By Simone Date-Chong
First Home Buyer
Getting to wander through gorgeous homes all day is every home buyer’s dream. However, it’s essential to not let the excitement cloud your judgement so you overlook the important stuff. It’s a good idea to make a list before you hit the streets and include all the features you really want in a house. You can then check items off your list while you are at the open home to keep you on track. It’s easy to convince yourself that one of your wish list items doesn’t matter when other bright shiny things grab your attention but, once you’ve moved in, you may regret ignoring your own wish list. Things such as off-street parking, storage space, an extra bathroom, outdoor spaces, a garden shed; are all things you put on your list for a reason, knowing the lifestyle you currently have. Deciding ‘oh we’ll work it out’, because you got dazzled by the cute cottage with terrible local resident parking options, will be a real pain as you do laps of your own house late on a rainy night looking for a park.
Once you arrive at the open home, ask for a floor plan from the agent and take detailed notes as you inspect the property. You only need to see 3 or 4 properties before you start to forget which one had the ensuite and whether you even saw the laundry in that other one. Take some photos if you need to, to supplement the ones online, but also photos that correlate with your notes. If there is a crack in a wall, or a damp smell in one of the bedrooms, write it in your notes and take a quick picture of it for reference later.
Position and condition
An open home inspection really begins as your drive to the property. Take in what’s in the local area, what the traffic is like and how well maintained the streetscapes are. Look for warning signs such as overgrown nature strips, graffiti on fences or empty shops in the local shopping precinct. Once you have parked, check out the aspect of the property and where the sun is in relation to the house’s orientation. Depending on your location in Australia, the amount of sunlight the house gets can have a significant impact, not only on your lifestyle but your energy bills too. You want to get the most light possible in the winter months and have options to keep the property cool through the summer.
As you approach the house, look at the external surfaces. Ideally the vendors have cleaned up and prepared the house for sale but there are always exceptions. Does it need repainting? Are the gutters and external drainage pipes in good condition or rusty? Take particular notice of any cracks in walls or footpaths and make notes of this so you can keep your eye out for further issues inside. It’s also worth checking out how much space there is between the property and its neighbours and then trying to get an understanding once you’re inside of privacy. Look out of windows and doors and take in what you see – now reverse that and imagine what the neighbours can see. Imagine yourself living there – stand in the bathroom by the shower and look out the window, or at the kitchen bench by the sink. If it looks right into the neighbour’s house, they will be able to see you, just as you can see them.
Structure and Foundations
If there are cracks on external walls, cracks on internal walls, and windows that jam or don’t open properly, put a big red flag in your notes. Homes can have different kinds of foundations depending on the era they were built in. It’s normal for older properties to have a few superficial cracks in the plaster, but wider horizontal cracks in paths outside or walls could indicate a deeper issue. Don’t be afraid to pull back curtains and open and close some windows to see how they work. Similarly check door frames and look for any signs of cracks around the edges or asymmetry. Of course, most issues will come up in the building and pest inspections, but this is one to pay close attention to because structural repairs can cost an absolute fortune and don’t necessarily improve a property’s value. Water damage should also be considered with regard to the home’s structural integrity and although an ivy clad wall is romantic, if there is structural damage to the house, the ivy roots may be able to infiltrate, which could be disastrous.
Wet and Wild
Be aware of overstyled open homes! If you walk into an open home and are overpowered by fabricated smells – baking bread, oil burners, scented candles, room deodorisers – be immediately on alert. It could be an elaborate exercise in illusion to mask the smell of a damp mouldy house, stale urine affected carpets or the unmistakable scent of rodents (or previous pets). Signs of life other than human are also easy to spot. Look for weirdly positioned rugs or furniture that may be covering carpet stains, dark patches on ceilings (which may indicate possums living above) or droppings in corners that may have been missed in the clean-up.
There are a few clues that can easily be spotted to help you uncover the truth. Water damage is pretty easy to spot – look for stains on walls, patches of mould or particularly damp smells in specific parts of the house. This is your time to become an amateur perfumer, inhaling deeply with your eyes closed to detect any hint of mildew amidst the layers of cookies, roses, new car smell and spring fantasy. Water damage can have a serious impact on the structural integrity of the home as well as the health of the people that live there and mould is notoriously difficult to deal with once it’s set in.
Fixtures and Fittings
There are a lot of things that obviously come with the house and some that do not. As you inspect the property, make a note of things that don’t appear to be permanently fixed to the ground or the property and ask the agent about them. Not everything is included in every property sale so it’s good to get clear about any ‘exclusions’ like appliances, curtains, built in furniture, outdoor shade blinds, retractable washing lines fixed to the side of house, free standing hot tubs, trees in pots, garden statues or sculptures, sheds and cubby houses as a few examples.
It’s also important to check on the function of fittings and fixtures. Good water pressure should come with every house for example but often does not. The shower head is a fixture but it’s good to check it to know how it works and how easily it can be changed if it doesn’t. Make a note of how old the appliances that are staying are and whether they might need to be replaced. Also take notice of things like loose light switches, door handles, power points and window latches. Finally, many buyers have been known to wander through a house waving their phone about, looking at how much reception there is.
Before you leave, stand in the street by your car for a bit and listen to the local sounds. Pay attention to what’s overhead (flightpaths?), what the local neighbourhood noise is and if you can hear the main road or the nearby train station. The open inspection may have been set at the most ideal time, but it’s worth going back to a property if you like it, at different times. Do a drive by when school is finishing to see how busy the street is with families, or late on a Saturday night to see if that cosy pub on the corner turns into a late-night party hell. Don’t be that neighbour that moves in near a beloved local venue and then petitions to have it closed down.
Now that you have thoroughly inspected the property and made good notes, you are in a great position to run some comparisons against other properties and make an informed decision about your investment.