Welcome to ACE #3, an ongoing ramble of my experiences.
Easements. Most people don’t understand them and ignore them at their peril. Again ASK your legal representative to explain what easements burden the land or property you’re considering or, in some cases, ADD an area to your land that you don’t own but are free to use.
I’ve inspected a house where the owner, oblivious to the presence of an easement burdening the land, had constructed an enormous and very thick, steel reinforced concrete slab topped with a substantial 25m2 metal shed. Trouble was that the shed was right on top of a 3 metre easement that ran along the entire back fence of the property. He was very lucky that the authorities hadn’t required access to the storm water drain that ran beneath the easement as they would’ve pulled down the shed, ripped up the concrete and sent the owner a bill for their trouble.
Just about every easement carries conditions outlining what you can and can’t do on top of it. Growing grass, building a sandpit for your kids to play in, or maybe small shrubs under a metre high are OK, but please don’t build a big shed! Also be aware that a lot of people have had bad experiences with easements and will not buy a place with them on the plan. If the easement is for sewer or storm water, you could well find heavy equipment on your land for as long as it takes the authorities to repair or replace whatever is underneath. Authorities ARE required to bring the land back to the same or better condition than when they first rolled in, but your expensive rose garden may never be the same.
Boundary Survey. All competent Builders insist on a boundary survey. To trust existing wooden or steel pegs is an invitation to disaster as they can easily be moved, either accidentally or deliberately! Getting a boundary survey establishes exactly what you are buying and where it is. I’ve seen the results of a boundary survey on an existing home where it was revealed that fences on 5 sides (the property bounded 5 others – it was complicated!) were all built well “inside” the property so that 5 other owners had stolen (either deliberately or by honest mistake) a substantial amount of land. It was lucky in the end that the fences were all old and needed replacement and all 5 owners agreed to contribute to their replacement and abide by the survey. Result? New fences all ‘round and an extra 100 odd square metres added to the original property.
Plumbing Inspection. In addition to a standard building and pest inspection, spend money on a good, experienced plumber to do a pressure and leak test on all the plumbing. Shower plumbing has a nasty habit of spraying water into the wall cavities at times. If left undetected the water will cause not only physical damage but provide a great environment for the growth of deadly moulds and an attractive warm and moist place for termites to build an empire.
Electrical Inspection. Similarly, have a licenced electrician conduct a full check of all circuits, boards, earth leakage circuit breakers, light fittings, power points and other electrical equipment like pool and spa pumps, air-conditioners and hot water systems. I’ve seen wiring so bad in a near new home that my electrician just shook his head and said, to be absolutely safe, he’d have to rewire the entire house. We found overzealous nail gun use had plowed a nail straight through wiring causing intermittent faults and wiring that should’ve been run through protective conduit, exposed and flagrantly in breach of regulations current at the time of installation.
Asbestos Check. It’s imperative for you, your family and visitor’s sake that you have your place checked for asbestos in any form, especially if the house is pre-1985 or so.
Asbestos can be found in fences, lagging on pipes, insulation fibres and hidden in places your untrained eye just wouldn’t detect. And don’t listen to people who say “Oh it’s OK as long as it’s sealed by paint. RUBBISH. All it takes is for that paint barrier or seal to be broken and you’ll have deadly asbestos fibres on the loose, airborne and being breathed into the lungs of your children. Don’t buy unless you’re prepared to spend big money on ridding the property of this deadly menace.
Decks, pergolas, extensions, garage conversions and retaining walls. I often attend “Open Homes” to keep up with things. I’m sadden by the constant lying of agents and salespeople when I ask if a deck, pergola, shade sail, extension or garage conversion has Council approval. They should answer that either the seller hasn’t provided that information (which is unprofessional anyway as a competent agent should make it their business to know) or a definite YES and have the paperwork there to back it up, or a definite NO.
Pergolas cause the most grief as they’re often built without a permit. Here, pergolas may not be screened in, nor have a roof covering. How many times have you seen both? Often they’re built using unsuitable timber and have posts set straight into the ground instead of being set up on steel stirrups. Termites just LOVE timber buried in the ground and will whip into a pergola post and build a freeway to your house in a heartbeat.
Many people think they can just take off their garage doors and convert the space into living or sleeping quarters. Adding an entire bathroom without a permit is not beyond their imagination either! Add to that a bit of home-made electrical work and you’ve a recipe for disaster. I again raise the issue of insurance companies rightly not paying out if your house burns down due to fire caused by faulty ILLEGAL wiring.
Retaining walls and fences. Please check your local rules. Here fences can’t be over 2m above natural ground level unless you have approval. You shouldn’t build a fence on top of a retaining wall unless it’s been engineered. If the whole wall and fence looks like being over 2m high, then Council approval is required. I’ve seen, as many of you would’ve during house hunting expeditions, 1.5m termite riddled hardwood retaining walls topped by 1.8m termite infested wood paling fences held together by chicken wire with a large vine growing over the lot. Probably several tonnes of material poised to fall on an unsuspecting visitor or poor old electricity meter reader. Did I mention INSURANCE?
Beware retaining walls that have been constructed right on the boundary line. They “shouldn’t be” but often are. If the retaining wall requires repair or routine maintenance there could be arguments with your neighbours. I look for retaining walls that are well away from boundary lines and are constructed wholly within the property and NOT with wood of any kind, no matter if it is “treated”.
The local Council here has an excellent website where you can identify a property and check if an application and subsequent approval has been granted for works. If you can’t access such a system then ASK by going to your local council and obtaining copies of all approvals granted for the property you’re interested in.
If works are NOT approved and a Council Inspector turns up, there are large penalties and the cost of demolishing the illegal works to be taken into account. Don’t get caught by lies and spin.
Don’t forget that Insurance Companies take a dim view of damage caused or made worse by illegal works and in many cases will refuse to pay, or pay a greatly reduced amount of any claim.
Garden Sheds. I’m amazed at the sheer number of sheds installed in breach of Council Regulations. This happens because people are too lazy to ASK first. Here on the Gold Coast if a shed is larger than 10m2 or taller than 2.4 m. you need approval. The roof water from the shed should be plumbed into the storm water system and not just allowed to run off anywhere, especially into your neighbour’s yard! In addition, many modern houses are built on very small parcels of land and the site coverage is already at its maximum. Any garden shed adds to the site coverage so if you are in breach of that rule, you may be ordered to demolish your shed.
Shipping Containers. Many people like to use these to store their “stuff” and they’re a great solution. However, they are UGLY and there are RULES regarding where you can put them – GOOD RULES. Unless your land is about 1/3rd of an acre or more, sorry but you can’t have one. If your land is larger, you have to screen the ugly thing with trees etc before the Council here will allow it. Imagine you buy your ideal acreage property and your neighbour plonks a rusty, dark brown 40 foot shipping container smack in the middle of your previously pristine view? You would NOT be happy. RULES. ASK!
To be continued…