Buying a new property can be daunting, especially when you don’t know what to look for to ensure your new home is structurally sound. It may also be difficult to determine if you need a structural engineering report or not. Therefore, we have put together five tips to consider when inspecting your potential property.
TIP 1: Check the walls are ‘square’: it’s worth spending some time to look for the little things to ensure the walls all meet at right angles. We don’t expect you to measure every corner, however, there are a few things to look out for which may indicate the walls are not well aligned:
• Doors that don’t close, have large gaps between the door and doorframe or don’t latch properly
• Built-in cabinets that have pulled away from the walls (especially ones in corners)
• Large cracks in the ceiling paint
When walls are not aligned, it is a sign that the property foundations may be subsiding or settling unevenly, which could be a concern for the future
TIP 2: Don’t stress the small cracks: hairline cracks are very common in properties, especially in South Australia. When it comes to looking for cracks in walls, focus your energy on the exterior walls. “Stair cracks” on brick exteriors can be a sign of foundation movement. Internally, horizontal cranks are of more concern than vertical cracks, but it is worth taking notes of any crack which has a gap larger than about 5mm. Also, ensure you look for floor cracking or gaps in the flooring if you can. These are often a higher concern as it means the foundations are shifting.
TIP 3: Assess that sinking feeling: there are a few simple things to check to see if a property is ‘sinking’. This is more common with extensions as new foundations are often laid and sometimes, they are not properly connected to the original foundations. Look for:
• Any changes in texture and colour at the bottom of the inside walls: this means the wall has remained the same and the floor is slowly lowering
• Gaps in the top of the walls between the cornice and roof
• Gaps above and below the windows
TIP 4: Look behind the furniture (if you can): an old trick of the trade is to cover structural damage with furniture. This can be easy for sellers to do when there is simple water damage. We understand looking behind furniture can be awkward, so we recommend focusing your attention around any room which is connected to a bathroom, laundry or kitchen. Water damage can be minor or major. If there is peeling paint, mould and/or intense discolouration, then it could be something more serious and you may have broken/leaking pipes. Also, ensure to check the roof for signs of discolouration as this may be a sign of water damage too.
TIP 5: Always get a building inspection: lastly, we always recommend getting a building inspection report prior to purchasing. A building inspector will usually be able to assist within 48 hours of your request and provide you with a full report on any issues with the property. This includes structural as well as electrical, plumbing and other common concerns. The inspector will also be able to recommend if you need to get a structural engineer involved for more complex or damaged sites.
When is it worth getting a structural engineer involved?
A building inspector will be able to provide the majority of the answers needed on most properties. However, it is worth considering getting a structural engineer involved under the following circumstances:
- If the property is damaged and in need of repair: a structural engineer can provide advice on the extent of the damage so you can approximately determine additional renovation costs.
- If you are looking to undertake major renovations such as removing large walls or building additional rooms: advice from a structural engineer will enable you to assess if your vision is possible and practical.
If you are unsure if you need a structural engineer to assess your new potential property, you can always contact us to discuss or talk to your building inspector.