The following information has been sourced from Consumers Affairs Victoria.

Inspections

Make several visits to a property before you decide to buy it. Visiting the area at different times of the day or week can highlight issues that may not be immediately be apparent at a daytime inspection – for example, the level of street noise or how well-lit and safe the areas feels at night.

The first visit will give you an initial impression and determine if the property meets your basic requirements, such as location, age, size, access to facilities, style and condition. If you are inspecting a number of properties in one day, it is a good idea to take a notebook and record any identifying features. You will need to get the agent’s permission to take photographs.

Keep an eye out for signs of potential structural problems. For example:

  • sloping or bouncy floors may mean re-stumping is needed
  • damp brick walls can indicate rising damp or salt damp
  • blisters or bubbles on paintwork can indicate termite activity
  • cracked walls can indicate subsidence, requiring re-stumping. If there are large cracks, you should seek advice from a structural engineer.
  • mouldy walls, lifting tiles, peeling paint or pools of water in wet areas can indicate excessive moisture
  • fretting (crazed) brickwork can indicate major structural problems
  • a sagging roof, cracked or broken roof tiles may involve costly repairs or replacement.

Seller’s tip

It is natural to want to present your property in the best possible light. First impressions count and it never hurts to mow the lawn, place a few plants in the garden, keep the house clean and tidy and even add a lick of paint.

While it is acceptable to present a property in a good light, it is not acceptable to cover up, misrepresent or in any way mislead a buyer about its true condition.

Professional building inspections

Before signing a contract, consider paying an independent qualified building inspector, surveyor or architect to do a professional building inspection report on the property. A qualified inspector will know what to look for and will see through any cosmetic improvements covering up faults that may otherwise be missed.

The inspector will provide a written report listing faults, whether they can be repaired and the likely cost. The report will also highlight any unsafe renovations or extensions.

You may be able to use this report to negotiate conditions in the contract – and possibly the price – with the seller. The inspection service should have full professional indemnity insurance to protect you, as the buyer, if a problem is missed in the inspection.

Buyer’s tip

If the property has been renovated or extended, check the vendor’s statement and contact the local council to check whether relevant planning or building permits were obtained.

Any illegal alterations may become your responsibility once the contract is signed.

Be cautious of any property inspection report offered by the agent or the seller. The independence of a report is only guaranteed if it is obtained specifically by and for the buyer.

The fee for a professional inspection service is small compared with the cost of unforeseen and expensive repairs. Even if no major faults are found, minor faults can be identified for future maintenance if you buy the property.

Pest inspections

You should also consider a professional pest inspection.

For a full list of local councils with designated termite areas, visit the Building Commission website, or ask the council for an updated status report.

Assessing the sustainability of homes

Sustainable housing features can affect the comfort of your home and energy costs. Features such as rainwater tanks or solar hot water are now found in an increasing number of new and older homes.

There is a 6-star energy efficiency standard for all new homes, and for renovations, additions and relocations of existing homes.

New homes must have:

  • 6-star energy rating for the building fabric including the roof, walls, floor and windows
  • 6-star energy rating for fixed lighting but not plug in appliances
  • a rainwater tank for toilet flushing or a solar hot water system.

Renovations, additions and relocations must have a 6-star energy rating for the building fabric, but do not require a rainwater tank or a solar hot water system. If a renovation or addition is more than 50 per cent of the volume of an existing house, the whole building needs to be upgraded to a 6-star standard.

For new apartments, the average is a 6-star energy rating for the whole block with a minimum of 5-star for individual apartments.

When buying an established home, consider the benefits of sustainable features that can reduce running costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and add to the value of a property.

For information about the energy efficiency features to look for in a home, go to the Make your home green page on the Building Commission website.

Vacant land

If you are buying vacant land to build on, consider obtaining a soil test beforehand. This could avoid problems and extra costs when building and excavation commences.

Domestic building insurance

A builder must be registered in order to carry out domestic building work over $5000. If the contract is more than $12,000, the builder must have domestic building insurance.

Domestic building insurance will protect a home owner from defective or incomplete building works if the builder:

  • dies
  • becomes insolvent, or
  • disappears

However, insurance cover is limited to six years for structural defects and two years for non-structural defects.

A builder still operating a business is responsible for fixing defects or completing building work according to plans and specifications in the contract.

Consumers and builders can get free advice and assistance on domestic building disputes by contacting Building Advice and Conciliation Victoria (BACV) on 1300 557 559.

For more information about domestic building, visit the Building and renovating section of the Consumer Affairs website.

Owner-built properties

If an owner-builder sells a property within six years of obtaining a certificate of occupancy or final inspection, they must obtain a defects inspection report from a prescribed building practitioner. This report will be attached to the contract of sale.

Any defects that arise and are not listed in the report will be covered under the builder’s domestic building insurance. For properties built after June 2005, owner-builders must also have a certificate of consent issued by the Building Practitioners’ Board for the domestic building works.

An owner-builder must have domestic building insurance if the property is sold within six years of completion.

Buyer’s tip

Never sign a contract for an owner-built property before checking the property carefully. If there is an issue with defective or incomplete work, check with your local council or ask the property owner for information.

 

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