When it comes to buying a home or an investment property, it is vital that you conduct a thorough inspection before you sign on the dotted line – to ensure you don’t buy a lemon.
Just because a property looks good on the outside, it could have serious defects that may not be immediately obvious and they may end up costing you thousands of dollars to repair.
A property inspection will help you avoid blowing your budget on unexpected repairs and maintenance work, and it could also save you from the emotional strain of watching your beloved purchase turn into a disaster.
This 4 part series will detail the areas you should particularly focus on when conducting a property inspection.
So far we have addressed:
1. Water Damage
2. Uneven Floors, Walls and Ceilings
You can read this here: 10 Signs a Property Has Problems – Part 1
3. Foundation Problems
4. Plumbing Issues
You can read this here: 10 Signs a Property Has Problems – Part 2
5. Driveway and Paving Problems
6. Renovation Restrictions and Limitations
7. Problems with the Property’s History
You can read this here: 10 Signs a Property Has Problems – Part 3
Now let’s discuss:
8. Electrical Wiring Issues
Make sure electrical wiring meets modern standards.
If you have any concerns that the property’s electric wiring is dodgy or out of date, this is an area where an expert (like an electrician) should be consulted.
This should certainly be front of mind when considering buying older properties, especially those that have little evidence of renovation of modernisation.
I remember buying an old terrace house in London many years ago and without checking because I assumed it would need to be rewired.
I based my assumption on the age of the property and my observations during the inspections.
In the end, I was right and fortunately I had the foresight to negotiate down the purchase price based on this and other maintenance matters I had identified.
It is worth noting that wiring problems are not just confined to older properties; it is not uncommon to encounter problems in newer homes as well, especially when DIY work is involved or builders have not been as diligent as they should.
In particular, you should consider the adequacy of the electrical system when thinking about any planned near-term extensions or renovations as it is important the system can handle the multiple power demands of today’s appliances, especially in the kitchen.
Here are some common indicators that there could be problems with a property’s electrical system:
- Flickering and dimming lights may mean the electrical circuit is overloaded. This usually happens when multiple devices are running at once.
This can be a reasonably common occurrence, however with a well-wired property this should not be noticeable or frequent.
- Discoloured or charred light switches and power points are a possible sign of faulty wiring.
This occurs when wiring to the switch and power point temporarily shorts, causing a small short-lived fire which in turn causes surface damage.
This is potentially dangerous and should be fixed immediately to avoid injury. You should be able to identify these problems through a close visual inspection.
If you do notice signs of damage, it is probably wise to leave the affected switches and power points alone.
A buzzing sound when switches are turned on is also a strong indicator of wiring problems, so keep your ears open when doing your testing.
- During your testing, a burning smell is a sure sign something is wrong and you should immediately turn off the light or switch you’ve turned on.
This smell could be a precursor to an electrical fire.
In normal circumstances, it would be prudent to turn off the circuit breaker supporting that outlet until an electrician can come and repair the problem.
Since you don’t own this property, this is not something you are responsible for.
It is best that you let the selling agent or vendor know what you have discovered.
- Another obvious sign that that particular switch or point is damaged is if the switch/point gives you a shock when you turn it on.
This may be caused by a number of factors and it is best left to an electrician to sort out.
9. Pest Damage
Look for signs of pest damage.
The first step is to liaise with the local council to learn whether a particular area or street is a designated pest zone, especially when it comes to termites.
If there are problems, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy in the affected area, it just means you should get proof that the property has been treated to protect against pest damage and that there are no current problems.
You also need to find out when and at what cost ongoing treatments will be, plus any other action you may need to take (like ensuring adequate sub-floor ventilation) so you can make an informed decision about whether you wish to proceed with buying the property.
Pests come in many forms, like rats, mice, termites, cockroaches and other bugs.
Each has its own evidence of existence like fecal droppings, noise (such as scratching sounds) and signs of damage (such as gnawed furniture, shredded paper and damage to wooden structures).
You should look and listen for signs of pests at floor level, in and behind cupboards and in dark and moist areas.
When it comes to inspecting for termites, here are some steps you can take:
- Gently tap exposed interior timber within reach, checking for hollow sounds and feel for imperfections like soft or spongy areas. Use a torch for timber out of reach and search for possible signs of pest activity like holes and cracks.
- Inspect the outside perimeter looking for signs of pest treatments (like holes drilled in brickwork) and make sure there is adequate ventilation.
- Check the garden, especially in moist areas like timber or logs, for pest activity. These will show obvious signs (like being eaten away) if termites are present.
- If possible, cast a torch in the roof void and check for signs of damage to beams and struts. It is also a good opportunity to check for signs of other pests like rats if you come across rodent traps.
- If you do come across signs of termite activity, do not piece or break the affected timber as this may cause the hive to migrate back to the nest or other areas of the property, and this could inhibit the effectiveness of any treatment plans.
If there are any signs of possible pest infestations, or if you have any concerns, make sure you get an independent pest inspection done.
A treatment plan should include initial and ongoing costs and timeframes.
10. Problems Concealed by a New Paint Job
Many sellers dress up their property when putting it on market in order to make it more appealing and enhance its price.
Typically, a new lick of paint will be used as a cost-effective way to brighten up and help modernise a property.
However, this may also be used to hide problems.
Examples can include covering up newly repaired cracks in walls and ceilings, as well as moisture and mould damage or surface undulations and imperfections.
To alleviate any concerns, you could consider making a polite enquiry as to whether the property has had a paint job and why, as well as running your hands over newly painted areas to reveal any obvious physical problems – like soft wood or saggy or springy walls.
As a closing thought, it is important you conduct a property inspection with an open and inquiring mind.
Arm yourself with a checklist of potential problem areas, which, when satisfied, will help ensure that your decision to proceed or walk away is based on an objective and informed view.
Remember, always bring in the experts if you have any major concerns as it is far better to pay a few hundred dollars now than many thousands of dollars down the track.
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