Doing the research
You may look at dozens of houses before you buy or only a few. Either way, you can find the right home with thorough research. We look at the important matters to investigate.
Before you buy a new home, whether it is not yet built, newly built, or an older home, it is important to research it thoroughly. For most people, buying a house or an apartment is the biggest investment they will make, so it is wise to go into it knowing as much as possible, including any defects or potential problems.
When you purchase an older house you are likely to be buying into some problems. Homes that have been neglected can have problems with the structure, roof, plumbing, electrics and gas, which can pose a risk to the overall integrity of the building, as well as your safety and wellbeing after you move in. Even if the house has been well maintained, you can expect a few matters will need to be dealt with, even if it is simply a need for redecoration.
For newer and newly built homes, the problem of weathertightness failure, or at the extreme end, a leaky building, has been a concern for some home owners. Some homes built in the period from early to mid 1990s until around 2003 have shown failures in construction, design, supervision and material installation. You need to take particular care if you are in the market to buy a home identified as being prone to leaking.
The type of houses most at risk of weathertightness failure are often described as ‘Mediterranean style’. Some common characteristics of these houses include:
|"Mediterranean style" house|
- Flat or low pitched roofs.
- Textured or monolithic claddings (plaster-look).
- Plaster finish carrying down to the ground or deck.
- Deck areas over other rooms.
- Enclosed handrails.
- Decorative fixtures passing through the cladding
- The wall extending past the roof line to form a parapet.
- Internal gutters
- Curved window heads.
- Walls finishing into other walls.
- Use of untreated framing (many houses built from 1997 to 2003 used kiln-dried untreated framing).
Other styles of house with complicated roof lines, complex wall and roof junctions, or also having one or more of the features above are also at risk of weathertightness failure. If the house you are buying contains even one of these features, refer to the weathertightness section which gives guidance on what specifically should be looked for.
When you find a home you are interested in buying, make sure your money will be well spent:
Do your own research into the area and the state of the home.
Before you sign a sale and purchase agreement, make it conditional on getting a satisfactory:
Property inspection checklist
Before engaging a building surveyor (who is qualified in the building industry and can give you expert advice), carry out your own investigations. It might help you to rule out properties before getting too far through the purchase process.
It is important to be confident that the home you are looking at is structurally sound. Organise a time with the real estate agent or owner and allow a couple of hours to go through this checklist:
- On the outside examine the general condition of the cladding, drainpipes and roof. Look for damaged paintwork, rotten wood, rust, holes, cracks and crumbling mortar, and broken roof tiles.
- Be careful of cladding susceptible to leaking. You will need a ladder to look at the roof.
- Check around the house to make sure the cladding is at least 225mm above the ground (grasses or garden) or 150mm from the floor level to paved surfaces. Check whether the garden may have been banked up against the house over the years.
- Under the house, check the piles. You can check wooden piles by poking a screwdriver into the wood, just below ground level, to see if there are any soft areas. Does it smell or seem damp under the house? Look to see if there have been makeshift repairs on the piles.
- From a ladder, look into the ceiling space. Does the header tank look secure? Does the bathroom fan vent directly into the ceiling space with no outlet for steam?
- Inside, test the floors by jumping up and down to see if the floorboards feel springy or squeak. Does the floor feel like it is sloping? Check for cracks in the walls and windows, or doors that don’t close properly. It may be an indication of problems with the piles or settling.
- Does the house smell damp or are there indications of dampness such as stained ceilings and walls, mould, bubbling or stained paint, bulges in the walls and rotting skirting boards?
- Check all the power points are working by using a power-point tester, which you can buy from a hardware store. Take note of problems with the electrical system like scorch marks on power points.
- In the kitchen and bathrooms, check for broken tiles, damp around sinks and showers, mould and missing sealant.
- Check that built-in appliances, for example, the dishwasher and stove, are working.
- Turn on every tap in the house and check the water pressure and any strange noises in the plumbing. Check the age of the hot water cylinder.
- Check for insulation where possible, for example, underfloor or in the ceiling.
- Around the section, check the condition of fences, paving and driveways. Large trees can be a problem sending roots under the house and into drains.
- Look over the boundary fences for any potential issues with neighbours, such as overhanging trees, car wrecking, or noisy dogs.
- If the house was built after 1 July 1992 find out from the council if it has a Code of Compliance Certificate.
- Get a Land Information Memorandum from your local council. From May 2007 councils will be obliged to identify, in LIM reports, properties which are or have been subject to WHRS claims from that date. Properties that have been subject to weathertightness claims through the courts or private actions do not have to be identified.
- Contact the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service to see if a claim has ever been lodged on the house.
- Obtain copies of the original specifications and drawings from your local authority.
If you are reasonably satisfied with your own inspection, and decide to take it to the next stage, it is recommended that you still have a professional inspection.
An expanded house inspection checklist is available on consumer.org.nz - it will take you around the property point by point to see if the house suits your needs. You can print this checklist and take it with you when you are looking at homes to buy.