sydney building inspection

What does a building inspector really uncover?

A couple of months ago, my sister bought a new house. It had just been built and she was super-excited about moving in with her two sons. It had plenty of room, a couple of outdoor areas and even a lock-up garage (a rarity in inner Sydney). Being a sensible person, she engaged a building inspector to give the place the once over before she handed over a large wodge of cash (#sydneyrealestate!). He identified a couple of visible defects (a bit of painting that had been missed, a power outlet missing) but basically signed off on it.


The day she moved in, her beau was a couple of minutes into a shower when raw sewage started coming up through the drain (you can read more about that particular good time in this post). WTF? Why hadn’t the building inspector picked that up? Along with the fact that the tap in the upstairs bathroom wasn’t connected.


It’s a good question, so I decided to have a look at what building inspectors actually look for and what a building report really means.


One of the most important things to note is that a building inspection is a visual inspection ONLY. This means that a building inspection will not identify structural damage or defects or other, hidden problems (like the reverse cycle drain as mentioned above!). If you think there might be a hidden problem, you may want to engage a suitably licensed professional such as a pest inspector, structural engineer, geotechnical engineer or a surveyor.


While a building report will give you a guide to the general condition of the property (including non-structural retaining walls, storm water run-off and fencing as well as the main building) and possibly highlight repairs that may need to be undertaken, there are a number of things that a report does not cover.  


A building report will not give you an indication of the likely costs of any repairs that need doing. If you want an estimate of repair and/or renovation costs prior to purchasing, have a licensed builder inspect the property. Be prepared to pay for his time, after all they are providing professional advice that you are relying on to make the largest purchasing decision of your life.


A building inspector will not generally inspect

  • footings
  • concealed damp-proofing
  • electrical wiring and smoke detectors
  • plumbing, drainage and gas-fitting (right! that explains it then!)
  • air conditioning
  • swimming pools and pool equipment
  • appliances (ovens, dishwashers etc)
  • fireplaces and chimneys
  • floor coverings
  • paint coatings
  • hazards
  • every opening window
  • television reception


So, while it’s definitely worth having a pre-purchase building inspection done, even a positive report is not a double thumbs up green light. A building inspector may not be held liable for any defects you find subsequent to purchase that were not included in the report – as they say in the classics, caveat emptor.


My sister’s neighbour also had a building inspection done and, while her inspector had noted that flashings above the windows had not been correctly installed, her neighbour’s inspector told him it wasn’t a problem. JD disagrees strongly, but hey, that’s the neighbour’s call (and we hope a heavy rain shower doesn’t dampen things too much).


Did you get a building report done before purchasing your home?
What, if any defects did it turn up? Are you lucky enough to have a lock-up garage?

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