Improving house inspections
BUILDING INSPECTORS who received low marks from the Consumers’ Institute for failing to properly assess homes for prospective buyers need to lift their game by using the Standard for Residential property inspection (NZS 4306:2005), says Grant Thomas, General Manager Marketing at Standards New Zealand.
The voluntary Standard was published in 2005 in response to events in the building industry relating to weather tightness and durability and concerns that many property inspections were not picking up important defects. “The sale or purchase of residential property is an important decision, which should be backed up with accurate knowledge of the property,” says Grant. “This Standard introduces consistency and reliability into the inspection of residential properties, to ensure that as far as possible, significant defects are identified.”
The Standard is useful for:
The Consumers’ Institute describes the performance of building inspectors as ‘poor’, following a recent survey it undertook of 10 inspection companies, and says that house inspectors missed many potential problems.
“The Standard will help building inspectors and building consultants to identify these potential problems,” says Grant. “It provides clear guidelines to property inspectors and gives home owners, vendors and financiers the assurance they need that any significant defects have been identified.”
Standards New Zealand recommend that homeowners insist that a property inspection is carried out according to the residential
property inspection Standard and that the inspector is willing to certify this in writing.
Written property reports should be accompanied by a residential property inspection certificate (NZS 4306:2005 PADS), which certifies that the property inspection has been carried out in accordance with the Standard and includes a summary checklist of the features inspected.
What the Standard Covers
The residential property inspection Standard covers a range of issues concerning pre-purchase property insections and reportin, including:
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Savvy Houz Inspections
A Home Inspector examines the observable systems and components of real property that are readily accessible (VISUAL ONLY - NON INVASIVELY).
The major concerns are Roof, Foundation, Windows, Heating/ Cooling, Plumbing and Electrical. You will be provided a comprehensive written building report that will list any significant defects that reduce the functionality or structural integrity of systems or components or conditions that pose a significant health or safety risk that a home inspector has knowledge of or has observed. The report also describes the condition of systems or components that, if not repaired, will have significant adverse effect on their life expectancy.
No House is Perfect
Even brand new homes can have imperfections. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on your dream home. It does mean that when you feel you’ve found the right house, you need to go one step further and find out what issues are present and what the significant financial, health and safety implications are. Buying a house is one of the biggest investments most people will ever make, so it makes good sense to have it checked out by one of the best inspectors available.
Why have a home inspection performed?
The unknown can be a source of anxiety for any home buyer or seller. A home inspection is for buyers or sellers who want to know more about major financial, health or safety issues that are discovered prior to the transfer of ownership. After deciding that a home is suitable in terms of location, size, interior layout and other lifestyle factors, it is very important to learn about the systems and components that pose a significant financial, health or safety exposure. As a buyer, don’t wait until after you move in to find significant concerns; as a seller, don’t wait for the buyer’s home inspection results and be under a time constraint to address issues you did not realize you had. Hire a well experienced/ trained Home Inspector.
Some questions answered during an inspection?
Our custom inspection reports will identify the systems and components, their observed condition and what, if any, recommended corrective action (maintain, repair, replace, further evaluation) is advised.
How long does it take?
The time to perform a thorough Home Inspection and produce a comprehensive Report will vary according to the size, age and condition of the house. Other influential factors are the accessibility (or lack thereof) of the roof, and/ or crawl space, electrical and the hot water heater. For example, a 15 year old, 150 msg house man take about 3-4 hours to inspect and finish the written report.
It is important that you choose your inspection company carefully. There are government regulated bodies that oversee their qualified building memberships; Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) Licenses Building Practitioners (LBP) New Zealand Certified Builders (NZCB) Membership requires passing strict qualification checks, vetting of client and business relationship references, professional Indemnity & public liability Insurance requirements, continued training and adherence to the strict Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics.
If you choose an inspector who is not a member of one of these organizations, you run the risk of getting a less than adequate (or accurate) inspection report.
