Advice

Should you buy a doer-upper?

Obviously we would all like to be able to move into our dream home with everything in place, the carpets laid and the kettle just boiled. But those of us on a budget or looking at investments to renovate and sell on will usually find ourselves at least considering the purchase of a ‘doer-upper’. These can vary from the kind of house that looks like it has been empty since England’s footballers last lifted the World Cup to a well-used but ultimately neglected rental property with peeling paint inside and out. But the one thing that all houses of this kind have in common is that you should take a builder to view them with you if you are serious about buying them.

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Structural surveys will tell you about any existing major problems with the property, but an experienced builder will be able to spot the signs of trouble to come. They will also be able to tell you how much it will cost to put right.

“The main issues are always going to be structural,” says Benjamin Marlowe of Marlowe Building Services Ltd, who often looks over houses for clients. “Are there any cracks, any subsidence, any trees very close to the property? We go into the attic and look at the roof timbers. If you need a new roof that can be £7,000. But, also, we can let you know about grants available for insulation.”

The experts are also adept at uncovering any problems that the current owner may have tried to mask. The owners may be trying to sell on a money pit of a property, but your builder should spot any signs of that.

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“You can sometimes see joint lines and fill points behind the plaster,” says Marlowe. “If there is a lot of patchwork or recent plaster then that is worth looking into. If there is a horrible smell of damp or rot then we may tell them to walk away. We often push at the woodwork with a flat-ended screwdriver to see if the floor is rotten. A rot problem can signify a lot of other serious problems.”

When it comes to costs of work related to these properties, the decision is very much up to you. But a good builder will be able to tell you when you have a bargain and when to run for the door. Their advice is not an exact science, but years of pricing jobs and making a living from renovations does equip builders with a keen eye for cost and a sixth sense for potential problems.

“We say always allow 8.5% of budget to do a place up,” says Marlowe. “So if you are buying it for £100,000 in order to do up and sell then you want to put aside at least £8,500 for doing it up. With someone who is looking to live there there is more flexibility. If it is a home for life and you spend £3,000 on knocking a room through then that is only £1,000 a decade if you live there for 30 years. Any time you are putting money into a property you need to think about the reason you are doing it first.”

Calling a builder out on a viewing with you can certainly save you money and a lot of potential problems in the future, but do only call a builder out to look on a second or subsequent viewing and if you are serious about buying the property. Time is money for builders and they will be coming out with a view to later carrying out any work they quote on.

 

Iain Aitch

Iain is a London-based writer who works as a journalist for a number of newspapers and magazines. He has also written two books, one of which is a hilarious lexicon about Britishness – Iain is a Brit through and through!

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