It is becoming the norm these days that a pre purchase building inspection is a precursor to many residential property purchases.
Incorporating the pre purchase condition of a building inspection into an Offer to Purchase is not an easy task as the contract clause needs to consider multiple possible scenarios and outcomes not only if an issue is identified, but also during the remediation process. We have seen many unworkable examples of these clauses. Given the inherent complexities, the Real Estate Institute of WA (REIWA) provides its member Agents with a standard Pre Purchase Building Inspection clause for use within Offer and Acceptance contracts. The clause primarily deals with structural defects within a property. The clause has both advantages and disadvantages but in many cases services most buyers and sellers reasonably well.
It is very difficult for any one contract clause to contemplate every potential circumstance whilst remaining reasonably understandable for buyers and sellers. Even in its current guise, the REIWA clause fills almost a page. So often there are compromises.
Today’s challenge is about getting access to the entire property to undertake pre purchase building inspections. In the main, securing access to a residential property to undertake a pre purchase building inspection can be organised within a day or two. However, the key is can we access the entire property?
As indicated the often used REIWA clause relates primarily to structural defects. The most common areas a Building Inspector is likely to find these structural defects is in the sub floor space in homes with primarily wooden floors and or in the roof space of most homes where we are primarily looking at the roof frame. Seems simple really?
Sub Floor Area
The sub floor area in most wooden floor homes is usually accessed via one or multiple manholes cut into the floor which provides access to the sub floor area. Occasionally, there might be access points around the external of the house or in some cases cut into the limestone footings, once again around the external of the house.
The challenge is that often the home owner is unaware of where these sub floor manholes are. They could be located under carpets, under furniture or through external access points which are no longer accessible or visible. Often, for a myriad of reasons, the manhole access to the sub floor area has been nailed, screwed or glued close so that it is no longer accessible.
Given the fact that the underfloor area is defined as a confined space, there are Australian Standards which define the minimum manhole size as well as the crawl space between the lowest part of the floor frame and the ground level. So just because you find a manhole does not mean that the manhole is sufficient and can be utilised.
Many older style wooden floor homes in Perth have solid/structural internal walls which sit on individual limestone footings which in effect can divide the subfloor space into multiple areas which necessitate multiple manholes, one for each area.
Roof Space Area
Ideally there needs to be a manhole into the roof space below each roof space area. Multiple level homes should have multiple manholes. Often they are very easy to find located in the middle of passage ways, garages and similar. Often they can be hidden. We have come across many manholes in wardrobes where the shelf in the wardrobe is removable to provide access to a manhole into the roof space. Who knew! Often, there will be a unique ground floor area or garage with no manhole access whatsoever.
Once again we have found roof space manholes that have been nailed, screwed or glued close. Alternatively, we often come across manholes where access is no longer possible due to the placement of air conditioning ducts, electrical conduit and similar placed across the manhole access, effectively denying access.
It is not appropriate to remove tiles to access the roof space. There can be OH&S issues plus the removal of tiles can damage the roof, particularly ridge capping and or flashings. Further skillion roofs (flat metal roofs) often have very little roof space and the only access point is the removal of the metal roof cover.
So What is the Issue Pertaining to the Pre Purchase Building Inspection?
The Australian Standards for Building Inspections require the inspection to be a visual inspection. So if you cannot see it, you cannot report it. On a similar vein, you cannot remove parts of a property so that you can see it. So if access is restricted or denied the scope of the Building Inspection report will need to be limited down to the areas where access is available.
For properties that contain a lot of wood this could be a significant issue for a pre purchase building inspection. Not only can your Building Inspector not get access but neither can your Pest/Termite inspector. If nobody has accessed the area for an extended period of time you will not know what if anything is occurring in that area.
Risk to Buyers?
If you submit an offer to purchase using the REIWA Building Inspection or Pest Inspection clause the value of the report could be proportional to the extent that access can be provided to the entire property. You should be aiming to ensure that full access to the sub floor area and the entire roof space for each level of the property (where roof spaces exist) is available so that your building inspector can complete a thorough inspection.
Risk to Property Owners and Sellers?
If you have areas of your property which cannot be accessed you may have emerging problems that could be of a structural nature. All buildings require ongoing maintenance. To determine what is required and when, you need to be able to access the entire building. Out of sight, out of mind is an extremely dangerous strategy to employ with your property.
Property owners need to ensure that all parts of their property can be accessed and examined on an ongoing and regular basis to determine what if any maintenance issues are need to be addressed.
Retro fitting floor space and roof space access manholes is a relatively easy and inexpensive process. Not only will it assist with ongoing maintenance programs but it may also assist in selling your property.
Access to all parts of your home is critical for ongoing maintenance. Access to all parts of the home is critical to facilitate a thorough due diligence on a property purchase. Restricted access due to lack of manholes compromises both ongoing maintenance planning and execution and completion of due diligence investigations. The REIWA Building Inspection clause may not provide remedies where access is restricted and a limited scope pre purchase building inspection has to be issued.
Property owners and sellers should ensure access is available to the entire property and if not they should arrange for suitable manholes to be installed.
Property buyers should ensure that suitable access to all parts of the property is available prior to submitting their Offer to purchase if relying on the REIWA Building Inspection clause.
This note is not intended as legal advice on in relation to Offer and Acceptance Contracts. Those intending on entering into a contract to purchase a property should seek independent legal advice as appropriate.