Buyer Beware – What should I look out for? – A Key Question when looking to Buy a Property

Once you’ve found a home you’re interested in you’ll want to check it out carefully. It really is a case of buyer beware. You don’t want to end up with a lemon, or costs you hadn’t planned for. In this section we cover ways you can go about checking things out – and things to look out for.Please contact your Mortgage Broker for any further questions you may have.

Check the place out

When you visit a place you like, take your time. Go back several times. Ask the agent lots of questions and do a thorough check for things you may have to fix.

Contact the Council

Ask your local and regional councils for information about the area and any future plans. Talk to the town planners (and ask them if there’s anyone else you should talk to). Ask about the district or resource plan. It sets out the rules for development in the area, including zones and building heights. You can also get things like drainage and building plans and copies of permits for the property from your council.

Apply for a LIM Report

A Land Information Memorandum from the local authority gives you all sorts of valuable information about drainage, roading, flooding, erosion, consents etc. You’ll need to supply them with a copy of the title for property. There is a charge for this report. Prices vary around the country but you can expect to pay at least $250-$350, and more in some areas.

Get Expert Advice

Get a building inspector’s report on the property ( and ask them to give you an idea of what it might cost to fix any problems they find). If there could be any problems with the land get an engineer’s report too.

Check the Title to the Property

This will tell you if there are any restrictions that could affect your ownership. The agent should have a copy. Talk to your lawyer about the title and any other checks hey think you should do.

What should I ask the Agent?

These questions can help you get a good idea about the home and its value.

  • Why are the owners selling the home?
  • How long has it been on the market?
  • How much interest has there been?
  • What is the Ratable Valuation (GV)?
  • How much are the rates?
  • What are the properties nearby worth?
  • What have other places been sold for?
  • What are the neighbours like – do they have children, pets, noisy parties?
  • What facilities are in the area?
  • What are the schools like, are they zoned?
  • Is the house north facing (for sun)?
  • When does it get the sun?
  • What is the prevailing wind direction?
  • Is the home sheltered?
  • Is there noise from traffic, trains, planes?
  • Is there a danger of flooding or erosion?
  • Are there any major redevelopment plans for the area?
  • Are there any zoning restrictions?
  • What type of title does the property have?
  • Are there any covenants (restrictions) or easements (rights)?
  • Are there any protection orders over the tress or buildings?
  • Where are the boundaries?
  • Is the home suitable to renovate?
  • Could the section be subdivided?
  • Does the home need any urgent repairs?
  • Have there been any recent alterations – do these have consents and certificates?
  • Has it been repiled, re-plumbed or re-wired – and when?
  • What heating and insulation does it have?
  • What fittings are being sold with the home?

Is the home in good order?

Before you buy a place you want to be sure it’s in good order or that you at least know what has to be done to fix things and how much it will cost. You best protection is to get a building inspector’s report. But of course you don’t want to pay for a report unless you’re sure it’s the home you want, so you’ll need to do some initial checking yourself.

Here’s a few pointers…

When you check the home you are looking for structural problems or things like rotten wood or leaks – the sorts of things that can be difficult and expensive to fix.

Signs of movement and sinking including cracks in walls and doors or windows that are crooked or jam. Rotting or borer filled timber is soft and spongy. Rotting wood sounds ‘dead’ when you tap it and crumbles if you push a key or something sharp into it.

Signs of leaks include mould, mildew and bulges in the wall. Often the place will smell musty as well. Musty or unpleasant smells can also be a sign of problems with the drains or sewerage.

Be wary of fresh paint and plaster especially if only some areas have been done-up – it could well be covering a problem. Furniture and pot plants can provide good camouflage too, both indoors and out, so don’t be embarrassed to look behind or under them.

Some common problems

A survey by BRANZ, the Building Research Association, found that the most common problems were…

  • Deterioration of roof and wall claddings.
  • Poor foundation – missing piles and unsafe excavations.
  • Missing or leaking spouting.
  • Unrestrained water tank in the roof or hot water cupboard.
  • Worn surfaces in kitchens, bathrooms and laundries.
  • Poor venting – either blocked vents under the house whish can cause rotting, or vents in kitchens and bathrooms which open into the roof space instead of outside.

How much will maintenance cost?

The cost of repairs and maintenance depends on the age and condition of the home. But you’ll probably need to allow at least $2500 a year. It doesn’t mean you’ll spend this much every year. But over the years you will have maintenance costs, sometimes quite big ones, and you’ll need to be prepared for this. To give you a better idea, here are some estimates based on an average home.

