MOST properties that I come across in the auction rooms of the UK need renovating to a greater or lesser degree. Being able to spot what is just a cosmetic problem and what is going to be costly to sort out, is a great thing to be able to do. Here is my list of things to concentrate on when viewing a property and assessing its merits as a renovation project.
CRACKS: Cracks in plaster walls and masonry can look extremely worrying but are frequently only cosmetic. Knowing whether they indicate more serious structural problems can be very useful in making your initial verdict on a renovation project. Isolated cracks, eg a crack in a single brick or a stress crack in a plaster wall next to a window or doorway, are unlikely to be structural. However, where cracking is more extensive and follows a pattern — this is likely to be as a result of something more serious. Look for signs of movement in the building such as a series of cracks generally around one part of the building, eg bay window, corner or additional structure such as a porch or annex since these are typical tell tale signs of subsidence. In a very old building, however, the structure may be perfectly stable despite twists, bows and warps and attempts at repairs may do more harm than good.
DAMP: Old buildings without damp are the exception, so do not be too concerned about signs of damp as they can always be solved. First you need to identify the source of the damp –once you've done this, solving it usually only involves a simple and inexpensive repair or replacement. In an old brick building, a damp proof course can be created by injecting silicone into the bricks both inside and outside the building. Although usually this only costs a few hundred pounds, you will also have to hack off plaster and then re-plaster and redecorate. However, left untreated damp can lead to rot and this can be more costly to correct.
REWIRING: Telltale signs that a house needs rewiring are easy to spot. Look for an old-fashioned fuse box instead of a modern consumer unit, old fashioned round light switches, round pin plugs or old wires. Rewiring a typical three bedroom terraced house will cost from £2,500 to £3,000, including removing the old wiring, lifting and replacing the floorboards and installing a new consumer unit. On top of this you will need to factor in making good. If you are going to have the property rewired, think very carefully about how the rooms will be used and where furniture and appliciances will be located so that you can direct the electrician on the placement of new sockets and light switches.
CENTRAL HEATING: Adding central heating is easily one of the most cost-effective improvements you can make to a house and will always add more to the value of a property than it costs to install. Adding a new gas central heating system to a typical three bedroom terrace house will cost £2,500 to £5,000 but you may find that there are incentives on offer that will save you money. Check with companies who supply and install central heating systems. There are also a range of more energy efficient systems that you can use to provide hot water and warmth such as solar water heating.
UPSTAIRS BATHROOM: Many old houses were built either without bathroom facilities or have since had them added on the ground floor. Installing a new bathroom at first floor level is likely to cost around £800 to £1500, and is essentially for modern living. You also need to consider the drains and where they will run which could add to your costs. You could section off part of an upstairs bedroom with stud walling to create a new bathroom and this is likely to cost £1,500 to £2,500 including finishing and tiling.
DRY ROT: Dry rot is a fungus that will destroy timber very quickly. It even penetrates brick walls to get to more timber. Dry rot loves moist, poorly ventilated conditions and is usually found in the roofspace or under wooden floorboards. Dry rot is easy to identify — the spores send out fungal strands along the timber and through or along any wall. Getting rid of dry rot will cost around £1,200.