How much lead time is required to book an inspection?Depending on the time of year, you should allow yourself at least 5 – 7 business days to be sure of arranging a time that works for everyone involved. Good inspectors are often booked out over a week. Don’t wait till the last minute to schedule your inspection.
The purchase of a home is one of the most exciting and important decisions you’ll make and you can’t afford to get it wrong or gamble on the outcome. So, before you buy your next house, call Dean Norrie at Savvy Houz Inspections to schedule your inspection.
All our House Inspectors are Experienced Builders with LBP Licenses - call today 021 143 2995
Building inspections which fail to pick up serious problems can be catastrophic for home buyers. In 2013 the Wellington High Court awarded damages of more than $200,000 to homeowners who unknowingly bought a leaky home based on a poor-quality inspection report. The judge ruled the inspector had failed to exercise reasonable care and skill and had breached the Fair Trading Act by providing a misleading report.
A similar case is making its way through the Auckland High Court. The buyers of a leaky home in St Heliers are suing the sellers of the property and the building inspector who provided a report on behalf of the sellers.
It seems the same house or property can receive quite different assessments from private building inspectors. After Wellington was rocked by a sizeable earthquake in August 2013, Julie Watson (not her real name) decided to have her house assessed for earthquake resilience. The inspection identified some urgent fixes – water cylinders had to be strapped to the framing and floor joists had to be fixed more securely to the house piles. However, there was nothing to suggest expensive repairs were needed.
Less than a year later Julie’s house was randomly selected for a research project that was investigating the condition of Wellington houses. A private building inspector – but a different one this time – was sent to Julie’s house. Again the cylinders were picked up. But Julie was told half the piles needed replacing. The likely cost of repairs was tens of thousands of dollars. One house, two very different assessments – Julie is left wondering which inspection she should rely on.
Key risksRoger Levie, CEO of the not-for-profit Home Owners and Buyers Association of New Zealand (HOBANZ), believes the variable quality of pre-purchase building inspections is a huge problem. He told us he’s often hearing horror stories about buyers relying on reports that were later found to have missed major property defects.
Roger’s organisation was originally set up to support homeowners who found themselves with leaky and defective properties. A PricewaterhouseCoopers study from 2009 estimated that between 22,000 and 89,000 dwellings could be leaky homes and less than 10 percent had been repaired. In Roger’s opinion, many of those who have set up shop as building inspectors simply don’t know what to look for when these unrepaired homes are offered for sale. According to Roger, it’s not unusual to see from the photos in these reports glaring defects that have been missed by the inspector.
It’s not just the risk of buying an unidentified leaky home that buyers need protection from. Many home owners fail to adequately maintain their houses, which can mean unexpected and expensive repairs for an unsuspecting buyer.
In 2010 the Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ) found that only 42 percent of owner-occupied homes had few defects and therefore were in “good or excellent condition”. The majority – 58 percent – had significant defects. BRANZ estimated that the average value of the repairs and maintenance required for these houses was $12,000.
BRANZ found that where maintenance had been done, it tended to be interior maintenance and cosmetic with “…less visible things considered to be of lower importance”. These are the type of superficial improvements that can dazzle an unaware buyer. The results for rental properties were even worse, with only 22 percent in good or excellent condition.
A key job of the building inspector is to identify areas where maintenance or work has been inadequate.For example, BRANZ found that 32 percent of owner-occupied homes had gaps in their ceiling insulation and in 25 percent of homes the insulation had been poorly installed. BRANZ attributed this to DIY – installing ceiling batts is something owners often do themselves.
Consumer protection You can protect yourself against buying an inadequate or misleading building inspection.
You should only agree to buy inspections that comply with a “Residential Property Inspection Standard”. This was issued by Standards New Zealand in 2005 (it’s known as NZS4306). Inspectors don’t have to carry out an inspection to NZS4306 but you should insist on it.
NZS4306 requires a visual inspection only – it has no invasive tests. It’s basically an extensive checklist covering the interior, exterior, subfloor space and roof space. However, it doesn’t prescribe how a component of the house is to be inspected. Inspectors are also required to have a relevant “technical qualification” but what this means in practice is not defined. HOBANZ is dissatisfied with the standard and is working to develop an alternative approach.
