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Article | 4 minute read

Budget renovation or expensive repairs?

How to tell what you're getting when buying an existing home

Buying an existing home often means some maintenance and repair will be required. If you’re not careful though, you might end up with higher renovation costs than you were expecting. Here are some things to look for when buying a house. 

What to look for at an inspection

Dampness, water stains and mould

  • Look for any signs of dampness, leaks or mould on walls and ceilings, especially near showers and baths.
  • Open all cabinets in wet areas to check if there is any smell of damp, mould or mildew.
  • If mould has recently been cleaned, it can look like harmless clouds on the ceilings and walls.
  • Check floorboards for signs of rotting.

Sagging roofs or ceilings, or walls that may be buckling

  • Check both the interior and exterior of the property for signs that the structural integrity might be compromised.
  • Check that the lines of the roof are straight.
  • Check that windows and doors open easily.

Cracks in the walls or floors

  • Large or deep cracks and gaps between the walls and floors could be a sign that the property is not structurally sound.
  • Fine cracks in the plaster throughout the house might crack even further and come loose.
  • Look for defects in the exterior walls too.

Gutters and downpipes

  • Check the roof gutters for rust.
  • Check that all the roof downpipes discharge into stormwater soak wells and not just into the ground.
  • Look for signs of flooding or excess water flow around the roof downpipe bases.

Plumbing, electrical wiring, heating

  • Turn on the taps and showers to see if they run and if water pressure is adequate.
  • Flush the toilets to make sure the toilet plumbing is working.
  • Look under the sinks to check the condition of the plumbing.
  • Try all the light switches and look at the fuse box to see how old the circuitry is.
  • Check the heating system and look at the thermostat to determine when it was installed.

The ANZ House Inspection Checklist may help you look for things that you may not have thought of and may help you decide if the property is right for you.

Assessing the structural integrity

Before you sign any contracts, you want to be sure you’re buying a property that is structurally sound, doesn’t have any pest problems, and has generally been maintained. 

While some of these issues are easy enough for you to pick up at house inspection, some issues can only be uncovered by a qualified building inspector, architect or surveyor. What’s more, their expert eye can see past the cosmetic tricks that sellers sometimes use to cover up underlying issues such as uneven foundations.

Consider a building and pest inspection for the improved peace of mind that comes with a detailed report of the property’s faults and estimated cost of repairs. You might even be able to negotiate the selling price based on the cost of repairs.

Getting the most out of a renovated property

Paying a little more for a property that has already been renovated may seem attractive but it’s important to determine that the renovations have been done to a good standard.

Check building permits 

Ask the real estate agent exactly what renovations the seller has done and for the building permits. If structural changes have been made, such as taking out a wall to create an open plan layout, or converting a bedroom to a bathroom, make sure it was signed off by an engineer or architect. 

This includes other structures built on the property, such as granny flats, garden sheds, pergolas or patios. If the seller built these without proper council approval, they might need to be torn down.

Real improvements or cosmetic fixes?

It’s important for critical parts of the property such as the foundation, plumbing, electrical wiring, roofing and hot water systems to be functioning well.

The property might look new or updated, but the owners could have performed budget renovations or cosmetic fixes instead of making real improvements to address any underlying issues.

Don’t be fooled by fancy new kitchen cabinets if the plumbing is 50 years old.

Buying from investors vs owner occupiers

Whether the seller lived in the home or is an investor who rented it out to tenants might make a difference to the type of renovations or repairs done. 

An investor may be more likely to make decisions based on cost effectiveness or low maintenance, such as installing tiles instead of floorboards or lower end appliances.

On the other hand, an owner occupier may be more likely to live in a property for some time, so they might prioritise quality or durability and make improvements for the long-term.

Choose potential, not problems

When you buy an existing home, it’s not going to perfect and some wear and tear is to be expected. The trick is knowing what’s an easy fix and what could be an expensive repair job down the track. If you avoid these pitfalls, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to move into your new home with minimal renovations required.

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