The 5 must-do building checks

Article by Mozo

So you’ve scoured the postcode of your dreams and inspected what seems to be an unending amount of properties to come to the end of the road. House after house, hour after hour. And finally, a place you can soon call home.

But has the journey ended yet? No, not yet. Apart from your professional pest inspection, there’s a building check you’ve got to book in! Understanding as much about the structure of the building before you even make an offer will tell you a lot about it’s ‘hidden secrets’, if any. It’s a good way to assess whether:

  • it’s a strong and viable dwelling to invest in
  • needs structural repair
  • it's a knockdown.

You’ll need to know the answers before purchasing, and the outcome of a professional condition report will guide you with how much you should offer in the first place. Furthermore, after an inspection is made, if you feel that there are too many costs involved in getting the dwelling up to scratch, you may withdraw your interest altogether.

Whatever you decide, a condition report may cost a few hundred dollars but getting one done may potentially save you hundreds if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run. That’s a deposit on another house! Just keeping it in perspective, folks.

Here’s what will be checked:

1. Settlement. Not your tribe, the ground beneath the house.

It’s common for the earth to settle over time in both new and older properties, and it’s all dependent on the way the foundation was set before the construction of the dwelling to begin with.

A little settlement is fine and won’t disrupt the foundations of the house too much. But when there’s major impact and disruption from ‘settling’, then you’ll have a lot to concern yourself about if you decide to go ahead and buy it.

Mozo however believes you ought to hold off any property purchase till you get the problem and cost to repair properly assessed.

Obvious signs that the dwelling has started to ‘settle’:

  • Wide cracks in the exterior brickwork (brick veneer)
  • Slim to thick cracks found interior, especially near door frames and windows
  • Cracked and sunken outdoor slabs. Check patios, adjacent garage floors etc
  • Windows and door frames that are difficult to open and close may have skewed
  • Vertical cracks in solid foundation walls
  • Tilting chimneys (if an older style building)
  • Concrete outdoor stairs or steps that tilt.
  • You may see some or all of these signs that may indicate settling. But you need to get a professional to double check first.

What causes settlement?

Since the earth resting beneath houses comprises of many layers of soils that is potentially thousands of years old or more, the composite is a vast conglomerate is expected to shift and change over time. For some places, these shifts, changes and thus ‘settlement’ may not happen for decades, for others it could be effective almost soon after a new property has been built.

Bear in mind, just because settlement has happened to one house in the neighbourhood, doesn't mean it will happen to the one next door or down the road. It’s all dependent on the weight of the house and how much the ground beneath it can support the foundation. Read on to see the different ways your structural foundation can be impacted:

A. Dryness or shrinking ground - That gorgeous giant blue gum you’ve spotted in the front yard? Well it’s major root system is likely to be twice as large as the tree itself, beneath the actual house. As trees drink up litres if not gallons of water daily, expect that the house is sitting on a very dry and possibly shrinking foundation.

B. Wet and soft ground - If there’s poor drainage around the dwelling and heavy periods of rain, expect lots of slushy mushy ground. And if the drainage is that defective, expect minor floods, pools of water and slushy soil and grass, even in minor rainy conditions. Why? Because the drainage is poor to begin with. Since there’s a very slim chance of it drying properly, it will just continue to flood. Plumbing leaks and broken water lines can also cause weakening in the house’s foundation.

C. Fluffed fill soil - Sounds bizarre doesn't it? This is when a construction company digs into the the ground, levels it and fills it again to set the foundation of the house. But they just don’t fill it with the dense stuff that’s already in the ground. They introduce new ‘fluffed’ soil, lighter in texture that sometimes can’t withstand the pressures and weight of a house unless it’s properly compacted first. The builders need to compact the new soil before laying down the foundation, but with strict construction deadline pressures, land is sometimes filled in haste or with inferior materials.

2. Ceiling stains

If you’ve been wondering in and out of property inspections and have been completely oblivious to brown or greyish patches on the ceiling, then it’s a good thing there are professionals out there who can tell you a thing or two about them. But if you’ve been through it before and have had to actually deal or know someone who has had to manage a ceiling stain in the past, then the very sight of one may make you a tad nervous.

What does it mean? Where does it lead? What's the causing problem? Whether it’s an air ducting issue, waterproofing prob, loose roof tile or related to an air conditioner vent issue, you’ll want the matter addressed. Pronto.

The good and the bad? If it’s a dry patch, it usually suggests that the issue has been dealt with and you’ve nothing to fear. If it’s damp or wet, well...then you’ve got a problem to deal with. Make sure you ask the agent or owner the history of the stains or any related issues to cause the stain in the first place.