While it could be better, NZS4306 does have the benefit that inspectors are required to have professional-indemnity insurance. This gives you added protection. There’s a risk inspectors will claim their reports comply with NZS4306 when they don’t. You should ask for proof that the inspector has professional- indemnity insurance. And check, too, what is and isn’t covered by the policy.
Trap for young playersWhen arranging an inspection, make sure the inspection report is addressed to everyone who is relying on it to make a property purchase. This includes family trusts. In August the High Court ruled that an inspector wasn't liable for a misleading inspection report because the property was purchased by the client’s company, not the client herself. This problem would have been avoided had the inspection report been addressed to both the client and her company.
Competency signpostsThere is no licensing regime for inspectors – anyone can offer the service. So there’s no guarantee they’ll be good at their job even if they do carry out an inspection that covers all the areas mentioned in NZS4306. But three professional organisations are attempting, through their processes for registering and accrediting members, to help consumers find good-quality inspectors.
The NZ Institute of Building Surveyors (NZIBS) offers a registration process for building inspectors. To be registered an inspector must have a relevant building qualification (for example, from the architecture, construction or engineering disciplines), have passed the NZIBS registration exam, be currently providing inspections and have received extra NZIBS training in weather-tightness if they report on that. Each year they must complete additional learning required by NZIBS and have professional-indemnity insurance.
There are currently just over 100 registered members throughout New Zealand. Demand for their services is high (they are often involved in weather-tightness court cases and remedial work). So only a few registered members offer pre-purchase home inspections. We counted 20 in Auckland, 5 in Wellington and 10 in the South Island.
The core area of business for the Building Officials Institute of New Zealand (BOINZ) is supporting, through ongoing training, local-authority employees who work in the area of building consents. However, since 2007 BOINZ has offered an accreditation process for private building inspectors. The key benefit of this is that BOINZ accredited members must comply with NZS4306. Not only must they provide proof of this to get accreditation, but to remain accredited the inspector must submit reports each year for review. Currently there are just 14 accredited members, but BOINZ says the queue of members applying for accreditation is growing. Accreditation is the key to using BOINZ members: it’s accreditation that signals some minimum level of competency, not membership itself. We’ve seen reports where an inspector has highlighted his BOINZ membership, which was enough to reassure the customer. However, BOINZ only recommends using accredited members, which the inspector wasn’t.
The latest arrival is the New Zealand Institute of Building Inspectors (NZIBI). Chief executive Neville Scott says to get NZIBI registration inspectors will need to demonstrate they understand how to undertake an inspection correctly, report their findings in a clear and concise manner, and undergo ongoing professional development. NZIBI currently has 18 members.
What to payYou can expect registered or accredited inspectors to be at the higher end of the fee scale for building inspections. This is partly because of the cost of professional-indemnity insurance.
Kaizon Ltd has several NZIBS registered inspectors. It told us an inspection of a three-bedroomed weatherboard house in Albany could cost around $890. House buyers can find cheaper options – some as low as $213 for an oral report only. While that’s attractive to buyers who may have to buy reports for several properties,the downside is they’re relying on an inspection which may be wildly inaccurate.
Lifting the barMore could be done to improve the quality of inspectors. NZIBS, BOINZ and NZIBI could do this voluntarily – by doing unannounced spot inspections on their members as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors does in the UK. Or they could require more demanding professional development from members. Introducing formal licensing of inspectors is another option. But lifting the bar for inspectors would do little to resolve the practical problems facing consumers. It would do nothing to increase the supply of accurate reports. For that to happen something more fundamental is needed (see “What if …”).
When you think you’ve found the home of your dreams it’s easy to charge ahead and get straight to gearing up to make an offer.
But before you sign on the dotted line, it may be worth having someone who isn’t invested in the outcome to take a closer look at the property to avoid problems and extra costs down the track.
