Buying a house: what to look for inside the house

Reported by Sarah Mills
Friday, February 2, 2007

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Mark BourisMyths bustedHome loans can seem a bit complicated and overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be. Mark Bouris clears up some common misconceptions.
By Sarah Mills
ninemsn Money

Buying a home can be a bit like buying a carton of eggs. You never know what you're going to find when you look inside — bits might be missing, cracked, old, broken or rotten. So you have to check carefully to make sure you are getting what you pay for.

First-home buyers usually visit a few properties before making a final decision and this can be a test for the memory, so take a digital camera and a pen and paper. Take photos and notes about the features, colours and negative and positive points of each residence. Then, when reviewing the properties in the comfort of your home, tick them off against your wish-list.

There are some tried and tested things you should check for on the inside of the house. Mainly you want to identify anything that might be an extra cost, ranging from minor replacements to serious structural work.

Here are a few nasty surprises to keep an eye out for:

  • Turn the taps on in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry to check the water pressure, performance and drainage. Check for dirty water. You might like to leave the tap running for a minute and it can't hurt to drink the water for a taste test.

  • Check the hot water system. Is it big enough for your needs? A family will need more hot water than a couple. Also check for leaks, rust and age. Replacing a busted hot water system can be expensive and is not the sort of thing you can put off. If it is gas, check for the system's last servicing.

  • Good insulation can save hundreds on heating and cooling bills. A quick visit through the manhole should give you some idea of its condition. Also check for cavity wall insulation.

  • Are there major cracks in the walls or do the doors stick? This can be a sign of subsidence. This can be an extremely expensive problem to fix and is usually not covered by house insurance.

  • Be extra cautious if the house has been recently painted as it could be masking serious problems.

  • Take a torch to shine on the paintwork in dimly lit rooms to see if there are any obvious structural defects that are not clearly visible in the dark or have been painted over.

  • Check for damp. Feel the walls and look for signs of peeling or bubbling paint. Watermarks are a dead giveaway, as is mould. Fixing damp can sometimes run well into the tens of thousands of dollars. If freshly painted, rely on your sense of smell.

  • Bathrooms often have mould. Mould can't just be painted over. A serious problem will usually involve installing a new ceiling/wall and better ventilation.

  • Check all the windows. Do they open and slide easily? Do they have cracking paint? This could be a sign of rot. Press your finger into the wood. If it's soft, it is rotten.

  • Tap the walls to do a preliminary termite check. You can get instruments which measure humidity behind the walls as this is often a sign of infestation. Termites are not usually covered by house insurance so make sure you also get a professional in if you decide to buy the house.

  • Good storage, like built-ins and sheds, can save you over time whereas a lack of storage is bound to cost.

  • Are there any unusually shaped, difficult to furnish rooms?

  • Make sure there are sufficient power points and that they are at your preferred height and position in the room. New points will cost money.

  • Check for Internet access.

  • Check that the toilet is on the same level as the bedrooms for easy access. If it is a two-storey house, it is nice to have a toilet on both levels.

  • Check the location of bedrooms. Parents often want children to be on the same level as them.

  • Do you like the wall colours? Repainting can be expensive if you employ a professional. However, if you don't mind painting yourself, try to look past the psychedelic paint job, as it can be a relatively inexpensive project that can add value to your home.

  • Old-fashioned electricity switches can point to old wiring.

  • Visit the house on a rainy day to check for leaky rooves, walls or ceilings.

  • Are there cracked tiles or loose grout in the bathroom or kitchen?

  • Check for fly and mosquito screens. In summer, these will be a must and are likely to cost up to $1000.

  • If you intend renovating, check to see if there are floorboards under old carpets, and their condition. People sometimes do insane, cheap things like staple the carpet to the floor and use industrial glue for their tiles. Both these things will add significant expense and time to floor polishing costs. Carpet should be easy to raise without many rusted nails or staples.

  • Kitchens and bathrooms are the most expensive rooms in the house to renovate so pay close attention to the age and quality of cupboards, benches, plumbing fittings and tiling.

  • In old houses in particular, check for holes in floorboards and cracks and fissures that let in vermin and cockroaches.

  • Measure spaces in kitchens and laundries to make sure your appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and microwaves fit. Failure to fit could cost a couple of thousand dollars in replacements.

  • Make sure your furniture fits in the rooms.

  • Check for the materials used in cupboards and benches. Good materials will last a lot longer.

  • Check out the floor coverings. Will they need to be replaced and if so, when?

  • Does the house have central heating or air conditioning? If so, how old are they? Check to make sure they are functioning well.

First time buyer's guide

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