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Help! Internal wall removed by previous owner

(33 Posts)
ToddlerswithDirtyFaces Thu 21-Apr-16 19:37:55

DH and I have made an offer on a house and things have been progressing rather quickly as the vendors have no chain. We are first time buyers.
The vendors solicitor has informed us that a previous owner had an internal wall removed which they say was not load bearing and therefore did not require building regulation approval ( not sure if I have the terminology right). The current vendors did not check this out in any official way but accepted it at face value. The vendors are involved in property development so I assume they trusted their own judgment. They used it as a rental. We asked an engineer to inspect it as we don't want it falling down on our heads.
The engineer has come back saying that he can see no sign of cracks or structural damage but for him to give us a definitive answer he'd have to make a hole in the ceiling to confirm the span direction of the joists and the details of the supporting structure.
I'm guessing the vendors would not be ok with making holes in the ceiling (I wouldn't be). Do you think it's safe enough to buy considering that nothing has happened in the 9 years since the wall was removed?
I really really like this house but we don't know if we should take the risk.
I'd be really grateful for any insights!

NapQueen Thu 21-Apr-16 19:39:31

If I was the vendor and the allowing of a hole in the ceiling meant you would go through or pull out of the sale, then I certainly would allow it.

Pigeonpost Thu 21-Apr-16 19:46:09

When I bought my last house nearly 20 years ago the vendors had removed one of the internal chimney breasts. It had been done a good 30 years previously. For reasons which I cannot explain we didn't make an issue out of it and just went ahead. Sold the house last year and it was picked up by our buyers who quite rightly did make an issue of it (turned out there was no building regs consent and nothing supporting the chimney breast which remained above it in the first floor). We had to had investigations done to confirm this and then pay for the appropriate support to be put in. Cost us almost £5k. Massive pain in the arse. It's not just about whether you are prepared to take the risk, it's what happens when you come to sell it on later. We had people clamouring to buy our house but we would have had to deal with it regardless. The holes need to be made to check it out. Sorry.

ToddlerswithDirtyFaces Thu 21-Apr-16 19:47:27

I see what you mean NapQueen. Maybe I should just ask them and see what they say

Sunnyshores Thu 21-Apr-16 19:48:13

couldnt the holes be made from the floor above? not so costly or obtrusie. And yes, as a vendor I would allow it.

yomellamoHelly Thu 21-Apr-16 19:48:55

Go upstairs and lift a section of the carpet. If it's got floorboards they'll tell you which way the joist are.

whatsthatcomingoverthehill Thu 21-Apr-16 19:50:38

I'd have thought it would be easier to pull back the carpet of the floor above. That should tell you the span of the joists and take some floorboards up if he wants to see the support. Check with your engineer if that's possible and at least then you don't have to repair anything.

whatsthatcomingoverthehill Thu 21-Apr-16 19:51:04

Crossposted x2!

ToddlerswithDirtyFaces Thu 21-Apr-16 20:06:01

Thanks pigeon that was very helpful. Has sort of focused my mind to think of the long term issues too.
Sunny, Helly and thehill I will check that with the engineer. Thanks so much for your help. Mumsnet to the rescue again!
flowers to you all, wine for me

OhtoblazeswithElvira Thu 21-Apr-16 20:13:17

We had a similar issue when buying our house. Vendors allowed it as we weren't happy to proceed without some reassurance. Turns out they needed building regs. A council inspector came and declared that all was satisfactory, then the hole was covered up.

It cost them a few hundred pounds and we bought the house.

Cacofonix Thu 21-Apr-16 20:15:31

Yes! No need for a hole - what is wrong with the engineer? He needs to remove the floor covering upstairs and see which way the joists are running. If I was the owner I would tell him/you to bugger off with holes in ceilings. Also if this was done a long time ago and there has been no movement then in all likelihood it is fine.

bingobingoed Thu 21-Apr-16 20:17:43

A friend of mine bought a house where the previous owner had removed an internal wall. New owner had structural surveyors do a full assessment before they bought it, it wasn't deemed an issue.

12 years later cracks started to appear in the kitchen. Turns out the previous owner had removed a supporting wall shock. They had to have the entire back of the house pulled down and rebuilt. Cost £180k

They sued the surveyors and they ended up paying half the costs but had to find the rest themselves. I would get it checked out thoroughly.

CurlyhairedAssassin Thu 21-Apr-16 20:45:58

Pigeonpost: oh dear your story has worried me. We live in a 30's semi, we have been here 12 years. The front downstairs room has a chimney breast, which goes up to our bedroom above. All good. The back downstairs room has a flat wall so I assumed there has never been a chimney breast therr. However, my son's bedroom is a directly above and seems to have a piece of wall jutting out (like a narrow Chimney breast?). I don't know what it's there for. It was behind sliding wardrobe doors when we bought the House so now I'm worrying that we have an unsupported chimney stack upstairs that wasn't spotted by the surveyor)

I googled other houses in the street and found one where both downstairs rooms seem to have chimney breasts so now I feel very worried that one has been removed from our back room downstairs without supporting the one in the bedroom above.

