Every property has lots of issues which you need to know about when you are planning to purchase a house or a unit, be it new or existing.
A common question many prospective buyers ask is “Do I really need a building inspection?”
Some financial institutions and most Solicitors/Conveyancers require you to have a Pest Inspection and Building Report carried out on the home you are interested in purchasing. This will give you an indication of any pest issues or structural defects. Some problems can be straightforward and easy to fix but other issues can be major ones, such as structural problems in the roof or timber pest infestation in the floorboards and skirtings. It is estimated that 20% of house purchasers and more than 50% of unit buyers do not have a pest and building inspection done prior to their purchase.
Common building issues found in many properties
Cracks in buildings: A small crack may not seem all that threatening, however, it could be a precursor to a significant structural issue. The location of cracks is important; for example, if the underside of load bearing beams or external or perimeter walls have cracks, then the integrity of the structure could be at risk. A forensic approach is required when investigating cracks in building structures as many cracks can turn to out to be much bigger issues than their appearance would otherwise suggest.
Leaks in bathrooms: A moisture reader is used to detect leaks in bathrooms and it’s surprising how many inspections regularly find leaks around shower recesses. These sometimes need resealing, however if they are on a timber frame (e.g. 2nd story of many houses) they require more work. The costs of this repair can vary from a few hundred to thousands of dollars depending on the extent of the leak and also depending on whether the water has penetrated the walls and structures. With units, the Body Corporate will not always fix these issues.
Rising Damp: Rising Damp can lead to serious health issues; it occurs when moisture creeps slowly from the soil under a structure and up into the base of the walls. From the early 1900’s, builders started using a damp course seal in brickwork, however this damp course deteriorates with age letting the damp through. A chemical injection barrier can be used to treat rising damp as this does not disturb the buildings structure however this can cost up to $10,000.
Timber pest issues: Termites will generally attach themselves to any timber material in your home (e.g door jams, beams and bearers) or around the home (e.g fences and tree stumps). Termites are soft-bodied creatures and need a constant source of moisture in order to survive; they tend to nest in moist dark environments where they are less likely to be disturbed. The only way you can be certain you don’t have termites is to have a pre-purchase inspection and then annual inspections completed.
Concrete cancer: This is where a concrete structure becomes compromised after the steel reinforcing within the concrete corrodes, causing rust to form and weakening the steel. As the concrete begins to crack it breaks the bond between the steel and concrete and reduces the strength and structural integrity of the structure. More common in coastal areas, concrete cancer can often be found in the balconies of apartment buildings and surprisingly, this seems to go unnoticed or unattended by the body corporate.
Old wiring: The lifespan of wiring in a building often depends on the severity of the environment. For example; wiring in coastal areas may have a lifespan of 40 to 50 years whereas the wiring in a more moderate environment may last 60 to 80 years. An electrical fuse board normally needs replacing at between 40 to 50 years.
The cost to replace wiring in a typical 3 bedroom house (with good access to the sub floor, roof interior and wall cavities) is approximately $5,000.
Asbestos: From the post-World War II years until the 1980s, asbestos was lauded for its incredible properties; it was extremely heat- and fire-resistant, waterproof, very durable, and inexpensive to use. There is no signification risk if the material is left undisturbed and is sealed, however, once asbestos is broken, the particles become airborne and if inhaled can lead to serious health issues.
Common safety issues found in many properties
Faulty smoke alarms: Effective smoke alarms are a simple and effective way to detect smoke and provide a warning when there is a fire. 144 people in NSW have died in house fires over the last five years, with the majority of fires occurring while the occupants have been asleep. In all new residential buildings, constructed on or after 1 August 1997, smoke alarms must be connected directly to the consumer power mains (hard wired) as well as having a battery back-up. Residential buildings constructed before 1 August 1997, can be fitted with a battery-powered smoke alarm.
No safety switch: A safety switch monitors the flow of electricity through a circuit; it detects a problem as soon as a current leaves a circuit and turns the power off within 0.03 of a second. That is quick enough to help save someone’s life. The most effective type of safety switch is one that is installed on the power and lighting circuit boards.
Fire safety upgrade: Many apartment buildings have not had a fire safety upgrade. Both new and existing buildings are expected to adhere to current, stringent fire safety regulations. As part of any routine assessment, Council can issue a fire safety Order if a building doesn’t comply with fire safety regulations. A Fire Safety Upgrade Order will detail a list of items that must be addressed, and will specify a timeframe in which this must be achieved by. These upgrades can costs in excess of $20,000.
Any sort of application submitted to Council for works to a building is likely to trigger a fire safety assessment, even if a single-unit owner in a block of flats for example puts in a request for a minor change.