Home Buyers - Watch for These Defects!

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14 Jan 2013

While aesthetic appeal often drives a home buyer’s decision there is more to buying a home than meets the eye.

“Although the outward appearance of a home is an important aspect, buyers will need to make sure the structural components of the home are in order to avoid a negative impact on their investment in the future.”

This is according to Adrian Goslett, CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, who says whether the potential buyer is a seasoned property investor or someone entering the property market for the first time, the principles of purchasing a new home are the same.

He says it is important that buyers view purchasing a home as a large investment that could have a remarkable impact on their financial well-being over the long term. It is for this reason, he says, that buyers should give the decision the time and necessary consideration it deserves.

 “Although the outward appearance of a home is an important aspect, buyers will need to make sure the structural components of the home are in order to avoid a negative impact on their investment in the future. Having to correct serious structural defects will only eat into the profit potential of the property.”

Goslett notes that while the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) does offer some protection to buyers, focusing on the consumer’s right to be fully informed regarding the home they are purchasing, it is worthwhile for a buyer to inspect the home themselves for hard-to-detect defects, which may have been overlooked by the seller.

He says it is reasonable that the seller may have not known of a particular defect prior to the sale of their property and therefore not disclosed it in the sale agreement. “In this context it is vital for a buyer to inspect the home for defects themselves or professionally to ensure that they are making a fully informed purchasing decision. While a professional inspection may cost a lot, it will be a small price to pay when considering the size of the investment.”  

Goslett provides buyers with top six potential defects to look out for:

Foundation walls that are cracked

It may not always be easy to spot cracks, particularly if they have been plastered over and repainted.

According to Goslett in some cases the cracks could be of little significance, while in others it could be a massive structural defect that can cost thousands of Rands to correct. 

The crack could be an indication that the foundation or ground under the home has shifted and in this situation, the shift will cause the crack to move along a horizontal plane, which is of more concern than a vertical crack.

The width of the crack will help to determine the severity of the problem; narrow vertical cracks are often not structural defects, while wide cracks should be evaluated.

The crux is whether the wall can continue to provide support to the structure or whether it needs to be completely replaced. A replacement will cost far more than a repair.

Foundation drainage

Aside from mould or rot developing, persistent water intrusion can compromise the structure of the foundation and be an expensive problem to rectify.

Water drainage around the exterior of the home needs to be effective to avoid water pooling or damp problems in the low lying areas of the property.

Goslett says all drainage systems must be properly graded to better channel water away from the home and foundation.

When checking the home, buyers should pay particular attention to water control elements such as gutters - ensuring that they are well-maintained and in working order. The end piece of a gutter is the known as the shoe. Often a downpipe has a broken or missing shoe, which causes erosion in the absence of a water channel and the pooling of rainwater resulting in rising damp.

Damaged roof

Water damage on the ceiling often indicates a poorly maintained or damaged roof, says Goslett.

A damaged roof that is in need of repair should not be ignored as it provides inadequate protection against the elements and can cause other problems inside the home, possibly as serious as structural damage. 

Exposure to moisture will rot the wooden components inside the roof’s structure, which could lead to collapse. If it is merely a matter of replacing broken or missing tiles it can be a relatively inexpensive exercise; however, an old roof that has structural damage will cost a lot to completely replace.

 Faulty electrical system 

It is compulsory that homeowners are in possession of a valid Electrical Certificate of Compliance (ECOC), which will ensure that the electrical work and installations are safe and meet the required regulations of the South African National Standards.

However, it is still important for a buyer to double check that the wiring installations in the home match those on the certificate and that they have been maintained throughout the period stipulated on the certificate.

An electrical certificate is only valid for six months from date of issue, provided no other work has been completed involving the electrical reticulation.

Amateur repairs completed by the homeowner will not be covered and could result in a faulty electrical system - this may also be a potential fire hazard and can be dangerous.

Problems with plumbing

Plumbing problems are not always easy to check as the defect may be underground. 

Common plumbing defects include old piping materials or faulty fixtures. 

Replacing a fixture will require a simple repair, while replacing the entire plumbing system will require far more expensive measures. 

Buyers can look under the sinks for pipes that are leaking or need repairs, but it is best to have the plumbing system inspected by a professional. 

Inadequately ventilated home

Poor ventilation can cause moisture build up, which will result in problems with the interior walls and other structural components. 

Excess build up of moisture can also cause potential health issues and allergic reactions. 

According to Goslett, the installation of extractor fans in bathrooms or small areas with no windows can help prevent the moisture build up becoming a serious problem. 

If a home buyer is in doubt or is unable to perform the inspection themselves, they should get a trained, certified inspector who can assist them in the process and provide them with the tools to make an informed buying decision, he says. 

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