What you need to look out for when you’re buying a property in Portsmouth

Buying a property in Portsmouth

Portsmouth is the UK’s only island city, with one of the world’s best-known ports, a historic dockyard and rich history that can be traced back to Roman times. Its convenient location and bustling lifestyle make it a popular place to live. It’s always prudent to invest in a survey when you are buying a property and, here, we focus on potential issues particular to Portsmouth. Working in the Portsmouth area, with many years’ experience surveying a wide variety of properties, the expert team of Chartered Building Surveyors at Harrison Clarke is perfectly positioned to advise you and guide you on making the right decisions when you are buying a property here. 

Why do you need a building survey as well as your mortgage valuation survey?

Even though you are usually the person paying for it, the mortgage survey is for the lender’s benefit, not yours. This means that the principal purpose of the mortgage survey is to assure the lender that the market value of the property is not less than the amount that they have agreed to lend you. The mortgage valuation survey may therefore only highlight issues affecting the property’s value. 

The survey carried out for the lender is not as in depth or lengthy as a HomeBuyer Report (Level 2 Survey) – this used to be called the RICS HomeBuyer report, or a Level 3 Building Survey that we would carry out. Both Level 2 and Level 3 surveys give a more comprehensive view of the building’s structure, its finishes and its fitting. 

What sort of issues do you find with houses in Portsmouth?

The expansion of housing within Portsmouth owes much to the history of its maritime and naval history, with a rapid growth of housing and infrastructure throughout the 19th century. This is often characterised by an influx of terraced housing from the mid- to late-1800s. 

Whilst many of the construction methods used then are still used in a similar fashion today, there are many features that would not comply with the requirements of current building regulations and modern construction standards, particularly in terms of insulation, fire separation, thermal and structural performance. 

Also, where buildings have been neglected, inappropriately modified or extended, this can lead to potential problems.

Are there any common problems I should look out for?

Each house is unique. However, one of the issues we regularly see is inadequate strengthening of the roof structure, often where heavier concrete tiles have replaced the original slate covering. This can lead to a distortion of the roof and can affect the stability of the supporting walls. 

Buildings and a road in Portsmouth

We find inadequate fire separation of the roof spaces between terraced properties. 

It is common for us to identify issues with damp ingress and timber decay to the roof structure or other parts of the walls. 

We also encounter leaking roofs and structural movement to bay windows, or even historic movement from World War II bomb damage. 

On many occasions, land levels have been raised around these properties, which has sometimes bridged the damp proof course protection of the building and caused damp in internal walls and floor structures. 

We often find that a lack of maintenance, either through difficulty in access or because of complex design features, can lead to the deterioration of many components. 

Another issue we come across fairly regularly is the failure of metal cavity wall ties, which can affect the stability of the external wall.

What about structural movement?

Cavity wall construction became a standard construction practice in Portsmouth from the mid-1800s. However, it is also common to find solid walls and walls of half brick  construction, particularly to rear extensions. This type of construction can lead to problems with damp and structural movement. 

Party walls between adjoining properties may also not be of adequate strength to support steel beams used to modify an internal layout. This can contribute toward structural issues.

Should I still buy a property in Portsmouth? It sounds risky.

The primary reason for getting a survey done is so that the property you are considering purchasing can be fully inspected, making sure that any risks are identified and evaluated.

There are several clusters of older housing in Portsmouth that were built on reclaimed marshland and mud. The Little Morass – another name for marshy or boggy ground – in old Portsmouth was drained and reshaped in the 1820s. The Great Morass, which covers Southsea, was drained during the Victorian era. The housing built on this boggy land was usually constructed on shallow foundations that would not meet today’s standards. Over the years, this poor quality ground and issues with groundwater has resulted in cases of subsidence which has caused damage to properties.

A comprehensive building survey will make sure that you will know if the property you are looking at is affected by these issues.

Should I buy a historic or Listed building?

There will always be risks in buying any property, some more than others. We would always recommend that you get a local surveyor to thoroughly inspect the house you are looking to buy. Working with a Chartered Building Surveyor will help you to understand any risks, as well as the potential costs of any repairs. The survey will also give you peace of mind if we do not find any significant problems.

Is it important to get a local building surveyor?

We would definitely say yes, as we believe that you cannot put a price on experience. Our years of first-hand experience, evaluating numerous properties in the Portsmouth area, has given our expert team of Chartered Building Surveyors a wealth of knowledge that is invaluable for us to bring to every property that we survey in the future.

Our excellent local knowledge and expertise in identifying any issues that may affect your investment make your survey a sound investment.

How you can arrange a survey

Call our friendly, expert and highly qualified surveyors on 023 9322 3558, or email us at info@harrisonclarke.co. We would be delighted to help you, answering any questions you may have and arranging to survey any property you are looking at as soon as we can.

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Discover something you would like to know more about?

Tim Clarke, Director at Harrison Clarke chartered surveyors.

About the author

Tim Clarke,


Tim set up Harrison Clarke Chartered Surveyors in July 2017 following a series of public and private sector surveying roles, having previously worked for the University of Cambridge, Rund Partnership, Goadsby, and CBRE. 

Tim has degrees in building surveying, construction project management, and business administration.