“It’s been there for 200 years, it will be there for the next 50,” you will often here someone say when justifying their decision not to get a survey.
Chartered building surveyor Martin Rushton, however, knows the weakness of this argument.
“Twenty-five years in the architectural and building surveying fields have shown me how wrong that statement can be,” he says.
“Yes, there are many old buildings that are hundreds of years old and some will still be here in a few hundred years time.
“However,” adds Martin, who has set up Surveyors in France to provide British buyers with the kind of professional surveys they expect in the UK housing market, “an old building (in fact any building) needs to be looked after correctly to ensure that it stays in a sound condition.”
The problem can be that many buildings are constructed in such a way (or with certain materials) as to make this ‘looking after’ quite a liability for the owner. Indeed, some things that need to be done may be far from apparent and because of this, considerable damage can occur before it is actually seen and obvious, by which time serious, expensive and disruptive remedial works are necessary.
In all eras of buildings there are inherent weaknesses, says Martin – defects waiting to manifest as problems. Then, of course, there is what the owners end up doing to them and the attacks that the natural world can throw at them – fungus, insects, floods, radon gas, earth tremors etc.
Lisa Feay, co-ordination centre manager of Surveyors in France, says: “The attitude of the French is perhaps a little different from the British, but as the property market here in France evolves and property is seen more as an investment than just somewhere to live, we think that this French point of view will change.”
She adds that a French estate agent recently said to her that 10 years ago a crack in the building was somewhere to put the junk mail, while a really big crack became a window. But now the French are taking a different view and the drought of 2003 certainly made many stop and think as cracks began to appear in previously apparently sound walls.
Martin has noted that since undertaking his first survey in France back in the early 1990’s, the trend in house prices in all regions of France has been on the up. Over the past five years, some regions have seen dramatic double-figure price inflation and the upward trend looks set to continue for several years.
Lisa says that with the increase in prices comes closer scrutiny by the buyers of what they are actually spending their hard-earned money on. Some buyers are still being caught out, though, and are paying top prices for problem properties with defects such as subsidence, damp, high maintenance costs, dangerous features and so on. Unfortunately many have jumped in feet first and have ended up with a renovation project that they can’t manage or afford.
So where does this leave those who are looking for their dream home in France?
“Vulnerable,” says Martin. “Many nightmare properties are still being bought by unsuspecting buyers, who are lulled into a false sense of security by frequent comments such as ‘here in France we don’t have surveys done’ and ‘building surveyors don’t exist in France’.
“This is simply not true,” he continues, “and it’s exactly what Surveyors in France is designed to address. Our chartered building surveyors are French residents and are registered exclusively in France, and in addition they are bi-lingual, familiar with French construction techniques and ancient buildings, French culture and bureaucracy.”