The Importance of a Pre-Purchase Building Inspection
Only 20% of people engage a professional to assess the home before they purchase. Some get lucky and some don’t. Considering you will get a roadworthy dome on a $20,000 motor vehicle it seems common sense to have a building and termite inspection done of an investment worth $900,000.
The object of a pre-purchase building inspection is to locate major defects, structural defects, safety hazards and minor maintenance defects and inform the potential buyer of what the defect is, where it is and what is required to have it rectified. The home is finally rated as Above Average, Average or Below Average in comparison to similar home of the same age that has been reasonably well maintained. Very rarely have we rated a home “Above Average” unless the owner has fastidiously maintained it.
Most homes we inspect will have major defects, being defects that require rectification to avoid further damage or deterioration of the property. This can be as simple as a cracked roof tile that will cause leak damage to rotten stumps that will cause extensive internal cracking and flor unevenness.
What Mr Inspector believes you need to know is what needs fixing today and also what can wait and what is it all going to cost. This puts you in an informed position to negotiate in some circumstances, just buy it and rectify the problems or simply walk away.
Keep in mind, all homes have issues, even new ones and if you are going to worry about minor maintenance type defects you may never buy a home.
A lot of people buying homes think they are solid when they walk through at an open for inspection. Sometimes they are. We have had a lot f clients over they years not get building inspection and then when they move in they see things they are concerned about. A recent building and pest inspection Mr Inspector conducted in Watsonia revealed extensive termite damage through the flor bearers and joists at a cost of $45,000 to rectify. To them the home looked fine and it was, except for the termite damage that cannot be seen by walking through a home.
“Be aware that some issues you see during an open for inspection may not be as problematic as you think they are and conversely, some issues may be worse than what you think.”
Another common mistake is that brick homes constructed on slabs do not get termites. This is not correct. Termites can enter via pipe penetrations through the slab into bathrooms via the slab edge and via weep holes. A year ago we did a building and pest inspection in Frankston that had $145,000 worth of termite damage and that home was a brick veneer on a slab.
Getting a professional to inspect your home is a must in our opinion. You will see a lot of things when walking through a home that you may think are serious. Some people see borer damage to a floor and think it’s termites. Most of the time borer does minimal damage and you don’t have to worry about it.
You won’t see termites; they don’t come out and walk around the home like common ants. Many things have to be done to try and locate termites during a house inspection – timber testing/tapping, moisture readings, thermal imaging and radar meters to name a few. Some people see an uneven floor and think the home is going to collapse. Most issues are under the home and some are major and some are minor.
We strongly advise home buyers not to have a friend inspect their potential home – We acknowledge that you may use a builder friend and one who will know how to build a home but it is highly likely they won’t have the equipment or the time to do the inspection properly. Thorough building Inspections can not be done in half an hour while the agent has an open for inspection. You need to get in the roof and under the house. You need to timber test everything for hollowness to locate termite issues. You need to have a moisture meter and a thermal camera to assess for damp and leaks.
Below are some issues you should take on board when walking through your potential home. This list is not exhaustive – our reports are in excess of 80 pages.
Open For Inspections – what to look for
Stand back out on the street and look at the house. Does it appear square and level? Are any veranda posts out of plumb? Is the roofline level? Look at the windows – are they square. Unevenness or out of square areas is an indication of a problem with the homes structure. But it could also mean the homes stumps have been replaced and nothing was straightened.
Have a look at the gutters – do they slope downward to a down pipes. Gutters need to fall to a down pipe. Those that don’t will require adjusting by a plumber to prevent ponding of water in the gutter and subsequent rust as well as overflow into eaves and fascia.
1. The Block of Land
Is the block of land sloped or is it flat? If it’s elevated or sloped there are potential surface drainage issues if drainage has not been installed or not installed adequately. Water should not be flowing under a home. You will need to get under the house to check for damp soil. Water flowing under a home can disrupt the footings and foundations and is also conducive to termites.
The same goes for paths around the home. Look for tell tale signs of mould and old ponding on the paths. Paths should slope downward to the fence and not towards the home.
2. The Boundary Fences
Check the boundary fencing for any leaning. Leaning normally means rotten fence posts and replacement will be required. This is considered a safety hazard as the fence may collapse in high winds. A building inspector does not measure your lot area. This must be done by a land surveyor and is called a boundary re-establishment. Most solicitors and Conveyancers will recommend you measure the block area. This is OK but it may not be an accurate measurement of the actual allotment. A boundary re-establishment will ascertain if you have taken some of the neighbour’s land or they have taken some of yours.