Building inspectors are professional builders, surveyors or architects who will provide you with a standard property report. They follow specific guidelines and know exactly what to look for and how it may impact your future property. If you’re interested in finding out something specific, like whether the property could sustain a second storey in the future, they may be able to give you an indication of that too. You can also have a separate pest inspection report completed to ensure there are no hidden nasties under those polished floorboards. Here are three reasons why smart and savvy home buyers choose to pay for a building inspection.
See problems without rose-tinted glasses
When you first look at a property, it’s only natural to get carried away thinking about which room will be the study and whether the kitchen cupboards need a modern overhaul. A building inspector understands those little details that can easily escape the untrained eye. Has a good paint job covered up rising damp? Is the ceiling buckling under pressure? Are the waterworks flowing as they should? Is there movement in the walls resulting in cracking? These are all issues that can be overlooked in a standard walk-through, but they can make all the difference when you’re looking at making one of the biggest financial investments of your life.
One of the often-overlooked advantages of a building inspection report is that it could potentially increase your negotiating power.
Plan for future costs
While not everything picked up in a building inspection will necessarily require a fix, the report can highlight significant repairs or costs that may be required in the future, and may impact your decision to purchase the property. If you know you’re going to have to get the entire house restumped in a couple of years, or that the energy rating may triple your electricity bills, you can plan for these costs and perhaps take them into account when working out how much money you need to borrow.
Increase your negotiating power
One of the often-overlooked advantages of a building inspection report is that it could potentially increase your negotiating power. While you can’t use this at auction, you can pull out your bargaining chip if the house is passed in on your bid or is being sold through private sale. By understanding what structural issues the house has, and being able to produce a formal report to back it up, your position of power at the negotiating table will be well grounded, potentially saving you thousands of dollars.
Armed with this knowledge after reading your report, you can make an informed decision about whether you want to purchase your new home, negotiate a better price for the property or look for something more suitable.
While a building inspection deals with many aspects of the property, make sure you understand exactly what is included in the report before paying for the service by contacting a qualified and licensed home inspector in your local area. Call savvyhouz today: 021 143 2995 www.savvyhouz.co.nz/blog
The internet is increasingly dominating the New Zealand real estate marketplace.
A new generation of internet-enabled buyers are searching the web for suitable properties and they are also using the internet as a tool to do due diligence on the houses they are interested in buying.
New Zealand house sales are now driven by the younger, first home buyer, well-educated who combine good earning power with business savvy.
“Young buyers understand that it really is a good investment for the buyer to spend an extra $500 on a fee for a home inspection in order to be sure that a first home ownership “dream” house is not a potential ‘money-pit’.
“Most of SavvyHouz clients find us on the internet. In fact the business process of quoting, collection of fees and delivery of the report is all internet based at SavvyHouz.” Dean says SavvyHouz uses internet technology in order to hold its fees at reasonable levels.
Dean adds, "We deliver pre-purchase house inspection reports of a consistently high standard to our clients within one working day of the inspection. “It is interesting that mostly we never meet our clients face-to-face and yet we receive regular praise for our very high level of efficiency and personalised friendly service.”
Dean says that the internet is the real estate marketplace of the future. This is where today’s buyers are most comfortable.
Home Inspection: Find Out What an Inspector is Looking For?
Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, the home inspection can make you sweat. Before you get too worked up, take a deep breath and realize that a home inspection isn’t a pass or fail thing. In fact, no home inspection will yield perfect results. But some inspection reports are more concerning than others, and it’s important to know if an issue is a minor repair or a money pit. Here’s everything you need to know about home inspections!
What Is a Home Inspection?
Home inspections are a vital part of the home-buying process because they help the buyer avoid any surprises with the home they are purchasing. A home inspection includes an evaluation of structural elements, electrical features, plumbing, and heating and cooling systems.
A qualified home inspector will look for any health and safety problems, as well as any positive or negative property conditions. When the inspection is complete, the home inspector will provide a written, comprehensive report that details any issues with the home.
