10 things you should know before buying a house

Date: 10 June 2015

With the local property market improving, many people might be thinking of moving house or adding an investment property to their portfolio - but what should a prospective buyer keep in mind when walking through a potential purchase? Chris Short from the Association of Building Consultants shares his top ten tips.

  1. Shabby chic - consider whether the property looks tired and in need of some tender loving care. A lack of maintenance can serve as warning that the property hasn't been looked after for a longer period of time, and more serious and expensive hidden repairs might be lurking just below the surface.
  2. Patch and fill - it is common for a seller to finally do those maintenance jobs they've been putting off and make a house ready for sale. While a makeover might look good, it could also be masking more sinister problems, such as termite damage, salt damp, structural issues, rotted timbers, corroded steelwork, or unlicensed and dangerous electrical work.
  3. Tree is a crowd - everyone loves magnificent trees, but they can bring with them a number of underground problems such as blocked drains, damage to paths and even damage to house footings. Consider whether there are any trees close to the home or nearby that might have the potential to impact on stormwater, sewer drains, and foundations. They can also cause serious structural movement in the building due to drying of reactive clay soils.
  4. Open and shut - Take time to open and shut the doors and cupboards. It is a good way to gauge if the home has experienced any major movement. Sticking doors or cupboards that no longer open or close might be a sign of subsidence and more investigation is necessary.
  5. That sinking feeling - have a look at whether there is much difference between the ground level and the floor level.  The more space the better, if the house has timber floors.  You should be able to see the plastic lining on the bottom row of bricks, known as a dampcourse. Damp proofing is a type of moisture control that is applied to a home's walls and floors to prevent moisture from passing into the interior spaces, so if it is below paving or soil it will no longer protect a home.
  6. Follow your nose - If a room smells musty, there is probably a ventilation problem.  If the room is next to the bathroom, there might also be a source of moisture. This can be just the right sort of cocktail for a termite attack.
  7. Avoid a nasty shock - Open the electricity box and take a look.  Is there a safety switch on the board inside?  There are plenty of homes that still have the out-dated ceramic fuses, which is an obvious indicator that the wiring will need to be updated to make it safe.
  8. Go with the flow - It is vital to drain stormwater away from a home, so downpipes leading to nowhere will need to be rectified as a priority. When wandering around the outside of a home, consider whether stormwater is draining away or being allowed to drain or pool near the house.
  9. Cracked to the rafters - stand on the street, or near the back fence, or where you can look at the roofline to see if it appears to sag. A sagging roof can indicate a broken rafter or can be a sign that an underpurlin has cracked or might be about to.
  10. On the home straight - Most houses these days, especially those in the new outer suburbs, are built in hilly country. Sites are cut on the high side and filled on the low side. Retaining walls on the boundaries with fences on top are very common. Look along the fence - if it is bowed, chances are that the retaining wall needs repair.

Remember that to the untrained eye a building might appear to be in good order, but an experienced building consultant who is trained to look for problems lurking below the surface is always the best option. If an inspection uncovers any concerns it doesn't have to mean the end of the sale, but instead it gives a potential buyer a clear understanding about what needs urgent attention and what longer term maintenance matters need considering, so that a dream home doesn't become a nightmare.