Buyer Beware! - Structural Engineers Reports

12th June 2018

Andy Walton

The majority of Structural Engineers Reports that are undertaken by Byrom Clark Roberts are done through the process of a property sale. This is usually, but not always, at the request of the purchaser and is either as a result of issues highlighted in a Valuation/Homebuyer’s Report or merely as a peace of mind exercise.

We were recently appointed to look at a property and instructed to pick up the keys from a property auctioneers in the city centre. Not a common situation but not unknown, inspections are sometimes made of houses that have been repossessed and are then to be sold on at auction.

On arrival at the subject property, it was apparent that something was seriously amiss. The house was an end-terraced dwelling but had clearly not been so originally; the tell-tale signs of works to convert what was formerly a party wall into a gable wall were evident. A noticeably newer detached house was present on the plot next door.

The front elevation of the property had a marked lean towards what was now the gable elevation and, upon entering the house, there were distinct distortions all sloping in this same direction. Some extremely crude attempts had been made to try and straighten the wayward now gable wall. The rear elevation was even more out of level than the front was.

The postcode area of the site is known to contain historic localised areas of backfilled quarrying and a quick check of the Local Authority planning website revealed that a recommendation had previously been given for the formerly end house and this one to be demolished and rebuilt on account of the distortions. A report on the planning website had advised that the distortions were most likely caused by this end of the terrace having been built over such a quarry. A record also existed for the works to dismantle the end house and rebuild it.

At around this time, our client turned up. He had not seen the property before. We strongly advised him not to purchase the property at auction, he would struggle to get a mortgage or insurance on it and may have problems selling it on in the future. ‘Too late’ the client says ‘I bought it at auction last week’. He had merely seen the photographs on the Auctioneer’s website.

He had got himself a bargain though, around half the going price of similar more vertical houses on the street. The house probably needs to be demolished and rebuilt on a new foundation piled to the depth of the bottom of the quarry fill; the overall cost of this would probably work out similar to the market value of the property alone, adding to the overall cost of the house. 

The moral of this tale is that if something is too good to be true, it is probably worth at least getting the keys and opening the front door beforehand!


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