Saving home purchasers from buying a Lemon

Recently I have been asked for a pre purchase inspection, on a referral from a solicitor, for one of his clients. The client had found the house he wanted and inspected it himself but noted a problem and asked me to inspect paying particular attention to the stumps.

I completed the inspection and this is what I wrote

This extended and renovated dwelling presents well but on close inspection reveals catastrophic foundation failure which has caused brick walls to be out of plumb and out of level and timber and concrete floors to be out of level. Brickwork also exhibits mortar erosion through Krypto efflorescence when groundwater salts are crystalized.

I have used spirit level to confirm that the brickwork is out of lefvel and out of plumb and thart the floors are badly out of level

It appears that the entire dwelling has tilted towards the back and the slab extension tilted the opposite way toward the front

Repairs to this dwelling are likely to be very expensive and a further engineering report is highly recommended before purchase. A substantial repair budget is highly recommended.

Needless to say the client walked away from this property which was auctioned later that week and some other “lucky buyer “got it.

About a week later the client found another home about which I said:

This dwelling is in very good condition with no significant issues noted. Purchaser to check wioth vendor that the pergola has been built with building permit and the termite protection maintenance should be brought up to date.

Garden beds against brick walls at front of dwelling create high termite risk and should be removed”

There you have it, just like Lemons are in season year around so are catastrophic house purchase blunders. Take care and make sure you get a competent inspection before you buy a home.

As a pre purchase inspector I have seen thousands of homes in varying condition of dilapidation. A lot can be learnt from that, how homes fail and that knowledge is then applied when inspecting new homes under construction for prevention. Can’t beat experience.

There are inspectors that only specialise in new home inspections trying to sell you that as a virtue, it’s not, it’s a limitation. A true expert will not only have extensive construction experience but also extensive inspection experience of new homes under construction and established homes.




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Seven point for getting independent inspector for your build

As independent inspector myself I can only point to my experience from a large roadkill of owners who have diabolical problems or dearly wish they had inspections done. It is true that there are over 20,000 builders in Victoria and majority do a decent job and you never hear about them on this forum. However, there is several dozen that frequently pop up with problem builds. There are also many problems with OB jobs.
Statistically chances are that you will be Ok but it’s like a tattslotto, chances are low but someone always wins and many win second and third division prizes.
Do you want to win a second or third rate build build? No problem, don’t have independent inspections and you will be underwriting your own risk.
The benefits of having independent and competent inspector working for you are:
1 Builder will know you will have a professional working for you and it will change complexion of things. You won’t be bullied, intimidated and treated like crap. I suspected for a long time that volume builders assign their best supervisors to where they know will be independent inspector. Other jobs get leftovers. But just recently one of the building managers for a large volume builder said so to me.

2 Pre-contract review- your most important inspection. If you willingly sign off on a bad deal no one can help you.
3 Pre Slab inspection- another pair of eyes going over slab preparation, levels, drawings, drainage etc before concrete is poured.
4 Frame inspection, in theory should not be required because building inspector does those for mandatory requirements but often I pickup on serious defects and omissions.
5 Pre plaster-last chance inspection to check everything before everything gets covered up, after that you cannot see and if your plaster has bows and hollows then walls have not been properly straightened.What about fire walls if you are in a unit?
6 Pre final inspection:
incomplete work
non compliance
non conformance
theremal imaging scan- for insulation and roof leaks
variations overview
7 having your expert in the cloud should bring you comfort and respect from your builder, otherwise you may be treated as a pushover.

If that does not convince you, read my other blogs

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About independent building stage inspections

From experience, pre contract review plus 4 stage inspections is the sweet point between price and value.
The recommended inspections are:
1 Pre contract review
2 Pre slab inspection
3 Frame inspection
4 Pre plaster inspection
5 Pre final inspection
I have been looking after people building wwith builders for over a decade now and where I do all five inspections we invariably get to the finish with minimum of fuss.
The other thing you need to remember is that finding defects and knowing what to do about them is two different things. There are many inspectors at a lower price, that will write out a list of defects and give you a report but then you are on your own.
Expect to pay $ 600-650/inspection depending on house size. Yes you can pay less but you get what you pay for and yes you can skimp on some inspections if you underwrite your own risk.
I have many inspection examples on my blogs.

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Independent inspector, what to look for.

There are many competent inspectors out there and a few very good ones. Also because inspection industry is not regulated there are many cowboys and wannabees that are there just for the money grab. This is why on this forum I try to set out things you need to look for:
Qualification in building (university degree or diploma)
Long and extensive experience in building
PI insurance( insurer won’t cover someone if they are not convinced of at least credible qualifications. )
Equipment they invested in to give you best inspection
Longevity in business
Track record
Also remember that reputation is not the same as public image. Public image is something prospective customer is wanted to believe(blindfold on your head)
“Australia’s most professional builder” is pure bull of course but how many people were misled?
Reputation is something your peers or customers think of you

So have a critical look at all web sites and look for credibility, how many have set out their claim to experise or is it just marketing bull? How many are offering pre inspection agreement, where they set out what is inspected and what isn’t. Do they say they inspect to AS 4349.0, 4349.1 or 4349.3 , their insurer requires them to.

