Should Home Inspections be compulsory in South Africa?

With such a large percentage of homebuyers at the moment being new entrants to the property market, and thus usually novices when it comes to assessing the condition of a property, a mandatory home inspection by an independent, properly qualified person could be a very beneficial, and simple, consumer protection measure.

“Such an inspection, not to be confused with the ‘evaluation’ or ‘appraisal’ made by the representative of a bank to assess whether the property has sufficient value to secure the mortgage, would have many advantages,” says Berry Everitt, MD of the Chas Everitt International property group.

“These would include giving homebuyers peace of mind that someone who really knows what they are doing is checking the property from top to bottom, so that they are not going to end up having to make expensive repairs to correct hidden defects. This would be especially useful for first-time buyers on a tight budget.”
Writing in the Property Signposts newsletter, he says a compulsory home inspection would also:

  • Give home sellers the knowledge that they wouldn’t have to deal with any accusations of non-disclosure.
  • Give the banks more security, in that it would in large measure remove buyer dissatisfaction with the condition of a property and / or problems with covering the high cost of repairing unforeseen or unknown problems, which are major causes of mortgage defaults.
  • Be beneficial to estate agents in that it would prevent the problems that can easily arise from seller non-disclosure and buyers’ later discovery of defects they feel the agent should have told them about.
  • “Compulsory home inspection as a prerequisite to the transfer of a property – on the same basis as the requirement for an electrical certificate of compliance, say, or a beetle certificate – would also have the advantage of being a preventative measure rather than the doubtful and notoriously hard to access curative options available in terms of the Consumer Protection Act or through the National Home Builders’ Registration Council (NHBRC).”

In the case of newly-built South African houses, Everitt says, inspection by an independent professional would also obviate the problems arising from the fact that most municipalities currently have a serious shortage of qualified building inspectors – “which would once again benefit the banks who grant building loans”.

As for the cost of having a home inspection done, he acknowledges that there is bound to be some argument about who should carry this. “House inspections currently usually cost between R3500 and R6000, which is not affordable for most first-time buyers, especially if they are struggling to put together a cash deposit in order to secure a home loan. Similarly, it is unlikely that a property owner who is selling because of financial distress will be able to pay this.

“But there are other options. What about the banks being willing to add the cost of inspection to a home loan, for example, the way they sometimes also allow transfer duty and bond registration costs to be included? Perhaps the NHBRC could use some of the millions of Rands worth of levies paid by registered builders to pay for home inspections on behalf of homebuyers who only use those registered builders? Or perhaps the government should fund a home inspection for anyone who is the recipient of a State housing loan or subsidy?

“There are sure to be other solutions too, but whatever is decided, it needs to be implemented fast and efficiently to improve consumer confidence in the property market and help boost home ownership in South Africa.”

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