In your enthusiasm to sign an offer to purchase, it’s important to pause and take a long hard look at the property to ensure everything is what it seems. Although sellers are legally obliged to declare any known defects, it’s often difficult to prove that they knew about all the problems that might only become apparent once you have moved in.
Before signing an offer to purchase
Visit the property on several occasions at different times of the day as well as over weekends and during the week. This will give you a good indication of noise levels, what vehicular traffic is like in the area, as well as the type of pedestrians who pass by.
You also need to make a list of things to look out for that could you make your purchase a nightmare instead of a dream home. Defects like leaking roofs, damp walls and ceilings and rotten shelves in cupboards can be costly to repair, and generally need to be attended to before you can settle in comfortably.
- Damp walls and ceilings could indicate a damaged roof or other water leaks. Check all interior and exterior walls for bubbling paint or cracks where water could find its way into the home. Also look for signs of fresh paint, which may have been applied to conceal damp spots that have not been properly attended to.
- Wall tiles – Check for loose and discoloured grouting as well as bulging tiles, which may indicate damp on the underlying walls.
- Wet spots in the lawn or flower beds could indicate broken underground water or sewerage pipes. This could have a huge impact on your utility bills, and over time could cause the ground to subside. Damaged sewerage pipes are also a health hazard, as raw sewage would leak into your lawn and flower beds.
- Check all paintwork carefully, along with varnish on any wooden windows and doors. Painting a home is a costly exercise, so you don’t want to have to budget for that for a good few years.
- Wooden windows – Check that the panes are intact and that the putty doesn’t need to be replaced.
- Skirtings and cornices – Check that skirtings are firmly attached to walls and that cornices are properly fitted.
- Toilets – Check that the flush mechanism works properly, and that water completely stops running after each flush. Also, check for leaks behind the toilet.
- Taps – Check that they open easily and close completely. Leaking taps can result in thousands of litres of potable water running down the drain. Apart from the cost, South Africa is short of water and every drop is precious.
- Cabinets under washbasins and kitchen sinks – Check for mould and water-damaged shelves.
- Cupboards – Check that doors are in good condition and that they open and close properly. Check for mould and foul odours. Some sellers may object to viewers opening their cupboards, but should be prepared to accommodate serious buyers. Replacing door hinges and shelves on all cupboards is expensive, so this is something you really need to investigate.
- Doors – Check that doors open and close easily, that handles are in good condition and that all locks have keys that work properly. Also, check whether doorjambs need attention.
- Flooring – Ensure that tiles are in good condition and that grouting is intact. Check carpets for undue wear and mould spots. Check laminated floors for scuff marks and scratches, and make sure vinyl flooring is in good condition. Don’t be embarrassed to look under beds and couches that could hide defects.
- Window coverings – If blinds are fixtures, make sure that they have all necessary attachments and that controls are in working condition. Also, check that pelmets and curtain rails are properly attached and in good order.
- Electrical outlets – Make sure that all wall plugs are installed with properly secured covers. The required electrical certificate of compliance merely certifies that all plugs are safe and can supply electricity, but the covers need not be secure.
- Outbuildings – Make sure wendy houses and other outbuildings are in good condition, that there are no roof leaks, rotten floor planks or windows and doors falling off their hinges.
- Garages – Check the roof for leaks. Make sure that remote-controlled doors are in working order. If the garage has precast walls, make sure you can put up the shelving you had in mind, as some precast walls don’t accommodate nails, screws or rawl bolts.
- Walls, fences and gates – Check that walls and fences are sturdy and secure. Make sure gates open and close easily and can be secured.
If the home you want to buy has some or all of these defects, you could still make an offer subject to the seller putting the faults to rights. Alternatively, you could estimate the cost of repairs and put in a lower offer.
If the seller refuses to budge, your best option is to walk away from the deal and keep looking for a home that really meets your needs.