remedy.”

It may be tricky to check the roof during a viewing, but what you can do is look for potential tell-tale signs of a roof in disrepair.

“Look around for roof debris on the floor,” said James.

“Also try to see if any of the gutters are blocked. If the seller hasn’t bothered to address a relatively minor issue such as a blocked gutter, there’s a good chance the roof has been ignored as well.”

If you suspect anything, it’s worth getting a closer look at the condition before you offer.

James added: “If it’s just a few tiles, it can be a fairly affordable fix, but if a whole new roof is needed, you could be looking at a bill running into the thousands.”

An unkempt garden in need of some TLC may seem innocent enough, but this could be a sign of something more sinister.

“There could be a more serious issue hidden beneath the undergrowth,” warned James.

“The worst case scenario is Japanese Knotweed. Even though a seller is legally required to declare its presence, it’s worth knowing what it looks like. That way, you can identify it yourself.”

Helpfully, lenders are now more flexible on this highly invasive plant than they have been in the past.

That said, it can still be an expensive problem to have.

Fresh paintPatches of fresh plasterHeavy air freshenerWater stainsVarying room temperatureDoors not closingRoof debris on the floorAn overgrown garden