Buying a home is expensive and having its structures properly probed seems like a costly extravagance. But not doing it is often a false economy, writes Julia Gray.
1. If you're buying with the help of a mortgage, the lender will instruct a surveyor to value the property to ensure it's worth what you're paying. This valuation should identify any really obvious and serious problems with the property, but that's all - the lender is simply protecting its interests.
While the valuation is sometimes free, you may have to pay the lender for it. You can often upgrade to a survey by paying more, the cost of which may be subsidised by the lender, or you can get a survey done independently of the lender's valuation.
2. If the valuation is less than the purchase price, the mortgage lender may not agree to give you the loan, or may reduce the size of it.
It could also put a retention on some of the loan, which may only be until you fix a serious problem, such as damp, or get a specialist report on it.
3. Apart from the lender's valuation, there are two main types of survey for buyers: the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) HomeBuyer Report and the RICS Building Survey (or full structural survey).
The HomeBuyer Report is usually quite long, but divided into sections to make it easy to digest. It uses a traffic-light system so you can clearly see what repairs (and maintenance) are required and how urgent they are.
A green/number one rating means that repairs aren't currently necessary; amber/number two means something needs to be repaired or replaced but isn't serious or urgent; and red/number three means that it is, or it needs, urgent investigation.
4. The surveyor will often recommend getting experts in to make further investigations, such as a timber specialist to confirm if woodworm damage is active or historic, or an electrician to check the wiring.
The HomeBuyer Report is designed to provide a snapshot of the overall condition of the property, rather than a detailed investigation. For that, you need the Building Survey.
5. The Building Survey is the most extensive and expensive type of survey - some mortgage lenders don't offer it. It's particularly suited to properties, for example, that are very old, of unusual construction, in need of renovation, or have been altered substantially.
The surveyor will check the property thoroughly, but, as with the HomeBuyer, they'll only examine things that are visible or easily accessible, although they can adapt their inspection to suit your requirements.
Again, the surveyor will usually recommend getting in specialists to look at potential problems. The Building Survey should be very thorough and lengthy, often containing a long list of defects.
Whichever survey you choose, it can be used to negotiate a lower purchase price - this doesn't always work, but it's usually worth a try.
For a great-value sander that's up to tough sanding jobs, try the Wickes 220W 1/3 Sheet Sander (£24.99, www.wickes.co.uk).
This well-designed model has a really long power lead, variable speed control, an integrated dust-collection box to keep the room cleaner, and large, rubberised grips - you can comfortably hold it with two hands.
It uses a clamp system for the sandpaper - you can buy sanding sheets the right size, or cut them to fit out of rolls or sheets of sandpaper.
The sander is larger and heavier than a detail sander and up to bigger sanding jobs, with 220W of power.
Not everyone likes using water-based wood paints because they're not as hard wearing as oil-based ones and you have to do several coats with white.
However, if you're painting wood white in a room that has no natural light, or in a wardrobe or cupboard, oil-based white wood paint will discolour much more quickly than that exposed to natural light, so go for a water-based product if you want the woodwork to stay white.