Investigate before you buy
Buying a home is risky business. After a lengthy search, you’ve found your perfect house in the right suburb but neglected to investigate what lies beneath the surface. Sellers in South Africa hide behind the ‘voetstoots’ clause and can get away with a myriad of undetected defects.
"As a buyer you need to do your homework", advises Eric Bell, CEO of Inspect- A-Home, a national home inspection company. "Buying a home will probably be one of the most expensive investments you ever make – you don’t want to rush into it without checking out some key elements." Bell recommends a thorough examination of the home, paying particular attention to the following:
Do you notice signs of paint blistering or peeling off in places? You might also see dark stains or a white powdery substance on the walls, ceilings and the inside of cupboards. This could be an indication of damp and, depending on the severity, could be quite expensive to repair.
A good time for house hunting is on rainy days, especially if you are looking at buying an older home. Look for evidence of a leaking roof – do you notice any water marks on the ceiling boards, are there any dried streaks running down the walls? Repairing a leaking roof can be extremely costly so ask the agent to find out if there are any problems with the roof.
Does the home have gutters? If so, are they in proper working order? Check for holes, visible gaps, broken off ends and also ensure that the drains/gullies are clear of debris and look unblocked. Poor storm water management can cause subsidence of the foundations, which will cause cracks to appear.
Most homes do have some light plaster cracks and these are not cause for concern. However, if you notice large cracks in the walls it would be best to have them analysed as these could be structural cracks, which could impair the integrity of the wall structure. If underpinning of the foundations and metal stitching of the cracks is required, be sure that there will be a large bill attached!
Ask the agent to find out if the pool motor and the filtration system are in good condition. How old is the pool and has the motor been repaired before? If it is a new pool, ask for a copy of the plans and the guarantee. Check the pool paving, is it in good condition and are there expansion joints in the paving around the pool? Can you notice any cracks on the steps or in the pool?
Turn on the taps to check the water pressure and ask the agent to find out how old the geyser is. If it is an old geyser, make sure that it is covered by your insurance policy. Your insurance might want the geyser installation updated to comply with the SANS 10254 regulations. Another tip: flush the toilets, check the base and behind it to see if you notice any leaks.
Does the home look like it has just received a new coat of paint? Most agents advise sellers to paint their homes before placing it on the market. However, sometimes a fresh coat of paint is used to hide things more sinister. Ask the agent if you can look inside the cupboards as often sellers touch up the walls but leave the cupboards in their original state. The inside of the cupboards might reveal cracks, damp or even tubes of Polyfilla. If you do come across these, you need to investigate further.
A professional home inspection is a worthwhile investment. Inspectors are trained to detect defects and they perform a thorough inspection from the roof cavity (check the integrity of the roof trusses) through to the boundary wall. They issue a detailed report, supported by photographs, highlighting areas of concern and what maintenance needs to take place to rectify any problems uncovered. They will also provide clients with an estimated cost to repair the items identified and this will provide you, the buyer, with a tool to negotiate a more realistic price.