The home inspection: What you need to know

Spring is the season when increasingly more prospective buyers have their weekend calendars occupied with open house inspections.

Figures from CoreLogic RP Data back this up, as they show that the second weekend of spring in Melbourne and Sydney this year brought in 1,181 and 1,046 auctions respectively. These numbers become even more significant when looking at the total number of auctions across the capital cities for the week, which was just 2,615.

This means that 2,226, or more than 85 per cent of the week’s auctions took place in just two of our capital cities – it certainly strengthens the case to use a Melbourne or Sydney buyers’ agent, as they will be able to sort the wheat from the chaff.

With the sheer number of homes transacted, there are many horror stories about people buying property that they initially thought was a great purchase, only to be haunted by overlooked defects in the future. These problems could cost you thousands of dollars to repair (provided they’re repairable at all), not to mention the emotional strain.

“75 per cent said they still had defects in their schemes that hadn’t been fixed”

In fact, research from the University of New South Wales found that 85 per cent of proprietors of strata schemes built since 2000 had experienced at least one costly defect during their ownership. Of this group, 75 per cent said they still had defects in their schemes that hadn’t been fixed.

The most common problems identified (after they’d purchased) were:

  • Internal water leaks
  • Internal or external cracking to the structure
  • Water penetration from the exterior of the building

Regardless of whether you intend to live in the property [specify] or rent it out as an investment, an open house inspection is an integral part of buying any property. Thoroughly and objectively assessing a building for any signs of existing problems or possible future issues can save you money, by helping to ensure you don’t buy a lemon.

Before you sign the dotted line, here are a few things you should consider.

Before you sign anything, you should make sure of your decision.

Personal inspection

Open house inspections usually only last anywhere between half an hour to an hour, so you need to use your time wisely. The most obvious things you will be able to determine from your first visit is the location, size, age, style and access to facilities like amenities and public transport.

However, NSW Fair Trading recommends taking the time to put together a simple checklist that you can use to tick off various observations and compare other homes, while paying attention to:

  • The state of the guttering, downpipes and roofing
  • Any signs of damp on the outside (window sills, the base and under the eaves, for example) and the inside (ceilings, walls and flooring)
  • If there is a pool, making sure it’s operational and compliant with safety standards
  • The floor’s condition and whether it’s level
  • If the walls and ceilings are fully insulated
  • Natural lighting and ventilation
  • The power points – whether there are enough and if they’re handily located
  • What is included in the contract (for example, curtains, light fittings, air conditioning and heating appliances)

While all these could potentially hit you in the wallet, there are some more serious signs to be wary of, courtesy of Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV):

  • Bouncy or sloping floors could mean the base stumps need replacing (Archicentre, found that up to 30 per cent of timber-stumped homes investigated in Australia needed immediate partial or complete re-stumping, a costly repair)
  • Brick walls that are damp can indicate rising moisture
  • Paint work that has blisters or bubbles is often the result of termite activity
  • Walls with cracks can indicate a land-slip, requiring the replacement of the stumps
  • Tiles that are lifting, mouldy walls, peeling paint or pools of water in places usually means excessive moisture
  • Fretting brickwork, where the mortar is essentially falling away, can indicate major structural damage
  • A roof that is sagging or broken roof tiles may involve costly repairs or even a full replacement

Furthermore, CAV stresses the importance of finding out if the building has been renovated or added to, and if so, whether relevant planning or building permits were obtained. Once the contract of sale is signed, any illegal alterations could become your responsibility.

Having a basic checklist can be an effective way of comparing homes.

Take it for a test drive

In an ideal world (for buyers at least), you would be able to take a home for an obligation-free trial period before making any decisions. Unfortunately, we don’t think any seller would be quite this desperate! Especially not while CoreLogic RP Data shows the average time to sell a home in our capital cities is hovering around record lows.

While you may only have as little as 30 minutes to examine the property, there are a few cunning ways you can try before you buy to ensure you’re making an informed decision.

1. The water works

As aforementioned, internal water leaks were one of the most common defects among strata scheme owners, therefore it’s important that you take the plumbing through its paces.

How high is the pressure? According to the Department of Industry and Science (DIS), low pressure can often indicate a water leak somewhere in the building. How long does it take for the water to become hot? This will determine the effectiveness of the water heating system. Does it drain quickly? It can signal a blockage in the line if the water takes longer than normal to drain.

2. The windows

The DIS also highlights the significance of having effective windows. While they can let in light, fresh air and views of the outdoors, they can also have some detrimental features, such as unwanted heat loss or gain.

Are the windows letting in sufficient natural light? The home may be dark or even damp if it isn’t receiving enough sunlight. With the windows closed, can you feel draughts around the edges of the frames? Any gaps that aren’t properly sealed could make heating and cooling more costly.

3. The noise and smell

While the property may be ticking all the boxes on your checklist, NSW Fair Trading states it’s important that you consider the noise and smell, too.

For example, when at the property, can you hear noise from traffic, planes or neighbours? Likewise, can you smell anything offensive, from either the house itself or perhaps a nearby factory?

A report from a professional inspector can often be invaluable when purchasing a property.

Professional inspection

Despite the significant amount of money involved with any property investment, Archicentre found that on average around 80 per cent of home buyers do not undertake a professional inspection on the home they are purchasing.

The service provided by a professional inspector (most often a builder, land surveyor or architect) can be invaluable – the fee is only small when you compare it with the cost of buying a property that needs expensive unforeseen repairs.

You should be wary of any inspection report provided to you by the seller. The only way to guarantee an absence of bias is if the report is obtained specifically by and for you, the buyer.

A qualified inspector will be able to see through cosmetic cover-ups, and will provide a written report, which according to CAV will include:

  • Any faults the property may have
  • If they can be repaired
  • What it will cost you
  • Any unsafe or illegal renovations or extensions

Regardless of the outcome, having access to this report will give you more power when it comes to making an informed decision, or even negotiating a better price.

Using a buyers’ agent

If that all sounds like a lot of work, you should consider the services a buyers’ agent can provide. They can support you from the beginning, by scouring the market on your behalf, sourcing private house sales, inspecting homes, planning auction strategies and negotiating outstanding purchase prices.


up icon