What you need to know about building Inspections
Knowing as much as you can about the condition of the property before you buy will help you avoid problems and extra costs down the track. The best way of doing this is to get a pre-purchase property inspection report - commonly known as a building inspection. The following information explains what you need to know about building inspections.
What is a pre-purchase property inspection report?
It's one of the different types of building inspection reports you can get done. As the name says, this building inspection report is the one you get before you buy a property. Sometimes referred to as a 'standard property report', a pre-purchase property inspection report is a written account of the condition of a property. It will tell you about any significant building defects or problems such as rising damp, movement in the walls (cracking), safety hazards or a faulty roof to name a few. It is usually carried out before you exchange sale contracts so you can identify any problems with the property which, if left unchecked, could prove costly to repair. Throughout this web page we will refer to the report as a 'building inspection report'.
Note: A building inspection report is different to a 'pest inspection report'. While a building inspection report should identify any visual damage that may have been caused by termites, it usually won't include the existence of termites or other timber destroying pests. It can be advisable to get a separate pest inspection report done before you buy a property.
Why do I need one?
There are three good reasons why you should get a building inspection report done before you buy a property:
- so you will know in advance what the problems are
- so you can use the information to try and negotiate a lower price for the property i.e. you may have to pay to repair some of the problems
- so you can get specialist advice about any major problems and how they will affect the property over time.
Of course, the building inspection report will be one of many things you will need to consider before buying a property.
Choosing the right person to inspect the property
You should always use a suitably qualified person, such as a licensed builder, a surveyor or an architect to provide a professional building inspection report of the property you are thinking of buying. These professionals will know what to look for, and will see through any cosmetic improvements covering up faults that might otherwise be missed by an untrained eye.
A professional person will ensure that the format and content of the report complies with the Australian Standard (AS 4349.1).
Make sure that the person you choose has adequate insurance cover, particularly for professional indemnity.
The format and amount of detail in the report will depend on the type of property, its size and age, its condition and the reporting process used by the consultant or organisation preparing the report. These factors will also influence the cost of the report.
Some building inspection reports will adopt a standard format or use a comprehensive checklist while others will be individually tailored for each property. Photographs may or may not be included. The important thing is that the report complies with the Australian Standard (AS 4349.1).
A building inspection report should include enough information for you to be aware of the property's condition and identify any significant problems.
However, a standard building inspection report is generally a visual inspection only and may not identify major structural defects or other hidden problems. If you have concerns about such problems, you might consider obtaining an additional assessment of the property from a suitably accredited specialist, eg. pest inspector, structural engineer, geotechnical engineer, surveyor, solicitor, electricity supply authority or water supply authority.
The consultant should inspect all accessible parts of the property. These include the following areas:
- interior of the building
- exterior of the building
- roof space
- under-floor space
- roof exterior
You may also like to ask that a particular part of the property, or certain items, also be inspected, such as:
- visible signs of asbestos problems
- existence of an operable electrical safety switch
- operable smoke alarms.
The following would normally be included in a building inspection report:
- garage, carport and garden shed
- separate laundry or toilet
- small retaining walls (ie. non-structural)
- surface water drainage
- stormwater run-off
- paths and driveways.
Make sure you specify any particular items or areas on the site that you want inspected.
The report should also include the following information:
- your name
- the address of the property to be inspected
- reason for the inspection
- the date of inspection
- the scope of the inspection
- a list of any area or item that wasn't inspected, the reasons why it wasn't inspected and if necessary, a recommendation for further investigation
- a summary of the overall condition of the property
- a list of any significant problems that need fixing
- if necessary, a recommendation that a further inspection or assessment be carried out by a suitably accredited specialist, e.g. pest inspector, electricity supply authority, water supply authority, structural engineer, geotechnical engineer, surveyor or solicitor.
The summary is possibly the most important part of the report. It should give you a brief summary of the major faults found in the property and its overall condition considering its age and type.
Things not included
A building inspection report usually will not include:
- parts of the property that were not or could not be inspected
- matters outside the consultant's expertise
- an estimate of repair costs
- minor defects
- termite detection.
A building inspection report should not be seen as an all-encompassing report dealing with every aspect of the property. Rather it should be seen as a reasonable attempt to identify any major problems that are visible at the time of the inspection. The extent of any problem will depend to a large extent upon the age and type of property.
While the report will give you valuable expert advice, it will not cover everything.
The consultant normally would not check things such as:
- concealed damp-proofing
- electrical wiring and smoke detectors
- plumbing, drainage and gasfitting
- air conditioning
- swimming pools and pool equipment
- watering systems
- fireplaces and chimneys
- alarm and intercom systems
- carpet and lino
- appliances such as dishwashers, insinkerators, ovens, ducted vacuum systems, hot plates and range hoods
- paint coatings
- every opening window
- television reception.
