Knowing as much as you can about the condition of a property before you buy will help you avoid problems and extra costs down the track. Besides inspecting the property yourself, you can also arrange a property inspection report – commonly known as a building inspection. This information explains what you need to know about property inspections.
You should personally inspect a property that you are interested in buying. You may wish to take someone with you to gain another perspective.
Property viewings usually last half an hour to an hour, so use the time wisely. On top of getting a general feel for the property, do the following checks:
A building inspection is just one check you can get done before buying a property.
Sometimes referred to as a ‘standard property report’, a pre–purchase property inspection report (subsequently referred to as a ‘building inspection report’) is a written account of the property’s condition. It will include any significant building defects or problems such as rising damp, movement in the walls (cracking), safety hazards or a faulty roof. It is usually carried out before you exchange sale contracts so you can identify problems which, if left unchecked, could prove costly to repair.
Note: A building inspection report is different to a ‘pest inspection report’. While a building inspection report should identify any visual damage that may have been caused by termites, it usually won't include termites or other timber destroying pests. You may choose to get a separate pest inspection report done before you buy a property.
Benefits of getting a building inspection report done before buying a property are:
Always use a suitably qualified person (such as a licensed builder, a surveyor or an architect) to provide a professional building inspection report of the property you are thinking of buying. These professions should see through any cosmetic improvements covering up faults that might otherwise be missed by an untrained eye.
A professional person will ensure that the format and content of the report complies with the Australian Standard (AS 4349.1).
Ensure that the person you choose has adequate insurance cover, particularly for professional indemnity.
The report’s format, detail and cost will depend on the type of property (including its size, age and condition) and the process used by the consultant or organisation to prepare it.
A building inspection report must comply with the Australian Standard (AS 4349.1) but otherwise may vary. Some use a comprehensive checklist, include photographs, adopt a standard format or are individually tailored to the property. The report should make you aware of the property's condition and any major problems.
A standard building inspection report is generally a visual inspection only. It may not identify major structural defects or other hidden problems. You may choose to gain an additional assessment of the property from a suitably accredited specialist (eg. pest inspector, structural engineer, geotechnical engineer, surveyor, electricity supply authority or water supply authority).
The inspector should check all accessible parts of the property. These include:
You may also ask for a particular item or part of the property to be inspected, such as:
The following would normally be included in a building inspection report:
Make sure you specify any particular items or areas on the site that you would like to be inspected.
The inspection report should also include the following information:
A building inspection report should not be seen as an all-encompassing report dealing with every aspect of the property. It should be seen as a reasonable attempt to identify any major problems visible at the time of the inspection. A problem’s extent will be influenced by the age and type of property.
While providing valuable expert advice, the report will not generally include:
A building inspector would not normally check such things as:
With strata scheme and company title properties, the building inspector will normally only inspect and assess the condition of the interior and immediate exterior of the unit you are thinking of buying. If you want the consultant to inspect other common property areas you will need to request a ‘special–purpose’ property report.
Most properties will have minor defects such as blemishes, corrosion, cracking, weathering, general deterioration, and unevenness and physical damage to materials and finishes. If you want the consultant to report on minor defects and imperfections you will need to ask for a ‘special–purpose’ property report.
Certain conditions will affect the final report including:
It may be difficult to detect leaks and other problems if services, such as water, have not been used for some time. For example, if the shower has not been used recently, leaks or damp may not be obvious.
The main purpose of a building inspection report is to give an expert’s view of the condition of the property you are interested in buying.
It is not intended as a certificate of compliance for any law, warranty or insurance policy against future problems. Nor is it intended to estimate the cost of fixing problems, for which a ‘special-purpose’ property report is required instead.
Normally your conveyancer or solicitor will deal with all law–related matters. The building inspection report cannot comment on things like the location of fencing in relation to boundaries, as this needs to be done by a registered surveyor.
Most consultants need a minimum of 2–3 days notice to do a building inspection.
When ordering your building inspection report, give yourself enough time to make a decision. You should get the vendor’s permission to have the property inspected as early in the sale negotiations as possible. This will help you decide if the property is worth buying. There may be little point in spending money on conveyancing until you know the condition of the property.
When you buy a property in NSW, there is a 5 business day cooling–off period after you have exchanged contracts. During this period, you may get out of sale as long as you give written notice. The cooling–off period starts as soon as you exchange and ends at 5pm on the fifth business day.
A cooling–off period does not apply if you buy a property at auction or exchange contracts on the same day as the auction after it is passed in. You should always check with your solicitor or licensed conveyancer that you have a cooling-off period, and make sure the process is explained to you.
To get a building inspection done during the cooling–off period, give the consultant as much notice as possible. They will have to do the inspection, prepare the report and still give you time to decide and potentially withdraw from the contract (requiring a letter to the vendor or their agent saying so). If you decide to withdraw from the contract, you forfeit 0.25% of the purchase price to the vendor.
A special–purpose property report normally covers the same items as a building inspection (pre–purchase property inspection) report but may also include:
Check with the building consultant on information normally included in their pre-purchase property inspection reports. Inform the consultant if you need extra information.
While the building inspection report should identify any visual damage caused by termites, it won’t include whether termites and other pests that destroy timber are still around.
Consider getting a pest inspection done as well, especially if the property is located where termites are a known problem.
Vendors sometimes get a building report on the property they are selling to give to interested buyers. While this can help, it is not a substitute for your own independent report.
If you are dissatisfied with any aspect of the report or your dealings with a consultant, try to resolve the problem with them first. If they are members of an industry association, you may be able to get access to a free complaint handling service.
If you buy a property and later find problems not identified in the building inspection report, you may need to seek legal advice, particularly if the consultant’s negligence ends up costing you a lot of money. If you can show that the consultant was negligent in doing the inspection, you can take legal action against them.
It is therefore strongly recommended that you only use consultants that have adequate insurance cover, particularly for professional indemnity.
If you end up buying the property, you may need to organise repairs or renovations before you move in.
When using a builder or tradesperson for work where the value is over $5,000 the builder or tradesperson must:
Several major changes to home building laws take effect in early 2015 in relation to contracts, owner builders, licensing, disputes, defects and statutory warranties. For more details, visit the Fair Trading website.
Check the licence details of a builder or tradesperson before you engage them. Refer to our online licence check or call Fair Trading on 13 32 20.
If the property you are looking at has a swimming pool check that the pool is fenced and meets fencing requirements. For details visit our Pool fencing requirements page.
In 2012, several changes were made to the law to improve children’s safety around NSW swimming pools. Make sure that the pool meets these new requirements.
From 29 April 2016, properties with a swimming pool or spa pool cannot be sold, and new leases cannot be entered into, unless the property has a valid Certificate of Compliance or relevant occupation certificate.
These requirements also apply to common property pools and spas, such as those in strata and community schemes or residential communities. It is the responsibility of the owner, owners corporation, manager or operator of the common property to ensure that the pool complies with pool safety laws.
For more details visit the Swimming pools page on the Fair Trading website.
Get a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader so you can access PDF versions of our information.