Some 30 per cent of new homeowners see their dream property turn into a nightmare because they didn’t notice plumbing problems before they made their purchase. These cautionary tales illustrate what you should look for when inspecting a property before buying to potentially save you thousands.
Did you hear the story of the new homeowner who found out the gas supply was coming through a garden hose? Or the one about the handyman who ‘repaired’ a leaking roof for the previous owners by hiding it behind a fresh coat of paint? How about the $1.5 million dollar house with beautiful kitchen and bathroom renovations all put on an old clay sewer that collapsed shortly after settlement? That last one cost the new owner $20,000 to rectify.
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The scariest part of these horror stories is that the owners had the properties inspected prior to purchase, and none of these issues were picked up by the building inspectors. Most buyers don’t check the plumbing before they buy because it isn’t their area of expertise, but some building inspectors don’t have that expertise either. So make sure they know what to check before you hire them.
Buyer beware of these 10 commonly hidden plumbing issues.
A thorough check of the roof could prevent you from spending $10,000–$50,000 to replace it.
1. What’s the condition of the roof and guttering? The inspector must actually go up and check it out. Raise a red flag if there’s rust… roofs have even had seedlings growing out of them.
2. Newly renovated or newly painted roof: Is this a spruce up or a cover up?
3. Concealed access points: If people have something to hide in the roof or subfloor area, they cover the access points. You should be suspicious if an inspector notes the access points are difficult to find or concealed.
INSIDE THE HOUSE
Most hidden faults are related to water seeping where it shouldn’t and can add significantly to a property’s maintenance budget.
4. Poor tiling job: If the place has been tiled or re-tiled in a slapdash manner, imagine what the waterproofing underneath is like. Shoddy waterproofing can be a huge drain on funds as you’ll be paying for leak detection, then band-aid type repairs and eventually a full bathroom renovation.
5. Bathroom/kitchen renovations: Who conducted the renovation: a reputable building company, a no-name builder or an owner builder? If either of the two latter cases, potential buyers should be wary of the quality of the renovation and inspect it with a fine-toothed comb.
6. Get a copy of the current drainage diagram: Most purchase contracts have the sewer service diagram attached. No diagram? Purchase one as the information is worth many times the fee. Diagrams are updated if any changes to drainage (moving a sink, basin, WC or a sewer repair) have occurred. If the diagram has never been updated and this is an older home, be wary of this red flag. If the diagram pre-dates a bathroom renovation, either new fixtures have been attached to old plumbing (= corner cutting) or the diagram was never updated (raises concerns about the plumbers that did the work).
OUTSIDE THE HOUSE
A major sewer or stormwater issue could cost you $20,000+, so make sure you keep your eyes open for problems outside as well as in.
7. Check the age of the hot water unit: You’ll find this information on its badge. They have a life of 8-10 years if poorly maintained (most people do not have their heaters serviced as they should), or 15-20 years if they have been regularly serviced. If the unit is any more than 8 years old, factor in the cost of a replacement in the near future ( starts at around $1000 but averages $2000-3000).
8. Galvanised pipes: If the water or gas pipes are exposed, you will find them along the outside walls. If they are copper, run your hand along the surface: thick, pitted or rough ones could be galvanised and will need to be replaced, so factor in that cost.
9. Sewer pipes: Check the base of the downpipe or garden taps for evidence of clay pipes. A clay sewer system will break (a matter of when, not if) so consider the cost of replacing your drainage system (prepare to spend $5000-20000). If it’s a terrace house, check to see if there is a shared common sewer (it can be tricky to negotiate sharing a repair with neighbours).
10. Cuts in concrete: If there is a piece of footpath or concrete with a square cut out of it on the property, it means at some point someone has investigated drainage issues. If there has been a problem in the past, make sure it has been fixed, not just investigated and forgotten.
Make sure your building inspector knows to note these plumbing red flags. If you’re unsure if they can do this specialised task, a professional plumber can do the job for you.
Finding any one of these 10 commonly overlooked plumbing problems could be the difference between paying top dollar for the property and then shelling out thousands more for repairs, or being smart about your buying offer and factoring in the cost of repair in your negotiations.
About Darren Clancy
Darren has been in the plumbing business for over 20 years and founded Pipe Perfection Plumbers in 2004. He is a member of the Master Plumbers Association NSW and the Strata Community of Australia, and is also a certified Enviroplumber