I am a huge fan of old properties, loving them for their character and period features. I spent my teenage years in a Victorian semi detached house, then my second property was an Edwardian terrace, followed by a 1930s bungalow and now we live in a 1920s detached house in Bedfordshire. I have nothing against new builds (my husband builds them for a start!) but personally I would always choose something older and in most cases, a doer-upper! But these can come with negative things lurking underneath as well as exciting finds that you unearth after you move in, both of which you can look for in the house hunting stage. Here are 10 things to look out for before you buy.
I dream of a hallway with original tiles; black and white with a colour way running through. I haven’t been lucky enough to find this but you may well do! Many houses, as with all these features, have been covered over. Ask the seller about what is underneath the hall carpet as many people cover them as they tend to be cold.
Original Fireplaces and doors
In our house, the cute bedroom fireplace had been boarded over, which is such a shame, but again done to keep the rooms warmer. When looking round a period property, look to see what is happening on the fireplaces and whether they appear to be boarded over. If it has been ripped out, you can always find original ones to put back in from salvage yards or on sites such as EBay. You may also find that original doors have been boarded over too – it was all the rage in the 1950s to have a smooth door!
Original floor boards
Like the hall tiles, many houses have carpeted over original floorboards. I would not be shy in looking to see if there is any loose carpet in the corners to carefully unpeel to check this – I personally love them and do not have carpet in my home.
Unearthing original wallpaper is such a great find, although it tends to be in bad condition. Check in cupboards or under the stairs for signs of wallpaper – and if it is only there then you can always make it a feature. We were lucky that our home had original 1950s/60s wallpaper in almost all rooms with three being in fab condition. I think the estate agent though we were mad when we said we would keep it!
Reclaimed garden ornaments
If the garden is over grown, have a look to see what is lurking within. Maybe an old rose bush or two or better still, old chimneys, ladders and iron work! I love a vintage looking garden and unearthing treasure!
Unsupported chimney breasts
In two of my properties, the chimneys needed supporting; this is where former owners remove a chimney breast to make a room larger or warmer but leave the chimney unsupported in the loft. This will come up on a survey but I would always ask to have a quick look in the loft before I put an offer in for a house. It can be fixed so don’t panic, but it should be one of your first jobs when moving in.
Rising damp is no laughing matter but most tend to panic when they see if show up on the survey. We got rid of ours by doing a number of things: removing the carpets, unblocking air vents, lighting the fires and removing a concrete path that had been built above the damp course line. In the past, people covered up any air coming in to keep warm, but this meant the house couldn’t breathe. Get that air flowing!
Look out for worm holes on wooden banisters and floors as there could be active wood worm in the property. Again, this can be treated but always get a professional to do it for you.
In a few of my houses, old wiring has been an issue. When looking at a house, take a moment to look at the fuse board to see if it is old or new – as you may need to factor a re-wire into your budget.
In homes built before 2000, especially in mid century homes, asbestos was used in all manner of building materials such as roofing sheeting and pipe insulation. We now know that it can be a killer if inhaled when disturbed so it will need to be addressed. Look out for it, and make sure you double check your survey as you will need to get in a professional removal company to remove and dispose of it safely and legally.
House hunting is exhausting, yet exciting but remember to keep your eyes peeled for the good, the bad and the ugly and to keep it real – try to use your head as well as your heart! Have fun too!
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All photos are from my book Style Your Modern Vintage Home photographed by Simon Whitmore