Kathryn Lee - 20 Oct, 2020

Issues to look for when buying an older house

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Older properties can be beautiful and unique, but they’re not without their problems. In return for an enviable block size and historic attraction, you’re likely to be met with defects – some of which you will be able to chalk up to the charm of the place, while others will be more problematic. So, what can you do after falling in love with an older house with known issues? – Or worse, what are your options if you’ve already bought it?

What is considered a home defect?

There is a big difference between a dilapidated property and one that has a few defects. While the former might more obviously require work, the latter has a degree of nuance – including the ability to go relatively unnoticed. While your love for a property might lead you to walk-through with rose-coloured glasses, there are a few common defects to inspect for before signing the dotted line.

Common property defects in older properties:

  • Cracks in the walls: Can suggest the house foundation isn’t stable and lead to structural damage.
  • Uplifted or rotting floorboards: Could suggest structural issues or unwanted pests. Remember to check under rugs in case it’s hidden.
  • Bowing staircase: If it doesn’t look ‘how it should it could be a sign of structural damage. It is advisable to get the issue assessed before buying.
  • Gaps in windows or door frames: While issues like this are often chalked up to a ‘settling house’ it could represent a structural problem. It can also be a problem if they jam or don’t close properly.
  • Dampness: No one wants mould or mildew, especially those who suffer from allergies or asthma. Be sure to check poorly ventilated areas such as bathrooms and be wary some sellers might cover the issue with paint.
  • Clogged gutters: While the gutters might just need a clean, make sure they’re not rotted or damaged.
  • Pests: From structural damage to disease, most would agree that a pest infestation is bad news. Keep an eye out for droppings, nests, bite marks and suspicious sounding ‘scampering’ or movement in the ceiling. And of course, get a professional pest inspection before buying.
  • Drainage issues: If you notice water run-off that is not controlled by a pipe or gutter, the property may have (or be in danger of) foundation damage.

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What happens if you buy a older house and something is wrong?

It can be difficult to find any sort of grievance process when you’ve bought a house but later discovered major issues. Unfortunately, in most cases, you will simply have to wear the cost.

However, while it’s always best to be thorough with all necessary inspections and checks before buying the property, depending on the scenario – and where you live – there might be recourse options available.


  • In most cases, the issue could be yours once the sale has gone through.
  • Consumer Affairs Victoria recommends checking the inspector used (before settlement) has personal indemnity insurance in case of a fault.
  • Consumer Affairs Victoria also recommends using your own inspector, rather than one supplied by the agent or seller.

New South Wales:

  • If you have recently purchased property in New South Wales and discovered issues, the cooling-off period might help you to withdraw from the contract. – Noting you could be liable to forfeit 0.25% of the purchase price.
  • If you did have a building inspection report and later found existing issues, NSW Fair Trading recommends seeking legal advice if due to the inspector’s negligence. It also recommends checking your assessor has adequate insurance coverage.

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South Australia:

  • The South Australian Government strongly recommends only accepting a property after a satisfactory building inspection report.
  • If applicable, the cooling-off period may be used to get out of the sale. – However, the buyer usually forfeits a fee, so it is recommended that legal advice be sought before withdrawing.


  • The Queensland Government recommends getting a building inspection before beginning negotiations so that repair costs can be factored into the offer.
  • If the inspection is done after negotiations but before settlement, it is recommended it be written into the contract that the sale can be cancelled in the event of a poor inspection report.
  • It is also recommended that the inspector has a license from the Queensland Building and Construction Commission.
  • In most cases, a 5-day cooling-off period applies.

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Australian Capital Territory:

  • In the Australian Capital Territory, the Civil Law (Sale of Residential Property) Act 2003 ensures vendors provide a building and compliance inspection report. This means it’s less likely for buyers to find existing issues after settlement.

Western Australia:

  • The Government of Western Australia recommends making the sale contract subject to a satisfactory building inspection, which it recommends paying for independent of the vendor.
  • It also recommends ensuring the inspector has full professional indemnity insurance.

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  • In Tasmania, there is no legal obligation for the vendor to disclose defects in the quality of a property for sale. For this reason, building inspections are highly recommended.
  • Cooling-off periods are not recognised here so contracts of sale should be entered into carefully.

Are sellers liable after closing?

Once a settlement has gone through and property ownership has changed hands, it can be difficult for the buyer to make the vendor responsible for repair costs. In fact, many contracts will contain a clause stating that all defects (latent or patent) are the responsibility of the buyer.

If a cooling-off period is available it is possible for the buyer to get out of the contract before a settlement is finalised, however, it may involve a large fee. Click here to learn more about cooling-off periods and to see if it could apply to your contract.

If the property was inspected but the inspector missed existing issues, it may be possible to gain the repair costs through the building inspector’s professional indemnity insurance.

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Should I buy a home that has had a foundation repair?

So long as the foundation has been repaired, there should be no issue going ahead with the purchase.

If worried, in addition to organising an independent building inspection, the buyer could have the home’s foundation inspected by a structural engineer. The buyer could also ask the vendor for documentation detailing the identification of the problem and date of the repair, to help ensure it was completed.

If the home needs structural repair, the issue could be used as a bargaining chip. However, depending on the extent of the damage and repairs, needed some lenders may be hesitant to lend. The opinion of a structural engineer might also be needed.

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What fixes are mandatory after a home inspection?

No fixes are strictly mandatory for the vendor to make however, it can make the buyer more inclined to go ahead with the sale. Of course, the exception to this is if fixes are stipulated in the contract of sale – then these must be completed before settlement. It’s always best for the buyer to double check repairs have in fact been done before settlement is finalised.

How can I get a home and pest inspection?

Most experts recommend a home and pest inspection be independently done before finalising the purchase of any property. Through carrying out an inspection, you may be able to negotiate repairs with the vendor – leading to possible savings. Else, it may arm you with the knowledge to throw in the towel on the property altogether. Inspections can be especially important for older houses which are likely to have issues.

When choosing someone to conduct the building inspection, ensure they are suitably qualified and provide a professional building inspection report. For both the building and pest inspection, it is important that they have professional indemnity insurance in case of fault.

What does a housing inspection report include?

A housing inspection report will generally include property details including your name, address of the property, the reason for the inspection, date of the inspection as well as the scope. It will also include a summary of the overall condition of the property, major faults, and any significant problems needing fixing. It may also include a note of any areas that weren’t inspected or a recommendation for further inspection or assessment.

The following areas are generally included in the report:

  • Fencing.
  • The garage, carport and/or garden shed.
  • Driveways and/or paths.
  • Small retaining walls.
  • Steps.
  • Surface water damage.
  • Storm water run-off.

While the report might note termite damage, the inspector will not be able to detect pests. This should be done by a pest inspector.

Can I use the vendor’s building report instead?

While helpful to give you clues on the property’s condition before making an offer, it is not recommended to use any building report conducted by the vendor. Instead, this should be independently sourced.

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Words by Kathryn Lee

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