Moving into a new home is supposed to be an exciting event and, for many buyers, it is often the happy result of a long and arduous house hunt. But what if your happy ending is just the beginning of a nightmare?
Eric Bell of Inspect-a-Home explains that almost every week, he comes across a house that looked good on the outside but was actually a hazard to the new owners due to structural or roof damage, leaks, and latent problem areas.
Despite various media reports outlining the importance of home inspections, Bell says buyers still enter into sale agreements without knowing the true state of the property. Pressure from agents to sign disclosure documents or ‘Voetstoots’ Clauses, and a seemingly sound outward appearance often compels buyers to sign before ensuring a professional inspection of the property has been carried out.
In a recent case, Mrs Hunt (not her real name), bought a house after being assured by the estate agent and the seller in writing, that “there is nothing that needs fixing around the house”. She moved in and paid occupational rent while the sale was finalised. Not long after moving in she discovered electrical problems despite being furnished with an electrical compliance certificate by the seller. After paying for an electrician to come out, she was informed that the certificate should never have been issued and was advised by the electrician that the roof was in an extremely bad condition.
Concerned, Mrs Hunt called Inspect-a-Home for a thorough inspection of the house. Inspect-a-Home’s report revealed extensive roof damage, serious electrical transgressions, some plumbing concerns, the need for external repair work, as well as a number of structural problems. None of these were disclosed at the time of purchase. The total cost of repairs was estimated to be over R82 000.
At a meeting held between the seller and Inspect-a-Home, the seller admitted to “doing a few repairs here and there in the roof”, none of which were approved by a professional or disclosed to the buyer. The matter is now going through the legal channels. In line with the Consumer Protection Act, both seller and estate agent are liable for the non-disclosure of defects and repairs must be made for transfer to go through. Suffice to say this leaves Mrs Hunt in a difficult and unexpected situation.
According to Bell, countless buyers find themselves in similar situations after signing disclosure documents. “These documents ask buyers to sign off on a number of key areas, including roofing, geyser condition, and damp problems. Unless you are a structural engineer or qualified building inspector, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to identify latent defects.”
Sellers are liable for latent defects that existed at the time of the sale but, by signing a disclosure document, buyers sign away their rights to that claim, effectively making the defects the buyer’s problem. So, when damage is discovered at a later date, negotiating the payment of repairs or even the cancellation of the sale becomes very complicated explains Bell.
So, before you purchase a house and sign disclosure documents or accept a Voetstoots Clause ask yourself the following questions:
• Do I really know enough about this property to sign? Simply put, unless you are a property inspector you can’t really gauge the condition of a property.
• Do I have to sign this? Many new property owners are told by estate agents that they must sign disclosure documents or accept a Voetstoots Clause before a sale can be completed. This is not the case! By law, you are not required to accept or sign these documents.
• What should I do before I sign? Ask an expert! You take a car for an inspection before purchase, why not do the same for a house? Investing in the services of a reputable building inspector like Inspect-a-Home should be standard practice when buying a property and must take place before any sales agreement is signed. While it might feel like an unnecessary extra expense, the cost of a house full of defects far outweighs that of a once-off inspection.