Trading up: how to judge a house from the outside in
In part two of a six-part series, which aims to help buyers identify property potential and pitfalls, we ask experts how to assess the exterior condition of a house
If the external brickwork looks run-down or if you spot deep cracks in the external walls, the first item you need to rule out is subsidence. Photograph: Getty Images
It might sound obvious to consider the outside of a property when viewing potential homes but as architect Dermot Bannon says, “if the shell of a house isn’t right, it won’t matter what you do to the inside, as it has nothing to protect it.”
Engaging a surveyor
Engaging an experienced, board-associated surveyor, if you are serious about buying the property, will help to identify any obvious defects that would ordinarily be missed by the untrained eye. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI), have a list of local surveyors that can report on any potential homes, and both offer three types of survey. Type one surveys are more of an overview, don’t generally include advice on repairs or ongoing maintenance and so are better suited to modern houses that are in a satisfactory condition. This basic report costs around €395. Type two surveys are the most popular and very thorough, covering attic spaces, roof structure, an in-depth electric/plumbing/gas check and will document general defects and advise on the correct remedial action - planning matters and condition of boundaries will also typically be commented on. Expect to pay in the region of €500 - €1,000 depending on the size, complexity and age of the property involved. A type three survey consists of an extensive inspection. Concealed areas may be opened and accessed like under floorboards, access hatches, and the grounds of the property, so it is suitable for older homes with land. Fees will depend on the property’s age and its size.
Cracks and brickwork
If you are not quite at the point of engaging a surveyor, Ted Laverty, MD of Onlinetradesmen.ie, says to have a look at the external brickwork to see if it looks run-down. “Most external cracks are just part of the patina and can be cut out and easily refilled and skimmed, and repointing old bricks is straightforward. Typically, you pay per hour of labour for brick layers and repointing rather than the overall job. €25 - €40 per hour is the going rate,” says Laverty. If you spot deep cracks in the external walls, however, the first item you need to rule out is subsidence, as it’s one of the hardest problems to remedy, according to Laverty. A seasoned builder should be able to spot it straight off and can advise a course of action.
Windows and doors
The other major external consideration is the condition of the windows and doors. Colm O’Toole, director of Carroll Joinery, says most windows and doors over 30 years old are outdated in terms of thermal efficiency but he finds that many of his customers are driven as much by the aesthetic values new windows and doors add to the house, as much as their energy performance. “New doors and windows give an old house a massive facelift, and you can now order one colour for the frames and doors on the outside and have a different colour for the inside which is really popular,” says O’Toole.
If you are considering new glazing, O’Toole warns against replacing the glass only; “If the glass is old the frame is old, and there’s no real benefit to replacing just one element. Likewise, replacing a few windows at a time, or the hall door a few years later, is a false economy as you then end up paying multiple delivery costs, set up costs, labour costs and it costs a lot more doing it in phases. So, I’d advise waiting till you can afford to do the lot in one go.”
O’Toole also points out that people get hung up on the U Value of glass - a measure of thermal conductance, indicating how much heat is loss - but believes what’s far more important in Ireland “is that the frames and respective windows come with a weather certificate and the longest warranty you can afford. Our climate really takes its toll on the frames, so if they are not water tight and resistant to our erratic weather, it doesn’t matter how good the glass is. Aluminium-clad wood frames have the highest energy efficiency, water-tightness rating and most have up to a 30-year warranty, so are a great all-rounder,” he says.
“The average job we do on a standard four-bed house, with 20 square meters of windows, runs between €12,000- €15,000. This will get you decent double-glazed windows, with warrantied wood composite frames, a new hall door and a big slider window door for the room backing onto the garden. You could cut that figure in half if you chose PVC frames but PVC is not as aesthetically pleasing and corrodes and degrades over times,” says O’Toole.
For historic windows, he advises contacting the Irish Georgian Society, the architectural conservation officer in your local council, or local conservation architects as they all come with different specifications.
When looking at the exterior of a house, William Doyle, of WM Doyle Construction Ltd, advises to pay attention to the following external red flags; “Take a look at the fascia boards and soffit first (fascia board caps the end of roof rafters outside, and below the fascia is the soffit or eaves), to see if there are any signs of rotting, as this can tell you a lot about the condition of the roof inside. Examine all of the gutters thoroughly: are they cracked, or hanging off the walls? Stand underneath the gutters and look up - gutters should run parallel to the fascia with the same size gap all along the wall. If you spot warping or bobbling, that indicates a problem and they may need to be partially or fully replaced.”
To replace all the gutters, fascia and downpipes on an average three-bed house, Doyle estimates around €1,500, using PVC materials including labour.
To size up the condition of a roof, Doyle suggests, “to look up and check for signs of moss first and examine the chimney: is it crooked or are there pots missing? These are classic tell-tale signs the roof has not been well maintained.” If you can get inside the attic, Doyle suggests feeling the timers. If they are damp or crumbling, dry rot may be lurking and new rafters will be needed. He also advises to check for mould on the ceilings upstairs as this also indicates dry rot in the rafters and ventilation problem with the attic also. “If you do suspect dry rot, don’t panic. Often only a few rafters are infected with it and we can just infill those and leave the rest. If it’s crept all over the attic, however, you are looking at €6,000 - €10,000 to replace all the rafters and roof,” says Doyle
He caveats that by saying it’s rare his firm have to replace entire roofs, or more than a few rafters, and that with most houses built after the 1950s require some new flashing around the chimney pots, and the replacing of loose tiles generally sorts the roof out. Expect to pay from €250 for flashing and then another €250 for tile replacing.
While investigating the attic, it may be worth looking at the potential to convert it and potentially add more living space or another bedroom. Ted Laverty, MD of Onlinetradesmen.ie says you can almost convert any attic space into a liveable room these days because dormer frame windows can be added to the side of most roof angles to give added height and lots of light. The floor joists in most houses will need to be bolstered for an attic conversion as they need to be 200mm thick. “The average quotes for an attic conversion on the website for a standard three-bed house, run between €16,000 - €25,000. That includes labour, all materials, the new stairwell and staircase, and around two Velux windows. For dormer windows, add an extra €1,000 per dormer frame,” says Laverty.
Over the next few weeks we will be delving into more potential interior and exterior building and design projects, that can help transform and upgrade a second-hand property, without any need for adding an extension.
For information about Bank of Ireland mortgages, visit bankofireland.com/homes
Bank of Ireland Mortgage Bank trading as Bank of Ireland Mortgages and The Mortgage Store is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.