What to look out for when buying second hand

A structurally sound property in an appealing location is a good place to start

Look  for signs of dampness. Ground-floor problems in an older property may require a damp-proof course

Look for signs of dampness. Ground-floor problems in an older property may require a damp-proof course


Buying your first home is a decision not to be taken lightly. Possibly the main reason and best reason many people want a place of their own is so that they can be free to tinker with the place. It’s about putting your stamp on your home. For those who have money either borrowed or saved to do the place up before they move in, it certainly makes sense, otherwise you might get too comfortable, and the upheaval of moving out again two or three years down the line will certainly be a more gargantuan task than that of starting works straight away.

Another argument goes that if you live in the house for a period first, it will let you get the feel for it, see how you use it, where you hang out most, where the morning light is best, whether you have noisy neighbours that need some extra muting. There are invariably quirks to a house and its surroundings that you will only realise after making it home for awhile.

But if you are buying a second-hand home, there are a few rules of thumb to adhere to. You will have a surveyor’s report done on the house that you are really serious about, but it’s good to have a few key checks in your armoury as you spend your Saturdays and evenings traipsing from viewing to viewing.

First out, you will want to like the area. The reason you are doing this in the first place is to enjoy living in the house, and paramount to this is that you enjoy the area the house is in. Now, chances are you can’t afford your ideal areas, and that’s fine and that’s normal. But there will be lots of little pockets in your price bracket that will have something that floats your boat. A commune of shops maybe, a park, a gym, a bar, a bus route or nice walk that takes you to work. There should be an element that makes the area appealing, adding to your enjoyment of the house.

Structurally, you should take a quick visual at the roof. Make sure everything looks flat and straight. Again a quick look at walls will sum up the place structurally too. Paul Moran, chartered engineer at Pat O’Gorman & Associates in Rathfarnham, says: “Many second-hand houses can have minor cracking that in most cases are not structural, but instead are cosmetic and can be dealt with in the normal decoration cycle. Some will reappear and this can sometimes alarm home owners, but you should remember buildings are constructed from natural and manmade materials that often expand and contract as they heat and cool at different rates. However, some cracking can be a sign of more serious problems (generally greater than 1mm in width) or if on an external wall, can be of the scale that allows water ingress.”

Have a look at the fuse board. You should be looking at one of the newer types with mcb’s rather than the old one with screw-in fuses. Otherwise you are looking at a rewire.

I wouldn’t mind signs of damp or black spots upstairs, on ceilings or in corners of walls. This is most likely caused by poor ventilation and can be relatively cheaply rectified.

Signs of damp around the ground floor walls might be something more serious in the form of rising damp, and may be a trickier item to banish. This will generally show itself on walls close to the floor. It’s water soaking up the wall from the ground below through capillary action. It can be common in old houses that weren’t built with a damp-proof layer/course. Rising damp rarely exceeds 1.2m in height.

Lastly, if you are lucky enough to have some out door space, take note of its orientation. A south-facing rear garden really is a joy and you will reap the benefits of it all year long. Given the fact that the evening sun is what most of us will routinely enjoy at our homes, a south-west facing rear is probably the optimum. This will also give your north-east front elevation some early-morning sunshine to put a smile on your face as you head out the front door for the day.

Happy hunting.