So as a customer you have to do due dilligence in picking your inspector, if you don’t you may pick up a dud one.
And expect to pay a fair price.

Inspection is a risky business for inspector, if something of significance is missed there goes 5K excess to insurer, so don’t complain about the price.

If you are looking for a cheap or discounted inspection don’t complain you are sailing on a cheap boat, better pray it doesn’t get rough.

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Ignore independent building inspections at your peril!

After over a decade of building inspections in commercial and domestic construction, the most astonishing find is the blind trust in the builders and the owners with mist in their eyes throwing bags of money at a builder in naïve hope that they will get what they have paid for. In truth most of them will (almost) but many don’t, many are short changed, some seriously and a few unlucky ones (read foolish) end up with a complete disaster, a bad job, blown budget, wrecked health (perhaps marriage too) and a few die from stress.

How can otherwise completely sane people (many well educated ones too) get it so wrong? I can only put it down to human nature. Once I had shopkeeper show me apartment renovation quote written on a lunch bag and sealed with a handshake. Needless to say builder wasn’t registered, job abandoned and owner did his money. Another shopkeeper (well known) entered into cost plus contract where he had no means of checking who was on the job for how many hrs, he was whistling Dixie on substantially inflated invoices that could never be verified or challenged.

It gets more serious, recently I was engaged to produce estimate to rectify defects to defeat final claim from a builder in liquidation on 30+apatment block. It was easy, I blew his claim by over 1M, How? I found occupied apartment building with undersized fire doors, incomplete smoke seals, missing fire collars, incomplete fire protection, unauthorised departures from design documentation and unauthorised substitutions (cost stripping). How this building got occupancy permit was a mystery. The building was a death trap and a disaster waiting to happen. Developers had no idea. Why? Because no one was checking anything.

On another 30+ apartment block owners have been putting up with chronically leaking and damp building for nearly a decade with occasionally builder turning up with a silicone gun. Again I found cost stripping with builder departing from design drawings and detailing, some architectural features simply omitted. Balconies were leaking and some units had floating floors replaced 4 times.

Regularly I find poorly constructed and incomplete fire separation walls. If you live in apartment will you be sleeping easy tonight? Will you wake up tomorrow?

It comes down to misplaced trust in the builder and in the regulatory system, which should protect us but it does not. Trust is a blindfold and reputation is a mirage that could cost you dearly. But it is not at all about trust. It’s about business. Your investment is your business and you cant run a business on trust. Will your bank trust you to pay back your loan without signing mortgage documents?

Building is on site production system and needs independent checking and review at critical points. Ignore it at your peril. Or you can be like a bank, check, verify, correct, enforce.

You ought to be able to trust building control but my experience in Victoria says otherwise.

Mathematics is simple. Save hundreds of dollars by skimping on independent inspections and loose thousands, perhaps tens of thousands and perhaps lot more than that.

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Thermal Imaging Inspection proves its worth, Yet again!

This week I did pre final inspection on a large two storey home. As usual I always scan with my thermal imaging camera looking for defects that otherwise would be unseen. Typically I will find poorly fitted ceiling insulation resulting in thermal bridges. On a hot day heat coming in will be shown as white area on grey background whilst on a cold day it will be dark area (representing heat loss) against a lighter grey background.
As expected I found that insulation batts were not pushed tight against walls and there was a strip of thermal bridge showing on the image:


Continuing my scan I came up against roof leak showing up as dark stains on the ceiling. Even though you could not see it with naked eye camera picked up that the wet area of ceiling was colder than surrounding plaster ceiling:


My clients were suitably impressed and builder’s SS who has not seen TI before was amazed but then thanked me and quickly made arrangements to have the leak fixed. This dwelling was not going to be handed over this year and had they not known about and fixed the leak they might have found ceiling on the floor when they came back to work next year.

When you are looking for your independent inspector look for :
relevant qualifications, experience, track record, longevity in business, PI insurance + have they invested in the best equpment to give you best inspection? It will quickly weed them out.

Remember, if you paid a cheap price, you are sailing on a cheap boat, pray it doesn’t get rough.

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In the spirit of Xmas and forgiveness

Some time ago I prepared a VCAT report for a lady that purchased a home then found serious unreported issues even though she had pre purchase report done. This was my summary:

“The client has purchased this property in reliance of “Property Report”. My investigation revealed that the Property Report was deficient because it failed to disclose significant defects, inspector failed to warn under duty of care and falsely stated that the property has no compliance issues. The client also purchased in reliance on vendor’s s32 statement, and his agents representations. Vendor failed to disclose building works, that there is no building permit and has failed to provide owner’s s137b report and HOW insurance as required by the Building Act 1993. As a consequence of the above, the client has suffered damages and financial loss. “

After completing the report I have not heard from the client for three months and my calls were not returned. I began to wonder what happened, was it something I did?

Then I got this email addressed to her property inspector:

“Dear Rxxx

I write this email as the token “waving of the white flag”.

Everything happens for a reason, I am a firm believer of this, from that experience has come growth.

