In the UK there comes a point for most people when they start thinking about buying a house. When and if it is financially advisable to get a mortgage is something best dealt with by a bank manager. I can tell you, however, that looking at the plumbing can give you some glaring clues about the quality of the house. In the houses I visit all over Bristol, my job involves a lot of looking behind bath panels and underneath boilers in darkened, dusty cupboards. It is here that I often notice water damage and resulting mould and rot. This compromises the quality of the house, but is often something that isn’t seen until the problem gets a lot bigger, and a lot more expensive to fix. If you are looking at houses to buy, in Bristol or anywhere in the UK, try to have a good look in places like this. Bring along a torch and shine it on all those darkened corners where pipes disappear beneath the floorboards. Ask if you would be able to carefully remove the bath panel, or any panels covering pipes. Of course, this may seem a bit over the top to the seller, but for the sake of a few awkward requests you could get yourself a much better deal and save a lot of hassle down the line.
Even the more visible plumbing can be a good signal as to whether or not the house has been looked after. Does the pipework look clean and straight or does it look kinked and bodged-in as an afterthought to the rest of the house? Sure, it may work fine at the moment, but bad pipework usually ends up being problematic in the long-term. How modern is the boiler? How good is the silicone around the bath, shower, and sinks? If it’s cracked or coming away, chances are it will need replacing sooner rather later. It may even mean that water has got behind the unit and there is invisible damage. Pay attention to the location of things in the kitchen and bathroom. If the toilet is in an awkward place, think about whether you’ll be able to live with it or will eventually want to spend more money rearranging your bathroom. See my Location, Location, Location post for more on this.
The plumbing is not the be-all and end-all of a house, but if you are going to take out hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt, it’s good to know exactly what you’re getting. Think of the pipes as the veins and arteries of the house. Make sure they are in good health, along with the rest of your potential new home.