A do-it-yourself checklist for the home buyer
So you’ve seen the house you want. But you need a final thorough look - “just to be sure”. Before embarking on your inspection, you will need to take a ladder, a long shank screwdriver, a good torch and a power point tester (available inexpensively from most large hardware and electrical stores).
What you will need
It is also advisable to wear old clothes or overalls. Please take care when inspecting the property. Defective roofs, for example, could pose a serious risk if walked on.
The Inspection - What to look for
In the Garden
- Check the condition of fences and gates. Examine the base of gate posts and fence posts, the bottom “plinth board” and at the junction of rails and posts for rot. These are the areas of greatest deterioration.
- Look for large trees too close to the house. These could cause structural subsidence, particularly in brick or brick veneer homes with timber floors.
- Make sure the water run-off from the garden doesn’t flow, or pond, underneath the house, causing excessive damp conditions. - It is also worthwhile noting the location of poisonous trees and shrubs (such as Rhus or Oleanders) which could harm children and pets.
- Carefully inspect the walls to ensure that they are straight. In timber houses, sagging weatherboards could mean timber stumps have rotted, or concrete stumps or brick piers have subsided. Minor cracking in brickwork of older houses can generally be ignored, but large cracks or bowed brick walls could mean the footings have subsided meaning an expensive under-pinning job may be required.
- Check for rotten weatherboards, windows, doors & verandah posts.
- Thoroughly check the condition of the mortar between the bricks. If it has been eroded away it should be cleaned out and re-capped by a bricklayer. Different colored mortar indicates a repaired brick wall, which could either be a responsible repair or a patch-up. Look to see if this mortar is cracking again.
- Where houses are brick clad to the ground, make sure there are plenty of sub-floor ventilators beneath floors. Inadequate ventilation and dampness are the major causes of many sub-floor problems.
- Look for buckled, badly fitted or water stained eaves, which may be an indication of roof or gutter problems.
- Check the structural condition and water-tightness of rooms and walls of garages and sheds. Look for water stains on timbers and metal sheeting.
- Look for fire hazards, loose or broken power points and badly wired electrical fittings.
On The Roof
- Lean your ladder against the guttering and look for a wavy roof line. This may indicate a structural problem (see “roofspace”).
- Look for broken roof tiles and loose ridge and valley tiles allowing bird and possum entry as well as water leaks.
- Check that corrugated iron sheets are in good condition and well nailed down.
- Ensure that valley and eaves guttering are free from holes and rust. Even small holes can create large leaks. Extensive replacement is often necessary.
- Make sure that flues and chimneys are structurally safe and the flashings around them are secure against water penetration.
Under Timber Floors
- Look under the floor for props or bricks holding up the floor instead of stumps, piers or dwarf walls.
- Check for subsiding stumps or brick piers, or whether excessive wedging has occurred between these structural supports and the floor bearers. If these structural supports need to be replaced, the cost could be quite high.
- With timber stumps, look for stumps with the heaviest water stain and dig away up to 100mm of the soil below ground level. Check for rot by scraping the stump and seeing how much breaks away. This can indicate the approximate life expectancy of the stumps.
- Inspect timber framing and floors generally for rot, mould and evidence of borers. Borer attack in some species of pine may be due to Anobiid borers. These will eventually destroy the timber and should be treated immediately.
- Check to see that the earth is not excessively wet. Dampness problems accompanied by inadequate ventilation encourage rot, borer and termite attack.
- Look carefully for termite “shelter tubes”. Termites build mud shelter tubes, between 5mm and 50mm up stumps or piers and brick walls to connect their nests in the ground to the timber on which they are feeding.
- If you are in any way unsure about borers or termites, the house should be checked by an expert.
In the Roof Space
- Look for sagging roof framing, cracked or broken tiles, rusty iron roofing and leaking ridges or valleys. A defective roof can be a very costly repair item.
- Check for shoddy or damaged electrical wiring. Do not touch!
- A pungent odor or rat-like droppings could indicate the presence of vermin. Possums can damage ceilings and should be removed. (It is illegal to poison them.) - Note whether or not the ceiling has been insulated.
- Although the underside of concrete floors cannot be inspected check if there is any exposed perimeter to ensure that the plastic waterproofing membrane is not exposed, but protected by fibre cement or a similar covering.
- Make sure that the windows can be opened and check for broken window panes. The sash cords in older double hung windows may be broken or need replacing.
