When Buying a House Don't Forget to Check out the Garden

 1st Oct 2018

Written by Mark Hinsley:  Some years ago I was asked by a landscape historian friend to take a look at the garden of a listed country house that had recently been bought by some people moving out of London seeking an idyllic rural environment.  The purpose of the visit as to assess the mature trees in the grounds with a view to deciding if they were part of the original Capability Brown landscape or not.

What I saw there horrified me! The Common Beech trees that ringed the boundary of this park were hollow, storm damaged, partially collapsed and had evidence of several different fungi - if Beech got it, they had it.

Added to this they were growing along two boundaries of the park adjacent to public roads.  I made a rough estimate at the time and I reckoned that the new owners have bought themselves around £60,000 worth of urgent tree work.  The countryside was not proving quite as idyllic as they had hoped.

Now this is an extreme example - but the principle applies in all situations.  Another recent client bought a new property, only to discover that two large clumps of shrubs in the garden were Japanese Knotweed and that they were in the process of invading the garden next door. Imagine his dismay when he discovered how much dealing with that problem would cost and how little would be left of the garden.

On the other side of the coin, I was once approached on a site in Bournemouth by a neighbour whose son was trying to re-mortgage his property.  It kept falling through as a Building Surveyor had commented that there was Japanese Knotweed in the garden and the insurance company, in response, were not prepared to give cover.  Fortunately for him, on checking this 'Japanese Knotweed', it turned out to be a Dogwood that had been managed by periodically cutting it to ground level, so a short report solved his son's problem.

Estate Agents, Building Surveyors and Solicitors are all involved in houses changing hands and they all know a thing or two about bricks and mortar, but who in the process is checking the garden for you? Do you know enough about tree structure and stability, risk and liability, tree roots and foundations, Tree Preservation Orders and Conservation Areas to fully understand what you are buying before you buy it?

Gardens can be an absolute joy, but neglected gardens can contain some nasty surprises, so arm yourself with information early in the process.  After all, if you know you are buying a few thousand pounds worth of necessary remedial work at the negotiation stage, you can always have it knocked off the asking price.