By Jane Abbott
A house with a pool is as ubiquitous in Australia these days as the humble picket fence. Whether you sit by it, lay beside it or splash around in it with the kids, a pool provides hours of enjoyment, but does it really earn its keep?
Will You Use it?
The first thing to consider is practicality. Do you actually need a pool? If you like a house a lot, but would really love a pool then that could be the deciding factor. It’s important to consider whether the pool will become a pleasure or a pain to you and your family though. If you don’t have kids, will you use it regularly for exercise? If you live alone or work long hours, how often do you realistically think you will spend relaxing by the pool?
If you are buying in a cooler climate like Victoria or Tasmania, you may only get to use a pool a few weeks of each year - unless it’s heated, which creates extra costs. If you live in some of the warmer parts of Australia, you may get a lot of use out of it, but do you have the time to put in to support high frequency use? Kids love pools so, this means you’ll need to spend a lot of time supervising them while swimming and you’ll probably need some first aid and water safety training. You’ll also have to regularly keep the pool clean, check the water quality and maintain it.
Is it an Asset or a Liability?
If you decide the pool is not a deal breaker, then the next thing to review is its construction and maintenance needs. Building regulations vary from state to state and have changed considerably in recent years as drownings have increased. You can check with your local and state government authorities for the latest requirements and tips for buying a house with a pool.
The pool may have been built to code when it was installed but does it conform today? Make sure you find out how old the pool is and if it still has a valid warranty. Ask about any leaks or repairs that may have been needed and take a good look at the interior – is the lining in need of replacing? Are there missing or chipped tiles? Finally, check the pump and the equipment that comes with it. Is everything in working order? Has the pump been recently repaired or replaced?
A recently constructed pool, that conforms to state building regulations, with a well-functioning pump and filtration system and great weather to enjoy it in can really be a blessing for a young family. If it’s easy to clean and maintain on an ongoing basis, then it’s definitely a feature that adds additional value to the property. However, if any of these factors are not in place, it can become more of a hindrance than a drawcard and may deter future buyers when you decide to sell.
Another consideration is size and positioning. A small lap pool down the side of the house that gets full sun most of the day requires little thought. A large backyard pool, under the shade of a deciduous tree, can become a nightmare as crying children complain that it’s too cold, the filter clogs with leaves and tree debris and you spend half of every weekend trying to clean the algae off tiles.
If in Doubt, Check it Out
Once you have informed yourself about the legalities of the construction side of things, you can review the safety considerations more thoroughly. The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia has developed a Home Pool Safety Checklist that covers 8 different categories all pool owners need to be informed about. The categories include gates, fences around the pool, supervision, pumps, grates and suction, emergency preparation, chemicals and electricity. For those looking to buy a home with a pool in it, the checklist is available as a handy app for smartphones. Users swipe through a series of screens, answering yes, unsure and no to determine whether the pool conforms to the necessary requirements or not.
Of course, in the event that you find the pool to be unsafe or too old to be worth maintaining, but you really, really want the house, you can always consider creative alternatives. Filling it in can create more garden space, as can emptying it and covering it with a deck. This at least keeps your options open until you decide what to do. Smaller pools can be converted to lush backyard water features with fish, plants and maybe even a nice fountain.
Whatever you decide, safety is the most important consideration. Anything over 30 centimetres deep in Australia must be fenced and fencing means all 4 sides are enclosed, with a lockable childproof gate. It’s not just your children to consider but the neighbours’ children or even stray pets. A pool can be a wonderful addition to a family’s lifestyle but it must be taken seriously and managed with a responsible and discerning approach.