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There may be hidden perils lurking in your dream home if the previous owner
fancied himself as a DIY enthusiast, warns Saul Brookfield
Most people who have climbed any way up the property ladder will be familiar
with the potential nightmare of buying a house from a DIY enthusiast. The
collapsing kitchen units, the idiosyncratic rewiring upstairs, the shower
that turns cold whenever someone opens the fridge - they are all examples of
the well-meaning but bungling amateur at work, men - invariably men - who
have marched into their local branch of B&Q with a dangerous gleam in their
As he embarks on a three-month sentence in jail, Sylvester Nseowo, of
Telford in Shropshire, might want to ponder the full extent of his passion
for home improvement. Last week Mr Nseowo was imprisoned by Stafford Crown
Court for refusing to pull down an illegal extension that he added to his
five-bedroom house. Not only did he fail to gain any planning permission for
the ramshackle construction but, with its lack of solid foundations and
dangerously askew roof, it was deemed to be a threat to other houses on the
leafy, modern estate.
In the words of one of Mr Nseowo's neighbours: "He didn't seem to have any
knowledge of the building trade. He did not even know what a spirit level
This might have been an extreme case, but estate agents up and down Britain
are regularly having to face up to the grim reality of wobbly loft
conversions, bungled bathrooms and sometimes even worse.
Chris Husson-Martin, of FPD Savills' Southampton office, once had a property
on his books where the owner had decided to add a sauna - in the main
bedroom. "It was horrific," he says, "the condensation, the mould - it
reeked like a school shower block. I took some people round and he tried to
insist that it was en-suite. I gently had to point out that en-suite meant
it would be off the bedroom. He had put it in thinking that it would
increase the value of the property. Of course, it all had to be ripped out
before we had any hope of selling the place."
Mr Husson-Martin also remembers going round to see a detached 1930s house
with a suspiciously large living-room. "One Sunday, almost on a whim, the
owners just decided to knock through from the lounge to the dining-room.
They were quite proud of what they had done but, unfortunately, they didn't
realise they were demolishing a supporting wall. The ceiling was sagging
badly and the whole structure of the entire house had been put under stress.
It cost ฃ20,000 to fix."
Having a friend who claims to be a dab hand at DIY can almost be as much of
a hazard, as Tim Le Blanc-Smith, of John D Wood's Chelsea branch, recalls:
"A couple went on holiday, having instructed their friend to do some work in
their bathroom. The main job was the fitting of a bidet, and they drew an
arrow on the tiles four feet high, level with the exact position they wanted
"Imagine their faces when they returned - the bidet was beautifully fitted,
sadly not on the ground, but 4ft off the floor where the arrow had been. He
had attached it to the wall. I always like to think they might have kept it
as a souvenir."
David Fenton, of Strutt & Parker in Chelmsford, has also encountered the
extremes to which the mania to improve your property can lead. "One quite
famous case on my patch was an African lady who built a mud hut in her
garden in Dagenham," he recalls. "It was quite big, and had no planning
permission, and in the end she was forced to pull it down on the grounds of
Mr Fenton was also called upon to perform a rescue act for a homeowner in
Suffolk who had blithely decided to add a conservatory and large swimming
pool to his Grade II-listed property. "He wanted to sell the house and move
to France but was haunted by his past mistakes. There was no way this rather
large extension had planning permission as the potential purchasers'
solicitors quickly discovered. We finally managed to get it approved
retrospectively but it ruffled a few feathers at the local council. I think
the conservation officer resigned in protest."
But then the perils of buying a house from an enterprising owner with scant
regard for planning regulations don't just reveal themselves when the
plumbing packs up 18 months after you have exchanged contracts. Tim
Sherston, of Dreweatt Neate in Newbury, remembers one such heart-stopping
"The sale of a Grade I-listed building was just about to be completed," he
says, "when the vendor owned up that the two rather valuable 17th-century
paintings that came with the house and were covered by the conservation
order were, in fact, copies. He had sold the originals to make some money.
If the sale had proceeded, the buyer, as owner of the property, would have
been faced with a large fine or even jail. Understandably, he backed out."
Eventually, a property lawyer, eyeing a bargain, bought the house for a
reduced price and used all his professional skills to smooth over the breach
of the conservation order through the courts.
The vendor hadn't acted maliciously, insists Mr Sherston, "he just couldn't
believe he was breaking any laws". Unfortunately, as with so many other
people who think that the title deeds give them carte blanche to do exactly
what they want with their house, he was.
opied from the Telgraph for which thanks are given.