We’re now in the home straight having addressed, in my last three columns, the first seven in my list of ten potential problem areas:
1. Water damage
2. Uneven floors, walls and ceilings
3. Foundation problems
4. Plumbing issues
5. Driveway and paving problems
6. Renovation restrictions and limitations
7. Problems with the property’s history
We’ll conclude our review by looking at the last three areas by exploring what to look for in relation to electrical wiring, pest infestations and issues concealed by a new paint job.
8. Electrical wiring issues
9. Pest damage
10. Problems concealed by a new paint job
8. Make sure electrical wiring meets modern standards
This is one area where an expert, like an electrician, should be consulted if you have any concerns that a property’s electrical wiring is dodgy or out of date.
This should certainly be front of mind when considering buying older properties, especially those that have little evidence of renovation of modernisation.
I remember buying an old terrace house in London many years ago and without checking I assumed it would need to be rewired.
I based my assumption on the age of the property and my observations during our inspections. In the end I was right and fortunately I had the foresight to negotiate down the purchase price based on this and other maintence matters I’d identified.
It is worth noting that wiring problems are not just confined to older properties, and it is not uncommon to encounter problems in newer homes, especially when DIY work is involved, or builders have not been as diligent as they should.
In particular, you should consider the adequacy of the electrical system when thinking about any planned near-term extensions or renovations as it is important the system can handle the multiple power demands of today’s appliances, especially in the kitchen.
Here are some common indicators that there could be problems with a property’s electrical system:
a. Flickering and dimming lights may mean the electrical circuit is overloaded. This usually happens when multiple devices are running at once. This can be a reasonably common occurrence however with a well-wired property this should not be noticeable or frequent.
b. Discoloured or charred light switches and power points are a possible sign of faulty wiring. This occurs when wiring to the switch and power point temporarily shorts causing a small short-lived fire which in turn causes surface damage.
This is potentially dangerous and should be fixed immediately to avoid injury. You should be able to identify these problems through a close visual inspection and if you do notice signs of damage it’s probably wise to leave the affected switches and power points alone.
A buzzing sound when switches are turned on is also a strong indicator of wiring problems, so keep your ears open when doing your testing.
c. During your testing if you encounter a burning smell it’s a sure sign something’s wrong and you should immediately turn off the light or switch you’ve turned on. This smell could be a precursor to an electrical fire.
In normal circumstances it would be prudent to turn off the circuit breaker supporting that outlet until the electrician comes to repair the problem. Since this would not be up to you to do, the next best thing would be to let the selling agent or vendor know what you have discovered.
d. If you receive a shock when testing switches and points this is another obvious sign that that particular switch or point is damaged. This may be caused by a number of factors and is best left to an electrician to sort out.
9. Look for signs of pest damage
The first step when checking for possible pest infestations is to liaise with the local council to learn whether a particular area or street is a designated pest zone, especially when it comes to termites.
If there are problems it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy in the affected areas but it does mean you should get proof that the property has been treated to protect against pest damage and that there are no current problems.
You also need to find out if, when and at what cost ongoing treatments will be required plus any other action you may need to take (like ensuring adequate sub-floor ventilation) so you can make an informed decision about whether you wish to proceed.
Pests come in many forms, like rats, mice, termites, cockroaches and other bugs and each has its own evidence of existence like faecal droppings, noise (such as scratching sounds) and signs of damage (such as gnawed furniture, shredded paper and damage to wooden structures).
You should look and listen for signs of pests at floor level, in and behind cupboards and in dark and moist areas.
When it comes to inspecting for termites here are some steps you can take:
a. Gently tap any exposed interior timber within reach checking for hollow sounds and feel for imperfections – like soft or spongy areas. Use a torch for timber out of reach and search for possible signs of pest activity like holes and cracks.
b. Inspect the outside perimeter looking for signs of pest treatments (like holes drilled in brickwork) and make sure there is adequate ventilation.
c. Check the garden, especially in moist areas, for pest activity particularly in timber or logs. These will show obvious signs (like being eaten away) if termites are present.
d. If possible, cast a torch in the roof void and check for signs of damage to beams and struts (it’s also a good opportunity to check for signs of other pests like rats if you come across rodent traps)
e. If you do come across signs of termite activity do not piece or break the affected timber as this may cause the hive to migrate back to the nest or other areas of the property and this could inhibit the effectiveness of any treatment plans.
If there are any signs, or you have any concerns about possible pest infestation problems then make sure you get an independent pest inspection done to confirm or otherwise your fears together with a treatment plan which should include initial and ongoing costs and timeframes.
10. New paint could hide an old problem
Many sellers dress up their property when selling in order to make it more appealing and enhance its price.
Typically a new lick of paint will be used as a cost-effective way to brighten up and help modernise a property, however it may also be used to hide problems.
Examples can include covering up newly repaired cracks in walls and ceilings as well as moisture and mould damage or surface undulations and imperfections.
To allay any concerns you could consider making a polite enquiry as to whether the property has had a paint job and why, as well as running your hands over newly painted areas to reveal any obvious physical problems - like soft wood or saggy or springy walls.
As a closing thought it is important you conduct your property inspection with an open and inquiring mind and be armed with a checklist of potential problem areas which when satisfied, will help ensure among other things, that your decision to proceed or walk away is based on an objective and informed view.
And of course, always bring in the experts if you have any major concerns as it is far better to pay a few hundred dollars now then many thousands of dollars down the track.
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.