Going to have to ask the neighbours I think, to see what theirs are like.

ToddlerswithDirtyFaces Thu 21-Apr-16 21:11:03

Scary story bingo. I don't know why I feel so wary of approaching the vendors about this. They did seem a bit annoyed when we first said we'd need it checked. I guess I just don't want to lose the house if they take offense for some reason. Better set my jaw and get on with it though.

JillyTheDependableBoot Thu 21-Apr-16 21:21:59

We're having a similar issue. Came up on the survey that an internal wall had been removed (between sitting room and dining room in a Victorian house, so pretty standard). Sellers denied all knowledge, saying it had been done before they bought the house. There were no signs of cracks or any problems, and we knew there was going to be loads of work needed anyway, so we went ahead.

We've subsequently found that there's a timber beam in place. Structural engineer is not overly happy about it and is going to quote for replacing it with a steel - we may or may not do this depending on cost.

So that's a helpful reply then! Sorry grin

BurningTheToast Fri 22-Apr-16 07:33:42

If the sellers are property developers they should understand the need for having all the pieces of paper in place. Your solicitor needs to ask them to provide a 'letter of comfort' from building control to say that it's safe. Just because they trusted their own judgement they shouldn't expect you to take their word for it.

The surveyor is just covering himself. If he categorically says it's ok without fully investigating then he leaves himself open to being sued. That's why every homebuyers report is couched in so many caveats.

TL;DR - your solution should ask them to document that this wall removal is safe.

Moving15 Fri 22-Apr-16 19:31:58

I have bought and sold properties with structural alterations without the paperwork. It happens all the time. I wouldn't allow holes. If I got work done it would be done properly but what happened in the past stays in the past. I am talking about old houses though.

PigletJohn Fri 22-Apr-16 21:07:17

"The vendors solicitor has informed us that a previous owner had an internal wall removed"

this may or may not be true.

ToddlerswithDirtyFaces Mon 25-Apr-16 14:03:30

I asked the engineer about the floorboards etc and he said that it's actually chipboard as its a newer house and he wants to check inside the walls as the vendors have said they were told there is a beam supporting that area and the wall was not a supporting one.
We've sent an email to the EA saying that we would like the sellers to make arrangements for the holes to be made. But the agents have come back saying that it is an unreasonable request and that the surveyor should have just told us that it all seemed OK from the outside. We're not happy to go with that so I've said we will pull out unless we are wholly satisfied. They will get back to us I assume. Thanks for your help everyone.

Pigeonpost Wed 27-Apr-16 16:39:05

It is in no way an unreasonable request! They are idiots. If you pull out then the next potential buyer will just raise the same issue.

ToddlerswithDirtyFaces Wed 27-Apr-16 17:40:03

That's what I thought Pigeon but they have very weirdly just come back with a reply from the vendors saying that we have had bad advice from our solicitor and engineer ( the estate agent actually sent us an email questioning the professionalism of both as it was the lawyer who flagged it up initially) and that since they feel sorry for us they will allow the engineer to come and look again through a hole in the floor above under supervision from one of the vendors who is aPparently a builder but they won't let him check the other details he wanted to see. I feel like their EA is giving them misleading advice and I'm starting to wonder if they actually did the work themselves and are trying to hide it for some reason. This is really doing my head in. We may just pull out of this. They seem to think they can sell for higher now anyway though I'd be surprised as we offered asking price in an apparent bidding war which was probably in the EA's mind.

PigletJohn Wed 27-Apr-16 17:47:01

It is not at all unusual for people to work on houses without Building Control approval. When they do, it is reasonable to assume that it does not conform to regulations and will be unsatisfactory. It is for the vendor to prove that the work is good. Sometimes a skilled person can take a look at it and make an assessment.

So if they are uncooperative, and you do not have faith, either proceed on the assumption that the work will have to be ripped out and done again properly, or walk away and find another home.

ToddlerswithDirtyFaces Wed 27-Apr-16 17:51:24

Thank you PigletJohn. I think walking away is exactly what we'll do.
The EA's have also lied and tried very hard to dissuade us from getting a surveyor so I think I'll probably complain to the property ombudsman too. What a waste of time and money this has been, but I guess we're wiser for next time.

BlueStringPudding Wed 27-Apr-16 17:55:30

It might be possible for Indemnity insurance to be taken out to cover this. Usually the vendor pays for it I think, but it would mean that in the event of a later problem, that the insurance company would cover costs incurred to put it right.

When we were selling a property some years ago there was an issue about the right of way to the house (over a shared private road), and our buyers solicitor asked us to pay for an indemnity so that the sale could go ahead. It cost us a few hundred pounds as I recall.

Perhaps suggest that to your vendors, and maybe they might decide to allow the holes after all..

ToddlerswithDirtyFaces Wed 27-Apr-16 18:19:09

Blue iirc indemnity policies would only cover us for legal action taken against us because of the wall being removed against regulations and it would not cover us for damage that occurred due to the work being done incorrectly.

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