You have found a home that you are keen to buy and want to take it to the next stage. A professional property inspection is recommended next.
Why have a building surveyor inspect your house?
A professional inspection of a home before you buy should identify matters that need attention. Not many existing homes will come up with a completely clean slate – there will always be some maintenance to be done. But armed with a property report, you can make an informed decision about whether the problems are so severe that you should not go ahead with the purchase.
Who are building surveyors?
The property should be inspected by a qualified, experienced building surveyor. You can find one in the Yellow Pages under Building Consultants or Building Inspections.
An inspector should have practical experience in the building industry, be a member of a relevant professional or trade organisation, or hold relevant building trade qualifications. Members of the New Zealand Institute of Building Surveyors meet these criteria.
Check the person or company you hire has the qualifications and experience to give a report on your particular circumstances. If in doubt ask if you can speak to clients they have done work for.
Some members of the following professions are also qualified and experienced to undertake building survey work:
- Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand
- New Zealand Institute of Architects www.nzia.co.nz
- New Zealand Institute of Quantity Surveyors .
Make sure the inspector has professional indemnity insurance to cover legal costs and damages. This is important if you bring a claim against them for professional negligence where you act on advice they give you which proves to be inaccurate.
The four general areas identified in a property inspection are:
- Significant defects.
- Particular attributes of the property.
- Gradual deterioration.
- Significant maintenance needed.
The inspection is done visually and is non-invasive, meaning it cannot pick up problems behind walls.
Who pays and how much does it cost?
The person who commissions the report pays for it. Usually, this will be the prospective purchaser, but sometimes a vendor commissions a report to show buyers that the property is sound, or in order to find out what needs fixing before putting the house on the market.
It is important that the inspector engaged by you or the vendor is independent of both buyer and seller.
The price is usually based on the size of the house on a sliding scale, and you will pay extra for a special-purpose report. See below.
Allow yourself enough time to get an inspection before having to make a decision about the house or apartment.
What gets checked?
A property inspection will inspect the parts of the house which are reasonably accessible, as well as those areas that you specifically request. The normal inspection will cover:
- Roof exterior.
- Roof space.
- Potential for flooding.
- Site conditions (i.e retaining walls, trees, or slopes etc.).
- Run-off from adjacent ground.
Other buildings such as the garage.
For an apartment, the inspector can inspect the interior and only those accessible parts of the immediate exterior, such as the balcony.
Property inspections should include a list of the services, and comment on their general condition. Services include fire alarms, heating and ventilation systems, gas and electrical services, hot water, solar heating systems, sewerage and waste water systems, and aerials.
Standards New Zealand has developed a standard for the inspection of residential property (NZS 4306:2005 Residential Property Inspection) which lists in detail the areas to be covered in a property inspection, and identifies the types of defects found in houses and apartments. The Standard brings some consistency to property inspections, which has been lacking. Contactfor the new Standard.
What defects will the inspector look for?
The types of defects an inspector will look for include:
- Nails popping.
- Damaged surfaces.
- Dampness and damp damage.
- Squeaky boards.
- Insect infestation.
- Uneven surfaces.
- Loose grouting, tiles and sealants.
- Sturdiness of stairs and handrails.
The will also look at the operation of:
- Meter box, lights and switches.
- Plumbing, for example, toilet flush.
- Doors, drawers and joinery.
- Mechanical or passive ventilation.
- Water outlets.
- Heated towel rails.
- Residual current devices (RCDs) and shaver sockets.
The meter box will give an indication about whether the house has been rewired or not. If the house you are looking at has the old style of meter box with old-type fuse fittings (eg. ceramic fuses), it might pay to have the wiring checked by an electrician.
Asking for a special-purpose survey
Building surveys won’t usually include anything that is concealed, such as the underground portions of the foundations, electrical installations, underground or concealed plumbing and drainage and gas fittings. Nor will it usually include air-conditioning and heating units, pools and spas, fireplaces and chimneys, alarm systems, soft furnishings and appliances.
You can specifically request an inspection of these areas and items. You can also ask for comment on ‘locality aspects’, for example:
- Common property areas and services.
- Sunlight, privacy, views.
- Noise and nuisance from flight paths, railways and busy traffic.
- Soil toxicity, lead in paints, the presence of asbestos, and other contaminants.
- Security in the neighbourhood.
- Swimming pool fence compliance.
- Energy efficiency.
- Any issues about heritage protection (you can research this yourself at the council).
If you don’t want to do the research at the local council you can ask the inspector to look into any possible illegal or unauthorised building work, such as work done without building consent. You can ask for a review of the plans to check sewerage and drainage information, and to see if the section had a proper survey. You can ask the inspector to report on any Resource Management Act and local council planning issues.
If the house or apartment is in the high-risk category to be a leaky building you can ask for this to be specially investigated. If one or more areas are of special concern, e.g. swelling skirtings, patches of mould or obvious sealant repairs, it is worth requesting a more thorough examination and report of those areas. If this includes measuring moisture content of concealed framing with a moisture probe, you will need permission from the owner.
Before you commission a special-purpose report, find out how much it will cost.
In the written report provided by the inspector you should expect to see the following information:
- Address of the property inspected.
- Name of the person requesting the report.
- Inspector’s name and the name of anyone else present.
- Inspector’s qualifications and experience.
- Weather at time of inspection.
- Date of the inspection.
- Scope of the inspection.
- What the inspection did not cover and the reasons why.
- The conclusion as to the overall condition of the property, taking into account its age, type and general expectations of similar properties. This is an important point. If you are buying a 50-year-old house, expect it to have the odd defect.
- A list of significant faults or defects.
- Recommendations for any further inspections, for example, by an electrical, plumbing or drainage inspector, or an engineer or surveyor.
The property report is not a guarantee that all possible defects have been identified. It provides information about those defects visible at the time of the inspection. You have to decide if the defects are significant enough to put you off purchasing.
Neither is the property report a guarantee that the house meets all the requirements under the Building Act. It does not look into compliance with the Building Code, for example, to see if alterations were done with building consent. You can ask for a special report on this or do your own investigations by looking at the Land Information Memorandum (LIM) and council files.
Making your own follow-up inspection
Once you have the report, make your own inspection and assessment based on the information in the report. For example, if it says the floor felt springy in one bedroom, have a look to see if you can work out why.
Look at every defect noted in the report and decide what you can live with, and which defects are within your budget to fix, should you go ahead with the purchase. You might be able to negotiate with the vendor to lower the price if costly renovations are needed and this is not reflected in the price. If the house has too many defects, you might decide not to buy. You might include a condition in the sale and purchase contract that the vendor fixes some of the defects.
What a property report does not cover
Generally, a basic property inspection does not cover (unless specially requested in a special-purpose report):
- Title search.
- Planning and resource consent issues.
- Building consent and code compliance.
- Special heritage property obligations.
- Compliance with body corporate rules, the terms of a memorandum of cross lease or a company title occupation agreement, and body corporate costs for apartments.
- Costs of fixing defects.