- Check for excessive condensation and mould growth on windows and walls. Locate the source of musty smells. The causes could be: inadequate ventilation, sub-floor dampness, roof leaks, lack of insulation or often a combination of these.
These checks should be carried out in each room of the house.
- At regular intervals, jump lightly on the floor to detect any rotten floorboards, borer infestation or looseness in the floor framing. While this test may be a guide, it by no means guarantees that any timber stumps or floorboards are in good condition.
- Check to see if the floors are level, or there are gaps between floor and skirting. If stumps or piers are sinking, floors will always fall away from fireplaces or brick walls. This is an invaluable check in houses which have been recently renovated, but not structurally upgraded.
- Look for signs of dampness, such as lifting or buckling floor tiles and rotten carpet. Dampness in concrete slabs can be hard to trace and expensive to remedy.
- Ducted heating systems under concrete floors can be susceptible to water leaks. Lift the floor vents and check for evidence of water or rusted ductwork. Water penetration can render the heating system entirely useless.
- If cracks in the concrete are millimetres wide, they could indicate a significant structural problem.
- Check that walls are straight and true. Deviations could be either warped framing timbers, or the onset of structural problems- re-check footings or stumps.
- Look for cracks and general movement and be particularly wary of freshly painted or wallpapered areas. In these cases, look for evidence of recently filled cracks, a sign of sub-floor structural problems.
- Carefully inspect brick walls for signs of dampness. This may be evident through the presence of white or brownish deposits. Rising dampness may also cause skirting and architraves to rot, and paint and wallpaper to lift. Rising dampness or salt damp can be particularly expensive problems to cure.
- Tap solid brick walls for a hollow sound or a change in tone. Both could indicate a plastered or rendered-over patch-up of a significant rising damp problem.
- Look for cracks beside chimneys and look for doorways and windows that aren’t square, or are jamming. These usually indicate structural subsistence.
- Lightly tap walls and tiled surfaces with the handle of your screwdriver. A hollow sound could mean loose plaster or tiles.
- Check that ceilings are straight and true, and look for cracks or signs of movement at the cornices. These could indicate roof or wall-framing deficiencies, possibly illegal wall-removing.
- Look for water stains and mould growth which could indicate excessive condensation or roof leaks.
- Check all plumbing fittings for cracks or leaks.
- Test the water pressure in hot and cold taps. It is worthwhile turning on several taps simultaneously to ascertain if there is any appreciable pressure drop.
- Partially fill the bath or laundry tubs and observe whether or not the water drains away properly. A sluggish flow or gurgling in the pipes could indicate that the sewer drains are damaged or blocked.
- Look for damp ground in the vicinity of the drains, which could be caused by cracks or leaks in pipes, needing replacement.
- Check for dampness and soft soil where down pipes meet the ground. Down pipes may not have been plumbed to stormwater but they need to be, to avoid structural and dampness problems.
- Check that the light switches and power points work.
- Test all power points with the tester. This will indicate outlets that are incorrectly wired. The most common problem is power points which are not earthed.
- Look for signs of burns around switches, fittings and fuses.
- Wiring in many older homes is quite sound, provided that it is left intact. If additional power points or lights are required, the entire electrical system may need replacing.
- If you are at all in doubt about the condition of the electrical system, you should have it checked by an expert.
Renovations and Extensions
- If the house has recently been renovated, or if extensions have been carried out, check with the local council to ensure that a building permit was obtained. Illegal alterations could become your responsibility, particularly if they contravene the building regulations.
- If you are buying with a view to doing extensions in the future, check council requirements for set-back distances, maximum site coverage and restrictions on types of construction. You may need professional advice.
- Examine the house for appropriate room layout, orientation to the sun, views, relation to neighbours, traffic noise, and if not optimal, whether the house can be improved at an affordable cost.
- If your intended home has a reasonable bill of health, it is worthwhile contacting the local council to ensure that it is not likely to be affected by future road widening, re-zoning or other planning proposals.
- If you get into difficulties with your home inspection, or would rather have an expert do it for you, we can arrange for a couple of different building inspectors to contact your directly.
Disclaimer – This is general information only and is no way to be construed as expert advice or to be relied on and should never be a substitute for a building inspection which would be carried out by a trained professional with appropriate qualifications. No guarantee is made to the accuracy or relevance of the general advice portrayed in this article. Low Cost Services accepts no responsibility or liability in any shape or form and the use of the information by the reader is solely at their own risk.