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Pre Purchase Inspections

I don't do them any more, so that might be enough for you leave this page instantly.

But if you are still here, you may find the following of interest:

I did quite a few prepurchase inspections before being asked to sit on the committee that developed the New Zealand Standard for this line of work back in 2004.

In retrospect, I think we finished up with too much emphasis in the Standard on things a normal buyer can do themselves. I say this because having listened to many prospective buyers over the years, what seems to be the over-riding concern is the fear of the unknown:

"Is there something wrong with this house I don't know about which means I should walk away?"

Often times a client would ask me: "What would you do, would you buy it?" which again suggests an agony of indecision in the face of a host of unknowns.

In response to this, the pre-purchase inspector provides a bewildering array of information, but in respect of modern houses having the classic design features now associated with "leaky homes", the end result is a report that inevitably contains more questions than answers. So much so that I now question the value of a standard non invasive pre purchase report on such a house. It will (hopefully) identify the risks.....but without invasive testing, what more can the inspector say?

Even those inspectors who use thermal imaging cameras and/or capacitance meters still can only identify areas that indicate more investigation is needed. And even if they don't find any high readings, they will fill their report with disclaimers describing how even low readings can be misleading as the moisture may have dried out after causing damage (which is perfectly true). So how much use is that report really?

One way through this is for the prospective buyer to first become familiar with this page, which highlights 45 common risky details. This list or a similar version has appeared in various Department of Building and Housing and BRANZ documents over the last few years and is easy enough for anyone to understand. You can download the whole document here.

Having become familiar with this page - printing it out and carrying it to open homes, or comparing it to external views of homes on real estate pages - the buyer immediately has some idea of the risks before even getting to the stage of going to site.

Looking at some of the visual features identified on that page:

. The roof doesn't project out, so it does not offer any additional protection to the walls;

. There is a deck over a room, AND the tops of the barrier walls around that deck are flat AND there is a grab rail penetrating the flat top;

. The cladding disappears seamlessly into the ground, instead of stopping short

. There is a pergola fixed directly to the cladding

. There is a cantilevered deck.

. A roof finishes part way across a wall (no 28) See photos here for an example of what can happen under such a termination.

Every single one of these 45 identified details gives rise to a simple question: "Is this working?" and that question is very often simply not possible for even the best pre-purchase inspector to answer definitively if he is restricted to a non-invasive survey. Because he did not see the area built, he did not witness the way the various components were put together. It is a bit like trying to diagnose problems with bones just by looking at the skin - without an X-ray.

Although the technology is developing wonderfully, we still don't have the real equivalent of an X-ray machine for houses, despite what proponents of thermal imaging cameras may claim. I am sure it is coming, but meanwhile the pre purchase inspector is almost literally working in the dark when it comes to deciphering what is happening to the bones - the all important framing structure.

So is it worth getting a pre-purchase inspection done at all then? Well, that depends :-)

Firstly, it depends on the age of the house - within reason, the older the house I would say the more worth while it is, because the older the more "transparent" the construction, so the easier to see what was built. So I used to positively jump at the chance to inspect anything built 1960 - 1980, so long as it had not been worked on too much since. That's the problem with villas - nowadays it seems just about every one has had heaps of work done on it, so it is much harder to figure out what is really going on.

When it comes to the leaky home era - which I say is roughly 1995 - 2004 - I'd be hesitating in paying for a standard inspection. What is it really going to tell you, that you don't already know? You might be better off by starting with the Council file on the property, which should be readily available (Auckland city offers them on line or will send it to you on a CD). What do you look for?

. Code Compliance Certificate issued less than 10 years ago for the whole house

. Plans, especially wall / weather tightness details - do they show cavity construction?

. Council inspection notes - lots of "fails" is not promising

Just those three things would be a great start - if you could tick them off, then maybe get a pre-purchase inspection - but three fails (no CCC / older than 10 years. no cavity, lots of failed inspections) might make you decide to give this one a miss......