The decision to buy a home or an investment property is a major financial undertaking and you should consider a pre-purchase building inspection report before signing a contract for the purchase. This decision should be supported by knowledge of the physical state of the property so that you can avoid substantial hidden costs post-purchase. Knowing the condition of the property will enable a buyer to identify the major structural defects or items that require maintenance and to make a better informed decision as to whether to proceed with the purchase.
It is worth noting that if the property isn’t going to auction, you can make your offer subject to a satisfactory pre-purchase building inspection report. This special condition is added into the contract as an annexure and it gives you a set timeframe to organise the inspection. If you produce a report identifying defects of a particular level, you can terminate the contract and ask for your deposit back. However, if the property is going to auction, your only option is to arrange the structural inspection prior to making a bid, so timing is much more critical.
When to conduct a pre-purchase structural inspection?
When a contract by offer and acceptance to purchase a property is written, the buyer should insist on obtaining a building structural report. In Perth, the cost of such an inspection is negligible when compared to the value of the property. The cost of the inspection will generally depend on the size, location and age of the property. The buyer should specify that the pre-purchase structural inspection is to be obtained within 14 days from acceptance of the contract.
The Annexure related to the requirement of building inspection report will usually qualify that an Architect, a Registered Builder or an Engineer is to provide a building structural report in accordance with Australian Standards confirming that the Property is free from structural defects. The presence of defects will only be relevant when they present as a "Structural Defect". A "Structural Defect" consists of a fault or deviation from the intended structural performance of a building element and is a major defect to the building structure of sufficient magnitude where rectification has to be carried out in order to avoid unsafe conditions, loss of utility, or further deterioration of the building structure.
Structural vs. Non-Structural Defects
It is important to note that structural defects do not include any non-structural elements, e.g. roof, plumbing and roof covering, general gas, water and sanitary plumbing, electrical wiring, partition walls, cabinetry, windows, doors, trims, fencing, minor structures, non-structural damp issues, ceiling linings, floor coverings, decorative finishes such as plastering, painting, tiling etc., general maintenance, or spalling of masonry, fretting or mortar rusting. The main objective of the pre-purchase building inspection and the building inspection report is to uncover any significant issues. At Rotaru Building Consultants, our approach is very thorough and includes any of the non-structural defects of a property so that our clients obtain a better appreciation of the condition of the property overall.
The following are the top 5 defects that we encounter during pre-purchase structural inspections:
Cracking of various types in walls, ceilings and floors. While minor cracking will occur in a significant proportion of buildings, important parameters are the crack width, crack depth and deviation from verticality in the walls. These parameters require the expertise of an experienced structural engineer to ascertain the structural adequacy.
Retaining walls experiencing structural defects. Excessive deviation in verticality can constitute a major structural defect if it is outside of the tolerances stipulated in the National Construction Code (NCC).
Roof interior defects, deficient fixings, inadequate or missing tie-downs, safety hazards & major structural defects.
Corrosion of lintels, columns, posts and other building elements. A difference in steel thickness from the original thickness that varies by 10% or more, is likely to adversely affect the structural adequacy of the structural elements and can compromise the main building.
Drainage related problems in relation to down-pipes not being connected to soak-wells, paving grade directing water towards the building foundations and blocked sub-soil drainage systems.
Obtain impartial independent advice
A pre-purchase building inspection and reporting is to be undertaken by a qualified inspector with appropriate professional indemnity insurance. It is essential that the inspector engaged to carry out the pre-purchase inspection can provide independent and objective advice to the buyer with no bias or conflict of interest. If the pre-purchase building inspection report reveals the existence of structural defects, the buyer will have a range of options available such as having the issues rectified by the seller or withdrawing the offer.
What is included in a pre-purchase structural inspection?
A typical pre-purchase structural inspection for residential buildings in Perth, and throughout Australia, must be conducted in accordance with the Australian Standard AS4349.1-2007 Pre-purchase inspections - Residential buildings. Whilst a close and careful scrutiny of a building is to be conducted, the inspection is visual in nature and does not involve destructive testing or dismantling. As a summary, the key areas to be inspected are:
The interior of the building;
The roof space;
The exterior of the building;
The sub-floor space;
The roof exterior;
Ancillary structures such as retaining walls, brick screen walls, sheds, carports, fences.
The Australian Standards 4349.1 requires that every pre-purchase inspection has an inspection agreement accepted by the home purchaser. This agreement will clarify the purpose of the inspection which is to provide advice to a prospective purchaser or other interested party regarding the condition of the property at the time of inspection. The scope of the inspection and acceptance criteria will also be clearly stated in the pre purchase building inspection agreement. The standard is also very specific as to a number of exclusions from the inspection such as gas fittings and fixtures, air-conditioning, automatic garage door mechanisms and the operation of fireplaces to name a few. This information should be very clearly stated in the inspection agreement.
Timber pest inspections are always recommended
When purchasing a home in Perth, the buyer may decide to undertake a building and pest inspection. This will include a timber pest inspection which will result in a separate termite inspection report. It is important to note that termite inspections only cover termites, while timber pest inspections cover certain other timber pests, too. So, if the contract is conditional upon a termite inspection, and the buyer conducts a timber pest inspection in which wood borers are found, the buyer can’t terminate the contract as a result unless this now presents structural adequacy concerns.
While pre-purchase building inspections are most common, depending on the property there are other inspections which should be considered such as pest inspection, electrical installation and specialist inspections such as plumbing, hydraulics, mechanical services and geotechnical.
