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Insider's property inspection checklist to avoid 20 costly issues coming back to 'haunt you'

There are important deal-breakers all would-be property buyers should be looking for, and it starts at inspections.

It can be daunting when inspecting a property for the first time. You need to know what to assess when you’re researching available places online and at in-person inspections.

Are you expected to be as qualified as an electrician or plumber? No.

But you can look at some base-level features to get a sense as to whether pursuing a property is worth it.

Property expert John Pidgeon with his hands up next to an inset of a property inspection checklist.
Property will be one of the biggest spends of most people's lives, and there are important things to consider before signing over your deposit. (John Pidgeon/Yahoo Finance)

Plenty of information is available online for each property you’re considering. Each state and territory has planning portals you can access for free.

Local councils are also fantastic resources. To get you started, here’s a list of things to look out for.

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Some will be included in the contract, but you may need to look further afield for the others.

What potential property red flags should I watch out for?

  • Easements: essentially these are spaces on properties that must be kept clear for access to services or utilities.

  • Flood zoning: zone classifications, flood history and frequency in the area, mitigation measures, development restrictions, potential insurance coverage (or lack thereof), and whether a flood risk assessment is required.

  • Bushfire zoning: the bushfire attack level (BAL) of the area, whether a bushfire-management overlay (BMO) impacts the property, the history and frequency of bushfires in the area, insurance considerations, and what community bushfire management plans exist.

  • Heritage: any heritage listing and any potential overlay, conservation areas, ongoing management plans, and grants or incentives available.

  • Property title: Some titles are state/territory specific, so get familiar with what’s relevant to you. The main two are Torrens title and strata title.

  • Renovations or additions: Google Earth can help you identify where additional rooms have been added or obvious renovations have been done.

  • Time on market: If the property has been on the market for quite some time, there’s probably a reason for it.

  • An unusually low sale price: There’s usually a reason for this. Call the real estate agent and ask.

  • Age of the property: If the property is old, there’s a good chance that certain aspects of its design don’t meet current building codes.

  • Unusual floor plan: An unusual floor plan may pose challenges in finding the kinds of tenants you’re after, and changes may need to be made to make it rentable.

Property inspection checklist: Key issues to look out for

Online listings are a great place to start, but it’s also easy to hide issues.

Here’s what I recommend you assess at an inspection:

  • General maintenance: general state of cleanliness and maintenance; whether you can add value to the property.

  • Structural soundness: general strength, soundness, and straightness; the pilings or foundations; state of the roof and guttering.

  • Lighting and electricals: electrical switchboard secured and working; age and functionality of electrics; power point placement (functionality and quantity); light fittings; energy efficiency/renewables; smoke alarms; electrical certification paperwork; electrical load capacity.

  • General energy efficiency: adequate insulation; blinds and curtains; cracks or gaps in floorboards.

  • Plumbing and water heating: toilet, tap and drain functionality; hot water unit (age and functionality); water pressure.

  • Gas: use and functionality.

  • Moisture and dampness: signs of damp or mould (visible mould on walls, floors or ceilings); any musty/damp smells.

  • Air conditioner and heating: general functionality of cool/heat settings; age and number of units; whirlybirds, eave vents and airflow systems.

  • Door handles and locks: securely fixed and functioning; doors open and close well; handles and drawers in kitchen and bathroom cabinets; security of main front and back door locks; locks on all windows.

  • Finishes: condition of the carpet or flooring (secured and safe); functionality of blinds, curtains, shades or shutters; cracked or missing glass; paint finish throughout; smoke damage in paint, carpet or walls (poses a potential health risk).

  • Appliances: stovetop and oven functionality and type (electric, induction or gas); age of appliances.

  • Windows and glass: window aspect; visibility or privacy inside and outside; natural light throughout the day; window functionality and type (single, double, or triple-glazes, or any coating).

  • Pool and spa filters: age, functionality and compliance.

  • Outdoor areas: structural soundness and safety; adequate features.

  • Pests: Signs of pest, rodent or insect infestation (sagging floors, rodent holes, or insect homes).

  • Storage: adequate storage for bedroom linen and towels; wardrobes for clothing; general shelving; pantry space in the kitchen; storage in sheds or garages.

  • Car parks and driveways: functionality and size; garage door functionality; gate and driveway functionality.

  • Hazardous materials: asbestos can only be removed by a specialist; in some cases, as long as the material itself isn’t broken, it can remain in place – seek specialist advice!

  • Noise level: sound of neighbours; nearby train lines or roadways; children playing in the nearby school

  • Neighbours: rowdy/violent/unsavoury neighbours; any disruptive or unsafe pets or animals; any surrounding services that might impact parking, pedestrian traffic, or noise (airports, schools, hospitals, childcare centres, shopping centres); fencing completeness and soundness.

Phwar! What a list. Yes, it’s long. But if there are issues with any of these areas and you haven’t considered it beforehand, it might come back to haunt you!

Edited extract from Sort your property out & build your future by John Pidgeon (Wiley $32.95), available at all leading retailers.