House Buying Knowhow

“Buying a home can be a bit like buying a carton of eggs. You never know what you’re going to find when you look inside —- bits might be missing, cracked, old, broken or rotten. So you have to check carefully to make sure you are getting what you pay for.” – Sarah Mills (ninemsn Money)

Buying a house can be very overwhelming as there are more factors to consider compared to buying an apartment. One of the key things that buyers should identify when looking at a house to buy is – what is going to be an extra cost to me in the future? This could range from minor repairs, replacement of a kitchen or bathrooms or on a larger scale serious structural work.

Here are a few tips to avoid the nasty surprises!

  • Check the water in the house. Turn the taps on in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry to check the water pressure, performance and drainage. Is the water dirty. You might like to leave the tap running for a minute and it can’t hurt to drink the water for a taste test!
  • Check the hot water system. Is it big enough for your needs? A family will need more hot water than a couple. Also check for leaks, rust and age. The date of manufacture on the hot water system will indicate how old the system is. If it is more than 10 years old, the system may not have much life left. Replacing a busted hot water system can be expensive and is not the sort of thing you can put off. If it is gas, check for the system’s last servicing.
  • Check the insulation in the house. Good insulation can save hundreds of dollars on heating and cooling bills. A quick visit through the manhole should give you some idea of its condition otherwise ask the agent to find out from the vendor. Also check for cavity wall insulation.
  • Are there cracks in the walls? Do the doors stick? This can be a sign of subsidence. This can be an extremely expensive problem to fix and is usually not covered by house insurance.
  • Be extra cautious if the house has been recently painted as it could be masking serious problems.
  • Take a torch to shine on the paintwork in dimly lit rooms to see if there are any obvious structural defects that are not clearly visible in the dark or have been painted over.
  • Check for damp. Feel the walls and look for signs of peeling or bubbling paint. Watermarks are a dead giveaway, as is mould. Fixing damp can sometimes run well into the tens of thousands of dollars. If freshly painted, rely on your sense of smell.
  • Bathrooms often have mould. Mould can’t just be painted over. A serious problem will usually involve installing a new ceiling/wall and better ventilation including exhaust fans.
  • Check all the windows. Are they old or new? Do they open and slide easily? Do they have cracking paint? This could be a sign of rot. Press your finger into the wood. If it’s soft, it is rotten.
  • Tap the walls to do a preliminary termite check. You can get instruments which measure humidity behind the walls as this is often a sign of infestation. Termites are not usually covered by house insurance so make sure you also get a professional in if you decide to buy the house.
  • Good storage, like built-ins and sheds, can save you over time whereas a lack of storage is bound to cost.
  • Are there any unusually shaped, difficult to furnish rooms? If so, this could mean you need to buy suitable furniture for that room.
  • Make sure there are sufficient power points and that they are at your preferred height and position in the room. New points will cost money.
  • Check for Internet access. You can check how close the property is to the telephone exchange by searching on this website: http://www.adsl2exchanges.com.au/
  • Check the level of mobile phone coverage.
  • Check that the toilet is on the same level as the bedrooms for easy access. If it is a two-storey house, it is nice to have a toilet on both levels.
  • Check the location of bedrooms. Parents often want children to be on the same level as them.
  • Do you like the wall colours? Repainting is always an option, but an expensive one if you employ a professional. However, if you don’t mind painting yourself, try to look past the psychedelic paint job, as it can be a relatively inexpensive project that can add value to your home.
  • Old-fashioned electricity switches can point to old wiring and possibly an old meter/fuse box. If, for example, you decide to install a very powerful air conditioner, the old meter box may not be able to cope thus requiring an expensive upgrade to the meter box.
  • Visit the house on a rainy day to check for leaky rooves, windows, walls or ceilings.
  • Are there cracked tiles or loose/mouldy grout in the bathroom or kitchen?
  • Check for fly and mosquito screens. In summer, these will be a must and are likely to cost up to $1000.
  • If you intend renovating, check to see if there are floorboards under old carpets, and their condition. People sometimes do insane, cheap things like staple the carpet to the floor and use industrial glue for their tiles. Both these things will add significant expense and time to floor polishing costs. Carpet should be easy to raise without many rusted nails or staples.
  • Kitchens and bathrooms are the most expensive rooms in the house to renovate so pay close attention to the age and quality of cupboards, benches, plumbing fittings and tiling.
  • In old houses in particular, check for holes in floorboards and cracks and fissures that let in vermin and cockroaches.
  • Measure spaces in kitchens and laundries to make sure your appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and microwaves fit. Failure to fit could cost a couple of thousand dollars in replacements.
  • Check for the materials used in cupboards and benches. Good materials will last a lot longer.
  • Check out the floor coverings. Will they need to be replaced and if so, when?
  • Does the house have central heating or air conditioning? If so, how old are they? Check to make sure they are functioning well.
  • What aspect does the house face? North, East, South or West? What influence will this have on the amount of light streaming through the home?

If you are interested in buying a house, you can contact Bec Reid on + 61 2 9476 0000 and she’d be happy to discuss your requirements with you.

Adapted from ninemsn Finance (2007) Buying a house: what to look for inside the house

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