Introduction – Buying a home

Buying a new house is a major life decision. That and other things such as marriage, kids, new job or new car: all of these things require a lot of thought, research and decision making based on facts, your needs and what is within your budget.

However when it comes to houses, it is far too often the case that there is a major oversight in the facts. This being, does your lovely new home contain asbestos materials or not?

If it was built before the year 2000 then yes, it may well do. Asbestos was heavily used in homes mostly from 1950’s to 1980’s but up to 1999.

What does the law say for asbestos in homes and surveys?

When it comes to the domestic sector, there is currently no law that says you must have or be provided with an asbestos survey report.  This is a huge failing in providing measures to protect homebuyers’ health and pockets.

There is also commonly a severe lack of asbestos knowledge between all parties concerned (buyer, seller, estate agent, solicitor) which if it was there, would drive the need for an asbestos survey.

When it comes to surveys, your standard Homebuyers survey is not an asbestos survey. If you’re lucky, the property surveyor may have a decent knowledge of asbestos materials so you may receive a report which has flagged a couple of items which MIGHT contain asbestos. But this is only a ‘might’ and by no means is a formal asbestos survey as the report will go on to state this as a big caveat and then recommend that you pay for a specialist asbestos surveyor.

And this case of ‘there might be asbestos’ may only come about if you actually pay for a homebuyers survey in the first place. A lot of people will debate the need for one and decide against it to save £400 – £600. Personally when I bought our current home 2yrs ago, I too debated it but decided to pay the £390 to have a “building MOT” as the company I used were reputable. I knew this survey would not constitute an asbestos survey though. To be fair it did mention more than I expected but went on to state ‘we recommend you get a specialist survey’.  For me this was easy and cheap, I did it myself but the average homebuyer of course doesn’t have this in-house skill.

The same can be said for a full structural survey; this is not an asbestos survey. There are many examples I have been involved with where asbestos has been found once the purchase is completed and the new owner can’t understand how he’s ended up buying a house riddled with asbestos. Surely the survey should have flagged it. The clue being somewhat in the title of the survey they’ve paid for: a “structural” survey or a “homebuyers survey” – neither one being sold as a formal asbestos survey.

So you’ve now lost a good factor for negotiating the price and are potentially lumbered with unforeseen survey costs AND removal costs which you don’t have a budget for. All of a sudden you’ve lost the budget for the new kitchen or bathroom to pay for removal works.

Other examples have been where the new owner engages a builder or other trades to start renovating and all of a sudden works have to stop when asbestos is found. You now have delays, costs to investigate and not to mention the crucial factor here which relates to asbestos exposure and contamination issues. This scenario also relies on your trades people being able to identify the problem and stop. If they are not asbestos savvy then they may carry on regardless leaving your new home a contaminated mess.

So what should you do about asbestos when buying a home?

Quite simply you should get an asbestos survey carried out of the whole property before you buy. Then you’ll know what you’re dealing with. Houses built pre-1980’s will be the highest risk however houses built up to 1999 could still contain asbestos.  Even very old houses or listed dwellings built in the 1800’s which will not have had asbestos used originally, could still have had asbestos installed during the peak use times (eg new heating system in the 60’s).

With an asbestos survey, you will have the power to negotiate on price where you can off-set firstly the cost of the survey but more importantly any removal costs which could be £1000’s.  Or you may just walk away from the purchase.

Do you need to remove asbestos?

There is no legal duty to remove asbestos but you must know where it is so that you can keep it in sound condition and prevent it being disturbed.

However a lot of people simply don’t want asbestos in their homes, certainly not a new home so they’d rather remove it all.

Removal can be expensive however the initial asbestos survey is not expensive so is very much money well spent to avoid any unforeseen exposure issues and removal cost.

Another point worth considering is the extent of work you have planned for your new home. If you plan on any type of building refurbishment, renovations, demolition, installations etc then you’re going to need a more intrusive type of asbestos survey termed a “Refurbishment & Demolition” Survey.

The objective being to locate any concealed asbestos materials which the tradespersons would uncover/disturb during their works. Again I’ve been involved in many projects where suspect materials have been found by a builder who thankfully was clued up. The best (or worst for the buyer) was an old house which had asbestos lagged pipes running throughout the house; this lagging beyond repair so enter a new budget for removal works costing the best part of £10,000.

What should you do now?

In conclusion, if you’re buying a home built up to 1999, then you simply must protect your health and your investment by paying for an asbestos survey.  It isn’t just a bunch a bricks you could be buying.

Need help?

If you would like to discuss anything please get in touch with me,

Gary McKendrick on 07889 169 085 or email gary@omega-asbestos.co.uk

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