A buyer would be crazy to skip the home inspection. That’s why a good real estate agent will make sure it is part of the home-buying contract.
Local experts you can trust.
How Much Does a Home Inspection Cost?
The buyer pays for the home inspection. The cost can vary, it may cost a home buyer $300–500 for a home inspection. That may sound steep, but paying a few hundred dollars is worth it to avoid a costly surprise down the road!
Home Inspection Red Flags for Buyers
If you’ve been searching for your dream home, there’s nothing like the relief of finally being under contract. Now the only thing standing between you and your perfect place is the home inspection. And frankly, you’re a little nervous. What if it flunks the test?
Whether or not your new home gets a passing grade is up to you—not the home inspector—because you’re the one holding the purse strings.
So what are some inspection issues that should make you think twice? Here are five signs your dream home may be more of a curse than a blessing.
Buyer Red Flag #1: Outdated Electrical Wiring
With today’s families using more gadgets than ever, it’s important to ensure your home’s electrical system isn’t past its prime. An upgrade may be due if your home inspector finds overloaded outlets or a panel that’s wired with too many circuits. Pay close attention to aluminum wiring if it shows up on your home inspection report. It was used between 1965 and the mid-1970s in place of copper, and it poses a dangerous fire hazard due to the potential of overheating at connections.
Buyer Red Flag #2: Foundation Damage
Do you remember the parable about the wise man who built his home upon the rock? If there’s one lesson we learned from that story, it’s that your foundation counts! Every home experiences some degree of settling. A qualified home inspector can tell you when a seemingly minor crack spells major trouble. Watch out for bulging or bowing foundation walls, which is a sign of structural weakness that can be expensive to repair.
Buyer Red Flag #3: Septic Tank Failure
If your new home comes with a septic tank, make sure trouble isn’t bubbling below the surface. A septic tank that fails can cost thousands of dollars to replace. That’s a stinky way to start life in your new home! Foul odors, slow or gurgling drains, and standing water are common symptoms of a septic tank that needs TLC.
Buyer Red Flag #4: Water Intrusion
Water is often called the source of life, but it can wreak havoc when it creeps into places it shouldn’t. Your home inspector should investigate any water stains to determine if there’s an active leak and to check for the presence of mold. A brown spot on the ceiling, for instance, may indicate a faulty roof, while stains on basement walls can clue you in to drainage issues—and neither are a cheap fix.
Buyer Red Flag #5: Mold
A home plagued by mold isn’t just gross—it can affect your health. You can typically clean up areas of mold that cover less than 10 square feet on your own without breaking the bank. But extensive growth requires professional help. The cost of removing mold from crawl spaces, walls and ducts can easily be thousands of dollars, depending on the scope of the damage.
See a Red Flag in Your Home Inspection?
Just because your home inspector uncovers an issue doesn’t guarantee the seller will fix it. Ultimately, you decide whether to walk away or negotiate with the seller, and a lot of that depends on your budget and willingness to take on a major home improvement project.
An experienced real estate agent can help you navigate the findings and set priorities for moving forward.
Home Inspection Tips for SellersIf you’re selling a home, you may think that home inspection red flags don’t apply to you. While you may not be weighing pros and cons of repair items like potential buyers, a surprise at that point in the process can wreck a deal. And once you’re under contract with buyers, do you really want to go back to square one because a patch of mold or an electrical issue sent the buyers running?
After working so hard to attract buyers with a move-in-ready home, the last thing you want is to lose a sale because your home inspection turns up a red flag. So, what’s a savvy seller to do?
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Seller Tip #1: Know What You’ve Got Before You Go to Market
Surprises are great—just not when they show up on a home inspection. That’s why Shawna says it’s a good idea to get your own pre-sale inspection before planting the for-sale sign out front, especially if your home is in questionable condition. A qualified inspector should perform a four-point inspection of the roof, HVAC, basic electrical, and basic plumbing to avoid a lowball offer out of the gate.
