How to spot a property lemon

Some of the most attractive homes are hiding a stack of problems. 

That is the thing about property flaws: they’re hidden beneath the house, in the walls or are simply hard to detect with the naked eye. buyer sourcing property

You end up falling in love with the home, its attractive décor, and you buy it.

Then six months, maybe a few years down the track, you discover an active termite infestation or a pretty serious case of rising damp.

Then it’s time to reach for your wallet because these problems are generally very expensive to fix.

But you don’t need to be a building and pest inspector to spot most of them.

Arm yourself with a bit of background knowledge and you can quickly spot the property money pits.

Here are some of the big offenders:

The outside: What to look out for

If the home is weatherboard check that the timber is not sagging or warped. 

Also make sure that there is no damp rot, which is usually found at the join in timber weatherboards.

Now, check out the stumps (if applicable).

Press at the base of the stumps with a screwdriver and if you feel it give a little or you feel weakness in the material then the stumps may need to be replaced.

In timber homes, stumps need to be replaced every 25 years, and this will cost at least $10,000, often more.

Also make sure there is sufficient drainage and pipes directing water away from the house.

You want to make sure pipes are delivering water towards drains, rather than just dumping it in the yard.

Take some time to look at the fuse box.

Does it look modern? property

An earth leakage safety switch is good news, but timber cable trays suggest the wiring may need updating.

If the roof is made of iron and it’s very rusty then that is not a good sign.

The sellers may have tried to paint over this, in which case look out for patchy areas.

If it’s a tiled roof, check there are no missing tiles or look at how faded they are, which could indicate new sealant is needed or there are leaks in the house.

A sagging roof can also be a sign of structural issues.

Check for termite damage wherever any wood touches the ground, such as along decking.

The Inside: What to look for

Now, let’s move inside the house.

Take some time to check the doors and windows. house real estate search property lease buy house couple first home saver

Make sure the doors close and open properly and don’t get ‘stuck’, as this can be a sign of subsidence or movement.

Also check the windows have no cracks on them and are in good working order.

If these stick and will not close or open properly they may have warped over time.

Now inspect the internal walls to look for signs of damp, which will result in cracking and buckling plasterwork, and, of course, damp.

Most sellers will have thought to try and paint over it so look for textured paintwork or uneven patches.

Head to the bathroom and look for signs of mould.

If mould is present it means ventilation is poor and you will need to install an exhaust fan.

Turn on the taps and check the hot water arrives quickly and the pressure is strong.

Are there cracked or lifting tiles? 

This may indicate water computer search property news media web

Check the plumbing and pipes for leaks, and tug at the plumbing under the sink to see if it is strong and secure.

Finally, lift up rugs or move furniture that seems to be oddly placed.

Sellers can hide a multitude of sins (or a giant hole) with wall art or a strategically placed pot plant.

Just remember: don’t expect perfection.

The point is not to buy the perfect home —there is no such thing  — but to understand where the faults lie and how much they will cost you.

Forewarned is forearmed!

Want more of this type of information?

Kate Forbes


Kate Forbes is a National Director Property Strategy at Metropole. She has 15 years of investment experience in financial markets in two continents, is qualified in multiple disciplines and is also a chartered financial analyst (CFA).

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