Typical Victorian house in London. SAM Conveyancing's guide on buying a Victorian House
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Buying a Victorian House

(Last Updated: 24/05/2024)
7 min read
Victorian properties are traditional English homes built between 1830 and 1901. Many terraced properties, in particular, were built in this period. Four main styles have been recognised by most experts: Queen Anne, Italianate, Renaissance and Medieval.

They differ from houses built in the Georgian period and before, in that they are, in the main, less ornate and externally showy but very sturdy and built to last. For this reason, buying a Victorian house can be a good idea. Richer properties, however, are often quite decorative, with many adopting a mock Gothic or Tudor style.

Victorian Properties in London. SAM Conveyancing's guide to buying a Victorian House

What makes a house a Victorian?

The brickwork is often patterned, using what is known as Flemish Brick bond, with alternating headers (small side of brick) and stretchers (long side of brick) on the face of the wall, with headers centred on stretchers above and below.

Typically, houses are on terraces, with gardens front and back and the kitchen at the back. You can often find barge boards present (decorative wooden panels on the gable ends of roofs).

The arrival of plate glass in 1832 meant windows could be larger, with fewer panes. So you still have sash windows, similar to the Georgian period, but with just a single glazing bar down the middle. The Gothic revival meant stained glass was popular and it can often be seen on doors and at the tops of windows.

Three-sided bay windows were very popular. Often, a ground-floor bay window has its own roof above it for ornamentation, or the bay continues to the first floor with the bay roof above that.

Rooms most often have high ceilings, and properties of this era generally have steeply pitched roofs. If you are considering a future loft conversion, for this latter reason, a Victorian attic is normally an excellent candidate.

Each room normally has a fireplace with a stone, marble or wood surround, and as a result, you find a lot of terracotta chimney pots on top of these properties.

Porches were also very popular in builds and are often ornate. You also often find date stones – names and dates in stone above doors. You also often have cellars – a considerable advantage in terms of storage space.

16% of homeowners discover defects

In our recent survey, 16% of homeowners found defects; including 2% who were able to pull out of a bad purchase, 7% who were able to negotiate a better price, and sadly, 7% of homeowners who did not get a survey and discovered defects after the purchase.

12 of the 39 who remembered how much these defects cost to remedy spent over £5,000

Don't burn your money, book a survey.

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What to look for when buying a Victorian terrace?

Many problems associated with this kind of property are called ‘high-level problems’ because you often need scaffolding or a platform such as a cherry picker to fix them.

Some Victorian properties have rooms with 30ft high ceilings and so are beyond the reach of someone with average DIY experience!

You often find weathered bricks and loose pots, and chimney breasts in the bedrooms and loft space are often stained. If there is no damp course, then chimneys are likely to be affected by damp.

This may well be poor and in need of renewing in gulleys.

These may not have insulation and no felt under battens. Old roof timbers may distort, 'dish' or sag. Timbers may be affected by dry and wet rot and woodworm. Gutters and downpipes may be leaking, and if they drain into the soil, they may cause structural problems.

The parapet walls (these stand proud of the roof tiles around the party walls) may be leaking, copings can be loose and rendered sides may be cracked.

Defective masonry often affects Victorian properties. If bath stone is used for fronting, it absorbs water like a sponge, which encourages dry rot. Inside walls can also often be affected by dampness.

Stone and brickwork can be eroded by general weathering or cracked as a result of structural movement. Lintel construction can frequently be poor, and walls are often re-pointed using cement mortar or covered with a cement-based render: this can be disastrous because this may require a lime-based mortar, which eradicates damp build-up.

    Damp proof course
This is key because it may be non-existent, which may be contributory to the damp problems mentioned above. The additional challenge here is that if a chemical damp proof course has been subsequently injected to make up for the original lack of one – and in particular, if this has been carried out incompetently – any damp issues may be exacerbated.

    Window problems
One particular problem here is that you may not get planning permission to install PVC windows – it may be judged that this would interfere with the period character of the dwelling. Previous ‘upgrades’ may have shoddy workmanship, and the original sash windows may be draughty.

    Floors and foundations
Foundations are often found to have problems, which can lead to structural problems and contribute to subsidence.

Floors may have dry and wet rot and woodworm. This can often be obscured by the latter placement of hardboard and plywood flooring on top. A RICS surveyor carrying out a building survey is an expert at detecting suspicions of rot in these situations.

    Ceiling issues
Ceilings may have cracks, particularly if different materials have been used in refurbishment. They also may be very difficult to maintain and repair – ceiling heights may demand the services of professional tradespeople rather than DIY.

    Sub-standard refurbishment work
These properties will have been in existence for a reasonable period of time – at the very least, more than 115 years and counting. There are likely to have been more than a few refurbishments or extensive repairs carried out, and there are no guarantees that these were of a consistently high standard.

If you're buying a Victorian house which has not had its electricity recently rewired, there may be potentially significant issues. You may find, for example, that there’s only one socket in each room. You can expect to pay £1,000s for a professional rewire.

Plumbing may consist of lead piping; lead is a cumulative and deadly neurotoxin. Once again, replacing all pipes might you many £1,000s.

If your Victorian property is a listed building, this can be highly problematic regarding planning permissions and building regulations if you are looking to refurbish, extend or modify your property.

What kind of survey do I need for a Victorian terrace?

When looking into getting a Victorian house survey, all chartered surveyor experts would recommend you get a building survey, for many reasons referred to above and lots more.

Victorian properties can prove to be an excellent investment because they are, in the majority of cases, built to last for a very long time, but they do need maintenance, sometimes to redo faulty previous work.

Depending on the findings of your Victorian house survey, you may also need to get a timber survey from a damp and timber specialist. They might also raise suspicions about sub-standard or out-of-date electrical wiring and may recommend an experienced electrician to remedy this.

RICS Surveyors | Fixed Fees | Same week availability | Access arranged
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Andrew Boast of Sam Conveyancing
Written by:
Andrew started his career in 2000 working within conveyancing solicitor firms and grew hands-on knowledge of a wide variety of conveyancing challenges and solutions. After helping in excess of 50,000 clients in his career, he uses all this experience within his article writing for SAM, mainstream media and his self published book How to Buy a House Without Killing Anyone.
Caragh Bailey, Digital Marketing Manager
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Caragh is an excellent writer in her own right as well as an accomplished copy editor for both fiction and non-fiction books, news articles and editorials. She has written extensively for SAM for a variety of conveyancing, survey and mortgage related articles.

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