Prepare a Non Negotiable List
Getting to wander through gorgeous homes all day when buying a home is very exciting. However, it’s essential to not let the excitement cloud your judgement. It’s a practical idea to make a list of the must-have property features before open house inspections. A disciplined property buyer will check items off their list while you are at the open home to keep you on track.
Stay Focused on the Must Have’s
Things such as off-street parking, storage space, an extra bathroom, outdoor spaces, a garden shed; are all things you put on your list for a reason, knowing the lifestyle you currently have. Deciding ‘oh we’ll work it out’, because you got dazzled by the cute cottage with terrible local resident parking options, will be a real pain as you do laps of your own house late on a rainy night looking for a park.
Take Photos At the House Inspection
Once you arrive at the open home, ask for a floor plan from the real estate agent and take detailed notes as you inspect the property. You only need to see 3 or 4 properties before you start to forget which one had the ensuite and whether you even saw the laundry in that other one. Take some photos if you need to, to supplement the ones online, but also photos that correlate with your notes. Open doors, cupboards and windows. Check for touch up painting to hide cracks in a wall or ceilings. Be aware of how close earth is to floorboards, water drainage outside and stand in one spot to see if there is a damp smell.
Location, Location. Location
An open home inspection for property buyers really begins as your drive past the property once it is listed for sale. Take in what’s in the local area, what the traffic is like and how well maintained the streetscapes are. Look for warning signs such as overgrown nature strips, graffiti on fences or empty shops in the local shopping precinct. Once you have parked, check out the aspect of the property and where the sun is in relation to the house’s orientation. Depending on your location in Australia, the amount of sunlight the house gets can have a significant impact, not only on your lifestyle but your energy bills too. You want to get the most light possible in the winter months and have options to keep the property cool through the summer.
External Physical Inspection
As you approach the property, look at the external surfaces. Ideally the vendors have cleaned up and prepared the house for sale but there are always exceptions. Does it need repainting? Are the gutters and external drainage pipes in good condition or rusty? Are balconies well maintained?
Take particular notice of any cracks in walls or footpaths and make notes of this so you can keep your eye out for further issues inside.
First-time homeowners often are living in densely populated apartment blocks or smaller houses in the inner-city areas. It is important to evaluate privacy. Look out of windows and doors and take in what you see – now reverse that and imagine what the neighbours can see. Imagine yourself living there – stand in the bathroom by the shower and look out the window, or at the kitchen bench by the sink. If it looks right into the neighbour’s house, they will be able to see you, just as you can see them.
Check Structure and Foundations
If there are cracks on external walls, cracks on internal walls, and windows that jam or don’t open properly, put a big red flag in your notes. Homes can have different kinds of foundations depending on the era they were built in. It’s normal for older properties to have a few superficial cracks in the plaster, but wider horizontal cracks in paths outside or walls could indicate a deeper issue such as sub-terrain water flows or roots from nearby trees on adjoining properties.
Building & Pest Inspections
Be sure to ask the real estate agent if a building and pest inspection is included as part of the Contract of Sale or not. Some vendors elect to pay for the building and pest inspection because they believe some issues need to be surfaced to potential buyers. Don’t be afraid to pull back curtains and open and close some windows to see how they work. Similarly, check door frames and look for any signs of cracks around the edges or asymmetry.
Be Aware of Overly Styled Homes
Be aware of over-styled open homes when inspecting a property for sale! If you walk into an open home and are overpowered by fabricated smells – baking bread, oil burners, scented candles, room deodorisers – be immediately on alert. It could be an elaborate exercise in illusion to mask the smell of a damp mouldy house, stale urine affected carpets or the unmistakable scent of rodents (or previous pets). Signs of life other than human are also easy to spot. Look for weirdly positioned rugs or furniture that may be covering carpet stains, dark patches on ceilings (which may indicate possums living above) or droppings in corners that may have been missed in the clean-up.
Check Fixtures and Fittings Are Working
As you inspect the property, turn on lights, air-conditioning units, ovens, stoves, fans, open fridges, etc. Make a note of things that don’t appear to be permanently fixed to the ground or the property and ask the agent about them. Not everything is included in every property sale so it’s good to get clear about any ‘exclusions’ like appliances, curtains, built-in furniture, outdoor shade blinds, retractable washing lines fixed to the side of the house, free-standing hot tubs, trees in pots, garden statues or sculptures, sheds and cubby houses as a few examples.
Foot, Road and Flight Path Traffic
Before you leave, stand in the street by your car for a bit and listen to the local sounds. Pay attention to what’s overhead (flightpaths?), what the local neighbourhood noise is and if you can hear the main road or the nearby train station. The open inspection may have been set at the most ideal time, but it’s worth going back to a property if you like it, at different times. Do a drive-by when school is finishing to see how busy the street is with families, or late on a Saturday night to see if that cosy pub on the corner turns into a late-night party hell.
Now that you have thoroughly inspected the property and made good notes, you are in a great position to run some comparisons against other properties and make an informed decision about your investment.