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What’s a Desk-top Survey!

So you’ve found that dream property and you are really excited about it! Before you launch into making an offer, there are things it is worth checking yourself. In our first ever blog, we urged you to take advantage of free resources on offer and conduct your own desk-top research. First, look in the British Coal Mining Archives to find out whether there are mines below your prospective home that could cause expensive subsidence. Next, go to the Environment Agency website to check for the likelihood of flooding with its implications for insurance cover. Yes, even for new-build properties !

What more do we do?

Generations of surveyors have commented in reports that they do no research into the environmental or geographical locations of the properties that they survey. This has been left to the Legal Adviser to undertake. When most property conveyancing was done by a local solicitor who probably even knew the road, that was fine.

However, nowadays conveyancing a property can be done from anywhere. Hence the Legal Adviser may not know the geography or even the relevance of some of the surveyor’s comments, so cannot adequately advise their client. This was recently highlighted in an RICS CPD roadshow –  the swallow/sink holes in a roadway could have been spotted with some desktop work by the surveyor.

Our watchwords are “always use a local Surveyor”!  They know the vernacular style of the buildings and the likely environmental issues of the areas in which they work. As part of our professional indemnity insurance, we must not undertake more than 25% of our work outside a 25-mile radius.

Historical Map data

We start with historical map data, which provides brilliant insight into when the property was constructed. This indicates the original materials that would have been used and the style in which it was built. This is particularly useful if it happens to be a ‘listed building’, designated of special interest by Historic England. If it (or an attached property) is listed (check the Listed Buildings website!), it should be maintained in the same condition as when it was listed. So you can’t just rip out those draughty wooden sash windows and replace them with UPVC double glazing! You will need Planning Consent for any such proposed alterations. The maps can show the shape of the structure over successive decades – is that an extension or original to the building?

Map data also shows what was on the site prior to the house being built. This can indicate the geology to some extent. In Bristol for example there were numerous clay pits, which would have been back filled. Was one beneath your prospective home? If so, were the workings deep and what were they back filled with? These are not shown on traditional coal mining reports but can still cause subsidence.

Aerial imagery

When we think of aerial imagery, we immediate think of Google Earth.  This is great resource and normally you can find images in Bristol dating back to 2012. You can see what has been altered recently and view the condition of flat roofing over the years.

There are also on-line aerial images dating back to 1946 which clearly show bomb damage to some houses we have surveyed in the past. One property appeared to be genuine Edwardian. We checked the on-line images. Then we were able to tell the client that it had been completely rebuilt in the 1950s and it was demolished due to bomb damage in the war.

The Environment Agency

This is an excellent source of free information. The website shows flooding from rivers and seas and also the likelihood of surface water flooding. This was a driver of the Hull floods and happens in the most unlikely of places, even on hillsides. They also map potential floods from reservoirs which is important given the recent issues with Toddbrook Reservoir. And if the property is located in a flood-plain, you may have difficulty in obtaining buildings insurance cover. This is worth considering as our weather seems to be getting more violently stormy.

British Coal Mining Archives

This is a free resource that will tell you if the property is located in a mine reporting area where a further CON 29 mining search would be recommended. Subsidence can be very costly and again, be detrimental to your insurance cover.

The Council

Many councils run their own mapping service. Is the property in a Conservation Area? If so, there will be restrictions on what you and your neighbours can do. The Bristol maps show some of the bombing raids.  In Bath they even give refuse collection dates!

Land Registry

You can often find out what the property was last sold for via zoopla.  You can also find out from the Land Registry for £3, as long as the date was in the last twenty years. This search will also tell you the name of the owner(s) which may be useful for leasehold/managed apartments. Details of boundaries etc are also available although for a small fee; your Legal Adviser should advise on these.

Do It Yourself?

We think our desktop work is amongst the best around. You can do it most of it yourself but it takes time and some interpretation to produce comprehensive, accurate information. We will happily do it for you as part of our Building Survey product. It can save you heartache and money if this is done in the early stages, before you run up substantial legal fees.