If I knew the issues this house had, I would not of purchased it.

I am so glad that I did, such an opportunity for growth.

I could of taken this further, however sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to give them a chance to change.

I am not expecting a response and I’m not expecting you to admit to anything, I don’t even want an apology.

All I hope is that this experience helps you grow….

All the best

Vxxxxxxx Lxxxx

p.s. Branko, I would like to thank you for all you have done, thank you for your honesty and guiding me through all this. I will not be taking this matter forward for reasons I have stated above. I am sorry for not returning your calls, wishing you and your family a merry Christmas, all the best for the new year, it was a pleasure meeting you. Warm Regards Vxxxxxxx”

There you are sometimes Christian spirit of forgiveness conquers all. Cheers Victoria

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Even simple dilapidation inspection could turn into a drama!

This week I was engaged for dilapidation inspection and report on a older dwelling that was next to major domestic development. Owners wisely decided that the condition of their home should be properly recorded so that if any damage occurs from adjoining developmentthey had evidence for compensation.

Dilapidation reports are straightforward and uneventful. It’s an inspection with lots of high resolution photos and a good mental picture in case I have to appear in dispute and give expert evidence. Report simply highlights any significant defects and the remainder of photos are stored on file for reference if required in the future. I have done many dilapidation reports for owners and developers alike, owners for their protection from damage caused by developer’s builders and developers from claims for pre existing damage they did not cause. Usually it is a walk in the park for me but here it turned out to be opening act of a drama.

Development site was cleared and fenced off (but without identification as required by regulation) Then I spotted lots of broken asbestos cement sheets on the ground. Even though I did not test the product I knew it originated prior to 1985 when use of Asbestos was banned in building products. To make the matters worse there was a fencing contractor with his two young sons working on site walking among broken Asbestos oblivious to the danger it posed. Owners too had no idea.

It seems that developer engaged cowboy demolition contractor to do the job ( the lowest price you see) and with no one checking (developer is too busy planning his profit to care) my clients, workers on site and neighbours were all exposed to dangers of airborne Asbestos dust.

I advised my clients to call the councila and WorkSAFE Victoria and report the matter as the site needed to be shut down and properly decontaminated.

There was another matter. My clients told me that a three metre deep excavation was to occur for car basement only a metre away from their boundary fence. I asked them if they were served with works protection notices. They weren’t. Ultimately it is relevant building surveyor that decides whether works protection notices are required but I would not necessarily trust their judgment because they can get too close to the builder.

I explained to the owners that there had been excavation collapses and that in my opinion the matter deserved a closer look and if building works were to start without notices to contact me for further advice.

So there you are, two significant issues have arisen, risk to health and a risk to property. My client is in good hands!


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About building inspectors and negligence

Below is my reprint from Homeone forum:
The first standard I quoted is for building inspections
Yes there is liability for negligence for any inspection that inspector does.
However you have got to remember that if there is significant defect during construction, builder is responsible whether it is discovered or not. So if your inspector misses a significant defect your builder still has to fix it and the measure of damage against inspector is your loss in him not picking it up earlier. Perhaps proper value of loss is refund of inspection fee but every case is different.

Lot of people misunderstand the nature of PI. It is not insurance against everything, its against negligence.
So if your inspector performed dilligent inspection but something is hidden from him its not negligence. If he should have looked under sub floor but did not its negligence.
Similarly if your inspector has given you a considered advice he may not be negligent if the advice turns out to be wrong or if it turns out that it could have been better.

Make sure your inspector has PI
Satisfy yourself about qualifications, experience, track record, equipment, references
If you want a cheap inspection dont complain you are sailing on a cheap boat.


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About experts, icebergs, ocean liners, and hot air balloons

When is expert not an expert? When is expert nothing more than a pretender? I will explain via analogy.

A true expert is someone with approved course of study and extensive experience, foremost in the field and among peers. Its a bit like a cruise liner, substantial tertiary qualifications above water line and matched by equally substantial experience below water line. A Titanic if you like.

I a recent VCAT case I was giving expert evidence and opposing expert had extensive and impressive building experience (a lot like mine) but no relevant tertiary qualifications. He was educated allright but how is a diploma in education relevant to building. So in my view he was an iceberg, substantial volume under water line but hardly anything on top.

In the dust up, my evidence prevailed, on this occasion iceberg melted away and Titanic safely delivered.

Then you have hot air balloons, pretenders that have very little of substance but behave as if they are the experts. They will offer you cheaper service, take your money ant tell you to find another bus when the going gets tough. Over the years I had many people come to me when the experts they engaged could not deliver. So what do you do?

Look carefully at relevant qualifications. How is an expert with no qualifications in building surveying going to interpret building legislation and standards? Without formal qualifications expert opinion is nothing more than inadmissible lay opinion.

Then look at track record

I am well aware of my own limitations, I am not an engineer and cannot have expert opinion on engineering matters, and I don’t.

Its important to know what you know, its even more important to know what you don’t.

If your expert is not upfront with qualifications and experience, keep walking.

If your expert has no track record, keep walking

Mission statement is no substitute for qualifications


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