Some typical costs Estimate

New Roof (steel)From $8000
New spouting/gutters$2000-$3000
Outside paint job$5000-$10,000
New switchboard$2000
Ceiling insulation$2000-$3000
Retaining walls$200-$250 a meter
Storm water drainsFrom $4000
Fencing$75-$100 a meter
New Kitchen$10,000-$15,000
New bathroom$8000-$10,000
New shower$2000-$3000
New toilet$1000
New carpet$6000-$15,000
Central heating$15,000
New gas fire$2000-$4000
New wood burner$3000-$4000
Adding air vents$200-$300

Here are some things to look out for…

FloorsAre the floors uneven or move when you walk around (try jumping up and down)? It could mean problems with the piles. Check for rot & borer holes.
Walls & ceilingsLook out for stains, mould, bulges, cracks that could indicate leaks or a house that is sinking. Check for fresh paint & plaster that could be a cover-up. Are walls & ceilings insulated?
Doors & windowsCheck that they open without sticking, that handles & locks work (and have keys). Sticking or crooked windows and door can mean a home is moving. Check woodwork for rot & borer. Check rubber seals on aluminum are not perished.
Under the houseLook for signs of damp, leaks, borer, pests, gaps or rot in floorboards, cracks in the foundations, rotten or sinking piles. Is there good ventilation to keep it dry? Test wooden piles below ground level for soft rot.
Inside the roofLook for leaks, holes, sagging roof, cracks in the chimney, Birds nests. Check for insulation.

Living Areas

LightIs there enough natural light? Do skylights open?
GasAre the flames strong? Turn all outlets on at once to check flow – if the flames are weak there could be a blockage. Gas fires need to be ventilated to the outside to prevent condensation
PowerAre fittings, sockets and switches in good repair? Are there enough power points and lights? Is the switchboard old?
FireplaceDoes it work? Is the chimney old or cracked? Is there a permit? Black stains above the fireplace can mean its not working well.
Central heatingDoes it work? Ask to test it. Ideally there should be outlets in most rooms – and several controls around the home.
Fittings & chattelsWhat chattels are included in the sale? Are carpets, curtains, light, heaters, dishwasher etc in good order?
FlooringCheck under furniture for worn or stained patches.
TVIs there an aerial? Is the reception good?

Kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms

WaterCheck all taps work – turn them all on at once to test pressure. Is there plenty of hot water? Is the tank insulated and restrained?
FansDo they vent to outside (otherwise they can cause fires)?
AppliancesDo the oven, hobs, dishwasher and rangehood work.
Cupboards & wardrobesLook inside them, is there enough storage? Do they open and shut properly? Check for mould and damp smells.
ToiletDoes it flush strongly? Are the bowl and cistern cracked or stained?
Bath, shower and hand basinAre they in good condition? Check the water pressure and look around them for signs of mildew, leaks or rotting surrounds.

Outside areas

RoofCheck for rust, holes, cracked tiles, signs of leaks.
Outside wallsCheck for rotten or broken boards, cracks in plaster.
Plaster & paint workIs it in good repair? Look for peeling paint and plaster. But also check new work to make sure it’s not a cover-up.
Spouting, gutters & flashingsLook for rust, holes, cracks and gaps. Are all doors and windows flashed or sealed to prevent leaking?
Shed, garage & decksAre they in good order? Have they been built with permits?
BanksIs there any sign of erosion? Are the retaining walls in good condition?
BoundariesAsk where the boundaries are(can you see any survey pegs?). Are fences in the right place? Is there anything over the boundary? If you are not sure you can get a plan from the council and measure things out – or get a survey done.
Drainage & floodingAre there storm water drains? Is the ground boggy? Are there nearby streams or rivers that flood?
Access & drivewaysIs there good access to the house? Are steps, paths and drives in good condition? If access is shared is it likely to cause problems and who pays for the upkeep?
OtherIs there a washing line? Is there an entry porch? Are fences and railings in good order? Is the soil good?
Noise & smellsCheck for noises from traffic, trains, planes, neighbours, nearby industry. Check for smells from local businesses, waterways or rubbish collection. Visit at different times of the day to check.
Safety, security & fire preventionIs the access well lit? Is there good street lighting? Check for fire exits – are fire escapes in good order? Are there smoke detectors? Is there a security system? Do all external doors lock? Do all windows fasten securely? Do decks and balconies have secure railings?