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Buying a property that needs renovation... what should I look out for

I have seen a property that I like the look of which looks like it was lived in by an elderly person and so decoration wise needs complete renovation. This would be my second home after selling the ex marital home after divorce and I'm pretty handy at diy. It looks clean and liveable but dated. I'm hoping to arrange a viewing next week but would like advice on what I need to check before going to the expense of a survey:
It's a 1920s house I believe as that was when the estate was built.
I've got:
Check boiler for approx age... I'm guessing a new one will be needed. There are also no radiators in a bedroom (where boiler currently is) and lounge so I'm factoring that in.
Check fuse box for age of wiring. There's a distinct lack of plug sockets so I'm guessing a rewire or partial rewire will be needed.
There's a single flat roof extension on the back but no planning on local council so guessing permitted development... need to check flat roof as may need recovering. I'm guessing building control checks would be a solicitor thing.
Windows and doors are upvc and don't look blown.
Anything else I should be looking out for that I've not considered.  I've been in my current house 15yrs so it's a learning curve again.
Many thanks


  • user1977
    user1977 Posts: 13,271
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    On planning and building control, unless anything has been done in recent years (e.g. how old is the extension?) then consents or lack of them is likely to be irrelevant.
  • daivid
    daivid Posts: 1,197
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    You could try asking the neighbours about what has/hasn't been done, mine knew all the ins and outs of when heating, windows, bathrooms etc had been updated. They may also be candid on any issues the houses suffer (if theirs are similar).
  • Brie
    Brie Posts: 9,214
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    potentially any gas pipes may need to be replaced.  We used to live in a 1930s build and when we had the boiler replaced there was an issue with the gas supply as the old pipes were too small by current standards.  Net result was a new pipe was laid outside the house going from the gas meter around to the back of the house where the bathroom was, with the boiler in the cupboard.  The alternative would have been to tear up the floor in the kitchen and bathroom to follow the original pipework.  
    "Never retract, never explain, never apologise; get things done and let them howl.”
  • Teapot55
    Teapot55 Posts: 719
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    Is there leadwork/ flashing on the roof, ie where the roof meets the chimney(s) or adjoining house(s)? If it’s just cement in the joins it tends to crack and let water in. 

    would've . . . could've . . . should've . . .

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  • daveyjp
    daveyjp Posts: 12,378
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    On a 100 year old property its fabric you need to focus on.  Roof, walls, pointing, chimneys, rainwater goods, soffits, barge boards, external ground level causing damp etc as these are the big cost items.

    Once inside the potential major expense is ceiling replacement and don't forget potential for asbestos.

    Boilers, electrics, kitchens, bathrooms are secondary if the fabric has problems.
  • Albermarle
    Albermarle Posts: 21,043
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    Would be good if you could have a look inside the roof space, to look for any signs of leaks, rot etc.
  • ProDave
    ProDave Posts: 3,608
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    Others have covered the obvious, which basically means is it about to fall down or not.

    But having done a similar renovation on an old house, I would not do it again.

    If you are just concerned with updating the decoration, rewiring, new kitchen and bathroom etc than carry on.  but you will have a shiny newly decorated house with almost no insulation and even with a new gas boiler it will be expensive to heat and is likely to have condensation and mould issues.

    And fast forward to when gas boilers are not available. Depending how long you plan to keep it, by the time your shiny new boiler needs replacing, you won't be able to buy one.  Then the "fun" begins. It will at that point need a lot of updating and extra insulation to make it sensibly work with a heat pump for heating.

    This is my issue with old houses, they WILL need a lot of money spent on them at some point to bring them up to a decent standard.  Most people have their head in the sand on this at the moment and presumably hope it will never happen, or if it does, there will be grants available so they won't have to pay for it themselves. 

    So my view is you should only take on this sort of project if you are prepared to strip it back to a bare shell and renovate thoroughly including wall and floor insulation etc.  But I doubt the price is low enough for that, because the market has not yet got a handle on this issue.

    What I am saying is I would not personally want to be owning a house with a really poor EPC at the moment unless the house was for sale cheap enough to properly reflect the massive amount of work it needs which goes way beyond cosmetics.
  • I bought this 3 bed 1930's bungalow in 2021 and really regret not having a damp/timber survey.  I did have a L3 but surveyors can't lift carpets or move furniture, and the seller had placed furniture strategically.  All floors had to be replaced within six months of me moving in, great disruption and loss of built in features, an unexpected £15K worth of work.  I'll never forgive her as my dog died with a fungus in his nose.  

    I also discovered the 25 year woodworm guarantee was invalid as the company had gone out of business.  
    £216 saved 24 October 2014
  • FreeBear
    FreeBear Posts: 14,234
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    missimaxo said: It's a 1920s house I believe as that was when the estate was built.

    Windows and doors are upvc and don't look blown.
    Depending on the finer points of construction, look for cracks in the brickwork above doors & windows - Properties of this age often used the frames to provide structural support for the outer leaf of brick. FENSA have issued several briefings over the years telling installers to insert lintels where required. Some are still not following this guidance.
    Have a look in the loft - Reed with a lime torching (basically, a cement slapped on top of the reed) was popular in some parts of the country under the tiles. The mortar slowly breaks up, resulting in anything stored in the loft covered in dust and reed. Bitumastic felt was another underlay used. this also breaks down and leaves the underside of the tiles exposed. In both cases, you should budget for a roof strip & retile at a cost of £10K to £25K depending on how many tiles can be reused.
    Whilst looking in the loft, check for insulation - Even if there is some up there, it is worth putting more in.

    A 1920s house could be cavity wall downstairs and solid brick (often with a rendered finish) on the upper half. Nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but well worth insulating the walls upstairs internally. And on the subject of render, look for cracks - They could be indicators of structural issues, and will certainly be allowing rain in which could cause damp problems inside.

    Got a late 1920s semi myself, and slowly working through a long list of renovations & repairs. Just make sure you have enough money to cover the big bills as well as the smaller repair jobs.
    Her courage will change the world.

    Treasure the moments that you have. Savour them for as long as you can for they will never come back again.
  • Thank you for all the helpful comments... gonna make notes and take them with me when I view. The house is empty so fortunately no furniture to hide anything and also no render but I'll defo look at brickwork and flashing/chimneys as suggested as I hadn't considered this. Will also see of I can get in the loft, taking my very tall son who may be able to boost me up if there's no ladder. Everyone has been very helpful and defo given me food for thought. I like the layout as it's a 3 bedroom semi with 3 double bedrooms rather than two and a box and I have two teenage children so the layout suits me better than a new build but I defo plan on upgrading whatever insulation I can. My current house suffered with this but never had the money to throw at it.
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