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Signs of a damaged property

By Emma Smith

Buying an investment property can be daunting, especially if you end up with a lemon. There stories of property damage costing in the thousands and some raise red flags more than others. So before you sign on the dotted line, conduct a thorough inspection and keep a look out for these problem signs:

1. Water damage
Water damage can be a huge expense to fix depending on the cause and duration of the problem. Structural property damage caused by water can be severe and compromise the integrity of the building. Check for damp smells and stains and watermarks on the walls and ceilings. Mould and mildew, particularly in the kitchen, bathrooms and cupboards, are also a sign the property could have water damage. Other indicators include rusted or leaking gutters and downpipes, and soggy areas outside around the building from poor storm-water drainage.

2. Uneven floors, walls and ceilings
Examine these structures for any sags, gaps, bows, or springy boards, as this could signify more serious problems. They should all be in straight lines and fixed in place. Shining a torch over ceilings and walls is a good way to detect shadows or deflections that may indicate underlying issues. If you do find problems, getting an independent structural report will identify the extent of the damage. From here, you can decide whether or not to continue and repair; or walk away.

3. Foundation problems
The swelling and shrinking that occurs in the land, can sometimes shift the foundations of the property, which can lead to serious structural issues and be extremely costly to repair. Soil tends to expand when it is wet and shrink when it is dry. Signs to look out for include:

  • Cracks in walls, ceilings and window frames
  • Doors and windows that don’t open or close properly
  • Uneven floors
  • Gaps in the joins between walls and ceilings
  • Cracks and gaps in exterior brickwork

4. Plumbing issues
Plumbing issues can be one of those hidden problems that you don’t realise you have until after you buy. Not only is this frustrating, but it can also be quite costly. Here are some key indicators to watch for during your inspection:

Hot water service – find out how old it is, when it was last serviced, and if it will be sufficient for your needs
Drainage – check all drains are fully functional and there are no blockages. Make sure all toilets flush correctly
Trees – if there are trees near the property, be aware of potential damage to sewer pipes from the roots.

5. Driveways and paving problems
Driveways and outdoor paving can be expensive to repair, especially if they require major work. For this reason, it is worth conducting a thorough inspection of these areas with the following signs of damage in mind:

  • Poor workmanship
  • Concrete shrinking
  • Movement due to a shift in the ground
  • Tree root damage – often indicated by lifted pavers
  • Wear and tear – cracked or sunken pavers

6. Electrical wiring issues
This is especially a concern when buying older properties that have not been renovated. However, many DIY projects or dodgy buildings can also be a sign that the electrical work may not meet modern standards. Here are a few other things to look out for:

  • Dim or flickering lights
  • Discoloured or charred light switches or power points
  • A buzzing sound when switches are turned on
  • A burning smell
  • The switch gives you a shock when you turn it on

7.  Pest damage
For such tiny little creatures, pests can cause major property damage. Rats, mice, termites, cockroaches and other bug infestations are an investor’s worst nightmare. Fortunately, they do tend to leave clues of their presence, so here’s what to look for:

  • Droppings
  • Scratching sounds
  • Signs of damage – gnawed furniture, shredded paper, damage to wooden structures
  • Check the floors, behind cupboards, and other dark areas
  • Hollow sounds in the timber or spongy areas
  • Check inside the roof for damage to beams etc
  • Check for signs of pests outside, such a holes drilled in brickwork, and garden logs being eaten away

8. Problems concealed by a new paint job
It is common knowledge that many homeowners spruce up their property with a fresh coat of paint before selling. While this is a great way to update a home, it can also be used to hide problems. Always check, with your eyes and hands, walls and ceilings for newly repaired cracks or mould damage, and don’t be afraid to ask whether the property has been painted recently and why.

When heading for an inspection, take a checklist with you, and always seek professional advice if you suspect serious property damage before signing the dotted line.


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