“Make sure you keep good maintenance records on your mechanicals , plumbing and electrical repairs, and you know the condition of your roof,” Shawna says. “The seller does have to either disclose or repair any issues found during the pre-sale inspection, but it allows you to decide if you will price your home as-is or to make repairs to get it closer to market value.”
If your listing agent doesn’t offer a pre-inspection option, be prepared to deal with costly repairs or to lower the price if major issues are uncovered when the buyer conducts their inspection. You may find yourself having to wait until you can afford to fix the problem areas before your home can sell at the price you need to move on.
Seller Tip #2: Know When to Fix Your Fixer-Upper
So how do you know which repairs are necessary to close the deal? The buyer’s appraiser may require certain improvements for the sale to go through based on the buyer’s loan and the value of your home. A seasoned real estate pro can help you make the call, but a few key areas take priority.
The same areas a home inspector evaluates—electrical, plumbing, roof and HVAC—are the ones you may have to prioritize when it comes to repairs.
“The electrical, plumbing, roof and HVAC should be in good working condition when a property is transferred,” Shawna says. “I always recommend hiring licensed professionals for these types of repairs so the buyers will feel confident about the condition of their new home.”
A major fix may feel out of reach if your money is tied up in equity, but you can still bring options to the table. Why not work with your agent to gather a few professional quotes for the repair and offer cash at closing or a discount on the sales price to cover the cost? Giving the buyer a choice is always a winning approach because they like having control over the outcome. It also shows you’re willing to meet them in the middle.
Know Who to Call for Advice
Whether you’re buying or selling a home, a less-than-perfect home inspection certainly complicates things. After all, it’s difficult to tell when to spend the money to fix an issue and when to negotiate a compromise. That’s why you need an experienced agent who can guide you through the rough patches and help you come up with a solution.
Looking for a high-octane real estate agent who can help you buy or sell a home? We can connect you with the top real estate pros in your local market!
Uncle Fix-It inspections to become thing of the past?
Any building report must be done by someone suitably qualified.
The days of getting a knowledgeable relative to do a "building inspection" on a house you're thinking about buying are numbered.
The latest version of the Auckland District Law Society and Real Estate Institute of New Zealand sale and purchase agreement, used for most of the country's real-estate transactions, has become available this month.
It requires that any building report is done by someone suitably qualified.
In other words, you can't just ask your handy uncle to come and check out the property.
Barrister and solicitor Peter Nolan, who helped draft the agreement, said the stricter requirement was protection for both parties.
"It needs to be objective. It needs to be fair to the vendor that if the buyer is pulling out on the basis of a building inspection that it was done by an objective person with proper qualifications."
But the directive has created problems and the Certified Builders Association has warned members not to do building reports because the risk of liability is too high.
Operations manager Jason McClintock said there had been too many cases of things such as leaky buildings where the person who wrote the inspection report was the "last man standing" after developers went out of business.
Awareness of leaky building problems had made homeowners more litigation-savvy. "Practitioners are exposed to liabilities they are underinsured for," said McClintock.
"We're protecting both parties by saying builders shouldn't expose themselves, their homes and their businesses to potential liabilities."
Master Builders Association chief executive Warwick Quinn agreed: "Under the building regime we are responsible for undertaking construction work. Our liability increases significantly if we undertake consultancy work."
He said that was the domain of registered surveyors. He expected building inspection companies would do the bulk of the inspection work.
Sorry Dad, take a step back
Amy Flower has been relying on her father's opinion to decide whether it's worth bidding on properties at auction.
She is looking to buy her first home on Auckland's North Shore. But if she decides to make a conditional offer with the new version of the sale and purchase agreement, his opinion won't be enough to satisfy the building report clause.
Faced with the front-page option of inserting the clause, she probably won't bother. "A lot of what I've been looking at are brick-and- tile units and I'm happy that those are well built."
But Andie Spargo, a prospective home-buyer from Christchurch said inserting the condition was essential for peace of mind.
"We have mates who are builders but we figured it was important to not just get a registered builder, but also someone whose professional focus is house inspection. It's too much money to gamble."Herald on Sunday
Peter Boehm09:37, May 16 2011
DIY house inspections: how to spot a lemon?
