Home Inspection can Empower Home Buyers

Private Property South Africa
John Graham

The CEO of a leading home inspection company, John Graham of HouseCheck, says angry home buyers contact him every week with stories about how their dream home has turned into a nightmare. “People make the biggest purchase of their lives – a new house – and then discover that the house has serious problems which will cost a fortune to fix”, says Graham. Most people don’t realize that the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) in fact provides very little protection for South African home buyers. “As regards buying a house consumer rights are sadly lacking in South Africa”, says Graham.

To make things worse, the infamous “voetstoots” clause is usually included by the estate agent in the offer to purchase contract. Graham says that voetstoots, in the absence of a professional home inspection report, gives the home buyer a massive problem if serious defects in the house are later discovered after the buyer moves in.

Graham says that for some “strange” reason the CPA excludes private sellers of property from accountability under this consumer law. Complaints against estate agents who fail to give potential home buyers sufficient information, can be taken to the Consumer Protection Commission (CPC). However, Graham says that up to now the under-funded CPC has failed to punish any estate agent severely enough to make the powerful estate agency industry change its ways and start protecting the buyer’s interests.

The fact is, says Graham, if you are buying a house from a private seller who fails to tell you upfront about some of the problems of the house then the CPC cannot help you to get justice and redress from this seller.

Voetstoots gives the seller additional protection because this clause means that the house is being sold “as is” and the buyer cannot complain later about the condition of the house. Voetstoots protection for the seller is only limited if the buyer is able to prove in court that the seller deliberately and fraudulently concealed defects from the buyer.

To do this, because the CPC cannot act against a private seller, the home buyer’s only solution is to take the seller to court and try and prove that the seller knew about problems and concealed these from the buyer. Legal action is very expensive and most buyers cannot afford to go this route. It is usually also very difficult to prove seller deception - unless it is something obvious like paint tins in the ceiling being used to catch rain water leaks, or wall cracks which have been recently filled and painted over – and which have then reopened.

In the United States eight out of ten home buyers protect themselves by getting an independent home inspection report at the time of purchase. Because of the lack of protection for buyers of second hand South African homes, the home inspection industry is growing fast. Graham advises home buyers to always make their offer to purchase conditional on a satisfactory home inspection. “That way”, says Graham, “the buyer at least knows what the ‘as is’ condition of the house really is.”

Graham says the average home inspection costs around R3000 and provides a detailed report on all observable defects – from the top of the roof to the boundary walls, and everything in between. “That’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and effective consumer protection when the buyer is usually about to make the biggest purchase of his or her life”, says Graham. The potential savings on necessary repairs or the extremely high cost of suing a rogue seller far outweigh the average fee for a comprehensive home inspection.

Contact John Graham of HouseCheck on 083 3109 766 or john@housecheck.co.za for more information.

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