What you don’t want to hear

A building inspection is par for the course when buying a property. What are the findings that you don’t want? Simon Webster investigates.

No property is perfect, and almost all building reports will point out some faults. But what are the big issues that should set alarm bells ringing?

We asked building inspectors in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to tell us the worst things that a building inspection can find. These problems might not put you off buying altogether, but they may lead you to seek a reduction on the asking price. And they will certainly make you glad you got that inspection.


Subsidence, aka a sinking house, is fixable, but is “the most expensive problem to fix”, says Mike Heathcote, owner of Building Masters Inspections, Melbourne.

It’s usually caused by groundwater, rainwater or stormwater getting in around the footings of the house, Heathcote says. It is exacerbated by soil, pavings and landscaping that raise the height of the ground around the house, and can block subfloor ventilation.

Fixing the problem may involve “excavation to get the ground level correct, then installation of an effective stormwater system so water that lands on the roof and surface area around the property is removed from the site”.

Add to that repaving, landscaping, jacking up the house to get it level and replastering to repair cracks in walls.

Costs vary from $10,000 to $200,000, Heathcote says.

Mickey Perret, a director with Sydney-based Houspect NSW, says any problems to do with foundations are potential big-money items. “It could be subsidence, land slippage, or inadequate construction methods. If you’ve got a problem with your foundations, slab or footing that’s causing your house to effectively break apart, that’s not good.”


Most termite problems are minor and easily and cheaply resolved, Perret says. But a serious infestation can be an expensive problem to fix.

“At worst, termites can render any wood-framed structure to be structurally unsound, dangerous and uninhabitable,” he says.

Other pests, such as rats and even possums, might not do enough damage to warrant demolition, but they can be bad news, Perret says. “They are usually not expensive problems to fix but there can be health and safety issues … trust me, I don’t think there’s an effective way to get the smell of possum urine out of a house.”


Rising damp, roof leaks and shower leaks are also issues to watch out for, says Martin Slater, director of BPI Brisbane.

Rising damp may lead to wood decay and mould, and require a new external membrane be added to the house, with a repair bill potentially adding up to $50,000, Slater says.

Roof leaks can also lead to big issues, causing wood decay to internal frames that might not be visible. “It might cause a ceiling to drop, and cause mould, which could be a health hazard.”

Shower leaks can be more serious than they appear. “Old houses didn’t have sufficient waterfproofing behind the tiles. Sometimes people do bathroom renovations on their own and haven’t put any waterproof membrane down. It just takes time for water to get through tiles and if there’s no membrane it rots the floor.” Which leads us to…

Timber rot

Whether caused by water, the use of inappropriate timber in construction, termites or poorly done renovations, timber rot is a potentially expensive problem to have, the experts agree.

One thing to watch out for is weatherboards that have been fitted without weatherproof-priming the end grains. Rainwater quickly gets in, Heathcote says. “If 30 to 50 per cent of the boards need replacing, the cost can be $15,000 to $20,000.”

Timber rot problems are generally cheaper to fix than problems affecting foundations, says Perret, but could run into the tens of thousands if, say, a major beam needs replacing.


Important information: This article is for general information purposes only. It has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should, before acting on the advice, consider its appropriateness to your circumstances. Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124.