Squeezed Middle: What if the roof falls in?

The longer I lie there nursing stomachchurning anxieties about joists and flashings, dry rot and wet rot, subsidence and damp readings, the fonder I feel of our trusty little cubbyhole.

Photograph: Getty Images

When he says the roof is “sagging”, is that as bad as it sounds? Or is it some kind of technical term?”

We have just received the survey report on the derelict house that we are in the process of buying. However desperately I try to put an optimistic gloss on it, the news is alarming. We already knew about all the obvious damage – the mouldy cork tiles in the kitchen, the festering avocado bathroom suite, the persistent smell of rotting fish – but we had been clinging to the hope that a deep clean, a quick lick of paint and a couple of trips to Ikea would sort it. As it turns out, there is a deeper level of structural wrongness, the hideous financial implications of which we can only guess at.

“And what about ‘eventual renewal’ of the ceiling joists? How eventual is eventual?”

The surveyor has employed a “traffic light” system to help dumbnuts such as us understand what he is on about. Each section of the survey has a spot next to it in the page margin to indicate the gravity of the problem. A green spot means all is fine; orange indicates that the issue is not urgent. The page I am staring at looks like it is covered with livid red measles.            

“The thing about surveyors,” says Curly, as if he has been hanging out with surveyors all his life, “is that they’ll always give you the worst-case scenario. They have to cover their backs.”

I turn the page to reveal one isolated spot of green.

“On the plus side, there are ‘No visible signs of an infestation of wood-boring insect.’”
“Great!”
“Although he does say we should get a second opinion.”

That night, at 4am, after baby Moe has finally finished bawling his eyes out and dropped off for a quick power nap, I lie awake fretfully turning the matter over in my mind. We have no spare money, at all. If the roof falls in a week after we buy this bloody house, we won’t be able to fix it. We’ll just have to sit there getting rained on. Should we try to renegotiate the price? Or should we just stay in our flat, which, though significantly lacking in wiggle room, is at least leak-free?

The longer I lie there nursing stomachchurning anxieties about joists and flashings, dry rot and wet rot, subsidence and damp readings, the fonder I feel of our trusty little cubbyhole. As dawn starts to creep around the edge of the curtains, I roll over to whisper sweet nothings into Curly’s sleeping ear.

“Hey babe, about this house, maybe we should just forget the whole idea.”

“Hnnnmn.” Curly raises one eyelid briefly to shoot me a look of baffled dismay. “Don’t be stupid. We’re doing it now. You’ve got to stop worrying.”

It seems I’m going to add the sagging roof to my ever-growing list of things not to think about, alongside looming redundancy, our complete lack of any savings or pensions, child mortality, global warming and the rise of China. So I’m glad that’s all sorted.