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Should I always get a building inspection?

It’s an understatement to write that property-buying transaction costs are significant. The combination of estate agent fees, advertising and conveyancing costs and stamp duty invariably consumes several tens of thousands of dollars.

So it’s natural for buyers – especially cash-strapped first timers – to seek ways to trim their costs.  One obvious area is the pre-purchase building inspection. Typically costing upwards from $500 for a structure and pest inspection, it is tempting to bypass this step; especially given that a prospective buyer often misses out on a few properties before they eventually buy, so could be forking out a couple of thousand dollars on inspections over a campaign.

Of course, building inspectors rightly say this is money well spent. It’s a risk minimisation investment, an insurance against undetected structural issues that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix.

But what is one actually buying?  Generally, it’s a top-to-bottom inspection of a property by a qualified inspector that typically takes an hour or two, depending on the size of the property, and the subsequent delivery of a thick report listing findings. With houses, the inspector is firstly looking for structural issues relating to the roof, walls and foundations. The inspector will take a keen interest in the amount, location of and depth of cracking in walls as this can be a symptom of structural issues. Uneven floors and wonky walls may also be indicative of problems with the underpinnings.

The presence and causes of damp is another major focus for a building inspector, especially rising damp in older brick cottages. Often its presence is obvious to the trained eye – paint flaking, salt residue and mortar decay – but it can be masked by fresh paint, in which case a moisture meter is used to detect it. The inspector will also try to establish why the damp is occurring, as it is usually a symptom of other problems in the structure such as a faulty damp proof course, a leak somewhere in the building or poor ventilation.

Perhaps the biggest worry for many prospective buyers is termites. And rightly so, especially for those living in our northern states where they are most prevalent. A bad infestation can cost hundreds of thousands to rectify. Often termites are triggered by dampness. To locate termites, an inspector will want access to under the property, as this is where termites (who are subterranean creatures) will migrate from. However, many houses don’t have this access. Inspectors have others techniques beyond the visual to find termites: timber testing, timber tapping, moisture reading and even radar!

Bathrooms can often be the source of dampness in a property which in turn can cause a termite problem. Hence a good inspector will pay particular attention to this room. Frequently the issue relates to poor waterproofing in shower recesses and/or cracked tiles.

Some apartment buyers assume an inspection isn’t required for units. And indeed if the apartment appears to be in good condition then an inspection may not be necessary. However, it may well be worth engaging an inspector to look at the whole building – roof, external walls and so on – especially if a review of the body corporate minutes suggest there may be problems.

Considering this list of some of the issues an inspector can find, hopefully, you’ll agree that obtaining a report is usually a good idea, despite the cost. If you’re lucky enough to live in the ACT then the cost and responsibility for the report lies with the vendor. And in July, new rules in New South Wales will encourage reports to be shared amongst prospective buyers, so reducing the cost. The buyer' agent team at Wakelin Property Advisory look forward to this trend to reduce unnecessary duplication of reports spreading across Australia.