How to: Choose a building and pest inspector

When you are buying a new property, a building and pest inspection can go a long way towards saving you a fortune. Be it hidden termite damage that would cost you tens of thousands to fix, asbestos you didn’t know was lurking or structural damage that makes the building unsound – there are many issues that a good building and pest inspector should be able to find.

However, in order to get the most out of one of these reports, you’ll need to find the best expert to undertake it.

Having one of these pre-purchase inspection reports from an independent expert is a great tool for you – both for your peace of mind, and for negotiating the price down should any issues arise. It can also be set as a condition to help you wriggle out of the sale should the property not be as it appears, providing a form of safety net.

You can get these two reports undertaken separately, however they are often offered more cheaply when bundled together and can save you the time and effort of getting two separate inspections undertaken.

If you’re unsure about whether you should get one of these inspections, then Tim Mansfield explains why he sees it as a crucial step for every home buyer. Even new properties can benefit from a building inspection that can identify if any corners have been cut or if the builder didn’t come up to scratch.

Here's a useful guide on how to find the best building and pest inspector for your situation.

The absolute basic requirements

The expert you choose must be qualified – such as being a licensed builder, surveyor or architect, warns Fair Trading. Do not be afraid to ask them for their licence details.

They should ensure that their format and content complies with the Australian Standard (AS 4349.1), and they should have insurance – such as professional indemnity.This professional indemnity provides you protection later on if you deem that they have been negligent and want to take action.

Initial considerations

Ask them:
About their background, and how they trained to move into this field. How long have they been working as a building and pest inspector?
About the tools that they will use on-site: Moisture detectors are common, thermal imaging devices are less-so, while a laser level and sounding devices are in most building and pest inspectors’ kits. If you’re unsure, ask them what each does and what it checks for. You’ll quickly discover what is and isn’t necessary in your area.
What geographical area they cover, and what the common issues are in your area.
Some of their experiences picking out issues in properties - asking for this qualitative information will help you identify how well they know their profession.
How long do they tend to take on each inspection?

Get a copy of their report so you can see how comprehensive they are with their inspections. Here is an example of one company’s report.  If you’re looking to find areas with which to negotiate the property down in value, the more comprehensive these reports are, the more to your advantage. However, you may find yourself concerned when a number of issues are brought up. Here is Jo Chivers’ guide to “reading between the lines” of a building and pest report so that you don’t get too worried and lose a good opportunity. 

Understand the limitations

Building inspectors are human, and for this reason standard building inspections are not a fail safe method. Inspections are visual by nature and are not necessarily intrusive (although more comprehensive inspections can be requested at a cost). For this reason, they will only be able to access areas that they can see – providing an opportunity for error and for the vendor to occasionally hide issues their home may have. 

Prior to paying for an inspection, you may also want to read this guide on how vendors will be preparing their homes for building and pest inspections.While they are asked to make life as easy as possible for inspectors to do their jobs, some may even lock certain doors and disallow access. You will want to see this behaviour as 'red flags'.

Similarly, pest inspectors’ equipment are not foolproof – even after an inspection, damage can be found upon renovating. You may not be able to claim this back from the inspector, who hasn’t necessarily been negligent.

Specific knowledge

Local building inspectors are likely to know about specific builders, types of building, the way the structure needs to be built to withstand local weather and ground conditions and the common problems. For instance, in some areas certain streets are more prone to termites than others. A building and pest inspector who has been doing the rounds in the area for some years is likely to have an intimate knowledge of the “problem areas” and will be on the lookout from the offset.

They will also be able to provide information on whether that granny flat in the garden really meets council specifications, or whether the height of a room doesn’t meet building code. They may have even, as has occurred in some situations, undertaken a report before and will be even more alert to any new issues emerging.

Accessibility

While inspectors are increasingly said to be scared of being sued, you may be able to get them to provide you some extra information about the report over the phone. You may be able to informally ask them how much certain repairs will cost, and whether certain damage is necessarily a deal breaker. If you are interested in this aspect, you will want to be looking for someone willing to take their time with you and to give you a personalized service.

Not all inspectors will be comfortable providing an estimate for repairs costs, and you can then take the report to a builder or other professional for some advice.

Extras worth considering

Some inspectors offer extra services, such as to provide a “video” inspection along with the report. For those unsure, this can not only be a good educational tool in what to look for in a property yourself, but it will also clearly show the extent to any damage.

 

Quick note: Ensure you don’t get overcharged for your building and pest inspection. Usually, each report will cost around $400 to $600, and as a bundle may cost up to $800, although in some cases can be far less. Prices do vary, and can be more expensive for regional areas where an inspector is required to travel out.

Finally, remember that reports can take several days to put together. If you’re heading to auction, you will want to be getting this done as early in the process as possible before you even consider putting a bid on the home.

jduke@propertyobserver.com.au

Jennifer Duke

Jennifer Duke

Jennifer Duke was a property writer at Property Observer

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