Potential defects can derail property sale

Aesthetic appeal often drives the decision to buy a home, but there is more to buying a home than meets the eye.

Adrian Goslett, chief executive of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, says that whether buyers are seasoned property investors or entering the property market for the first time, the principles of buying a new home are the same.

“Buying a property is a big investment that could have a marked impact on your long term financial well-being, so buyers should give the decision the time and necessary consideration it deserves,” says Goslett.

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

“The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) does offer some protection, focusing on the consumer’s right to be fully informed about the homes they are buying, but buyers still need to inspect the home themselves for hard-to-detect defects, which may have been overlooked by sellers.

“Sellers may be unaware of particular defects before the sale and so haven’t disclosed them in the sale agreement. Buyers need to inspect properties for defects themselves or have this done professionally to ensure they are making fully informed decisions.”

Goslett says buyers should look out for these possible defects:

Foundation walls that are cracked: It’s not always easy to spot cracks, particularly if they have been plastered over and repainted. In some cases the cracks could be of little significance, but in others cracks may hide massive structural defects that could cost thousands of rands to correct. Cracks could be an indication that the foundation or ground under the home has shifted. If so, the shift will cause cracks 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, but 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. Replacement will cost far more than repair.

Foundation drainage: Aside from mould or rot developing, persistent water intrusion can compromise the structure of the foundation and is usually very expensive 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. According to Goslett, 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. Often downpipes have broken or missing end pieces or ‘shoes’, which may cause erosion in the absence of a water channel and the pooling of rainwater 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. Replacing a few broken or missing tiles can be relatively inexpensive, but completely replacing an old roof with structural damage is costly.

Faulty electrical system: Home owners must be in possession of valid electrical certificates of compliance, certifying 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 buyers 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. Amateur repairs completed by home owner will not be covered and could result in faulty electrical systems. They may also be potential fire hazards and can be very dangerous.

Problems with plumbing: Plumbing problems are not always easy to check as defects may be hidden underground or within walls. Common plumbing defects include old piping materials or faulty fixtures. Replacing fixtures are relatively simple, whereas replacing the entire plumbing system will require far more expensive measures. Buyers should look under sinks for pipes that are leaking or need repairs, but it’s best to have the plumbing system inspected by a professional. In Cape Town, all homes need plumbing certificates of compliance before transfer of ownership can take place.

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 home buyers are in doubt or unable to perform inspections themselves, they should get trained, certified inspectors who can help them in the process and provide them with the tools to make informed decisions,” Goslett says.