It’s show day! The home you viewed online is perfect: it’s in the right suburb, is within your budget and has all the features you really want in a forever home.
As you arrive, you are greeted with a friendly smile and welcoming handshake.
“Come on in,” the agent says.
The home is clean, neat, and those cookies baking in the oven subconsciously bring back happy childhood memories.
We hate to break it to you: Very few, if any, homes are perfect. Every single one has flaws – mostly minor but some major ones too. Do not let a seasoned professional’s “home dressing” distract you from doing all you can to ensure you do not end up putting in an offer and paying for a home that was “move-in ready” last month but has actually been a “fixer-upper” all along.
Doing a home inspection yourself on show day is possible, believe it or not. And you already have most of the tools: Your five (or six) senses.
Tony Clarke, MD of the Rawson Property Group, has seen it all before and shares his tips on spotting potential problems. These DIY checks are just the first step of the process, and should always be followed by a professional inspection – even if you don’t find any red flags.
Ceilings give great clues to the condition of a property. Stains or sagging suggest past or present leaks from the roof, geyser or water pipes, and mould is a good indicator of poor ventilation or potential damp problems. Dark marks around light fittings could also be a sign of electrical problems, and smoke stains near a fireplace are a sure sign that the chimney doesn’t draw properly.
“It’s also a good idea to ask about things like ceiling insulation,” says Clarke. “It can make a big difference to the liveability of a home.”
Walls and floors
Damp walls are often chalky, mouldy, or show bubbling or flaking paint close to the source of the problem – usually within 1m of the floor or up at ceiling level. If a home has been recently painted, however, it might be difficult to see these symptoms. In this case, Clarke recommends running a hand over the walls to feel for any tell-tale “cold spots” and being aware of any damp, musty smells.
Bathrooms and kitchens
Testing taps and toilets is a good start, but to detect less noticeable leaks, Clarke recommends inspecting floors, countertops and splashbacks for damage, as well as the inside of any vanities or under-sink cupboards.
“It’s also important to check the walls that back onto showers and baths for any signs of moisture. If the paint is flaking, or there are stains or cold spots, it could mean hidden pipe leaks or poor waterproofing,” he says.
You might get a few odd looks if you ask to climb onto the roof during a normal show house, but Clarke says that gutter problems can often be spotted from the ground.
“Check to see that the gutters run straight and don’t sag noticeably anywhere,” he says. “Keep an eye out for drip marks or dark patches – these are usually caused by leaky joints and seams. You’ll also want to take note of the condition and number of downpipes, and make sure they divert the rainwater to proper drainage channels or soak wells. Downpipes that pour water onto the foundations aren’t doing anyone any good.”
It may be difficult to see the condition of a home’s roof tiles or roof sheets from the ground, but if you can, check for signs of patching or rust that could indicate leak problems.
“A roof that has been patched once will likely need to be patched again in the future,” says Clarke. “So if possible, find out about the property’s roof maintenance history.”
Windows and doors
“Windows and doors are good indicators of how well a property has been maintained,” particularly if they are wooden and need a bit of extra care,” says Clarke, who recommends to pay attention to all inside and outside doors and windows. Make sure they open, close and lock properly, and that their paint or varnish is in reasonable condition. Sliding doors should move smoothly and seal tightly against drafts and wind.
Plaster and paint work
Cracked or shabby plaster and paintwork isn’t necessarily a sign of serious underlying defects, but it can be expensive to fix as a new homeowner, nonetheless. Clarke suggests taking note of the condition of the paintwork and factoring the cost of any maintenance into your purchase decision.
While most homes have at least one or two hairline plaster cracks, larger cracks can indicate a serious structural problem.
“As a rule of thumb, anything smaller than 2mm in width is normally just cosmetic,” says Clarke. “But cracks wider than that are a warning sign that should definitely be inspected by a professional.”
“Old houses with suspended wooden floors can fall prey to sub-floor rot,” says Clarke. “The best way to check for this is to walk around and feel for any soft spots or areas that sag or bounce. Some give is normal, but more than a little could be cause for concern.”
Plumbing and electrical faults
Plumbing and electrical items are best inspected by a professional, but Clarke still recommends testing light switches, toilets and taps to make sure everything is working as it should.
“Pipes and wiring are beyond most of us, but anyone can test dimmers, switches and water pressure,” he says. “Listen out for strange noises and take note of any obvious faults.
“Remember, no property is perfect, so don’t let a few minor faults put you off. If you find a place that feels like home and doesn’t ring any major warning bells, go ahead and get a professional inspection done. That way, if you do choose to make an offer, you can do so with confidence and peace of mind.”