An old house has many qualities that makes it special. Even a humble cottage will have little touches of craftsmanship that give it individuality. It might be carved stonework, an original Victorian tiled fireplace or perfectly proportioned sash windows. Combined with the patina of age, this richness of detail gives old properties character, not to mention the stories of those who’ve lived there over the centuries.
At Redbrik we’ve certainly marketed our fair share of period properties from cottages to manor houses, and even a windmill! Although we love these often unique and charming homes, there can be challenges ahead for the buyer of these much-loved homes.
Damp is the first thing to look for and you may even smell it. From the outside, note any damage to the roof which might be allowing water in. Gutters and downpipes that are blocked or broken should ring warning bells. Similarly, plant growth on walls can indicate areas of damp. Inside, look behind curtains, under carpets and into cupboards for signs of damp and, if possible, investigate the roof space for further signs.
Cracks, bulging walls, sloping floors or crooked windows or doors are always a concern and might indicate serious structural issues. These may be due to historic settlement or – more of a cause for concern – decay within the structure or subsidence, possibly caused by nearby trees or damaged drains.
Understanding the structure of the building is vital if you’re planning on renovation. Some properties that appear to be brick are, in fact, timber frame, while render coatings may cover a whole variety of materials. Never assume that, because one part of a wall is of a certain material, the whole house is the same: often a wide variety of materials are found in one building.
Look out for original features and consider replacing any modern additions that do not fit with the character of the building. Equally, be wary of shoddy repairs and alterations – quick fixes such as the use of cement mortars and renders can cause problems in houses built with traditional breathable materials.
Although problems with an old building can seem daunting, there is plenty of specialist advice and help on hand. If you are in any doubt about the health of the property before you buy, commission a specialist survey. This will then inform all subsequent work. Where necessary, enlist the help and advice of experts. For conservation experts in your area, contact SPAB or your local council’s building conservation officer. If the building is listed, also speak to the conservation officer to find out what might and might not be allowed via the planning process when you apply for listed building consent. Once you are armed with this necessary information, you should then gain any necessary planning permissions.
Period properties can certainly be a labour of love but a beautifully renovated old home or one with lots of original features will always be a sound investment. These old buildings say so much about the communities around them and the people who’ve enjoyed them. With a little tender loving care they can remain in our communities and in our hearts for many years to come.