What you should look out for when buying a house


Buying a home is one of life’s most stressful experiences and is fraught with pitfalls.

Whether you’re looking for a new place to live or for your next investment property, it pays to be extra vigilant when inspecting. A fresh coat of paint or new piece of furniture could be hiding more extensive damage and what may seem like a bargain can end up costing you an arm and a leg in repairs, not to mention the stress it can create.

When inspecting a property, these are some of the more pressing issues to note.

No or limited inspections
For such a huge financial decision, it would seem obvious that a thorough inspection is needed. But one of the first big red flags you may run into is a seller or agent making it difficult for you to inspect the property in person.

If this happens it’s safe to assume that the seller has something to hide; same goes for any areas of the property they may deem ‘off-limits’ until you are under contract. Make sure you use a professional inspector to go over things such as cracks in the walls, water damage, identifying asbestos or uneven floors, which could suggest issues with foundations or infestation.

Read: When is the best time of year to sell property?

On that note, in Australia, it is prudent to have a full building and pest inspection report completed by a registered inspector.

Try to note whether there have been any extensions or other additions to the building. If so, these will need to have the proper permits and approvals or you may be liable for their removal after buying.

Ownership history
It’s hard to know what a property will be like to live in without actually doing it, but one way to get an idea is to go through the property’s ownership history.

If the report shows a high turnover rate for the property, this could indicate a few things including the home is not as liveable as the seller is making out, or that the property has a lot of work that needs doing or even that the location of the home is undesirable.

Too many empty lots and for sale signs
If the property you’re looking at is surrounded by vacant lots, this generally indicates there will be more construction on the way. This is not a bad thing in itself, but construction work can be noisy and disruptive so if this is an issue for you, you’d want to know immediately.

Read: What you need to consider when buying a recently renovated property

Any impending or existing construction can also affect the future price of your property. If the construction is mainly residential then it should be fine, but if your new house will be located next to a busy shopping centre or industrial development, you may see values drop.

It’s a similar problem with ‘for sale’ signs. While they can be a sign of a flourishing local real estate market, a street where the majority of properties are for sale can be an indicator that the area is not one you’d want to live in.

Cover-up efforts
There are a number of low-cost things a seller can do to mask issues inside the property. A bad smell could indicate mould, sewage or leaky pipe problems and can be hidden with perfume, air fresheners or even potpourri.

Beware also of music or noisy fans being used in each room. This is a technique often employed by sellers to hide noise from outside, so ensure these are switched off so you can assess the noise levels yourself.

Read: Thinking of moving to the country? Weigh up the pros and cons first

Price too low
The adage ‘if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is’ applies in this situation. If the listed price of a property is significantly below other homes in the vicinity, then this could be an indication of underlying problems.

You may get lucky and it might just be a seller looking for a quick sale, but often the low price will turn into a high one when all the repair costs are factored in.

In the end it is always a good idea to have a professional inspector or builder assess any property you are interested in buying. Make sure to take your time and get everything right, if you run into agents or sellers trying to rush this process then that is a good indication that it’s time to walk away.

What do you look for when buying a home? Have you heard any horror stories? Let us know in the comments below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.

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