A house I want to buy at auction has cracks. What can I do?

It is vital to have all your homework done before an auction, which takes time

It can be very difficult for a layperson to interpret cracks in a meaningful way. Photograph: iStock

It can be very difficult for a layperson to interpret cracks in a meaningful way. Photograph: iStock

 

I’m trying to buy a house at auction. However, when I viewed it I noticed some cracks and mould, otherwise on face value it looked structurally sound. Now the auction is in two weeks – is this enough time to get a comprehensive structural report? For future reference, if I see cracks are there other warning signs to look out for?

Buying at auction is very different to a private sale. This is because if you make a bid at an auction and your bid is accepted, then you are contractually committed to completing the sale, and if for some reason you do not proceed, you will lose your deposit, which typically would be 10per cent of the agreed price. Therefore, you must have all your homework done before an auction and clearly it takes time not only to organise the building survey but to engage a solicitor to carry out a check on title and to get your mortgage approval and so on.

In the current market most surveyors are very busy and as a result it can take about two weeks between an instruction and having a completed survey report. However, surveyors have to manage their workload and they are slow to turn work away. In the case of a private treaty, there is generally no difficulty in persuading a potential purchaser to wait a few weeks on a survey report. However, if you tell the surveyor that the property is for auction and clarify the dates, many surveyors will juggle their diaries to fit in the survey. Clearly if the surveyor is not in a position to do this he/she should let you know there and then.

Some surveyors will offer a two-tier service in auction situations. The first tier involves the detailed inspection and the preparation of a two- to three-page summary report outlining the main facts in order to facilitate the client in making their decision and ultimately their bid.

If the client is successful at auction, the surveyor can then follow through with a more detailed report. If in the event that the client has been outbid, then clearly there is no need for the detailed report and surveyors will normally offer a discounted fee as they won’t be required to write up the full report.

The second part of your question relates to cracks and potential warning signs to look out for. While clearly it’s advisable to always keep an eye out for items such as cracks, it can be very difficult for a layperson to interpret them in a meaningful way. Many properties have cracks, but often they are not particularly significant. However, an experienced surveyor should be able to give a balanced account as to the cause and implications of the cracking.

There are plenty of other potential warning signs to look out for – too many, I’m afraid, to go into detail about here. Suffice to say you should look out for obvious signs of dampness and/or even recent works that may be covering up a problem. However, if the house is in the right location and appeals to you, you should leave it to the surveyor to analyse the problems and to advise you on the matter.

  • Val O’Brien is a chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie
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