Buying a flat? Never underestimate the value of a survey

Chartered Surveyor Charlie Kemble-Davies from Finnegan Property Services underlines the importance of a building survey when buying a flat and explains how the devil is in the detail.

It crossed my mind recently that people tend to view flats like new-build properties and often do not consider a building survey necessary prior to purchase. Why? What can possibly go wrong with a flat, I hear you say! Well, having inspected many flats over the years, I can confirm that I often find as many issues with flats as I do with a full house building survey. These issues are often not as straightforward to resolve for a leaseholder as they would be for a freehold property.
I was reminded of this during an inspection of two different flats recently. The first was a maisonette within a Grade II Listed Building; the second was a third floor flat within a converted mid-terraced period property. Both properties had been refurbished relatively recently. On first impression both looked great. However, the devil is always in the detail.

The maisonette within the Grade II Listed Building had not received Listed Building consent for a number of alterations, including the double-glazed windows and new doors. In addition to this the boiler flu discharged into the neighbour’s land and would need to be relocated through the roof covering via the first floor. For the buyer this represented potential unknown additional costs, as well as a headache.

The second flat inspected was a third floor flat within a converted mid-terraced period property which had undergone recent alterations to the configuration of the flat. Unfortunately these alterations did not comply with the lease, as no licence for alteration had been agreed prior to the refurbishment works. The open-plan lobby and living/dining area led to a bedroom at the rear, which did not comply with means of escape. The common parts had not been assessed and did not comply with Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order and required upgrading. The timber floors were not acceptable within the lease as these had no sound proofing. Access onto the roof indicated that this area needed immediate attention. All major potential unknown costs for the potential buyer!

As with houses, surveys of flats are so important to raise these issues prior to purchase just to know what your liability will be. This includes an inspection of the internal common parts and to the external fabric. Highlighting these issues, while your solicitor confirms the sinking fund for external repairs and decorations along with the common parts, often gives you a good insight into how the block is managed and the potential issues you may or may not have with arranging urgent or planned maintenance works. This initial inspection and some extra thought could save you a lot of money but, more importantly, save you a lot of wasted time.
We at Finnegan Property Services have years of experience undertaking all types of surveys from flats, to country estates. We work with you and your conveyancing solicitor to ensure you are fully aware of the potential risks and rewards before you commit to purchasing.

Remember, buying a home is probably the most expensive purchase you will ever make so investing in a survey – whether house or flat – can save you considerable money and give you immense peace of mind.

So, when making one of the most important investments of your life, don’t underestimate the importance a small investment in a survey to help reduce your risks and quantify your liabilities.

Charlie Kemble-Davies is a Chartered Building Surveyor at Finnegan Property Services. You can call Finnegan Property Services on 020 3137 8078 or follow them on Twitter to stay up to date with their news.