If you can’t get a straight answer, then a professional will usually gauge how long it’s been brewing and what it will take to fix it. Will it be a big chunk of your reno budget? Maybe you didn’t intend on renovating at all, especially if a fairly new place! So this will be a good time to factor in a reduction of the asking price. Let’s hope the vendors are reasonable about it.

While you’re at it, check to see if roof gutters are cleared of fallen debris or rusty. It will give you an indication of how well the exterior has been managed and also answer some interior problems too. No harm in checking and speculating!

3. Termites

Gosh, these little terrors are just super intelligent creatures. They’re capable of building tiny cities under, through and inside the timber foundations of houses, gnawing every last juicy bit of wood they can find. And be warned if there’s blocks or stacks of timber lying around the perimeter or store underneath the house. They’ll get that too! They may be pretty smart for a pest, but do you want them around? Nah.

Firstly you need to identify their existence, then do everything in your might and power to kick them out. For good. Obviously hiring a professional pest inspector is what you need to do to get the job done properly, but here are some tell-tale signs that these busy boring buddies are residing in your potentially happy abode:

  • It’s damp underneath the home you’re interested in.
  • There are muddy trails going up walls, timber posts and across plaster walls and or skirting boards.
  • Piles of sawdust. Ha. That’s what you think! It may appear to be a small pile of sawdust but it’s actually a pile of termite droppings, formally known as ‘frass’. Fancy word for feisty creatures.
  • Teeny tiny wings. Like little garden fairies that have lost their wings along the way. Only they belong to termites and they’ve discarded them to simply get on with the business of gnawing timber and building intricate colonies. You may find them in a pile at some sort of gateway to their world, in nearby cobwebs or window sills, and en masse too.
  • Pin-prick holes in timber. In other words: damaged wood. If you tap or knock on it with your fist and it has a ‘thud’ sound, you can be sure termites have passed there. Doesn’t necessarily mean they're still in that location. They may have moved on to another part of the house.

Best case scenario for you would be that, yes - there was a termite problem once upon a time, but with professional help the owners eradicated the problem, Well good then! But don’t take their word for it. You still need to hire a professional pest inspector to ensure that the termite problem is gone, because there’s no stopping them from coming back, unless of course you take preventative methods. A small yearly upkeep cost that will save you potentially hundreds of thousands in the long run.

4. Asbestos

That nasty evil fibrous stuff that should never have existed in the first place. Sounds a bit harsh, doesn't it? Apologies. But it’s such a problem for some people's health and some of the homes buyers invest in. If you’re unawares of the residency of asbestos in your somewhat charming, quaint and vintage dwelling, it can do a lot of harm to you and your young ones - especially if you go disturbing it.

DO NOT TRY TO REMOVE IT YOURSELF. There are professionals out there who specialise in the removal of asbestos. It’s not like hiring someone to change the light bulb for you, it’s a finer more intricate job. And if they’re true caring professionals, they will knock on the doors of your surrounding neighbours and pre-warn them of the day and time the asbestos will be removed. Because strangely enough, asbestos can be sitting there for decades and decades without doing any harm to anyone.

But as soon as it’s touched, moved, manipulated out of place, the teeny fibres come loose and float in the air and become extremely hazardous. A cloud of it can linger for ages and really get into the system of immediate bystanders. However, for neighbours sake, especially if it’s a windy day, it’s advisable to avoid loitering outside in their front or back gardens in anyway during the time of removal and up to half a day after that. That includes avoiding: hanging out washing (the asbestos can latch onto the clothing), covering all air conditioner vents and general air vents so that it doesn't circulate inside your or your neighbor's homes.

Lucky for you, that you’re just at the early stage and can decide whether or not you want to deal with renovating a house that contains asbestos. If you do, remember to delegate that part of the renos to a professional who knows how.

5. Electrical

As an interested buyer, you want to have the best start to your new family home or investment. An important step into that prospective future is having the electricals checked properly and by a professional. The last thing you need is dodgy wiring. Unless of course, the seller is prepared to shave some extra dollars off the price of your home to cover cost of replacement or repair?

Do the lights flicker when you turn them on through the house, or just some of the rooms? If there are fluoro or halogens with transistors, can you see any brown/burn marks? What about on the paper points? If you have access to the fuse box, you may want to pop your head in and take a look to see if any of the fuses have burnt out or are going brownish.

You’ll want to check to see if the property has been fitted with a safety switch and circuit breaker. But when hiring a professional to do the condition report, they should check to detect all potential electrical risks, some of which include:

  • Exposed wires
  • Outdated wiring
  • Home-job wiring (a big no-no!)
  • Melted, burnt or exposed wires in the power box
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