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How to identify hidden defects in your next apartment

What is your greatest fear when you move into a new apartment building? According to a study from Griffith University’s Professor Christopher Guilding, for most people it is building defects. He identified problems like leaks, paint that chips prematurely and non-compliant imported products as key problems for home owners.

“Roofs that don’t leak are a human right,” he told Domain Group. “Yet building defects are rife across Class A and B developments nationwide.”

So the problems are clear, and NSW Fair Trading notes that problems with building defects tend to be very time sensitive – hence a lot of stress around them. But how do we find the causes and identify the defects early on in the process?

How do you spot defects?

How do you spot defects?

Know what you’re looking for

Once you understand the different defects that can occur, you can begin identifying them. Dark patches on walls or ceilings could be a sign of leaks, while cracks in any apartment walls should be a red flag. Check that seals on windows are airtight, and keep an eye out for any gaps in wooden flooring.

The Australian Building Inspection Service identified the following as some of the most common defects in our buildings:

> Downpipes or drains on pergolas that don’t actually connect to stormwater systems
> Too much moisture or tree roots around a building’s foundations, which can result in structural cracks
> Timber floors that sag due to poor framing, faulty plumbing or general moisture
> Stairs, hand rails and balconies that do not meet the state or territory’s safety code
> Latches on doors or cabinets that need to be replaced

You may also want to look at the ventilation systems, which have to be provided for every habitable room in an apartment under the Building Code of Australia. Also consider collecting all the information on materials used to build the apartment, to ensure they are up to code. For example, if the wood used to build an apartment is not a type recommended in the state or Federal building regulations, then this is a definite red flag.

Research your apartment developer and builder

Mr Guilding also identified apartment developers that weren’t sticking around as a red flag for defects, as they would not be accountable for the issues in the long term.

Check the fine print of your developer, their project history and customer reviews to identify if they have moved quickly between projects or still have involvement in work they did years prior. The same applies to builders – we have covered many instances of unqualified tradies doing work on people’s homes. Check every register and work history document you can before agreeing to an apartment to minimise the risk of defects. These are usually found with state or territory governments, for example the Department of Commerce in Western Australia or Consumer and Business Services in South Australia.

Hidden defects can lead to big problems

Hidden defects can lead to big problems

Get a professional inspection

Under New South Wales law, “major defects” are covered and protected against for up to six years, while anything else is covered for only two years. However, just because a defect is not part of the structural integrity of the apartment doesn’t mean it is insignificant.

Unfortunately, Guilding notes that a lot of defects are not easily identifiable in the short term. This is where the use of a professional inspection can be ideal. By paying $400 to $600 early in the going, you might find defects that would otherwise go unnoticed, saving time and money down the line when these could become huge issues. You can find professional architects, surveyors or builders at places like Archicentre or the Association of Building Consultants.

These are rigorous checks, but they can save you a lot of money if something needs fixing years later and you are no longer able to be compensated for it.

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