Strata schemes and company title properties
With strata scheme and company title properties, the consultant will normally only inspect and assess the condition of the interior and immediate exterior of the unit you are thinking of buying. If you want the consultant to inspect other common property areas you will need to request a 'special-purpose' property report.
Most properties will have minor defects such as blemishes, corrosion, cracking, weathering, general deterioration, and unevenness and physical damage to materials and finishes. If you want the consultant to report on minor defects and imperfections you will need to ask for a 'special-purpose' property report.
Factors affecting the report
There are certain conditions you should be aware of that will affect the final report. These include:
- problems that are difficult to detect due to weather or other conditions such as rising damp and leaks
- the information you provide to the consultant
- the specific areas of the consultant's 'expertise' as specified in the report
- problems that may have been deliberately covered up to make an area appear problem free.
It may be difficult to detect leaks and other problems if services, such as water, have not been used for some time. For example, if the shower has not been used recently, leaks or dampness may not be obvious.
Using the report for other purposes
This type of building inspection is carried out specifically for the information of home buyers. Its main purpose is to give you an expert's view of the condition of the property you are interested in buying.
It is not intended to be used as a certificate of compliance for any law, warranty or insurance policy against future problems. Nor is it intended to estimate the cost of fixing problems. If you want the consultant to estimate the costs of necessary work you will need a 'special-purpose' property report.
It is normally the role of your conveyancer or solicitor to deal with all law-related matters. The building inspection report cannot comment on things like the location of fencing in relation to boundaries, as this needs to be done by a registered surveyor.
Ordering a report
Most consultants will need a minimum of 2-3 days notice to do a building inspection.
When ordering your building inspection report, make sure you give yourself enough time to make a decision. You should get the vendor's permission to have the property inspected as early in the sale negotiations as possible. This will help you decide if the property is worth buying. There may be little point in spending money on conveyancing until you know the condition of the property.
Inspections done during the cooling-off period
When you buy a property in NSW there is a 5 business day cooling-off period after you exchange contracts. During this period, you have the option to get out of the contract as long as you give written notice. The cooling-off period starts as soon as you exchange and ends at 5 pm on the fifth business day.
A cooling-off period does not apply if you buy a property at auction or exchange contracts on the same day as the auction after it is passed in.
If you want to get a building inspection done during the cooling-off period, make sure you give the consultant as much notice as possible. They will have to do the inspection, prepare the report and still give you time to make a decision. If you decide not to buy the property you will also need time to get a letter to the vendor or their agent, saying that you are withdrawing from the contract.
Other types of reports
Special-purpose property reports
A special-purpose property report would normally cover the same items as a building inspection (pre-purchase property inspection) report but it may also include:
- an estimate of the cost of fixing major problems
- a list of minor problems
- a recommendation of the repairs and maintenance work needed.
Check with the building consultant on what information they normally include in their pre-purchase property inspection reports and inform the consultant if you require additional information.
Pest inspection reports
While the building inspection report should identify any visual damage caused by termite activity, it won't include the detection of whether termites and other timber destroying pests still exist.
You should consider getting a pest inspection done as well as the building inspection, especially if the property is located in an area where termites are known to be a problem.
Pre-sale (vendor) building reports
Vendors will sometimes get a building report on the property they are selling so they can give it to interested buyers. While this can be helpful, it is better from your point of view to get your own independent report.
If you are not satisfied
If you are dissatisfied with any aspect of the report or your dealings with a consultant, you should first try and resolve the problem with them or their company. If they are members of an industry association you may be able to get help from that association to resolve the dispute.
If you buy the property and later find that there are problems that were not identified in the building inspection report, you may need to seek legal advice about your position, particularly if the consultant's negligence ends up costing you a lot of money.
If you can show that the consultant was negligent in doing the inspection, you can take legal action against them.
It is therefore strongly recommended that you only use consultants that have adequate insurance cover, particularly for professional indemnity.
If you end up buying the property you may need to organise repairs or renovations before you move in. If this is the case, there are some important things you should know. When using a builder or tradesperson for work where the value is over $1,000 the builder or tradesperson must:
- be correctly licensed with NSW Fair Trading for the work they are doing
- provide you with a written contract where the value of work (labour and materials) is over $1,000
- give you a certificate of home warranty insurance before taking any deposit and before starting the work if the job costs more than $12,000.
To check the licence details of the builder or tradesperson you're considering, refer to the online licence check or call Fair Trading on 13 32 20.