The old saying “never judge a book by its cover” is just as important when it comes to buying a property.
I love helping clients understand what lies beneath the skin of property. I still get surprised when assessing a property; often I walk up to the front door and think "this one is going to be pretty good" but as I start to peel back the layers, I’m more often surprised with what I find.
Sometimes it feels like I am destroying someone’s property dream, but at the end of the day, I am saving them from making a big mistake. Mostly, I am providing them with an opportunity to save thousands of dollars on the purchase or the option to walk away.
It disappoints me the lengths homeowners and real estate agents will go to and hide a known problem from a potential buyer. You have probably heard the stories of car owners putting banana skins in the diff to remove that whining sound when you go for the test drive, or the fresh paint job on a home to cover wood rot, termites or rust.
I have had agents state to me that they do not want to know about any problems that I find because then they are obligated to advise any potential buyer. Needless to say, many times I have made a point of making sure an agent is aware of a major issue and even followed up later to ensure that prospective buyers have been advised. Guess what? Sometimes they haven’t.
We ask a home seller whether they've had any issues with termites and many a time we have been told they haven't, only to find significant termite damage to the structure of the building. When we raise it with the homeowner they then backpedal and say “oh that was years ago, and we had it treated!” The problem is, treating termites does not correct structural issues with the building.
So as a property inspector, I am always very mindful not to judge a book by its cover. It is vitally important to look beyond the pretty bits - the freshly baked bread hiding the smell of the dog; the pleasant smelling air freshener at the front door masking the musty smell from the poorly ventilated and drained sub-floor area; the newly painted deck and stairs where the paint has been applied thickly enough to fill the rust holes and the wood decay and so on. Then there is the freshly painted wall in the bedroom that just happens to back onto the leaking shower recess, or the freshly painted ceiling right beneath the area where the valley roof gutter leaks every time a storm comes in from the west.
In fairness, agents often have situations where the homeowner does not disclose the issues and then they are blindsided when a problem comes up in a building and pest inspection.
There are also the genuine people still out there in the world who will tell you about warts. I was lucky to be involved in that very situation myself when we bought our own property 16 years ago. The elderly couple we bought from were wonderful people and upfront in telling us that they had issues with a termite infestation in the past and that there was some termite damage in the front section of their home.
So, the next time you or someone you know is looking at a property to buy, make sure you look beyond the pretty bits, peel back the layers and check out what lies beneath. If you don’t, you could be stung with unexpected expenses. Worse still, when you sell in the future and someone else peels back the layers and discovers old structural termite damage, they will want to negotiate a substantial price reduction from the purchase price. Ouch.
Take the emotion out of the purchase and have your own independent building and pest report carried out from an independent source. These guys will peel back the layers and find the things you can’t possibly find as they have the local experience and knowledge. Sometimes you may not like what you hear, but it’s important that you find out now rather than when the budget can’t accommodate an immediate expense of a defect that must be rectified now. If possible, source your own building and pest inspector rather than using a referral from a real estate agent.