The first inspection of a property is crucial. You know what your client is looking for and you generally know as soon as you walk into a property if it’s going to meet their needs or not.
But that feeling of satisfaction you get when you find “the one” can quickly dissipate if on subsequent inspections – or worse, the pre-settlement inspection – you discover defects you didn’t notice on your first walk through.
This is why buyers’ agents, Jacque Parker of House Search Australia and Michael Ossitt of STRAND Property Group, recommend you have a solid strategy for property inspections.
“Part of our role as buyers’ agents is to inspect the property initially for a client and provide a summary of our thoughts based on our physical inspection,” says Parker. “We have to know what we’re looking for and how to identify issues.”
Have a checklist
Ossitt says, of course, the level of first inspection varies depending on market conditions, but that’s not an excuse to neglect the basics.
“In a hot market, in which you have to move quickly, you may not have the time or opportunity to do three or four inspections,” he says. “So you need to be able to get in and make a good assessment of the property so you can give valuable recommendations to your client.
“You need to get a good understanding of the general condition of the property and if there are any obvious issues that stand out. To do this, I use a checklist.”
Ossitt says if he knows he’ll be conducting multiple inspections of the property, he uses a shorter version of his checklist for the initial inspection and a longer one for the second inspection.
“Most buyers will buy their biggest asset ever after seeing it for only fifteen minutes,” he says. “People spend longer looking at a car.
“As buyers’ agents acting on behalf of our clients, we have a duty to understand the property as thoroughly as possible.
“Using the checklist helps ensure you address each property objectively and using the same parameters.”
Ossitt and Parker both agree that in addition to the checklist, taking photos is an important step in the initial inspection.
“Obviously if it’s advertised online, there’s going to be professional images available, but you usually only get six or seven,” says Ossitt. “Taking extra photos helps give your clients a better understanding of the property and allows you to provide evidence of any features or defects.
“Additionally, photos are a great reference point when you’re back in the office preparing the first summary report for your client.”
Ossitt says once you’ve assessed the property and provided a report to your clients it’s much easier to gauge their interest because they are well-informed.
“With all the information, they can then decide whether the property is one they’re going to pursue,” he says. “If they are going to pursue the property, it’s then worthwhile going for a second inspection.”
Always revisit the property
Parker says that a second inspection is as critical as the first.
“Going back for a second inspection is really important so you can assess the property again, but this time without contending with a house full of other people,” she says. “It allows you to get an even better understanding of what condition the property is in.
“It’s really interesting, doing as many inspections as we do, to notice how much the general public miss. And it’s also interesting, when you go through opens, to watch other people inspect a property.
“Most of them only ever open the top drawer or one or two cupboards. Whereas, as a buyers’ agent, we are thorough. We go through everything, look for anything that could be a detriment of the property and test everything. And this is something that can usually be better achieved at a second or private inspection.”
Ossitt agrees, highlighting the importance of ensuring all facilities are in working order.
“When you’re going through a property, test everything,” he says. “Turn on the taps and see what the water pressure is like. See how long it takes for the hot water to come through. Open windows and doors. Not many people do this, but it’s a really good indication of the quality of the structure.
“Obviously, timber expands and contracts over time, but if a door is not opening properly or it’s getting stuck in the jamb, it could be an indication that the floor has subsided underneath. Additionally, when a vendor freshens up the property before the sale, they often paint the windows shut.
"You need to be able to identify if someone has just styled the property for sale, done an update (which is usually when the windows are painted shut) or completed a genuine renovation. All these factors will impact on the price of the property.”
Ossitt says many of these things you may not notice or be able to check on the first inspection, which is why the checklist is so important as a reference tool.
“You don’t want your client to move in and be unable to open the windows,” he continues. “It’s not a good endorsement of your services.”
Check with the selling agent
To protect yourself and your client, Parker and Ossitt agree that if you’re unsure about something to do with the property, you should ask the selling agent.
“Under legislation, we are required to keep property files, so having a written report protects us as buyers’ agents, and also provides all the information to our clients,” says Parker.
“Let’s be honest, not every selling agent has the time to go through everything at the property and ensure it is in working order. If you are unsure about something and they don’t know the answer, request that they check with the vendor and get back to you.”
Parker says this is a demonstration of a buyers’ agent doing their due diligence and exploring every avenue to get the right information for their clients.
Ossitt agrees and says it’s even better if you can get the agent to put it in writing.
“Obviously if you have the time and opportunity to check everything when you do your inspections, do it. But if you can’t, make sure you ask the selling agent,” he says. “A good opportunity to confirm this is when you complete your follow up with the agent or request the contract.”
What if you find something at the pre-settlement inspection?
Ossitt says the pre-settlement inspection is equally as important as the first inspection.
“Even if you have checked everything at exchange, and you’ve had a response from the agent and the vendor’s solicitor that everything is working, it’s still prudent to go through the property again with your client,” he says.
If you do find yourself in a position where something isn’t working or isn’t up to scratch, Parker says always refer to the purchaser’s solicitor or conveyancer.
“They may be able to come to an agreement with the vendor,” she says. “Even though it may have been a term that wasn’t accepted, it is considered fair and reasonable because the buyer would have been expecting everything to be working at the property at the time of settlement.”