A structural engineer can advise regarding retrospective approvals
It is not uncommon that after you've made an offer and it is accepted, you may discover that the property has an unauthorised structure such as a patio, carport or retaining wall (not approved by Council or Shire). The Council or Shire can request the demolition of the illegal structure. To overcome this issue, we recommend that the contract to purchase the property is subject to an annexure where the seller warrants that at settlement, all improvements to the land and buildings have been approved by the local council. The seller would greatly benefit from organising a retrospective approval for the unauthorised structure or building prior to placing the property on the market.
After a pre-purchase building inspection is completed in Perth (and throughout WA) the buyer is entitled to a pre-settlement inspection. This is typically occurs within 5 business days of when you take formal possession of the home. This inspection enables you to inspect the property during this time to ensure the condition of the property is essentially the same as when the property was originally inspected. A common issue during this particular inspection is the identification of appliances which are not working. If a fixed appliance such as a heater, aircon, rangehood or similar isn’t working at the inspection, it is best to communicate with the agent to request it to be fixed. If it can’t be proved that the appliance wasn’t working originally and there is no special condition to say it should be working, then the vendor may refuse to fix it.
We have noted an increase in retrospective engineering approvals for non-habitable structures recently and our engineering team has been happy to help. If constructed well, Class 10a buildings such as sheds, carports, and private garages or Class 10b structures such as fences, retaining walls, swimming pools or the like, are likely to be able to be certified retrospectively.
In most cases, it is advised that a structural inspection is undertaken to assess the structure and to confirm if it can be certified from an engineering perspective (certification for compliance with the current version of the National Construction Code). This enables us to provide a document with advice regarding the current structural condition and recommendation for additional structural design work to achieve structural adequacy, if required.
In almost all cases, we need to undertake structural analysis, calculations, mark-up specification before providing our Chartered Engineer Certification for the structure.
Usually, your local Council will require an independent Building Surveyor Inspection, which we can coordinate, to obtain the BA18 Certificate of Building Compliance. Following our certification and the BA18, retrospective approval in Western Australia can usually be obtained within 10 business days.
As a final note, ensure that before engaging an inspector for your pre-purchase building inspection that you have reviewed the inspection agreement which must include the purpose, scope, acceptance criteria and a clear list of exclusions which will not be included in the inspection and/or report.
More than a pre-purchase structural inspection
At Rotaru Building Consultants, we are proud to offer exceptional structural engineering services and we specialise in residential and commercial buildings. Our expertise enables us to offer more than your standard pre-purchase structural inspection service.
At RBC Perth, only a Professional Structural Engineer or a Registered Builder will conduct your inspection. This means during the pre-purchase structural inspection, we can provide a structural engineering assessment when we discover cracking in walls and floors and make appropriate engineering recommendations to remediate such defects – no need to engage another contractor and pay for a second inspection!
Our considerable expertise regarding the structural engineering of retaining walls and failure analysis means we will ensure these structures are thoroughly assessed during our pre-purchase structural inspection as well.
In event that there are known unauthorised structures on the property, such as retaining walls, screen walls, patios, carports or sheds, we can undertake the necessary engineering assessment and assist with the retrospective structural engineering approval.
If you are looking to purchase a property to renovate, we can also provide engineering advice regarding the existing load bearing structural walls that may be considered for removal. We can also assist with the structural engineering certification for such renovations.
Our mission is to provide exceptional building consulting services, cost effective structural engineering solutions together with an excellent customer experience. If you have any questions about a pre purchase structural and timber pest inspection in Perth or the South-West, get in touch with us to discuss your requirements and to obtain a free quote today.
Why choose Rotaru Building Consultants for pre-purchase structural inspections?
When it comes to pre-purchase structural and pest inspections, our key service advantages include:
Each structural inspection is performed by a Professional Structural Engineer;
We can assist with all types of residential and commercial buildings in Perth;
We are able to provide competent advice and certified engineering details to remediate structural defects;
We can assess and certify unauthorised structures such as patios, sheds, retaining walls, home extensions and other residential ancillary structures;
Each pre-purchase timber pest inspection is performed by a qualified inspector;
We use the latest technology which may include moisture meters and thermal imaging cameras;
Site data is efficiently collected onsite using custom made software, allowing reports to be automatically generated to ensure accuracy and a quick result.
Home buyers must navigate a multitude of decisions during the buying process and this can be made more difficult when purchasing in a hot market. While a pre-purchase structural inspection report offers some protection in the event that safety hazards, major defects or structural defects are identified, there is often a range of maintenance activities which are not covered by the standard REIWA Offer and Acceptance Contract, or defects that are outside the scope covered by AS4349.1 Pre-purchase inspections – Residential buildings. Examples include fencing that requires replacement, corrosion in non-structural building elements, fretting clay tiles, repointing of tiled roofs and non-structural but difficult to reach wall cracking requiring scaffolding.
With older buildings, it is important to allow a certain amount of funding for yearly maintenance. We have found that neglecting maintenance in residential buildings has a compounding effect over time therefore it often requires a larger capital output than the initial preventative maintenance cost. Retaining walls in particular can be very expensive to rectify particularly if access for machinery is limited or if existing structures are present adjacent to the retaining wall.
Typical examples of defects we encounter during our pre-purchase inspections, which may be difficult to spot during a home open, include corrosion at base of patio posts, cracking in external walls, significant leaning in masonry walls, trees in close proximity to building foundations, roof issues including a twisting roof strutting beam without lateral restraints and tiled roofs requiring restoration. In general, most of the defects can be rectified but this comes at an additional cost which should be factored in prior to making an offer on a property.
If you have any questions, get in touch with us to discuss your Perth or South West pre-purchase structural inspection requirements and to obtain a free quote.
Rotaru Building Consultants
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