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Buying a Home?

Buying a property can be stressful – A comprehensive pre-purchase pest inspection can help you buy a property with confidence.

When you’re looking at spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a property purchase it’s important know whether there are any pest issues with the property.

If you’re thinking of buying a home, a pre-purchase pest inspection is a must!

Pre-purchase pest inspections

A pre-purchase pest inspection is carried out for property buyers before purchase or bidding at an auction.

It is more accurately called a pre-purchase timber pest inspection as it is inspecting the property for activity, damage and conducive conditions for timber pests – termites, borers and fungi/wood decay.

It is important to remember that a timber pest inspection is separate to the building inspection. Although a building inspection report should identify any visual termite damage, it is not specifically looking for termite, borer and wood decay activity and damage or conditions that could make a timber pest attack more likely. That’s the job of the pest inspector. That’s why it is important to have both a building inspection and a timber pest inspection before buying a property.

Pre-purchase inspection agreement

Before a pre-purchase inspection is carried out, it is necessary to sign a formal pre-inspection agreement. With significant financial decisions being made on the basis of these reports, mistakes and misunderstandings can lead to litigation. This is an important legal document which protects both the potential home buyer and the inspector.

It’s a visual inspection!

Pre-purchase timber pest inspections are visual inspections, which are carried out to Australia Standards 4339.2-2010.

The key element here is that it is a visual inspection. The inspector can tap walls and scan walls with termite detectors and thermal cameras, but they are not allowed to probe or otherwise damage surfaces to investigate areas of concern or move items to gain access.

This is an important point, the inspector can only inspect rooms and areas which can be accessed – it is not uncommon for property sellers with something to hide to block access to a room or roof void, or even place heavy furniture along walls to hide activity.

The inspection covers the main building, garage, other specified buildings and the surrounding property up to 30 m from the main building

  • Building interior – every room
  • Building exterior
  • Roof void
  • Sub-floor (if present)
  • Timber retaining walls
  • Timber fences
  • Timber decking
The inspector is looking for
  • Active termites and borers and areas of wood decay.
  • Any areas of damage caused by termites, borers and wood decay
  • Environmental conditions and structural faults that may make attack from termites, borers or wood decay more likely
Remember, it will be difficult to fully map any areas of damage and if the inspector suspects a problem, they will recommend a further invasive inspection, for which approval from the seller would be required.

To aid the inspector, they may use a range of equipment

  • A ‘donger’ – a tapping device to sound walls and wood elements (differences in sound can indicate a problem)
  • A moisture meter – a device to detect areas of moisture behind walls (important for detecting leaks and areas of termite activity
  • Motion detectors – used to pick up potential termite movement behind walls
  • Thermal imaging cameras – used to pick up termite activity behind walls

The length of time to complete a pre-purchase pest inspection will depend on the size of the main building, the construction type (for example does it have a sub-floor) and the size of the property. However, the time take to complete an inspection on a standard 3-4 bedroom home on a concrete slab should be at least 1.5 hours.

Remember when you are making a purchase of hundreds of thousands of dollars (and more!), you want a comprehensive inspection, not a quick or cheap inspection. Choose a pest manager you trust to complete a comprehensive pest inspection.

It is generally recommended not to use a pest control company recommended by the real estate agent as there may be a potential conflict of interest. Remember, the real estate agent want to make a quick sale and don’t really want any issues to be unearthed that may delay or halt the sale!

The pre-purchase pest inspection report

Pre-purchase pest inspection reports are detailed reports, reporting on the three key areas:

  • Active termites and borers and areas of wood decay.
  • Any areas of damage caused by termites, borers and wood decay
  • Environmental conditions and structural faults that may make attack from termites, borers or wood decay more likely

There should be a range of photos to support the findings.

Importantly the report will list any limitations, especially areas where limited access prevented a complete inspection and areas of concern where further invasive recommendations are recommended.

These documents also contain significant legal clauses, so may be lengthy documents. It can often be a good idea to be onsite whilst the inspections are being carried out and a good inspector will be happy to discuss findings over the phone. However, don’t expect them to say anything different to the written findings in the report.

Some inspectors are qualified to carry out both pest and building inspections. Whereas this generally saves a bit of money, having two different inspectors on site – one pest inspector, one building inspector – does provide a bit of extra security in case one of the inspectors overlooks something.

Either way, having these inspections prior to making a purchase decision or before bidding at an auction is the smart investment decision. These inspections are like a “health check” on the property – you want to make sure you are buying a sound property with no issues. Skipping these inspections can lead to financial disaster!

It is important to realise that a large number of properties in Australia will have some history of termite damage, so even if the pre-purchase pest inspection does not detect any live termite activity it is quite common for the inspection report to detail some level of termite damage in the building or on the property.

Whilst it can be concerning or disappointing that the potential property purchase may have some timber pest issues, finding the problem is actually a good thing! Information is power ­– it gives you two main routes forward:

  • You can pull out of the purchase and feel good that you knew about the issue before committing to the purchase
  • You can re-negotiate the sale price based on the findings of the inspection report

If you decide to look into the second option, of solving the issues uncovered in the pest and building inspection reports and re-negotiate the sale price, it will be necessary to fully understand the nature of the problem and quantify the costs to remedy the problems.

If there are active termites (or borers), you will need to get a quote to eliminate the active termites from the property. Don’t get the seller to do this! They will pay often pay for the quickest and cheapest solution to the problem. You need to make sure you get a professional termite treatment to ensure the termites are eliminated.

For properties with timber pest damage, it may well be necessary to get a more comprehensive and potentially invasive inspection to quantify the damage and get a builder to assess the necessary repair work and costs.

Of course if the property has either active termites or termite damage, installing a termite management systems is a must to prevent a future termite attack.

So should you buy a property with timber pest damage? It depends. But with the information obtained in the inspection reports you can assess the problem logically and if the issues can be solved to your satisfaction it may be possible to re-negotiate the purchase price and get a bargain!