There's no shortage of horror stories about people who have bought a property that looked fine on the outside but which, in fact, hid serious defects. Major problems and faults can cost property buyers many thousands of dollars to fix (that's if they're fixable at all), not to mention the emotional strain of watching your ''successful'' purchase turn into a disaster. So how can you avoid buying a lemon? The rule, as always, is to buy your first home using your head, not your heart.
This means ensuring you thoroughly and objectively assess properties for signs not only of existing problems but also problems that may occur down the track.
When inspecting a property, you should do two types of checks. The first is your own initial appraisal and the second - if you're serious about the property - is to bring in the experts, who can ensure that the home is free from defects.
Inspecting a property yourself
When inspecting a property, don't just look at its upsides but be on the hunt for potential downsides as well. This will not only save you from buying a disaster waiting to happen but can also save you the cost of getting a professional inspection if you decide the problems are severe enough to know the property is not for you. A good way to go about your inspection is to divide the property into three areas - the inside, the outside and the surrounding land and structures.
The following is a list of things to look for; however, you should also add anything else you feel is important to review.
Insider's tip: If you have friends or family who have recently bought a property or have expertise in this area, ask them to come with you. They may be able to give you some pointers on what to look for and, with less emotional investment in the result, they might be more objective.
Inside the dwelling:
Water pressure: Turn on the taps in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry. Check the pressure and colour of the water and how well it drains.
Damp: Check for stains, water marks and paint damage. Sellers will sometimes paint over damp to hide it, so use your sense of smell.
Cracks in the walls, or doors that stick: These can be signs of subsidence or movement. If the damage is severe, it may indicate a big problem that would cost thousands of dollars to repair.
Sticking windows: If windows don't open and close properly, the frames may have warped (if they're wood) or rusted (if they're metal). New paint jobs can hide both. You can tell if wood is going to rot by pressing it with your finger - if it's soft, there's a problem.
Mould: If there's mould in the bathroom, it's usually a sign that there's a ventilation problem that needs to be fixed. In addition, you'll need to re-grout and repaint.
New paint: Paint is often used to hide faults. Run your hands over the walls and look at them from different angles to see if you can find any problems.
Bathroom: Check for damaged enamel and broken surfaces. Loose grout and cracked or lifting tiles can be signs of water damage. Check the plumbing and pipes for leaks.
Hot-water service: Ask about the age of the unit and how well it performs. Check for leaks and rust and ask when it was last serviced.
Insulation: If you can, look through the manhole into the roof to check the age and condition of the insulation and ask whether the walls are insulated.
Pests: Look for signs of pest trouble, such as rat or mousetraps or poisons. Sagging floors, springy floors and steps, as well as hollow-sounding beams, can all be signs of termite damage. If you're serious about buying a property, you should think about getting a professional pest inspection.
Electrical wiring: Old-fashioned switches and sockets can be signs of old wiring that could need replacing.
Heating and cooling systems: Inquire about the age of the units, their service records and whether they are running well.
Floor coverings: Check the carpets for wear and tear and decide whether they'll need replacing. Lift any rugs to make sure they're not covering any damage.
Fly screens: Make sure fly screens are fitted where necessary and aren't damaged. They can be surprisingly expensive to replace.
Kitchen and laundry: Check the age and quality of the benchtops and cupboards and make sure there's room to accommodate all your appliances.
Decor: Changing the wallpaper or repainting is simple to do but can be expensive, especially if you hire someone to do it. Consider how much work needs to be done.
Renovations: If you're planning to renovate, it pays to go a step further and check the ease with which tiles can be lifted and carpets removed. If you can, and it's safe to do so, get under the house to see if floorboards can be polished or whether they need replacing. Check the quality of the fixtures and fittings to see what needs to be updated or restored. Think about how much work the kitchen and bathrooms will need.
Room layout: Make sure there are the right number of rooms in the right places, as well as sufficient storage to meet your needs.
