Home buying horror tales

2007-11-21 00:00

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 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 structural defects are severe, but are cosmetically patched up and so do not look serious to the untrained eye.

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

In some 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 a common problem and are often caused by blocked drainage which affects the foundations. Many sellers use Polyfilla to cosmetically repair these cracks, when in fact the foundations need to be underpinned. Underpinning a home is a fairly expensive process because the weight of the building needs to be transferred from the foundations to special pads to stabilise the crack. The plaster then needs to be taken off the walls so that 90-degree grooves can be cut across the crack. The cracks are stabilised by metal stitching, filled with epoxy and mortar, and strengthened with chicken mesh before the wall can be replastered and painted.

Inspect-a-Home supervised a repair job on a house that cost the owner in excess of R50 000 to metal stitch and repair the cracks in the walls.

Although Bell 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.”

In a recent case, a house in Pietermaritzburg had a huge problem with cracks and the kitchen had shifted by 45 millimetres. The engineering report had found nothing wrong with this home before the current owner purchased it. He is now faced with a R373 000 repair bill.

An excerpt from the report provided to this client from Inspect-A-Home reads: “It is our opinion that the original report furnished misinformed 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 … Your purchase of this property was based on the engineer's expert knowledge and he should be held responsible for the substantial cost for repairs you are now facing.”

The fifth paragraph of the engineer's letter states: “The outbuildings are also in a sound condition.”

If he had checked more carefully, 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.

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 any defects.

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.

A last word of advice: “People 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 or seller, it is fraud if they are not disclosed to the buyer.”

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