We live in the US and want to buy a house to renovate in Ireland. What's involved?

Property Clinic: A project manager should be able to manage the tender process and works

My husband and I are living in the US and are keen to buy a property in Sligo. Photograph: iStock

My husband and I are living in the US and are keen to buy a property in Sligo. Photograph: iStock

 

My husband and I are living in the US and are keen to buy a property in Sligo to have as a base in Ireland as we come home twice a year for extended periods. We’ve been looking at a couple of properties that are cheap but are definitely fixer-uppers.  The one that has most sparked our interest was built in the 1970s and would need a total renovation, new heating system, etc.

We are looking for any advice/tips/things to consider if we were to go down this route. We do have elderly parents nearby, but no family member that we could really count on to oversee a renovation.

The first step I would advise is to get a building survey done on the property. Given its age I’d recommend a detailed survey. The obvious concerns with a 1970s house would be the risk of asbestos in ceilings or floor tiles, gun barrel piping to radiators, and dated electrical wiring and fittings. A specialist asbestos survey should be considered.

The roof covering may be adequate and watertight now; however, 50 years is the usual life expectancy and it might need replacing in order to achieve another 50 years of maintenance-free living.

Trying to get the building up to a reasonable energy rating will be a challenge. Probably the best you can hope to achieve in an older property like this is a B rating. The walls are likely to be two-leaf cavity wall construction and filling the cavity might be worth considering in conjunction with an internal dry-lining. Attic insulation to a depth of 300mm should be easily achievable. It is unlikely you will be able to insulate the floors unless they are suspended timber floors.

The windows will most likely require replacement and it is an opportunity to do so with thermally efficient units and take care to ensure they meet the requirements for escape in the event of a fire.

Complete replacement

As regards the mechanical and electrical installations it is probable that you will be looking at complete replacement. Consider issues such as: smoke detection, carbon monoxide detection, improved earth bonding, and replacement of an old galvanised steel water storage tank. A lead water pipe is unlikely, but have it checked as part of the building survey.

Externally, check the requirement to upgrade the wastewater treatment system; it is probable that it drains to a soakaway and you will need to install a percolation area at a minimum. Check the proximity of the septic tank to a private well; have a water quality test done.

You are taking on a project so employ the services of a suitably qualified project supervisor (building surveyor, engineer or architect) and tender the works to a minimum of three local contractors. Make sure the contractors selected are familiar with refurbishment projects as some builders cater for new builds only and may not necessarily be experienced in refurbishing an existing building shell.

You will need to consider the building control amendment regulations route and whether or not you wish to opt out. If you select the opt-out route, make sure to retain your professional adviser to carry out interim inspections of the works in progress. Make stage payments to the builder as required and certify the works are compliant with planning and building regulations.

Finally, this type of older property generally requires regular controlled levels of heating and ventilation to prevent condensation and dampness build-up. Consider having someone look after the property when you are residing in the US. – Pat McGovern

Pat McGovern is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

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