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Our Building Surveys

We undertake surveys to suit clients needs. It's hard to define exactly what we do, because every instance is different.  When we do a survey, we first look at the house as a whole.  When was it built?  What is it built from?  

We build an understanding of what we are looking at - it's old - it's built with lime mortar, it has solid walls - we start to understand some of the basics.  We look at materials - stone, brick, timber.. Next, come alterations - what have people added to it - and how.  Built with what?  Are they legal?  Are there modern changes to a Listed Building for example that might not have Listed Building Consent? We examine setting within the landscape - wind, rain, land slope. Ground levels - how they affect the way the house weathers... Drainage - where are the drains - do they work, how are they affecting the building?  The roof - I call it the 'Tin Hat' - what are the roof and chimneys like - roof drainage - gutters and so on.. Walls - painted with plastic, causing damp, have the Wallies stuck holes everywhere and damp-proofed it... 

Internally, we spend a long time looking at the structure - it takes ages to get under the skin of a building, and figure out how it ticks.  I follow my nose a lot - damp problems smell - mould makes me sneeze - I like to crawl around and get stuff up my nose - you dont need fancy meters for that.  When you have a feel for where there may be problems, the next step is diagnosis.  Usually, the external examination has told you what to look for - so you can look for what you think will be there - it usually is. Floors - what are they - how are they laid. What's been done.  Roof - timbering - how old, does it tell us about the history of the place - often the roof space tells us more about the house than anywhere else - and it's nearly always overlooked by surveyors.  Wiring, Plumbing - we may not be electricians, but we've nearly all wired houses, and know what to look for - similarly with plumbing.  

Structural issues are often complex - but when you see the number of houses that we do, you get a good feel for what is going on - and whether you really DO need a structural engineer. Dont forget they can't tell you anything more than we can - they can only look, and base their findings on the same observations - but sometimes I'll suggest we check the loadings on a beam, or whether a ceiling should have the weight on it that it appears to have.   Bathrooms are terrible for this - sometimes I almost expect to see a large tin bath with half a ton of water in it appearing through the floor...

Our reports are based on the things we find - they aren't tick box - they are descriptive of the house and its history - they describe the materials used, the faults, and potential costs.  I am constantly amazed to see that surveyors will not put numbers to costs.  My clients know that cost is only rough - but they would prefer a ballpark figure than 'Seek specialist advice'... they are paying, supposedly for a specialist... so that person should be able to put some sensible numbers to what the place will cost to put right.  About the only 'specialist' that I'll sometimes suggest is the man with the CCTV drain survey kit - he's more important than most people think - and I always like to get a drain survey done if I can.  I've a few horror stories on that one.. I'm not afraid to kill a sale if I think my client can't afford it - I want them living in a nice house, safe, warm and secure - and able to pay for it.  My London counterpart, Richard, is the same - he has restored old houses, and knows what they cost - so when Richard is working on a survey, he is always talking numbers.  In Scotland, John works the same way - he understands the Scottish weather too!

 

Where do we do surveys?

We do surveys all over the country.  We have an office in London, another in Cumbria and one in Scotland. We offer a full service in Scotland.  I have recently done surveys in Co. Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland Lancashire, Cheshire, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, London and the Home Counties, Lincolnshire, Warwickshire, Monmouth, Wales, Powys, Humberside, Leicestershire, Cotswolds, Bedforshire, Herefordshire  - you name it - we've been there...  

These tend to be a variety of purposes - some are timber frame surveys, some timber and damp surveys, and some are specialist surveys of Listed Buildings.  

You have to buy this if you are seriously into Old Houses...

Written by a Conservation professional who has been there, done that.  Carole is a former Conservation Officer, with a wonderfully dry wit, which comes out in this book.  She tackles every one of the issues we deal with on this website from an academic and practical viewpoint.  I can't recommend it too highly - if you are buying an old house, you need this book.  You will read it, read it again - bookmark bits of it, come back and bookmark something else.  It's superb.  Carole is a livewire - still very active in Conservation, it's written from the heart by someone who loves old buildings and the industry she works in.

Buy it - you will NOT be disappointed..!

Lots of useful information to be gleaned here :-)

Building Condition Surveys

Click here to visit our sister site - Heritage Consulting Ltd and book a survey.

