Older houses have charm, elegance and space. But they can also be ticking time bombs when it comes to structural problems and latent defects – the kind you can’t see with your naked eye. Defects in older houses include poor foundations and many have roofs so rotten they’re about to cave in.
For Eric Bell of Inspect-A-Home, situations like these happen much too often. He was recently contacted by a client who bought a house for R2.2-million. Shortly after moving in, the new owner decided to have the gutters replaced, only to discover that the roof was badly damaged. After Inspect-A-Home conducted a thorough inspection they called in roofing engineers to confirm their findings and the house was deemed unsafe to live in. The client was advised to move out immediately as the roof was about to collapse.
When the client contacted the estate agent to report the problem, he was told that there was no recourse for the state of the roof as there could have been an inspection during the seven-day cooling-off period. However, when the client asked for an inspection before buying the property, the agent told him that this was not necessary as the previous owner had lived in the house for over 16 years with no complaints. At this stage, the agent told him that if he insisted on an inspection the seller would probably sell it to another buyer who had also made an offer.
At the time of writing, the estimated damage to the property was over R400 000 and the client has had to move into a hotel until repairs can be made. The Estate Agents Board and the National Consumer Commission have now been notified and the case will be used as a test by the Estate Agents Affairs Board and the Consumer Council, as the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) has offered no protection at all and the client is carrying all the costs.
Despite extensive media coverage, warnings by the Estate Agents Affairs Board, and an exposé by Carte Blanche, buyers are still purchasing houses without having them inspected beforehand. Despite the CPA, there are currently no laws governing the disclosure of defects before a property sale. All too often, sellers want to sell their properties urgently and agents only want to get their commission so pre-sale inspections are avoided and buyers are encouraged to sign disclosure documents stating that the property is in good condition (when it may not be) or forced to accept the “voetstoots” clause.
However, the truth is that it is very difficult to recognise defects unless you are an expert. Bell recommends that all sellers and buyers have a thorough home inspection by an accredited expert before buying a property. While 97% of houses pass inspection, 3% will have serious structural problems that could have significant implications for the property price, future repair jobs, and, most importantly, the buyer’s health and safety.
Potential buyers should remember that, by law, they are not required to sign disclosure documents and accept the “voetstoots” clause and, as most sellers, buyers, and agents are not building inspectors, they are not qualified to evaluate the condition of a property and should call in an expert. Before signing, get a thorough inspection conducted to ensure that there are no nasty surprises, unexpected costs or messy legal battles waiting for you at the end of the sales agreement.