Power points: Check that there are enough points in the right places and think about whether you'll need to add more.
Furnishings: If you already have furniture, think about how it will fit with the property, whether you'll need to replace it and how much additional furniture you'll need.
Outside the dwelling
Orientation: Check which direction the house faces and whether the living areas will be too hot or cold.
Plumbing: Check the external pipes for leaks and rust.
Fuse box: Make sure it's modern and meets safety requirements. If you have doubts, get an electrician to check the box and the house wiring before you buy.
Guttering: Look for leaks, rust, warps, holes and signs that the gutters overflow. Think about whether the leaves from nearby trees will cause problems. Check whether the downpipes and drainage are in order and fixed well to the stormwater drain.
Asbestos: Ask whether and where asbestos has been used. Most often, it's found in walls, roofing and fencing. It is always best to have asbestos assessed and removed professionally. Inhaling asbestos dust can cause serious health problems so if in doubt, bring in an expert.
Roof: Check for missing, cracked or sliding tiles. A sagging or undulating roof can be a sign of underlying structural issues.
General appearance: Check the overall state of the building and look for damaged windows, cracks in the brickwork or cement work and whether it needs a new coat of paint.
Extensions: Check the quality of the workmanship on any extensions and ask to see the council approvals.
Termites: Ask whether the area is prone to termites or other insects and double-check what you are told with the local council. Check for termite damage wherever any wood touches the ground, such as along side walls, pergolas and decking.
Surrounding land and structures
Trees: Trees nearing the end of their lives can pose a danger and be quite expensive to remove. Check the age, condition and type of trees in the garden and check whether any trees - including those owned by the neighbours - have the potential to damage your property by falling down or dropping branches.
Garden: Check the general condition of the garden and consider how much work will be required to maintain or improve what's there. Check whether there are sufficient taps for watering and whether the garden's size and shape will meet your needs.
Privacy: If the property is overlooked by neighbouring houses, it can affect your enjoyment of your outside spaces. If the neighbours can see in, think about whether screens, fences or high-growing plants or trees might fix the problem.
Fencing: Check the fences and gates for damage. If repairs are needed, find out what your share of the cost will be.
External structures: Check carports, sheds, pergolas and decking to make sure they are stable and in good condition.
Pools and spas: Look for cracks or bulges in pool bottoms and sides and check lighting, filtration and heating systems. Check for evidence of leaks or repairs and the condition of the surrounding paving. Ask for evidence of any maintenance and servicing. Pool repairs can be expensive, so bring in an expert if you have any concerns.
Drainage: Wet or muddy patches in the garden can indicate poor drainage. Check for water damage on both the main property and any surrounding structures. These checks are imperative if the block of land slopes or is at the base of a hill.
Insider's tip: It is often difficult to get approval from the local council to remove trees, something that can affect your landscaping and renovation plans.
After your inspection, reflect for a moment on what you've discovered. Document your findings and estimate how much any repairs will cost. Weigh up whether the costs outweigh the benefits of buying the property.
If you still want to proceed with the purchase, it's time to bring in the experts.
When it's time to call in the experts
Property investor Loula Papasoulis wouldn't dream of buying without getting a professional pre-purchase building and pest inspection done.
''I wouldn't drive a car without an insurance policy and I certainly wouldn't buy a house or apartment without getting it checked out by a professional first,'' Papasoulis, 40, says.
''I like to go into a sale with my eyes open. It doesn't usually deter me from buying the property, it just alertsme to any defects or any small maintenance issues that I can fix later.''
In some instances, she has used the report to negotiate a better price. Before making her most recent purchase, she called on Tyrrells Property Inspections, which identified a leaking roof and a high risk for termites.
Although the report cost $1200, Papasoulis says it was worth it. ''They gave us a written report and we also had access to the inspector prior, during and after the inspection,'' she says. ''He was really prompt in calling us and along with some of the issues, he gave us positive buying points as to whether the property was basically sound and what maintenance would be required.''
Sydney Morning Herald