Category Archives: Owning or Renting a Property


My family home was flooded in 2007 and I speak from personal experience regarding the topic. It is an issue that can be prone to emotive reactions. Flooding, though, is a risk and, like all risks, the likely impact of flooding on a property needs to be assessed from facts. Heresay and second hand reports aren’t a great source.


This checklist will help you structure your research so that you can build your knowledge of the property with respect to this important area of concern. It will also help direct you to appropriate professionals whose advice will be essential to help to take appropriate actions and decisions.





1 Establish whether there is a pattern to flooding throughout the history of the property or whether it was a unique event.


DATA SOURCES – current owner’s insurers; local history records and local historians; environment agency records


2 The Environment Agency grades the risk of properties on a flood risk map. This will tell you their opinion of the likely reoccurrence. The map bases risk on the chance of it happening in a period of a year – this is presented as a percentage (eg 1% or 1 in 100)


DATA SOURCE – Environment agency website



3 Maps detailing groundwater and watercourses may help identify additional sources of water that could contribute to flooding.


DATA SOURCE – Environment Agency ; British Geological Survey groundwater flooding data; and insurers, eg Norwich Union’s flood data.






It is important to understand how flooding occurred in the past and whether measures have been taken that would protect against similar forms of flooding in the future.



4 Check Local Reports and Flood Alleviation Initiatives


DATA SOURCE – Local Authorities will produce a report on the flooding (in association with the Environment Agency) and there should be Local Council Reports (possibly published minutes of meetings) that demonstrate progress.


5 Check quality of maintenance to watercourses, ditches etc.


6 You could ask a specialist to carry out a flood risk assessment. These combine advice on preventative measures with advice on damage limitation. Typically, they would look at the follow list of information, much of which you will already have available


Location plan with new property clearly demarcated.


Site plan showing existing ground levels and proposed floor levels relative to Ordnance Datum.


Cross-section of site together with river levels.


Details of flood alleviation measures.


Probability and magnitude of flooding.


The need for mitigation measures, such as raising ground levels, use of flood barriers etc.


Drainage impacts, including details of any increased surface run-off and how this can be attenuated.


The source of the flooding.


Details of existing information on flooding.


DATA SOURCE – The Environment Agency may give advice in this regard or there are commercial firms listed on the internet who provide this form of specialist report.



7 Property-specific flood defences.


Check whether there are defences that will reasonably provide protection against the flooding that affected the property last time. These may include measures such as external barriers to door openings, airbricks etc; protective membranes to external walls; drainage systems; hard landscaping to divert surface water; sump pumps etc.


DATA SOURCE – many firms provide these products and will give free assessments. (Remember they have products to sell).


It’s always best to have your property surveyed by a professional before implementing measures to ensure that they are appropriate for your situation.







8 Establishing insurance cover.


The first option is to check whether you can maintain continuity of insurance cover with the same company as the current owners. You will be able to confirm the premium they pay and the amount of cover that buys.


Alternatively, you can find brokers who specialise in cover for flood affected property (most general insurers won’t instigate new cover within 5 years of a large claim). Details should be available through the Association of British Insurers (ABI). Insurers operate quite differently and some research is well worthwhile.


Posted by Peter Bray BSc FRICS CBuildE CABE


(Please note that Spencer Bray does not carry responsibility for or warrant advice given to you by any of the sources listed)


Stonework was used by the Romans with brick as a regular building material. Since then, it has been used to convey wealth, status and beauty. As a natural material, stone will be one of three basic forms – igneous (molten magma that has cooled and solidified – eg granite); metamorphic (rocks pressured or heated – eg marble or slate); or sedementary (layers deposited over time – limestones and sandstones).


When constructed, stonework is either dressed with narrow jointing and smooth finish (an ashlar stone); or laid in more random fashion with uneven course sizes. It is important with stone to ensure that it is bedded correctly. The layers of the stone should normally run horizontally as they would have done when it was formed. This makes it more resistant to the layers breaking off.


The porosity of stonework affects its ability to endure. Often stone will deteriorate through the effects of salts. these can be deposited on the surface of the stone or can crystallize in the stone’s pores which can lead to damage. Acid in the rain will also cause problems particularly in limestone. Frost attack will also damage surfaces where water ingress has been possible – surfaces exposed to consitent weathering are particularly prone.


Mistakes with stonework often involve applying a strong cement based pointing. Although it is strong, it is less permeable than, for example, more lime based mortars and it can force water to evaporate through the stone. This can accelerate damage. 


It is important with stonework to ensure that diagnosis of issues is accurate and that repairs are appropriate. If properly maintained, however, it can be an enduring material that adorns some of our finest buildings.   




In the words of the well-known football commentator, this is ‘a game of two halves’. When it comes to Japanese Knotweed, there is definitely some good news and equally some bad news.


The bad news is that, as weeds go, Japanese Knotweed is something of a bully. It can lay dormant for years, but when it grows, it can extend a metre in a month and can cause damage to a range of materials, even concrete surfaces. If you leave the weed to develop, it is likely to affect your neighbours. It is an offence to allow the weed to grow unchecked.


The good news, though, is that If you have Japanese Knotweed in your plot, it can be treated and controlled. Often this takes more than one treatment. There is a code of practice that details how knotweed should be managed and disposed of. Contractors who dispose of the waste should be registered with the Environment Agency. There is now good advice available from many sources as to how you can control and, ultimately, eradicate it.


