Looking for lemons: How to do your own property inspection.

Nothing beats a professional inspection, but here’s how you can spot issues when you’re looking through your potential new home.

When you first walk through a house you can often tell in an instant if it’s the one you want to buy. The question is, is it the one you should buy?

A home open is a time when you look at all the positives. It’s not just the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and a good-sized kitchen. It’s the feel of the rooms, the light, a good connection from the inside to the nice garden behind. Or maybe you love the fact that there are things that can bring down the purchase price, but you can see the potential of a fantastic renovation.

Before you buy you need to leave the heart at home, and look at the home again with a cool, clear head. You should always get a professional inspection if you’re going to make an offer, but there are a few things you can do to know if you should spend the money on getting the experts in.

Take another walk through the house and with these simple tips you’ll know if it’s a lemon or not.

First up, there’s the easy stuff you can do yourself. Secondly, there are more technical hard things that could be good to have someone with you that has some experience in building, renovating or a trade. And lastly there’s the other stuff that’s good to consider.

The easy things.

Check for cracks. Small thin cracks are common in most homes that aren’t new and can easily be fixed. But larger cracks you can fit the edge of a coin into are a worry and can be a sign of movement or structural problems. These can cost a lot to fix.

Sticky doors and windows. Like cracks in the wall, doors that stick can indicate the house is moving. This could mean a structural problem that might easily lead to financial problems. Windows that stick can mean the frames are warping or rusting. Often a seller will paint over these, so push into the frame with your finger. If it’s soft, it means trouble.

Water, damp and mould. Wet areas like bathrooms, kitchens and laundries can be damaged by these. Check for stains, watermarks, corrosion or bubbling paint. Look around the tiles and sink, in the corners of the roof, and inside cabinets. These can indicate many problems such as plumbing leaks, poorly sealed showers and baths, and bad ventilation – some of which can be expensive to repair depending on the extent of the damage. Rising damp is also an issue, and can be detected by looking for damp patches, peeling paint, rotting skirting boards, fluffy deposits of salt on the walls and a mouldy, mildew-like smell.

Use your nose. Looking at and feeling surfaces are vital, and so is your sense of smell. You can detect the mouldy aroma of rising damp and also the smell of fresh paint. A new coat of paint is often used to cover all sorts of problems, from water damage and mould to rusting metal and rotting wood.

Look at and feel the walls. A coat of paint is a common way to make a wall look flat and uniform. So take your time to run your hands across it, and look at it up close and on an angle to see and feel any imperfections.

Water pressure and plumbing. Turn on some taps in the house to check the pressure, see what colour the water is, and sometimes even the odour. Pressure loss and discoloured water can mean piping problems. Plumbing work can get pricey quickly so this is a simple but important test you can do.

Hot water, heating and air conditioners. Check out the hot water system to see how old it is and whether it’s big enough for you and your family. Look for leaks and rust. It’s the same with any heaters or air conditioning units – ask about the age and capacity to do the job, but also find out the energy efficiency as old or big systems can be expensive to run.

The harder stuff.

As always, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. If you know someone in the know about building, ask them to come along. They can help you check some of the areas that require expertise.

Electrical wiring. Old houses can have old wiring that may be dangerous if not replaced. Rewiring an entire house is always expensive. Look for old switches and sockets that can give you a clue to the age. Also check the fuse box to see if it’s up to date.

Pests. Rodents and insects usually like to live in hidden and hard-to-get-to places, so checking for them really takes a professional inspection. Signs to look for are droppings, traps and baits for rats and mice, while sagging floors and hollow beams can mean termites have damaged structural elements.

Check the gutters and downpipes. This is less about expertise and more about physical ability. Get up and take a look in the gutters for rust, warping, holes and blockages. If there are signs the gutters have overflowed that can also mean damage to internal walls and ceilings. Make sure the downpipes are rust and hole-free and that they lead down to a drain.

The other stuff.

Take a good look around the entire property and be on the lookout for a few of these red flags.

Trees and garden. The garden is one of the most important spaces in any home so look at the condition and the amount of work involved to get it the way you’d like it. If there are any big trees have a look at their size, age and condition and check to see if they could potentially damage your property (large tree removal can be expensive) or if their roots have been up to mischief. Don’t forget to look at the neighbours’ trees too.

Pools. Look for cracks or discolorations on the bottoms and sides as well as the condition of surrounding paving. Look at the age and condition of the pumps and filters.

Outside buildings. There are usually structures other than the house that need looking at, like garages, sheds, gazebos, decking and fences. Make sure they’re solid and in good condition.

Of course, doing your own checks is no replacement for getting a professional inspection, but it’s a good step to take before you get one. If you think the home has real problems, you can save the money and walk away. But if it looks good, you can then get the full picture from an expert and use it as a guide to predict future costs, or even negotiate a better price from the seller.

As with all things when buying or selling homes, getting expert advice along the way is a great way to make sure you’re making the right decisions and saving money.

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