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17 Feb 2017

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You’d love a home with a bit of character that you can put your own stamp on. But how do you go about sussing out a second-hand house?

Not every estate agent will describe the house as it truly is. An exception is this home in Dublin which the estate agent billed as ‘Grotty, rickety and slimey’. In a tongue in cheek description he warned buyers: “Do not be misled by the attractive exterior of this double fronted village cottage with its dirty sash windows and rickety hall door; all is not well on the inside”.

When you’re thinking of buying a second hand house in Ireland you can ignore the peeling, garish wallpaper – or any other cosmetic details that can easily be remedied. You need to look out for serious structural issues, poor basic design and a lack of space to extend.

Big problems cost big money to remedy. But if the problems are mainly cosmetic, you could snap up an ugly bargain! Imagine how good it would feel if your €20,000 worth of renovations adds €50,000 to the home’s value!?
If you are planning to buy a second hand home in Ireland here are seven problems to watch out for.

How old is the house?

Period homes have a lot of character especially if their features such as fireplaces and coving are still intact. But it depends on which period!

The Edwardian age (1901-1910) was a golden age of home building with high quality structures that stand the test of time. Homes built in the Georgian era (1780-1820), have high ceilings, big windows and a spacious elegance unmatched since then. But all this comes at a high price – especially in terms of heating bills.

Georgian homes are also very old. Many were built without foundations (as was the practice at the time) and their lavish room-space means you can get as few as three bedrooms in a 200 square metre house.

Certain properties around Ireland are protected structures and renovations on such houses will be restricted and may come at a premium. To check if the house you’re bidding on is a protected structure find the link to the relevant local authority in this Heritage Ireland handy list of protected structures in Ireland.

Newer second hand homes can also have their own set of problems. Those built in the seventies and eighties can now look pretty dated. Pyrite was also in its heyday between 2002 and 2006 and this may cause a house to literally crumble.
Also watch out for apartments built during the boom where fire safety issues and poor build quality may have been overlooked.

Is the house damp?

If a house is damp you can often smell it as soon as you walk in the door. Watch out for dark patches on ceilings and walls. Put your palm against suspect areas and if it’s damp the wall will feel ‘clammy’ and very cold.

Damp under the eaves in upstairs rooms can be caused by leaking gutters and is easy to fix. The same is true about damp resulting from damaged downpipes.

Rising damp or seepage may be more serious. Either way damp can cause major problems if it’s left untreated.

If an old house is damp, the chances are the issue has been there for decades. It may have caused rot in joists and beams which means floors and roofs may need replacing. Modern well-built homes of recent vintage should not have damp issues at all and if they do you may have to question the build quality.

What about the wiring in the second hand house?

In a second hand house always check if the wiring has been replaced or upgraded recently? If not you may have to spend several thousand euro putting this right.

Check out the fusebox. Does it look modern – or like it was installed by Thomas Edison? Likewise, the style of sockets, switches and light fittings will give a good indication of the wiring’s vintage.

Sometimes older wiring is fine, but you’ll need to get it checked by a qualified electrician.

Are there any cracks in the walls?

A crack may be due to paint drying out and extend no deeper than the surface. Or it could signal subsidence or pyrite damage that would cost tens of thousands of euro to repair.

But how can you tell the difference? Hairline cracks are common enough, but if the crack is a quarter of an inch or more wide, it’s time to worry. Be wary of cracks in interior walls that don’t follow the line of the walls – i.e. if they veer off at a 45 degree angle.

If there’s horizontal cracks running in line with the foundations on the exterior wall you should also beware. Look up not down: damage from shifting foundations is often found on the first or second floors, especially around doors or windows.

Getting it straight in the second hand house

This sounds basic - but is everything straight in the house? Do doors open and close easily? Sagging floors may indicate rotting joists, or worse. Are all the walls absolutely straight? If the answer to any of these questions is no, there may be structural issues.

Windows in second hand houses

Double or triple glazing is a big advantage when it comes to keeping your home warm and toasty. Old wooden windows don’t necessarily need to be replaced. If well looked after – i.e. painted regularly – timber window frames can last for centuries. But if the wood is soft or cracked with paint that looks the same vintage as that of the Sistine Chapel, they may need replacing.

What’s the roof like?

Check that the roof is level, not sagging, and that it’s completely intact. A pitched slate roof should last a lifetime but if even small leaks aren’t fixed, rot may eat away at the timbers supporting it.

Be very wary of ‘flat roofing’, which is notoriously problematic and was widely used in extensions in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s. Flat roofs are not designed to last more than a couple of decades without attention. But many were badly built and cause problems long before that. Watch out for pooling, cracking and rippling of the surface membrane (although pooling isn’t an issue if it’s caused by a blocked drain outlet.)

These seven problems in second hand houses should get you thinking about what to look out for when you’re viewing a house. But if you’re serious about a property it’s always advisable to make an offer ‘subject to survey’. Then instruct a qualified surveyor to give you a written survey of the house before you go ahead with the deal.

Thinking of moving home?

If you’re looking for your fantastic “fixer-upper”, why not check out our First Time Buyer and Next Time Buyer Guides?

You can also use our mortgage calculator to find out how much you may be able to borrow.
And if you’d like to talk through your mortgage options book a 30 Minute Mortgage Meeting today!

The content of this blog is expressed in broad terms and is limited to general information purposes only. Readers should always seek professional advice to address issues arising in specific contexts and not seek to rely on the information in this blog which does not constitute any form of advice or recommendation by EBS d.a.c.

EBS d.a.c. neither accepts nor assumes any responsibility in relation to the contents of this blog and excludes all warranties, undertakings and representations (either express or implied) to the fullest extent permitted under applicable law.

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