When you’re spending one, two, three, four million dollars for a roof over your head, is it worth investing $600 on a building inspection to make sure said roof doesn’t fall on said head?

It’s a question we get asked frequently and like all good questions the answer is long and nuanced.

It’s not unusual for a buyer to do their due diligence on several properties before they end up successfully buying one, and at between $500 and $800 a pop, getting building and pest inspections for multiple properties that you don’t end up buying can seem like a waste of money.

So why get one?

Firstly, let’s look at the upside.

A building and pest inspection, if done well, should provide a very thorough overview of all minor and major defects, and therefore an idea of what work will be necessary to bring the house up to a reasonable condition.

Minor defects include things like small cracks, windows that are painted shut, loose light fittings, a rotten weatherboard, etc.

Major defects include things like severe movement requiring restumping, rising damp, major roof leaks, asbestos, termites, structural defects like broken rafters or bearers, etc.

If you aren’t expecting major defects and the building inspection picks up one or more, you may think twice about purchasing the home if the fix is cost prohibitive or difficult to rectify.

In this case a building inspection could be a great insurance policy or get out of jail free card.

If you’re expecting some issues and the building inspection confirms this, at least you can go into the purchase with eyes wide open having some understanding about what future work is required.

Once again, probably a worthwhile exercise.

However, there are many limitations with building inspections.

Firstly, like any service, there are good suppliers and bad ones.

We sold a property off market recently subject to a building inspection. The building inspector was under training and it was one of his first solo jobs. He spent five hours at the property (it usually takes 45 minutes to 90 minutes) and reported that the house was “really, really bad” and had a major termite infestation and was basically a ticking time bomb.

The purchasers, vendors and I thought this was a bit extreme, especially as other building inspections had come back fine.

They ended up getting a second opinion from a termite expert and it turned out there were no termites. At all. So they went ahead with the purchase.

They almost didn’t buy the house of their dreams because of a building inspector who didn’t know what he was doing.

Furthermore, some building inspectors are just way too thorough, pedantic even, and their reports read so scarily that buyers are turned off immediately.

A different inspector can assess the same house and tell you it’s hunky-dory and nothing major to worry about, just the usual wear and tear.

No house is perfect, let alone a 130 year old timber Victorian that has been chopped, changed and tinkered with by countless owners over seven generations. You need a building inspector who understands this and is somewhat forgiving.

The reports always read negatively. They are defect reports – the building inspector is getting paid to point out any and all defects.

It is always best to speak to the builder in person or on the phone and get their overall impression and advice rather than relying on the written report.

Additionally, the building inspectors absolve themselves of all responsibility so they can’t be held accountable for anything.

They always advise you to get a certified plumber to check the plumbing, an electrician to check the wiring, a roof specialist to check the roof, and engineer to check the structure, etc.

More often than not they say they can’t get access to the roof or subfloor because it was too tricky or dangerous, thereby not even checking some of the most important parts of the house.

So even if you get a building inspection, they can miss things, or see things that aren’t actually there, or not really give you any definitive answers and require further investigation.

This is probably part of the reason that most buyers, I’d say upwards of 90%, never bother getting a building inspection.

And of the ones that do, I’d say 90% still pursue the property even if it comes back negatively.

When I bought last year I had a building inspection done. Reading the building inspection was uncomfortable, to say the least. The list of defects was longer than our fortnightly Coles shopping receipt and there were more than a few major defects as well. The overall condition of the house was “very poor compared to other properties of a similar age.” Great!

But I knew the place needed work and I figured I’d be selling it again in five years so as long as it didn’t fall over before then I took the “she’ll be right” approach.

So far so good… but I’ll keep you posted.

I later found out that the building inspector who did my report had been sacked by his boss because he was too pedantic and was killing too many deals unnecessarily.

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