Asbestos in older properties – a home buyer's guide

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If you're buying an older property, you might be wondering if there's a possibility it could contain asbestos and what you should be doing to check. Asbestos in older properties is still a problem in the UK, which is made worse by how hard it is to identify. In fact, the chances are the people selling the property won't even know it's there themselves. 

In this blog, we look at how to recognise asbestos, and what to do if a survey finds ‘asbestos-containing materials’ in the house you’re about to buy.

What is asbestos and where is it found?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was used to make thousands of products before it was banned in the United Kingdom. A once popular material in the building trade, asbestos is still found in commercial and residential properties today. 

Classed as a carcinogen, asbestos can cause serious long-term and life-changing health conditions in people who have been exposed to it. The very word 'asbestos' can seem alarming, but actually, this unfriendly material is only dangerous when it is disturbed. 

What makes this asbestos seem so sinister is how hard it is to identify, often covered up or disguised as part of something else. Asbestos in older properties can typically be found in: 

  • partitioning walls, ceiling tiles, and bath panels (asbestos insulating board)
  • window panels and soffits
  • loose fill insulation 
  • pipe lagging 
  • cement used to make pipes, water tanks and roof panels 
  • roofing felt 
  • floor tiles 
  • decorative surfaces, like Artex 

Without testing a sample of the material in an accredited laboratory there is no way of confirming the presence of asbestos – visual identification is simply not enough.

Is there a risk of asbestos in older properties?

In 1985 the import and use of two types of asbestos (blue and brown) was prohibited in the UK, but it wasn't until 1999 that all forms of this carcinogenic material were banned. 

If you're buying a property that was built before the year 2000, then there is a risk of asbestos being present. It's not illegal to sell a house containing asbestos, but if the seller is aware of it and doesn't disclose it, they could be breaking the law. 

Under the Property Misdescriptions Act of 2013, withholding information about asbestos can lead to prosecution and invalidate the sale of the property. 

However, the seller won't always be aware, and so, it is up to the buyer to organise the right surveys to check for the presence of asbestos in older properties.

Do I need an asbestos survey before I buy?

Home buyers' surveys and condition reports are not designed to look for asbestos. 

These surveys simply report on the visible condition of the property and highlight any major defects that might affect its value, like subsidence or damp. The surveyors carrying out these checks are not trained to spot asbestos, and even comprehensive surveys do not sample materials to confirm the presence and risk of asbestos. 

To thoroughly check for asbestos in older properties, we recommend having an asbestos survey carried out in addition to the routine building surveys you require. 

An asbestos survey carried out by qualified professionals will not only identify areas of potential concern, but it will confirm the presence of asbestos by sampling the material and sending it away for independent testing at a UK-accredited laboratory. 

At the end of the survey, you will receive a report which includes:  

  • the type of asbestos found, if any, and its location 
  • an overview of the condition of the asbestos 
  • a recommendation for repair or removal 

If the asbestos needs removing, then there will be a cost to undertake this work.

Should I pull out if the survey finds asbestos?

Asbestos in older properties isn't always a cause for concern and doesn't necessarily mean you need to pull out of the sale. If the asbestos-containing material is in good repair, then the best thing to do is leave it where it is – asbestos is only harmful when it is deteriorating. 

However, if you're planning to do renovation work on the house when you move in, you may inadvertently disturb the asbestos. Once its loose fibres have been released into the air, the people nearby are at risk of breathing in these harmful particles.  

If there's a chance that you will want to renovate at some point in the future, then the asbestos will eventually need to be removed to protect you and your family, as well as the contractors and tradespeople working on the property. 
For this reason, we recommend factoring the extra cost of asbestos removal into your negotiations with the seller before you commit to buying the property.

Arranging a survey with Asbestos Gone

At Asbestos Gone, we specialise in asbestos surveys and removals in the South-East of England, with offices in London and Kent. We are licensed contractors trained to the highest standards with over 10 years of experience in the industry.  

If you're buying a property and you're worried about the presence of asbestos, we can help. Your safety is our number one concern, and our professionals are on-hand to work with you through the process of arranging a survey for your prospective property.
You can contact our friendly team by phone, email, or request a call-back via our website. For help finding a surveyor outside of the South-East, then we recommend that you contact your local authority to help narrow down your search.

Asbestos in older properties – the bottom line

Though the presence of asbestos in older properties might sound off-putting, it doesn't have to mean that you pull out of buying your dream home. With an asbestos survey, you can identify its location and condition early so there are no nasty surprises later down the line. If there is a chance that you'll need to remove the asbestos, then knowing how much it will cost is a great starting point for renegotiating the purchase price.   Contact us if you would like any further advice or help.