A huge problem with old buildings is a lack of experienced building surveyors capable of assessing them, be they listed or not.  

We work with old buildings.  We pull them apart and rebuild them.  We understand how timber frames are built.  We work with lime mortar and render.  Our surveys are based on passion and detailed working knowledge of old buildings.  That's why we can teach you about your building, unravel some of its history, and estimate the potential cost of repairs and maintenance.  We show you what materials to use, how to find the right people to work on it..  It's all part of our survey service - we don't do tick box surveys.

Building Surveyors nearly always recommend injection damp proofing (which shows they don't understand the reasons damp is present).  They fail to understand or report structural problems with timber frames. They know little about traditional building materials (one surveyor recently questioned the use of lime mortar, saying it wasnt strong enough.... he ran for cover when we reminded him that half of the houses in London are built with it!).  Most Building Condition Surveys ask for a 'Timber and Damp' survey to be done by you, afterwards - which is fraud as far as I'm concerned - the damn surveyor should be able to do that as part of the survey he does.

Before you commit to a survey, make sure the surveyor knows about old buildings...

I find a good question to ask the surveyor before he turns up is 'Do you believe in Rising Damp?' If the answer is anything but 'No - its fraud' - get another surveyor. Most are churned out by a system that admits it knows nothing about old buildings.  I am getting more and more calls from qualified surveyors who want my help with old buildings.  This problem is even more acute when you are talking about timber framed buildings - few surveyors know the first thing about them.

I have spoken to the RICS, who train many surveyors, and they tell me that a surveyor 'must state whether he feels qualified to survey the property concerned'. I've never known one to do so - yet old buildings must be treated completely differently to modern build. It is a different mind-set - few people have the knowledge. RICS do their best, but pressure is on them to keep surveyors up to date with modern regulations, let alone things to do with old buildings.  

To survey an old building you MUST treat it as a solid walled structure which needs to breathe.  

Do you need a Homebuyer survey? Well - from what I've seen, and hundreds of people have complained to me, they aren't worth the paper they are printed on. Standard tick box surveys almost always have a clause in them which reads as follows: 'Engage Specialist Timber and Damp Surveyor to inspect and report on timber and damp issues'. The 'timber and damp specialist' is in 98% of cases, a commission salesman from the Property Care Association who wants to flog timber treatment chemicals and re-plastering.  He probably works for Peter Cox - one of the largest chains of con artists.  He gets about £200 commission on a £5000 job which wasn't needed in the first place and was fraudulently misdiagnosed. Why do you think they turn up for nothing - remember the old saying - 'You dont get owt for nowt'

If you HAVE to get a 'timber and damp survey' and the bank insist, we will do one for you - but you should also remind the bank that this is mis-selling - remember PPI?  Well now there is a huge problem looming with all those 'timber and damp' surveys banks have insisted on, which were misdiagnosed, and which cost you thousands, all for no reason other than a fraudulent damp salesman.  The banks are responsible.  Mis selling of damp surveys is the next big hit on the banks!

Why the heck are you paying for a homebuyer survey, if the idiot of a surveyor can't diagnose the reasons for timber and damp problems - he has to recommend a chemical salesman who has NO interest in solving your problems, and a HUGE interest in making money. The moment you see this 'Specialist Timber and Damp survey' - shoot the surveyor, refuse to pay the bill on the grounds of incompetence, and give us a call.

I have a long list of clients who have refused to pay for 'Homebuyer Surveys' because all they have done is recommend chemical salesmen, frequently miss critical issues related to old buildings, and don't cost any of the work needed  They lead you into a purchase that is too expensive. I have several clients who have laid out their last pennies to buy a place, only to find that in one instance they needed to spend another £150,000 completely rebuilding a timber frame.

