WHEN buying a second-hand car, most people will have it checked by the AA or a mechanic to make sure it is in good working order. So why then, when a
property is one of the most expensive purchases a person can make, do purchasers not get their homes checked out properly before they commit to buying?

The most common defects in residential homes are found in the roof structure and the foundations. Eric Bell of Inspect-a-Home says that many of these are
structural defects are severe, but are patched cosmetically and so to the untrained eye do not look serious.

"I recently inspected a 35-year old home where there were serious roof problems. The owner had put a layer of sawdust in the ceiling to prevent leaking when it rained and of course when the sun came out, the sawdust dried up, and no one would be the wiser."

In many cases the structural beams in roofs are rotten and need extensive repairs but this is a problem that will be discovered only if the roof is properly inspected.

Bell explains that cracks in walls are also a common problem and it is often caused by blocked drainage which affects the foundations. Many sellers then simply use polyfiller to cosmetically repair these cracks, when in actual fact the foundations need to be underpinned.

Underpinning a home is a fairly expensive process where the weight of the building on the foundations needs to be transferred to special pads to stabilise the crack. The plaster then needs to be taken off the walls so that 90° grooves can be cut across the crack. The cracks are further stabilised by metal stitching. The crack is then filled with epoxy and mortar, further strengthened with chicken mesh before it can be replastered and painted.

In one case Inspect-a-Home supervised a repair job on a house that cost the owner in excess of R50000 to metal stitch and repair the cracks in the walls.

Bell talks about a variety of horror stories and although he has been in the business for nearly 20 years, he is still shocked at how trusting people are when buying a home.

"Buyers should not take what the seller says about the condition of the house at face value. They should always have the home inspected by a professional before committing to purchase."

There was a recent case in which a house in Pietermaritzburg had a huge problem with cracks and the whole kitchen had shifted by 45mm. The engineering report had found nothing wrong with this home before the owner purchased, but now he is sitting with about R373 000 worth of damages that he has to repair. In fact, an excerpt from the report provided to this client from Inspect-a-Home reads:

"It is our opinion that the original report furnished clearly misinforms you of the overall structural stability of the house and outbuildings. A more careful examination would have uncovered the extent of the cracks and the high costs of conducting remedial work to rectify the problems. The cracks on the side wall by the front entrance, (which had been filled with a flexible sealer) and the crack down the wall of the outbuilding/braai area (which has been covered with a wooden uadrant), show clearly that the original engineers report was incorrect. Your purchase of this property was based on his expert knowledge and I believe he should clearly be held responsible for the substantial repairs you are now facing."

The fifth paragraph of his letter of that date also states: "The outbuildings are also in a sound condition." If checked more clearly, he would have found that the outbuildings were in fact badly damaged and had been cosmetically repaired by using gap filler and attaching wooden quadrants to cover defects and cracks among other things.

The swimming pool area was also of concern as no expansive joints around the pool edge or between the pool and the house were installed during construction. Due to normal expansion and contraction, the ceramic tiles laid were guaranteed to crack and de-bond without any expansion joints being installed.

Bell warns that the "voetstoets" clause in many sales agreements protects the seller exclusively and that often, whether maliciously or unintentionally, the seller and/or the agent do not disclose the defects.

The Inspect-a-Home service aims to protect buyers and help them to fix the home properly, not cosmetically. Bell says that if the buyer can prove latent defects, then the seller could still be held liable for any damages or cost of repairs. Inspect-a-Home is often used by attorneys to assess structural damages to property, and provide a reasonable idea of the cost involved in fixing these damages.

A last word of advice from Bell: "All those who are looking to buy a property should ensure that the offer to purchase is subject to a favourable report by a qualified inspector. Once any defects have been disclosed to the owner/seller, it is fraud if it is not disclosed to the buyer."

So, make sure you avoid any possibility of buyer's remorse and check up on the state of the home you want to buy.
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