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Thursday, 10 September 2015

Home Buyer Report - The Journey

This is what the Home Buyer Report (HBR) looks like that you will probably make a lot of decisions by when you buy your new home. One of these will cost you around £450 - £700 depending on the level of investigation requested. Most people opt for the cheaper version.

So what do you get for your money?

The report is designed to look in detail at the condition of the house and make recommendations as to any course of remedial actions required. This is of course important for you to know as there may well be some major issues like subsidence or damp.

The majority of the report is basic tick boxing and space for some additional comments. However, mostly what goes into the comments box is something along the lines of: damp noted in such and such room, we recommend that a damp proof specialist provides a report. Quite often 'rising damp' and 'injected damp proof course' are mentioned. This is odd given that most truly independent damp specialists suggest that only around 5% of damp houses are suffering from 'rising damp'. So why is it put in those specific terms when the rest of the report is otherwise quite generic?

The answer seems to be this all pervasive thought that damp only occurs at ground level and is always caused by rising ground water. This is so common that many houses, that I have been to where a HBR has been shared with me, surveyors have not even tested for damp above the ground floor (unless it is blindingly obvious). It is almost that penetrating damp doesn't exist for some surveyors. I have not seen reference to orientation of the house or exposure levels in any HBR to date.

So, the next step on your house buying journey is to get a damp specialist in. Having spent £450 on a report and found that there is damp, you are starting to have doubts about buying, so having a free report from a damp proofing company seems like a good idea. What little we know.

The reports from a damp proofing company virtual all say - you have rising damp and require a damp proof course (DPC). This will in turn cost you between £3,000 and £6,000. Not so free now is it! Then you haggle over prices, it comes down a couple of thousand if you are lucky and the 'required improvements' to the house come to £2,000 - £4,000 net. Plus you have a guarantee! Sound OK?

Well actually, as you may have picked up, most damp is not rising damp. So the money spent will probably not cure the damp. In fact it can make it worse in the long run. But the guarantee? Unfortunately it is not worth the paper that it is printed on. It is a chocolate teapot. Looks great, makes you feel like you can have a cuppa at anytime, but make one and whoops!

So, be aware that if you do have damp picked up on your HBR, it may just be worth your while employing an INDEPENDENT damp specialist who will not just go through the motions and come to the conclusion that you need an expensive (and ultimately potentially dangerous) (DPC). S/he will look at the whole house holistically, assess the pathology of the building - what has been done, when, how well, using what etc. and should then be able to provide a much better and more appropriate set of recommendations or comments.

This can be fraught with difficulty as most of the time you have to use little physical clues, an eye for detail, years of experience, knowledge of the real world building industry and some imagination. Houses have years of history associated with them. We don't keep records of who did what and when, we don't have pictures of the work being done etc. Experience is key. A qualification is good, but really it is the experience of seeing large numbers of houses, noting common faults, listening to owners and tenants and getting their stories etc that really provides the knowledge to be able to diagnose buildings well. Afterall the only real way of knowing what is actually going on is to take the building apart, so given that this isn't going to happen the best solution is to rely on the experience of a truly independent specialist.

Just to add a bit of paranoia into this (because it is warranted), Estate Agents want to sell you the house. It is their income. They want you to buy the house with blinkers on. 'Lovely location', 'Close to a good school', 'Good transport links' etc. Similarly Surveyors don't want to take the risk of doing a diagnosis as it is frought with unknowns, better to take the money and pass the buck onto a specialist in damp. The average 'Free Survey' damp specialist comes from a company that wants to sell you a damp proof course, .......

Knowledge is power and it is important when making the biggest financial decision for your family that you get it as right as you can. Getting information from a reliable, independent source that will explain what's going on, the physics and material science behind it etc is really important and worth the money.

What is the point in spending £ thousands on a DPC when actually the damp is due to some pointing issue, or a failed window seal, something that might cost you a couple of pounds.

I know that this sounds like a sales pitch as we provide this independent service, but whoever does it, the principles hold true. People like me, who understand damp and materials, will be able to give you a much better, much more detailed idea of the issues that face a house and hence will allow you to make a much better decision.

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