Most standard homebuyer surveys are by the big chains - the worst offenders in the automatic recommendation of the Property Care Association fraudsters are Countrywide, closely followed by E-Surv and I-Surv.  Why do I say this?  Because I have piles of their surveys - hundreds of complaints from angry and frustrated homebuyers being forced by banks to use these chains for valuation surveys - all recommending timber and damp surveys.  The biggest survey chain have told me they have a multi million pound budget and a room full of lawyers, just to deal with damp liability claims. It's staggering stuff - which could all be avoided with better training and a total ban on 'damp meters'. I've approached them numerous times and offered to train them - to explain why a 'damp meter' is not a damp meter and does not detect damp. To explain why they are effectively party to fraud by recommending a timber and damp salesman who will automatically rip you off.  All of these organisations could easily clean up their act and help Britain's home buyers.  I receive a constant stream of complaints and examples from frustrated buyers and sellers.  All these organisations can do is threaten to bully and sue me.  The simple solution - training - a proper understanding of the real causes of damp (if indeed it exists - which in most cases it does not - it's just salts causing high readings on the 'damp meter' which are nothing to do with damp.)

If ANY so called surveyor walks into your house and waves a 'damp meter' around, chuck him or her out and don't pay them.  It's admission of the most basic lack of any comprehension of the causes of damp or deterioration of building fabric.  

We will undertake a Homebuyer Survey - but not in the standard RICS format. It won't work for an old building.  If your property is built before about 1930, or even looks old - our surveys are focussed on the build technique and materials used, and the way the building would have functioned. We look at the impact that modern builders and materials have had on the building. Our Homebuyer Survey will outline what you will have to do to bring it up to date, the approximate cost, and help you find people to do the work. We'll help you understand the building as well - often we learn a lot about its history as we go around it.

We run a Building Survey and Project Management service. This includes a site survey and assessment, detailed condition report and recommendations, and work specification and schedule if required. This highlights problems found, and ranks them in order of importance - helping with budgeting current and future maintenance. If required, this can be modified to create Listed Building Consent specification and justification. Liaison with conservation officers and planners, and costing and financial control are included.

Surveys of private homes usually cost from £900, depending on the detail required in the report, and the complexity of problems found. We will always give you a firm price beforehand. We charge based on a daily rate, plus expenses at cost. Report writing and liaison with the various Government departments involved is charged at our daily rate, with mileage at cost.. Note that London costs can be higher.  

Building Survey Example 1
Examples of Building Survey report pages. We typically take many photographs, and these are then collated into table form, with appropriate comments. Costs for repair of each highlighted item, together with the importance of the item in terms of schedule and priority can be assigned. A report like this can form the basis for a long-term maintenance schedule for a building, and is also used for preparing Listed Building Consents where needed. In this example, all the work required falls within the scope of 'Essential Repairs' so is not subject to LBC approval so long as the work is done to a high standard, and utilises acceptable standards of workmanship and materials for conservation practise.
Building Survey Example 2
Conservation trained architects work closely with our project manager to produce all the required drawings and paperwork for Listed Building Consents - so frequently required in our work. It is vitally important when undertaking work on listed buildings that the architect involved is familiar with, and fully understands all aspects of conservation and restoration practise - He or she will often find solutions where in some cases, years of planning applications have failed to produce results. We have close ties with structural engineers with relevant experience.

Examples of work undertaken to date include...

Don't think that this list means we only 'do' big places - we've done loads of townhouses, cottages, semis - you name it... Its just nice to put a few names in a list - we all do it.. sounds good!  

  • The Old Rectory - Corley
  • Arbury Hall - Nuneaton
  • Hartlebury Castle - Worcestershire
  • St Catherine's Church - Tugford, Shropshire
  • Georgian townhouse in Edinburgh
  • Devon longhouse
  • Numerous farmhouses and cottages in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Co Durham
  • Numerous buildings formerly part of the Calthorpe Estate, Edgbaston
  • Malvern Girls College, Malvern
  • Wycliffe College School House, Stroud
  • The Old Rectory, Stockton on Teme
  • Grendon Court, Hereford
  • Hurst Hill Methodist Church, Bilston
  • Falkland House, Hightington, Worcester
  • St Michaels and All Angels, Walsall
  • St James and St. Bartholomew, Leek
  • Aston Hall, Aston on Clun
  • St Marys' Church, Brierley Hill
  • Monks Estate, Chaddesley Corbett
  • Medieval Timber Framed farmhouse - Worcestershire
  • Grade 2 listed private cottage - Ridgacre Road, Birmingham
  • Medieval timber framed Hall - Claverley, Shropshire
  • Medieval timber framed Hall - Stafford
  • Various period and listed cottages and houses in the Midlands