Ok, so you have found a suitable property to buy. So did we at the beginning of the year. We had finally, after a long search found the property we wanted to buy. We made sure to have experts at hand to check the most fundamental aspects such as structure, piping, and wiring. However, even after all the due diligence, issues keep popping up. Some are easily resolved, others present more of a challenge.
So here the ten things I have learned to look out for when buying a property. You can check most of them on your first visits, others will go unnoticed for some time. Especially if you are buying a property in need of a lot of renovation.
1. Electric wiring [i]
Unless you have the proper equipment, checking for wiring should be done by an expert who not only will have a multimeter but who will also be able to tell the state of the wiring. In our case, the wiring was very outdated and all needed to be replaced and rewired throughout the entire apartment to get it up to recent safety standards and to make it more efficient saving money in the long run.
2. Water pipes and plumbing
Same as with electric wiring, you are best advised to consult an expert who is able to assess the state of the plumbing and piping system. In our case, the previous owner did not bother much with plumbing. We thus had to allocate the biggest chunk of our budget on the new electric wiring and new plumbing.
This is a rather easy one to test for. Hold your hands near the walls, doors, and windows to see how much air is flowing through little cracks or between windows and doors and their respective frames. Another thing to check for is the thickness of the walls. You don’t want to hear your neighbor’s getting busy or feel that you have to whisper or lower your TV to avoid upsetting your neighbors. We, for instance, put in hanging ceilings and enforced the walls to both insulate against the cold and noise. Even though this adds a couple of thousands to your budget, it will be worth it in the long run as neither do you or your neighbors and the heating bills are greatly reduced. From an investment point of view, it will help to keep good tenants in your property, as with lower heating costs and noise levels come happier tenants.
4. Windows (Cost to replace them)
This is a very easy one. You will not only see but also feel the state of your windows. You can check for the insulation as above, but a quick glance will give you an indication on how expensive it might be to replace them. For instance, our apartment came with very old French windows that are sold for hundreds of Euros on the antique market. However, with all the renovations and safety features we put in place, we decided to replace them with up-to-date windows. While the windows look stunningly beautiful, the came with a heavy price tag. In fact, their price was a multiple of regular rectangular windows. Ours had to be custom made. But it was worth it.
However, when looking at properties, it is something very important to consider, as the more extraordinary the windows, the more you are likely having to pay to replace them.
5. Heating and water system (Gas versus electricity)
These are very important aspects to assess before buying your new property. The manner in which your property is heated will have a significant influence on upkeep costs. In our case we had the choice between hydronic (water) or electric radiators. While we both have had very positive experiences with hydronic, it would have required us to have pipes installed across the apartment.
Likewise the way in which you heat the water in the apartment. We initially considered gas heating (which was initially installed in our apartment), but after some calculations and expert advice realized that having a purely electric system will, while initially a few hundred Euros more expensive, amortize within a few years. A gas system would have cost a few hundred Euros per year in obligatory regulatory checks.
In addition, we decided that if we were to rent out the apartment, electricity will prove much safer than gas: from cooking accidents to potential gas leakages.
6. Door frames
It may sound rather strange to point out door frames as an item on the check list when buying an apartment, but we had to learn the exhausting way that it warped door frames not only take up financial, but largely timely resources.
After spending weeks on refurbishing the beautiful old glass panel doors in the apartment and plastering the walls to turn the rough diamond into a beautiful gem, we started noticing that the doors failed to shut properly. Some of the doors initially closed perfectly, became warped after we had installed the radiators.
The door to the bathroom was lacking entirely and even though we had measured it before purchasing a new one, it still did not fit due to the previous owner changing the height of the hinges for an unknown reason.
7. Doors (Can you reuse them)
When we first visited the apartment we saw its amazing potential and charm. Part of it was the two beautiful glass panel doors. Resembling a scene from a romantic Parisian fairytale, neither had been treated with much love over the years. But while one was in still decent condition, the other one showed signs of a tough life. Big chunks were cut out for no apparent reason, a mix of colors smeared all over the wood and glass. It took a lot of imagination to see a second life for the door. Simply replacing the door would have cost up to four figures. In lieu, renovating the doors would have been very time intensive.
To us, however, it was less about the saving, but preserving this beautiful door that held so much history. In the long run it is what will add value to both potential renters and buyers. For you it’s the clothes you wear that makes you look a billion bucks, for a property it is the features that adds value in people’s eyes. And not only that, everyday I look at the doors it warms my heart that they now enjoy a second life and that we get to enjoy their beauty.
8. Water in wall/structure [ii]
This one is one of the most difficult to determine. One of the first things we did when visiting the apartment was to test the walls for humidity. We checked by gliding our hands across the walls, using the smell and visual tests as well as a moisture meter. Yet despite all that, we found ourselves with a moist wall at the end of the summer with the first heavy rain.
I can not emphasize enough how important it is to check for structural issues. Some cracks are too little to be spotted before, but just something to look out for, even though it is difficult to avoid completely.
9. Walls (Gaining space and value)
This is such a positively surprising element of purchasing a property. It is in fact possible to add value to your property simply by creating more space through better plastering and moving a wall.
When we moved the kitchen wall and redid the bathroom wall, we noticed that there were multiple layers of various materials. The previous owners, instead of putting in the effort of plastering properly, over the years merely smeared layer upon layer of different materials onto the walls. In the process or redoing the walls using proper plaster, we gained more than half a square meter.
In financial terms this meant adding a few thousand to the value of our property and potential rental income.
This is one of the most prominent features and can save you a bucketload of money. One of the first things we take notice of when entering someone’s property is their flooring. It is intensely prominent as it occupies the entire space we stand and walk on. Flooring in need of redoing can be expensive. If you have to cement the floor, retile the entire floor, put in a new floor heating system, or lay new parquet can be very costly.
Thus, when you visit your new property ensure you will not have to endure expensive construction work and that the existing can, ideally, be reused. Whether this is restoring the parquet, cleaning and applying protective coating to your tiles or simply have to replace old carpets, checking the floor can save you hundreds and thousands.
A nice floor also adds this extra special feature to your property that will pay off manifold when selling or renting your property.