Spencer Bray can help you find a good specialist if you face this problem.  



Most surveyors will not comment too much on gas supply. Most don’t test appliances. This is best left to the specialists. In this case, they will be contractors who are on the ‘Gas – Safe’ Register.


Gas explosions, thankfully, are rare, but they are often tragic in their consequences.


When surveyors recommend a test of gas supply, therefore, it is always worthwhile having this completed before you exchange contracts.



Maintaining your Home

A ‘stitch in time’ is never more appropriate than with reference to the maintenance of buildings.


During my career, I have seen many serious and expensive problems that stem from neglecting routine, basic repairs. I remember one case in particular where there was extensive dry rot. The source was linked to a rainwater downpipe that had failed and had been spilling water for some years. The rot cost tens of thousands to make good – the downpipe could have been fixed for less than £50.


On a less dramatic note, keeping our properties in good shape does help them perform their basic functions well. Providing a safe and watertight environment for us to enjoy is what we want them to do. So, regularly cleaning gutters to stop them blocking and overspilling, repairing areas where pointing is erroding, repairing or replacing softened window frames all have an importance.


If you have a report fron Spencer Bray, it will come with a guide that gives you basic maintenance items that you need to carry out each year – you can tick them off when done. 


If you have any doubts whether there might be things you should be doing, why not ask a surveyor to take a look and advise you – it would mean a modest outlay but could save much more. 


Posted by Peter Bray FRICS CBuildE. CABE

Extensions and Conversions

Extensions are one of the simplist ways of enlarging and enhancing your property.


When considering an extension you will need to determine whether you require Building Regulation and/or Planning Permission. There is very helpful and clear guidance to this now online via the government’s website – see


There may be additional factors to consider if your property lies in a Conservation Area or if the property is Listed. If in doubt you should consult a surveyor experienced in such matters or consult the local authority.


A good architect is also key to ensuring that the design of your extension is in keeping with the overall aim you have for you property and that it will add the value you hope. Many architects and extension design firms will offer free consultations so that you can use their thoughts and experience in your own planning.

Private Drainage

If you don’t have access to mains drainage, then you are likely to have a cesspit or septic tank.

Septic Tank : this is essentially a mini swerage treatment plant. It works by slowing down the flow of wastes through the tank so that the solid seperates and is anaerobically digested and purified by bacteria. Usually, there are two tanks so that the solid left behind and a clearer liquid flows on. Eventually, this discharges into a disposal field where it leaches into the soil.


Cesspit : a more basic arrangement (in essence a holding tank) where  solids and organic matter are retained, though liquids are allowed to pass direct into the soil.


Both tanks need to be emptied on a regular basis and careful maintenance is essential to keeping the drainage runs clear. Renewal of these systems can be expensive so getting good advice is important.

Settlement and Subsidence

Many properties are affected by structural movement, even more display cracking of some kind. Differentiating between the cosmetic and structurally significant is the job of surveyors and engineers and is a vital part of knowing what you will need to do (and spend) to keep your property in good shape.


Many ask what the difference is between settlement and subsidence, so here’s an offering of two definitions :


Settlement – this refers to the settling of a building’s foundations you could look here. Typically, it is the fact that different parts of the foundations move to different degrees that causes damage in the building’s structure.


This can happen for a number of reasons, though in private dwellings, failed drainage which washes away soil around parts of foundations is a very common cause.


Subsidence –  this generally accepted as being the downward movement of the subsoil on which a building sits. Unlike settlement, this is unconnected to the weight of the building to force it down (ie the soil would have sunk even if there had been no property on it).


Subsidence can be caused by things such as mines, underground waterworks, consolidation of landfill etc.





Electrics are essential to modern living and to many of the comforts and appliances that it would be hard to do without. Maintained in good order, it is a resource that we daily take for granted. If it fails, it can cause fires or shock. Regular testing (now advised at each change of ownership) is essential. For landlords, there will be a duty of care to ensure that electrics of their properties are properly maintained and safe.


Most domestic properties have been on single phase supply and circuits comprise live, neutral and earth. Live carries the power, neutral completes the circuit, and earth provides the protection of diverting faulty current safely away.


In 2005, it was made a requirement that electrical work in buildings, plus garages and outbuildings should comply with the standards laid down in the Wiring Regulations. This meant that a qualified electrician should complete the work. You should look for an electrician to be NICEIC registered. Anyone attempting DIY work would need to be approved on a Competent Person Self-Certification scheme or submit a building notice application to the local authority to advise them of what work is to be carried out.





My father was in the Navy and it, on visits on board, it was quite a common sight to see ‘fluffy’ and textured asbestos insulation wrapped around pipework. Today, its presence is likely to be more subtle, though you would be surprised to find out how widely it has been used. 


For example, asbestos content is to be found in some roof slates; artex type ceiling and wall finishes; certain types of floor tiles; asbestos composites such as bath panels, WC cisterns, etc;


It is important not to react emotively to the thought that this potentially harmful material may be present – in most cases, and when managed appropriately, asbestos in a domestic property should offer minimal risk. 


It is essential, however, that you correctly identify what is there and for that you will need to have the opinion and help of a specialist or a surveyor, or other professional, who is competent in such matters. They will make an assessment of the material and advise you as to what action is appropriate. Disposal of asbestos is expensive and needs specialist input, but in many cases, you will be advised how to treat the material to avoid any health risks.