If you’ve ever been house hunting, chances are you’ve experienced your share of horror viewings: student digs in need of a clean; dated properties that haven’t been touched in half a century, and the downright wrecks that need everything modernising. Faced with this barrage of bad design, bodged building work and dilapidation, how can you work out if the property is a diamond in the rough, or just rough?
‘It can be harder to walk into somewhere with really dated décor and know what to do than to walk into a wreck,’ says Kia Sunda of Kia Designs. ‘When somewhere is dilapidated, you tend to think, we’ll just rip it all out, but if the property has décor that’s 50 years old, you can get drawn into how the current owners have arranged the rooms. Often, you can’t imagine how it’s ever going to look less cluttered!’
So if 1970s wallpaper and a sagging roof is standing in the way of you and your dream home, read on to find out how to get forensic on a property and spy its true potential from the outset.
Know your budget When viewing a wreck, remember almost anything is possible. ‘I’ve just worked on a place where we took out every internal wall and put 22 steels in,’ says James. ‘Anything can be done – it comes down to how much you want to spend.’ Kia agrees: ‘A lot of the time it’s budget constraints that limit what you can do. You can take out all the walls and floors and start again if you want to, so long as you can afford it.’
Don’t get distracted No matter how dilapidated the property is, or how gruesome the décor, don’t be put off or distracted. ‘The furniture will go and the décor can easily be changed,’ says James. The same applies when viewing the garden. ‘It might feel like the property has a small garden, too, because the eye always looks at the usable floor area and large flowerbeds may be obstructing this,’ he says. ‘Opening up the garden all the way to the boundary lines can make a huge transformation.
Scrutinise the floor plans If you struggle to visualise how a room could look when confronted with dodgy décor, study the floor plans instead. ‘This helps you to see the potential of the spaces,’ says Kia. ‘If you’re not sure what 4m x 5m looks like, measure your own rooms and mark out the dimensions of the rooms in the house you’re looking to buy within it. Is it going to be smaller than your existing space or bigger? This can help you see.’
Discover the orientation It can be helpful to understand which way the house faces before you visit. ‘Heavy curtains may be blocking the light or shutters may be closed when you go in, making it look dark,’ says James, ‘but if you know the room is south-facing, you can guess how much brighter it would be if you fitted different window treatments and painted the walls white.’
Beware hidden nasties Some issues will not be obvious at first glance, but cost you a great deal to put right. ‘Try to establish whether there’s any asbestos,’ says James. ‘Get a specialist to check, as it can be expensive to remove.’ James also warns that problems underground can become costly. ‘It’s worth spending £200-£300 on a drainage survey,’ he says. ‘If there are any fractured or broken pipes underground, it can be really expensive to fix them, especially if they are under a kitchen and you have to break the cabinets up to get at them.’
Subsidence is another issue to be wary of, even if it’s been dealt with. ‘Your insurance premiums will be far higher if your home has ever had subsidence,’ warns James.
Look out for trees Large trees up to 5m away from any part of the property you are looking to develop can be a problem. Their root system can destabilise the ground, and you would have to lay special foundations for any extension stretching near the tree. ‘Remember, even if it’s a neighbour’s tree, it can be a problem. It might not even be that large, but in 10 years’ time it could be massive,’ says James. If the house is in a conservation area, you may not be permitted to chop it down, either.
Go online If you’re not familiar with the area in which you’re hoping to buy, look at the planning department pages on the local council website. ‘Here you can find previous applications on your road and neighbouring streets stretching back five years or so,’ says James. ‘You can then see what was passed and what was rejected and why. This will give you a very good idea of what’s possible.’
Find out if the area is a conservation area or not, too. ‘If it’s not, permitted development rights apply, so explore your options within that criteria,’ James adds.
Joanna Simmons, Houzz Contributor