The 10 worst nightmares for homeowners
Buying a new home can be extremely exciting, and sometimes a bit stressful, so it is usually a relief to finally pick up the keys to your property on moving day.
But for some unlucky homebuyers the worry begins after they step over the threshold, when they encounter all sorts of nasty surprises.
Below are 10 of the worst culprits for turning your dream home into a property nightmare:
1. Japanese knotweed
This pesky plant can rapidly take over your garden – it can grow by 10cm a day, and just 1cm of underground stem can produce a new plant in 10 days.
Even worse is the damage Japanese knotweed can do to your house once it penetrates the walls. Tarmac and concrete prove no barrier and this scourge of the suburbs can bring down walls and erode foundations, as well as causing flooding by blocking water pipes. In the worst cases homeowners have been told they need to demolish their entire home and rebuild it.
If you want to dispose of Japanese knotweed you need to contact your Local Authority to find out where you can safely dump it.
2. Rat infestation
A rat infestation is seriously unpleasant, costly and damaging to your home – and even your health.
Rats carry diseases such as salmonella, e.coli, and tuberculosis as well as carrying fleas, mites and ticks, so they are both bad for us, and our pets.
Even if you only see rats in your garden, you need to deal with them quickly to stop them entering your home. They can get into very small spaces – 1cm holes are big enough for baby rats – so block up all holes to your property and check your pipework, as rats will also enter your home from sewers if you have broken pipes.
Tell-tale signs of rats are scratching noises, sausage-shaped droppings, a smell of ammonia, ripped food packaging, and gnawed wires and cables, which can also be a potential fire risk.
Ever wish that the ground would just swallow you up? Well, that's exactly what subsidence does to your home, and it isn't pleasant.
Subsidence usually happens in areas where there has been previous mining activity or where properties have been built on clay soils. According to Which? up to 70% of subsidence cases are caused by tree roots sucking the moisture out of the soil. It can also be caused by water leaks washing the soil away beneath your property.
Signs of subsidence include cracking plasterwork or brickwork, sticking windows and doors and rippling wallpaper (which isn't due to damp). A bad case of subsidence may mean your home requires underpinning, which can cost thousands, or even tens of thousands of pounds, but there are often cheaper solutions available.
Avoid buying a house with subsidence in the first place by getting a full structural survey done before you buy.
Heave is the opposite problem to subsidence, but just as damaging and potentially expensive to rectify.
It refers to the expansion or swelling of the soil beneath your home, which basically pushes your property, or part of it, upwards.
It is often caused when trees with a high water demand, like oak trees, are removed from around your property and therefore the clay soil becomes wetter and swells. Leaking drains can cause the same problem.
Again, a good surveyor would spot a heave problem before you sign on the dotted line.
Woodworm is in fact not caused by worms, but the lavae of wood-boring beetles, and there are around four main types that cause havoc in UK homes.
And it isn't just old properties that fall prey – the lavae are just as happy chomping on the wood of new builds.
They can cause untold damage including the structural weakening of joists, floorboards and other woodwork in your home. Damaged timber may need completely removing and replacing, which can be an expensive and messy job.
If your woodwork looks like it has been used as a dartboard (lots of tiny holes), starts to crumble, or you begin seeing lots of beetles about, you may need to call in expert help.
6. Nightmare neighbours
Nightmare neighbours are a common problem and a hugely frustrating one. Whether it's loud music or loud arguments, noise from next door can be difficult to deal with. Then there are the common 'car wars', particularly on streets with no off-road parking.
Other triggers of disputes are garden boundaries, party walls, overhanging trees, or building work.
Unfortunately it is almost impossible to find out about nightmare neighbours in advance of buying a home, but you could try visiting the property at different times of the day to see if it is quiet, or not.
Flooding is devastating to homes, destroying cherished belongings and damaging fixtures and fittings.
Of course, nowadays only a fool would unwittingly buy a home on a flood plain as it is very easy to find out where they are - just visit www.environment-agency.gov.uk for flood maps and a wealth of invaluable information.
If that doesn't put you off an otherwise perfect property, the associated insurance costs might make it unaffordable.
But if you still want to buy your dream home on a flood plain, make sure you do everything possible to protect your property.
8. Negative equity
The nightmare of many a mortgage borrower is negative equity – where the value of your home falls below the amount you owe on your mortgage. Unless you have significant savings or other assets this can leave you trapped in your home and in your current mortgage deal.
With house prices having been in the doldrums for the last five years you could be at risk if you bought near the 2007 peak of the market with only a small deposit – or none at all.
You can't eliminate the risk of negative equity but you can reduce it by putting down as large a deposit as you can possibly afford, and overpaying your mortgage if you have the money. Also borrow modestly and leave yourself a bit of financial wiggle room.
Damp is such a common problem, but so easily caught by a good surveyor.
If you forgo a full structural survey and simply go for a lender's valuation a damp problem may be missed. Don't rely on noticing any problems yourself, as a lick of paint and strong air freshener could fool you.
Not only is a damp property cold and unpleasant, it can also be bad for your health, particularly if you are prone to respiratory illnesses like colds, chest infections or asthma.
It can be treated, and in some cases quite easily, although severe damp problems can cost a fortune to rectify, and will require redecorating.
10. Not in my backyard!
So you have settled into your gorgeous new home in your ideal area and everything is rosy when...you get wind of a new development in the offing.
Whether it is a new road about to split your village in two, a low security prison at the end of your street, or an enormous power plant, new developments can squash those dreams of a rural idyll and wipe thousands off the value of your home – just ask those who live on the high speed rail link route!
While you can't predict the future, a good solicitor or conveyancer will search local development proposals and let you know if anything is in the pipeline, before you exchange contracts.