3. External Walls
With masonry walls check for large cracks and step cracks through the mortar. Also stand on a corner and run your eye along the wall and check to see that it is straight with no bowing and unevenness.
Check the lower wall areas for brick fretting or mortar decay. This is normally associated with a rising damp issue and is more prevalent on older solid brick, or double brick homes.
Old weatherboard homes normally have some bowing. This is normally associated with the home being restumped. When the original stumps failed the wall frames moved with them. The weatherboards would need to be removed to straighten. It is common to see some rot in the ends of weatherboard or at joins. This is associated with the ends not being paint sealed when cut.
4. Rising Damp
A common problem in older solid or double brick homes is rising damp. This occurs when the damp proof course in the mortar bed deteriorates due to age. In older homes you can see the darker colour mortar bed below the floor level – this is the damp proof course and is meant to stop water coming up higher than the floor level. If the internal lower walls are bubbling and have paint deterioration this is a sure sign of a damp issue. Damp related issues on old brick walls in garages are typical, as these walls were never required to be damp proofed as they are classed as non-habitable rooms.
5. Internal Leaks
Unfortunately, a homebuyer won’t be able to get under a house. Leaks from bathrooms and showers are common, even in new homes. Look at all the lower walls outside the shower and even open hall cupboards of the shower backs onto it. If the paint is bubbling or deteriorated it is quite likely you have a leak. We see this regularly. Worst-case scenario here is that the bathroom will have to be properly waterproofed. Before doing this, get a plumber to have a look, it might be as simple as the tap penetrations (spindles) have not been silicon sealed or there is a leak in the showerhead.
Check the ceilings for any staining which is a sure sign of a current leak or a past leak. We use moisture meters to see if still damp. This is a pretty easy fix if it’s just a cracked or dislodged tile.
6. Safety Issues
Look at the pergolas, verandas and carports. Give the posts a shake and see if they are wobbly. This normally indicates rot and is a potential safety hazard.
Open the switchboard or meter box and check you have two RCD switches installed. All new homes must have them. Older homes that have had an extension, renovation or even a PowerPoint changed must also have them.
7. Floor levels
Take your shoes off and have a walk around. You actually do feel imperfections better with your shoes off. Don’t panic with an uneven floor – it doesn’t necessarily mean the house will fall down. The house may have been re-stumped and was not levelled so the footing are Ok, or the stumps may have been poorly installed or the home needs restumping due to stump rot. In older double brick homes we normally see a bit of a drop in the floor along a perimeter wall. This is a pretty easy fix and normally associated with some timber decay.
8. Internal Cracks
Cracks are categorised depending on length, width and number of cracks. Diagonal cracks above doors and windows usually means some differential settlement in the footings and foundations has occurred. Cracks up to 5 mm need to be monitored for a period of 12 months and if worsening occurs they will need to be re-assessed. Cracks can be live or dormant and unfortunately this is impossible to ascertain in a 2-hour period.
Stand back and look at doorframes and see if they are square. Out of square frames and doors binding can mean some differential settlement in the footings/foundations. It can also mean the home has actually been re-stumped but nothing was straightened which we see a lot of.
9. Binding Doors
We sometimes attend building inspection whilst there is an open for inspection going on. We see people walk around and check doors and windows and when one binds a bit they start commenting that the home has problems. It might but is it serious and serious enough for you to walk away. We don’t think so. As stated above the footings or foundations may have some problems or they have been repaired and nothing was straightened. Door and windows can bind seasonally. One season they open Ok and the next they stick a bit. This is typical for timber windows.
10. Open for Inspections
We hear people talking loudly saying things like this home needs restumping and that’s about 20 grand. Keep your comments to yourself, even if you are just intending to put off your competition. I think this is an un-Australian thing to do to someone who is trying to sell his or her home, if you don’t know what you are talking about and especially if you are trying to diminish your competition. Put yourself in their shoes and play fair.
I don’t expect your to be a building inspector after reading the above. These are just a few things I have touched on to help you when walking through a home you are considering purchasing. The important thing to consider is how serious is it and what will it all cost to rectify. There is so much to look for and so much to do to carry out a thorough building inspection. We can take up to two hours to complete a building and termite inspection. The sub floor and roof frame are areas you won’t get to inspect and these are very important from a termite perspective.
I hope this has assisted you and if you have any questions, please feel free to contact Mr Inspector. At www.mrinspector.com.au
Peter Lalor bases his inspections on what he believes he would want to know about a home he was buying. Every home will have problems, you can guarantee that. Our job is to tell you what defects were at the home and how to have them rectified. Mr Inspector believes the aim of any building inspection is to ascertain how much money you need to spend to get the place back to good condition, what defects are really major that will cost a lot to.
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