How to spot a property lemon

By Phillip Tarrant

A property with defects can be an investor’s nightmare, not to mention a money pit. Here’s how to minimise your risk of buying a ‘lemon’.

You might think building faults are confined to structures like that condemned old hovel at the end of the road that’s about to fall down. If so, you might want to think again.

The only safe way to get a thorough assessment of a property’s condition is to have a building and pest inspection conducted by a qualified specialist. In the meantime, however, there are some ways to identify possible dangers and to at least make a preliminary assessment.

Structure – Structural problems stemming from shifting and movement can be some of the most serious to affect a property. The problem can often be identified by cracking in walls or plaster, and the more severe the cracking the worse it is likely to be. Cracking in external brick walls is a particular worry.

Plumbing – Plumbing issues are especially common in older houses and can be a significant cost to bear. Rusty pipes are usually quite easy to detect: simply turning on the taps and testing the water pressure is a good indication of the quality of the plumbing. Makeshift drains and quick-fix solutions often result in damp areas which can seriously damage the structure and are a magnet for termites.

Electrical – Wiring and other electrical problems are some of the most dangerous because they can increase the risk of fire. While more prevalent in older properties they also occur in newer properties, particularly when DIY work has been done – and unfortunately, many owners do their own electrical work to save money. Blackened areas around power points are a tell-tale sign of faulty wiring.

Roofing – Problems can have serious consequences for the internal structure as well as creating risks where wiring is exposed to water. Look for rust on the roof or guttering; poorly fitted or sagging gutters plus bubbling or swelling in wall paint are usually a sign of a leaking roof.

Water damage – Water seepage around the building can also cause damp floors and mould problems, which are not only unpleasant but can also lead to more serious problems in the longer term. Look for damp and wetness in floors or walls; mould growth and spotting; damp lines along wall bases; damp or rotten skirting boards; and salt deposits on the walls.

Pests – With one in three properties affected by pest issues, this is something all home owners and investors should keep at the forefront of their minds. Left unidentified, pests such as termites can wreak havoc on floors and walls.

Look for small, papery bits of wood residue around cornices, door frames and window frames as well as tiny wings on window sills, gaps in walls or door frames, damaged floors and even swarms of flying termites outside the property. Bubbled paint can also point to termite damage.

Illegal/inferior work – Renovations and alterations made without council approval or carried out by unqualified people can be a major problem for investors. Keep an eye out for any rooms that look like they may have been recent modifications.

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