A meticulous and professional property inspector will often be told “you’re too thorough for us to use you for a seller’s report, but we would definitely use you for a buyer’s report.”
Unfortunately, this is just human nature, and even the most honest, trustworthy seller will say the same thing. As a seller’s intention is to move on and hand over a property which may contain possible problems to some else, it just happens this way. So what can a buyer do to ensure they aren’t buying a lemon and how can they look out for their own best interests just as the seller will?
For starters, buyers should take off the rose-coloured glasses. Remove the emotion, because there is always another property if this one isn’t right.
As a buyer, you need to look after yourself because the seller and the seller's real estate agent are not there for you. As a buyer, unless you surround yourself with a team of buyers advocates (ike a highly respected property inspection company who receives work from other like-minded professionals or word of mouth) you're on your own. You also want to surround yourself with quality solicitors, mortgage brokers, valuers and any other parties that have your interests 100 per cent at heart.
So as a buyer what should you look out for when viewing a property? Some things are obvious, while others are not. Here are a few major issues to watch out for:
- Does the house smell musty or mouldy? Check for any water damage or staining. If the house has a subfloor (an area under the house), open the subfloor door and see if it smells musty.
- Another obvious sign is when scented candles or air fresheners are turned on. The problem may be right under your nose.
- A well-furnished property with stylish furniture presents well. Will it look the same with your furniture?
- Has the property been freshly painted or touched up? Are the sellers hiding any problems such as water leaks?
- If the house has a subfloor, grab a torch and look in this area for pooling water.
- Tap on skirtings around bathrooms and wet areas. If the skirting collapses or is soft to the touch, you need a building and pest inspector immediately or you need to walk away.
- Check that power lines, water tanks or poles haven’t been Photoshopped out of the marketing material.
- Arrange a private viewing of the property at a different time of the day, preferably in the morning, and then arrange another in the afternoon. You will see how much sun enters the property. The different light will show different problems.
- If the lights are on when you arrive, discreetly turn them off to see how much natural light the property enjoys.
- Take a look behind the blinds and curtains for any water staining on window sills, or for any unsightly buildings, structures or a peering window from a neighbour.
- Ask the agents as many questions as possible. Don’t be shy, as they are obliged to answer honestly. If you ask, for instance, "has there been any history or current indication of termites," if the agents say not as far as they're aware, ask them to ask the seller and then document the discussion. If agents aren’t privy to this type of information, they will turn a blind eye and prefer not to know and plead ignorance. Even if there is a seller's report, there could still be damage previously or currently known by the owner; a solid bookcase could be well placed to hide that water leak or termite damage that not even a builder inspector would have been able to see.
- Ask your solicitor or vonveyancer to review the contract to ensure everything is in order.
- Go for a walk around the suburb and neighbourhood to get a good feel if this is an area you can live and feels right.
- Do your research about the suburb and ask friends, work colleagues and family about particular neighbourhoods. Does it have quality schools, shops and public transport which will help increase the value in the future?
However closely you look at the property and think it has been well maintained, the problem is in our emotional attachment – love at first sight.
Look through the sellers offering and make your own informed decisions.
In the vast majority of cases, you cannot simply rely on a seller's report, especially in the Canberra market where they are a legislative requirement. These reports are often compromised, limited and disclaimed reports without real clear detail. When the agent and seller have to organise a report that a buyer can rely on, they may simply look for a report that meets the requirements but doesn't really uncover anything too scary. And of course, if the inspection company carries out their job as a buyer should expect, they don’t get any more work from that agent or seller.
Why would you risk the biggest investment of your life in a building and pest report provided by the seller or a re-sold report to save a few hundred bucks?