Old terraces in South Wales look great and they can be a really good buy, however they can also bring their fair share of headaches as your keen-ness to improve the house and make it your home takes hold.
Many of the houses’ past ‘improvements’ can cause a multitude of problems. Who is going to tell you about this? The estate agent (they would not tell you even if they knew!)? The surveyor (they are not trained in ‘historical’ buildings unless they a specialist conservation surveyor)? A builder (they are not trained either, unless you get a specialist conservation builder)? An architect (not trained …..)?
So what do we do?
We rely heavily on our existing knowledge / experience of houses, ignorance and a large slice of luck. Not always the best combination.
So here are some pointers to look out for when viewing.
Render – start with a biggy!! Many old terraces have been rendered using cement render. This can be catastrophic for the house. Avoid houses with these renders as it may be trapping in damp, especially where you can see cracks in the finish etc. Blown render also is a warning sign, so tap the walls to see if they sound hollow. Take a damp meter with you and check around the ground floor. (The remedy for this is to replace the render with a good lime render).
Replacement concrete floors – another No-No. Concrete floors often focus moisture from the soil into the walls, including the inner walls. Expect damp to appear. Just check under the carpet, of if a laminate is down etc, just by jumping on them you should be able to tell if they are solid or suspended timber floors. Use your damp meter to test inner walls up to around 1.2m high. (The remedy here is very difficult and really only an inject and hope job).
Dry lined walls – Expect a horror story behind these. Dry lining is there for a reason. The reason being that the house has damp and the previous owners could not be bothered to fix it properly. To test for dry lining tap the walls to see if they sound hollow of not. Your damp meter will not show the damp, but it is still there lurking behind the plasterboard. (The remedy here is to take off the dry lining and sort out the real problem with the walls).
uPVC windows without trickle vents – uPVC does not really fit with old houses, but nevertheless they are there. An absence of trickle vents means that you are more likely to have condensation problems, especially in bedrooms and other high moisture areas. (Remedy is either to install trickle vents or to replace with some nicely vented wooden windows!)
Pointing done with cement mortar – many stone and brick houses have been re-pointed using cement rather than lime mortar. This again traps moisture in the walls and will fail. (Remedy is to re-point using the correct lime mortar).
Bricks and stone painted using conventional masonry paint – masonry paint is designed to be water proof, but old buildings need to be able to breathe and this paint stops this. Expect that the paint will be blown off over time. Look for peeling, bubbling and flaking paint. (Remedy – take the paint off and repaint using a breathable paint).
Bowing roof with tiles on – many houses have been re-roofed using tiles rather than slates. Often the extra weight of the tiles can put excessive pressure on the roof timbers and hence bow the roof. A bowing roof can also be a sign of rot in the timbers. (Remedy is to inspect the timbers and ideally replace the tiles with slate).
These are the big problems that can expect to create a major hole in your finances, so best to be aware before you buy (remember that you can always ask Eco Home Centre to come along to a viewing). This information can help you to avoid a lot of headaches, tears and an empty bank account. Or ideally, it can help you reduce the asking price and have some money set aside for the necessary appropriate repairs.
I am always wary of the houses that are advertised as ‘newly refurbished, ideal for first time buyer’. i.e done up as cheaply as possible to look OK for someone who has no experience of what lies beneath!!