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Published December 1, 2022

Building and Pest Inspection: What to Expect When Buying a House

A pre-purchase building and pest inspection is recommended before buying any house. The inspection looks for defects and problems, and should include all accessible parts of the property, both interior and exterior.

While not compulsory, a building and pest inspection is a task that falls into the necessary category for any potential home buyer.

A building inspection can uncover any structural, conditional and/or design defects in the exterior or interior of a property that may not be visible in a half-hour viewing — and expensive to fix once you’re the home owner. The results of an inspection could impact how much you’re willing to pay for the home, or help you to determine that you’d prefer to revoke your offer.

In addition to a building inspection, a pest inspection should reveal any evidence of damage from termites or other insects, such as woodworm, though it may not necessarily be able to tell if they still inhabit the property.

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How to get a building inspection 

Before getting a building inspection, you should know that when you ask for a contract of sale, the selling agent must inform you, as a prospective buyer,  about previous building inspection reports commissioned on the property. You might be able to negotiate a cheaper price to repurchase that report from the person who conducted it. Although, given it was probably done by the last owner and may be years or even decades old, it is generally recommended to go ahead with a new one.  

When choosing an inspector, you should always use a qualified builder, surveyor or architect who has experience providing professional residential reports. You can also check on a tradesperson’s qualifications through your state’s Fair Trading website. 

A good inspector should be able to see through any faults that have been covered up or are not readily visible to the naked or untrained eye. They will also ensure that the report’s content is in strict accordance with the required regulatory standards.   

You should aim to have the inspection completed before contracts are exchanged to avoid a potentially unpleasant situation. If you do exchange contracts first and the property inspection report identifies serious issues that mean you can no longer go ahead with the purchase, you do have a cooling off period in which to change your mind. In NSW, for example, you have a five-day cooling off period following the exchange of contracts but this does not apply to auctions so you need to be wary of your contractual obligations and make sure you are satisfied with the building’s condition prior to bidding.  

Most consultants require a minimum of 2–3 days’ notice to do a building inspection and you should get the vendor’s permission to have the property inspected as early in the sale negotiations as possible to avoid the aforementioned contractual issues. Additionally, it makes sense to get your inspection report sooner rather than later so you don’t spend any more time and money on conveyancing until you are aware of the property’s condition. 

Building inspections typically take somewhere between one and two hours to complete and another few days potentially to finalise the report.

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What a building and pest inspection covers

House inspection checklist

The inspection should include all accessible parts of the property, both interior and exterior including: 

  • Roofs and the space between ceilings and roofs
  • Underfloor space
  • Garages and carports
  • Any outdoor sheds or external laundries or toilets
  • Non–structural retaining walls
  • Fences
  • Pathways between buildings and fences
  • Surface and stormwater drainage
  • Driveways.

The final report should include any significant building defects or problems, such as:

  • Structural issues with the building.
  • Rising damp.
  • Rotting floorboards.
  • Movement in the walls (cracks or warping).
  • Safety hazards.
  • A faulty roof.
  • Damage caused by termites or other pests (if you’ve asked for an accompanying pest report).
  • Visible signs of asbestos.
  • Unsafe or exposed power points and switches.

Your building inspector will usually have their own checklist of what they want to examine but make sure you specify any particular items or areas you want inspected specifically.

Building inspections generally do not cover:

  • Minor defects brought about by wear and tear.
  • Plumbing and drainage.
  • Electrical wiring.
  • TV reception.
  • Swimming pools.
  • Condition of the paint.
  • electrical wiring and smoke detectors.
  • Fireplaces and chimneys.
  • Alarm and intercom systems.
  • Carpet and lino.
  • The condition of household appliances, such as dishwashers, stoves and ovens.

How long does a building and pest inspection take?

The time it will take for a professional inspector to thoroughly examine your future home varies depending on its size and complexity. In most cases a whole building and pest inspection will take at least 90 minutes, but could take up to 5 hours. 

What a building and pest inspection costs

Building inspections typically cost in the hundreds of dollars, so you’ll need to be fairly sure that you want to proceed with the sale, otherwise you could end up ordering reports for several properties during the course of your home search, which is costly. 

Additionally, you want to know as much as possible before you enlist the help of an inspector, so use your property viewings wisely. You might only get half an hour at a time but you can use that time productively by checking that the windows and doors all open easily and don’t get stuck, that there’s little or no visible pipe rust in the laundry or under any sinks, that there are no horrible odours, and that the lights and switches all work properly. At any rate, you can draw up your own checklist before a viewing.   

Who pays for a building and pest inspection?

The potential buyer incurs the cost for inspections. Building and pest inspections are not tax deductible in the year they are incurred but can be added to your cost base to reduce your capital gains if you sell the property for a profit. 

If possible you should find an inspector that can conduct both a building and pest inspection to save you the cost and hassle of getting two reports done. Any problems that emerge will usually be influenced by the age and type of property you purchase. Your inspector should know what to look out for under those circumstances.   

Why you should get a building inspection report

Once they’ve examined the property, a building inspector will prepare a Property Inspection Report that must be in accordance with Australian standards.

The report should include a summary of the property’s overall condition and any faults that require fixing. If necessary, the inspector might also recommend a further inspection by a specialist, such as a structural engineer, or an electricity or water supply authority. 

So is a building and/or pest inspection something you really need or just an optional extra? Identifying and fixing problems before purchase could very well save you thousands of dollars in the future, and having an expert examine your property should be viewed as an extra layer of insurance. 

Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that if the issues arising from the report do not totally deter you from going ahead with the purchase, you might be able to use the information to negotiate a lower price for the property, especially if the seller is worried that the sale might fall through.

About the Author

Alan Hartstein

Alan Hartstein has worked in publishing for over 25 years as a writer and editor across broadsheets, tabloids, magazines, trade publications and numerous forms of digital content. Alan was initially attracted to journalism through his love of words and their ability to make an impact in the world. Alan’s main areas of expertise are in business IT, financial services and fintech, but he also thoroughly enjoys writing comedy sketches and arts-related content, which can include everything from ballet and opera reviews to TV and movies. Alan is based in Sydney, Australia.

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