Advice from a builder: 7 things to always look out for while viewing a house

This article was first published on as part of the Home Truths series in partnership with Bank of Ireland. Publication of this article is not seen as an endorsement of the content by Bank of Ireland.

What to look out for and what to avoid

We’ve spoken to experts at the heart of the house-buying process, to give you the vital information you’ll need to take a confident step on the property ladder. Here we’re tackling the world of home viewings, with insight from builder Anthony Clancy, owner of Clancon Build.

"For the average buyer, it can be extremely difficult to spot the potentially pricey issues that can lie within each nook and cranny in a home – especially without the expertise of a builder behind you. Whether you’re after an Edwardian redbrick or a slick, contemporary apartment – here is the builder’s inside track on how to pick (and create) the perfect home, with no nasty surprises.

1. Bring a second pair of eyes

For the last two years, Clancy has noticed a growing trend with his clients: before they even make an offer, they will ask him to go along to a viewing. Having a builder at a viewing can be beneficial in two distinct ways: "Firstly, it’s to give them a rough ballpark on potential costs of buying a house that will need work. Then we give them as much guidance as we can about the problems that can pop up – this helps to make their final decision as to whether to buy one property over another." But shouldn’t a surveyor be enough? "A good rule of thumb would be to get a builder and a surveyor", says Clancy. He argues that surveyors’ reports can give a lot of prominence to fixable problems that are often typical to the age and type of house.

2. Look for these warning signs (and vents)

Once a builder steps in the door, they will be on the lookout for things that buyers may miss. Some of these can cost big bucks in the long run – for example damp and poor ventilation, the most common problems he encounters: "The first thing you’d look for is rising damp or damp around the ground floor walls, along with woodworm in the house in general. If you see signs of mould or poor ventilation such as condensation on the windows, a vent would have to be added into a window or wall." Spot a big crack in the wall? Don’t panic. Clancy says that "some cracks can be there fifty years and nine times out of 10, builders will have no problem fixing them."

3. Don’t forget that grants may be available

Buying an older home can carry costs. But there is one advantage, says Clancy, and that’s the SEAI grant, which helps to fund insulation inside and outside houses. This offers up to €6,900 if you opt for external and internal insulation.

Along with insulation costs, the SEAI also covers heating costs, so that you can upgrade inefficient boilers that may currently heat the house: "A lot of old houses have old gas boilers, which means that you’ll spend a lot more on bills. You could instead upgrade to an oil boiler and the SSIA will give you a grant of about €700.”

4. Remember that some building issues can be used as a bargaining tool

Reckon the house might need unexpected, major building work? That could actually work in your favour, depending on how far along you are in the sale, says Clancy: "If the sale has gone through a few stages and an extension is beyond repair, you can go to an auctioneer to reduce the cost. In one house there was a bit of asbestos spotted and we had to take down a ceiling – so it was used it as a tool to reduce the price. The sale had gone on so far that the seller wasn’t in a position to delay the sale." Similarly, the extension in another home Clancy had advised on had to be knocked down because of poor foundations. Visiting the auctioneer with a surveyor, Clancy negotiated that the price needed to be reduced even after ‘sale agreed’ sign went up."

5. Need planning permission? Look around the area for an idea of what is possible

Hoping to build an extension on a cosy Georgian house for your bustling family? Well, it may not be that simple says Clancy: "It depends on the area but if you have a really old redbrick house in a protected area it may be difficult to get a two-storey extension for example. If there is one a few doors up or a few doors down, there’s precedence and it may be easier." Generally, extensions must tie in with the other houses on the street, so getting planning permission for a driveway on a road with paid parking for instance could be difficult. In general, Clancy says changing the front of a house may be challenging so plan for the back.

6. If you’re calculating costs, ask for an itemised list of all of the work to be done

Worried about the costs of a builder spilling into your mortgage repayments? It’s very reasonable to ask for an itemised list of all of the work to be carried out, down to each individual socket to be installed, states Clancy: “An electrician charges me per socket so it’s quite a common thing to ask for that level of detail. When giving a quote, builders should include every last detail they can think of. With that, sometimes a price can be reduced at the end if there are a few bits not needed."

7. When you’re choosing a builder, talk to previous clients and experts

When selecting a builder, most buyers will consider talking to a previous client. However, the client that you do speak to should be one that you choose, says Clancy: "Go onto their site, pick out a job you like and ask the builder if they can pass you on the details of that client to make contact. Sometimes if a builder recommends a client it can be for a reason – that they got on well with one and not another. You should be able to pick any job." Clancy estimates that around 60-70% of all of his business comes from word of mouth and that if you do talk to a previous client it’s important to ask them the right questions: "The more detailed the questions, the better. Things like – do they turn up on time? How big is their workforce? Do they stay onsite for the day or go to other jobs? If a builder says 6-8 weeks, does it overrun?"

Clancy’s last bit of advice for home buyers?

Have a five year plan to get the house to where you want it to be. There’s no point never having money to get the house to how you want it to be. You need to be able to get it into a reasonable condition.

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