Helen Martin: Home reports fail to pass test

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THE property market in Edinburgh is recovering, which is good news for solicitors and owners and perhaps not so hot for those looking to buy since it means prices creeping up again.

It’s also happy days for surveyors, without whom buying and selling is virtually impossible. It’s almost five years since the “home report” system was installed in Scotland, one pretty basic report paid for by the seller, which covers valuation, any rental expectation and in theory, should point out any major flaws or expensive repairs necessary.

It’s nine years since I bought a property but we’re looking for a flat to buy to stop our pension disappearing and I was optimistic because I’d been told that generally, people like the new system. Why that should be, beats me. I know, I know. If you’re a surveyor, that is terribly unfair. There’s also some helpful information in there and admittedly, it means buyers don’t have to commission surveys on properties they fail to win on the closing date. That never happened to me anyway in the past. It seems to have been a bigger problem for those unaccustomed to the Scottish system who kept trying to apply English buying strategies by offering the least, rather than the most, they thought they could spend on it.

My big issue with the “home report” is that most or all of it I could easily write myself. “The property is in a traditional Victorian tenement and is situated above a shop”. Yes thanks, I spotted that. The report may add such details as the gas-fired combi-boiler system to radiators in each room. Check. The new trip switch fuse box. Check. The kitchen is in need of modernisation. And how! The bathroom is dated. Yup. The property has double glazing. Clocked that. The floorboards are uneven in places which is to be expected of a property of this age. Fine. You get the drift.

But when it comes to those floorboards? “The flat was fully floored and carpeted and we were unable to inspect the boards.” Fair enough, perhaps ripping up carpets is going too far. How about the roof? “We were unable to gain access to the roof other than inspecting it with binoculars.” Now call me old-fashioned but shouldn’t access be arranged in advance with the seller? How about the fabric of the other communal areas? “Ongoing shared expenses for repair and maintenance should be expected.” Really? I thought the fairies did it for free.

Usefully, surveyors do give an idea of the domestic boiler’s age. But is the central heating system actually working? “We did not test the heating system.” OK, how about the gas fire in the lounge? “We did not test the fire.”

At the end of it, what everyone wants is a valuation for purchase, or what it would achieve in rental. Even that holds few surprises if you are reasonably familiar with the city. Except in the case of one flat I viewed which had a tiny kitchen squashed in a cupboard with no room for a fridge let alone a washing machine, a bathroom circa Rising Damp and decor inspired by Steptoe and Son. “We would expect this property to achieve a rental of £650 to £700 per month.” In your dreams, or after a major refurb.

In short, I am sorry my surveying friends, but for this buyer at least, the reports I’ve seen were generally about as much use as a chocolate tea-pot. The only important things I need to know are covered by the “we were unable to inspect” or “we did not test” clauses. I can’t hold you to account for misinforming me because you haven’t informed me about anything. Surely we can come up with a better system than this.

Recovery in eye of the beholder

APPARENTLY it’s not just the property market. The whole economy is now on the road to recovery. That would be immensely cheering if it were not for the fact that regardless of what economists, pundits and bank surveys say, there’s no sign of it in the real world.

Increasing numbers of people can’t afford fuel bills any more, wages are frozen or rises are below inflation, jobs continue to go, more people are accessing food banks than ever, and farmers now actually earn less from selling livestock than it costs to produce.

Even Police Scotland has to make £250 million savings, the Fire and Rescue Service is in trouble, not to mention council budgets in deficit and pensions whittling away (hence the desperate bid to buy a flat).

Apart from surveyors, solicitors, bankers and oil barons, who’s recovering?

Lavish ads are festive overkill

CHRISTMAS adverts are becoming more and more lavish and movie-like. Whether it’s bears and hares from John Lewis (pictured), Daddy coming home from Afghanistan or a song and dance gingerbread man, they’re all fabulous. . . the first time. Maybe even the second time. But God help us, we have another 37 days to go. For once the BBC licence fee seems like value for money and a fair price to pay to escape this repetitive, over-priced, tortuous display of retail ego.

DAYLIGHT ROBBERY

SMALL beleaguered businesses on the tram route now have to pay the Council almost £30,000 in “tram developer contributions” if they want a change of use certificate. Has Al Capone taken over the City Chambers?