How to Spot a Good Property: Five Tips to Finding Your Dream Home


Over lockdown, so many city-dwellers have found themselves dreaming of open spaces, green fields, sea views and a simple, good life. Locked down in cities, people are pining for a quieter way of living, being closer to nature and moving away from the hustle and bustle. Remote working and a flexible working week has given many the opportunity to consider moving down to our beautiful county, where before, this would never have been a possibility. The housing market in Cornwall and the South West has never been more competitive, with Newquay in North Cornwall being one of the most sought-after locations in the whole of the United Kingdom. There are many beautiful properties here, but also, there are many properties here that have so much potential to be beautiful, but may not be immediately swish, fancy, homely or cosy at first glance. What with a competitive market, a highly desirable location, wages being a little less than what they were and all of us spending maybe a little more time in our houses, home renovation has never been so necessary! If you’ve found your dream location, but maybe the house is a little on the ‘well-loved’ side, then have no fear! We’re here to tell you what to look out for when buying a house, so you know you’re investing in a building of high quality, even if it doesn’t seem so on a first impression. So here are the five things to look out for when buying a house in Cornwall… Time to wise up!

a blue house in a beautiful garden

  1. Damp

Damp may not seem like a huge problem, but it may be a sign of other problems with the house. Damp is unsightly, persistent, not good for your health, and can be particularly bad for our respiratory systems and can aggravate allergies or asthma. Damp may be a symptom of a leaky roof on a house, that the plumbing is damaged in some way or that the guttering is blocked. Damp could also show that the house is not currently well insulated, has poor or no central heating, or that the rendering and brickwork is in need of repair. Rising damp (where a ‘tide line’ can be seen along walls) will need a qualified and experienced construction worker to solve, so be prepared to invest in good quality builders if the house you’ve fallen in love with has rising damp. Take a note of where the damp is occurring, as that will show you what will need to repair if you choose to move into the house. Telltale signs of damp are mould on the walls and ceilings and in the corners of rooms or skirting boards, flaky paint, watermarks, a musty smell, and possibly the smell of fresh paint (to cover up and mould in the room).


Damp can be a horrible thing to deal with, but with the help of a good builder, no one has to live in a damp property.


  1. Structure of the building


Assessing how structurally sound a building is will require a qualified property surveyor to get a full and honest picture. However, there are some tips and tricks to get a basic idea of the quality of a property. 


Firstly, hairline and small cracks are perfectly normal in older properties and are nothing to be worried about. Hairline cracks can be easily repaired by using plaster. However, large cracks are often a sign of some bigger structural issues, and you should question the estate agents and homeowners about these. Look particularly around bay windows, which can fall away from the rest of the house, the joins between any extension structures such as conservatories, ceilings (particularly under bathrooms, boiler cupboards, en-suites and kitchens), or where a room has been knocked through. This can show if previous renovations have been carried out to a high standard or may need repairing.


Once again, there aren’t many structural problems that can’t be solved, but you will need to be aware of the added cost of buying a house that is in need of significant repairs. 


  1. Roofing

Roofs are often what will need replacing most urgently in many houses that have been built in the last fifty years, as roofs built in the late 20th Century and later, are only designed to last maybe 20 years. A good quality roof that is repaired and looked after well by the homeowners will be built with durable materials, and all building work will have been carried out to FMB standards. Ask about the materials that have been used to roof the house, particularly if it is a flat roof, as old methods of using asphalt or gravel can leave the roof vulnerable. Contemporary roofing techniques use more resistant and better quality materials, and use membranes to seal the flat roof in place.


  1. Plumbing


Older properties or ‘fixer-upper’ homes are certainly characterful and charming, but may need new plumbing so as to avoid big bills, and getting damp and cold. Also be aware that older properties may have lead pipes, which are now illegal and can lead to serious health problems. Make sure to ask about the plumbing materials. You can test pipe material by scraping a pipe with something sharp such as a knife or a screwdriver. If the metal turns from matte to shiny, you will need to replace the pipes as they are probably made from lead. A water tank in the attic is usually a good sign that the plumbing in a property may be old and in need of repair. Additionally, you should always run the taps and shower on every floor to check the pressure and temperature of the water, and check that the radiators work in every room. Also, make sure that the flush works on every toilet, and that it drains well. Check the stop tap to make sure you can quickly turn the water on and off in an emergency. The stop tap is often under the sink or in a cupboard under the stairs. Look at the boiler’s service history and make sure you are aware of any problems. One of the biggest property expenditures can be a new boiler, so be aware of the price of heating the home you love! Don’t be afraid to be nosy and cautious in a house viewing; this is a big decision you’re making after all!


  1. Electrics

Having enough electricity points so you can safely charge all your gadgets, as well as plugging in all white goods such as fridges, freezers, washers, ovens, dishwashers etc, is absolutely vital for living comfortably. Putting in new sockets and rewiring a house is another big cost that you will have to get an expert electrician in for, so be prepared to pay for this if there are not enough power points in the property you want to buy. Again, check the property’s survey to see what kind of condition the wiring is in, as unsafe electricity can cause shocks and fires in the home. 


  1. Bonus tip: Check for ghosties!


Old houses in Devon and Cornwall have a reputation for being some of the most haunted in the country, so do be sure to hire a good quality ghostbuster (a service we currently don’t provide.) 

So there you have it. Five of the main ways to tell the quality and state of repair that a house is in. Pretty much any house can be made beautiful and comfortable, but it takes an experienced construction team to renovate an older home. Houses in need of repair are lovely projects to take on, can be cheaper to buy and you can customise them to your lifestyle and tastes. Be wise, ask questions and be prepared to invest in good quality workmanship for the home of your dreams!