In my last column we identified ten key potential problems areas in properties and looked at the first two:
1. Water damage
2. Uneven floors, walls and ceilings
Today we’ll discuss problem areas three and four:
3. Foundation problems
4. Plumbing issues
3. Check for foundation problems
We touched on this in my last column under Point Two, 'Check for uneven floors, walls and ceiling', but foundation problems are worth highlighting separately.
Simply put the weight of a property is transferred to the land on which it is built, be it rock or soil. If this land shrinks or expands, it can cause the property’s foundation to move as a result. For instance, soil tends to expand when it is wet and shrink when it is dry.
This swelling and shrinking is what can cause property foundation movement to occur which in turn can lead to serious and expensive structural problems.
Examples of the causes of these problems include poor water drainage (which keeps soil moist near the property) or the planting of trees and plants around the property’s perimeter (which can cause soil to dry out).
There are a number of signs you should look out for which may indicate foundation problems, including:
a. Cracks in walls and ceilings and even window panes
b. Doors and windows that jam and won’t open or close properly
c. Uneven and sloping floors
d. Spaces or gaps opening up in the joins between walls and ceilings
e. Cracked and displaced wall and ceiling mouldings
f. Sloping and cracked chimneys
g. Walls leaning or separating from the house frame
h. Cracks and gaps in exterior brickwork
If you have any doubts then you should arrange for a structural engineer’s report before you buy.
Apart from identifying major problems the report can be used as a tool in order to help negotiate the price down to cover the cost of any remedial work.
4. Keep an eye out for plumbing issues
We all know from experience that plumbing problems can be expensive to fix, not to mention being a possible major inconvenience.
That’s why it’s important to identify potential problems, especially major ones, as early as possible and certainly before you buy.
While conducting your inspection, here are some things to look out for:
a. Check the adequacy of the hot water service.
For instance, you should enquire as to its age, whether it will be able to supply enough hot water for your needs and when it was last serviced.
It can be expensive to repair or replace an old or faulty service so make sure you get the evidence you need (like testing the temperature by running hot water taps in different rooms and sighting the original purchase and service invoices) to get assurance as to age, maintence history and that everything works as it should.
b. Make sure drains are working properly (to ensure there are no clogged pipes) and flush each toilet to check there is adequate water flow.
c. Examine the position of trees to help determine any potential or actual root damage to sewer pipes.
You’ll need a map of the easements and sewer lines to identify if there’s a possible problem. In the worst case tree roots can crack and grow through sewer pipes causing major problems including blockages.
Again, this can be costly to repair, especially if you have to unclog or replaced broken pipes. It can also be messy if the sewerage backs up and overflows into the property.
d. It’s also a good idea to check the age and general state of repair of all the plumbing works in the bathroom, kitchen and laundry (i.e. basins, taps, sinks, showers and baths).
Ideally it would be great if these items were aesthetically pleasing but more importantly they need to be functional and in good working order. Remember, having to redo or remodel a bathroom or kitchen can cost many thousands of dollars.
If you’re in any doubt about the quality or the functioning of a property’s plumbing, seek the advice and assistance of an independent plumber.
In my next column we’ll take a look at how to identify possible problems with driveways and paving, renovation restrictions and limitations, and a property’s history.
Peter Boehm is the Finance Editor of onthehouse.com.au which offers a unique information source on virtually every property in Australia and provides data on a property’s sold and rental history as well as current property valuations. The onthehouse.com.au Investor Centre provides research on suburbs, market update reports and calculators to help investors make informed property decisions.