Frequently Asked questions about Home Inspections

Why get a home inspection?

The most important reason for a prospective home buyer to get a home inspection is because at present in South Africa, the fairness of most home sales is skewed heavily in favour of the seller.

Most existing homes are sold voetstoots (“as is”) which means that the buyer is at financial risk in the absence of an independent home inspection by a knowledgeable inspector. Consider:
  • The estate agent is usually employed by the seller;
  • Even if the buyer later discovers that the condition of the home has been misrepresented by the seller, it is difficult and potentially very expensive to get justice. Effective legal protection for the property-buying consumer is very weak in South Africa.
The Estate Agency Affairs Board recommends that the seller must make a written declaration regarding the condition of the home,  but currently such declarations are mostly useless for the following reasons.
  • In many cases the agent does not bother to get a declaration of condition from the seller and to pass this document on to prospective buyers.
  • Even if the seller does fill in the standard seller’s declaration form, this information is usually inaccurate or incomplete for the simple reason that the seller is not a building expert and does not know the true condition of the roof, hot water heater, plumbing, electrical installation, drains and stormwater management systems.
  • The seller’s declaration has limited legal standing because it does not usually form part of the sales agreement.
When the new Property Practitioners Act 2019 eventually becomes effective – through promulgation in the Government Gazette, then home inspections can be expected to become standard business practice within the real estate industry.
In order to protect themselves from having to pay for undeclared defects in a home, once the Act becomes effective, agents and sellers will routinely recommend a home inspection to prospective buyers.
The seller’s declaration will become more effective under the new Act because:
  • Agents will be compelled by law to obtain a written condition statement from every seller and to show this document to every prospective buyer. Agents will be disciplined if they do not comply.
  • This seller’s declaration will also be legally required to become part of every property sales agreement.  This means that a sales contract could be invalidated if the seller’s declaration is missing, inaccurate or fraudulent.
Under the new law estate agents will also face the risk of having their license withdrawn if they do not treat both sellers and buyers fairly.  The Act says that estate agents owe both buyers and sellers an equal “duty of care”. This is a legally enforceable responsibility.
Home inspections are usually commissioned by prospective buyers of a home in order to limit their risk.
Usually a buyer will first find the best home to but before commissioning a home inspection. In such cases the buyer will make an offer to purchase contingent on a satisfactory independent home inspection report.  This means that the buyer only needs to pay for a home inspection once the buyer and seller have reached agreement on all other aspects of the sale.
In some cases however,  buyers prefer to commission and pay for a home inspection prior to making an offer.
Once the Property Practitioners Act 2019 is promulgated (put into effect) then it can be expected that it will become standard business practice in South Africa for estate agents to recommend that:
  • Either sellers obtain a home inspection report prior to marketing the home so that the inspection report can form part of the seller’s declaration.
  • Alternatively, sellers may opt to state in the mandatory declaration of condition all the areas in which they are unsure about the actual condition of the property.  In such cases the seller can state in their declaration, that the onus is on the prospective buyer to use, at the buyer’s expense, a home inspector to establish the condition of aspects of the home – where the seller is unsure or simply does not know.
A home inspection can be described as: “A limited, non-invasive examination of the condition of a home/house, often in connection with the sale of that home. The home inspector describes the condition of the home at the time of inspection but does not guarantee future condition, efficiency, or life expectancy of systems or components.
A home inspection is “limited” because it is “non-invasive”.  A home inspector does not conduct specialist assessment or testing of components such as:
  • The strength and stability of structures (roof covering, roof timbers, masonry and concrete);
  • The safety  of electrical circuits;
  • Or the inner workings of any of the hundreds of components in an average home.
The home inspector is a trained “generalist”,  who should be able to thoroughly and reliably assess the visible condition of every part of a home.  The home inspector should have sufficient knowledge and experience to:
  • Recognise defects, potential defects, safety and compliance issues;
  • Know when to “raise a red flag” and when to refer the condition of any component to a relevant specialist for a more detailed examination.
  • The size of the home – home inspectors usually quote on either a room count or floor area.
  • The type of inspection required: Comprehensive inspection (every observed defect is documented and assessed); Vital (only structural, safety and function defects are reported on); specialised inspections (limited to inspecting specific areas of the home (such as the roof) or inspecting for specific conditions (such as damp or wall cracks).
  • The location of the property – will the home inspector incur excessive travel costs?  If so, the quotation will have to allow for this cost.
A home inspection report should be:
  • Accurate, easy-to-understand, credible and thorough.
  • Delivered quickly.  In the real estate world, speed is essential so that buyers and sellers do not lose out on deals.  For instance, HouseCheck delivers its reports electronically within one working day of the inspection.
Prospective employers of home inspectors (usually prospective buyers) need to ensure that the home inspector who they employ is properly trained. Training is required to understand South African property legislation, building regulations and standards and South African building practices.
South African building laws, building codes and building practices are very different, for instance,  to those applying in the US and other overseas countries.
As already stated, home inspectors although may be “generalists” rather than “specialists”,  home inspectors still require intensive training in order to responsibly do their work. They are required to have a working knowledge of every component in a South African home.   To meet this need the curriculum for a new building (home) inspector qualification has been developed by the municipalities, private home inspectors, the banks, the NHBRC and others.
The National Association of Building Inspectors or South Africa (www.nabisa.org.za) represents the interests of all qualified building and home inspectors in South Africa and enforces a Code of Conduct on its members.
Bodies such as the South African Home Inspection Training Academy (www.sahita.co.za) provide online and workshop training which aligns with a new building inspector qualification.  This qualification has been approved by the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (www.qcto.org.za) . and is awaiting accreditation by the SA Qualifications Authority (www.saqa.org.za ).
  • All aspects of South African property law and national building regulations and national standards.  Inspectors must also be aware of how legal compliance applies to the home being inspected. Building standards, which are often updated by the SABS, are seldom retroactive.  This means that the home inspector needs to know what was legal at the time the home was built.
  • In order to detect and diagnose the cause of defects, such as wall cracks, damp and roof leaks, the home inspector must have a good knowledge of how the home was built.  Defects in structures, such as cracks and damp, are often the result of bad building techniques and the home inspector needs to be something of a detective to diagnose and understand the defects observed.
  • The home inspector must also have a good knowledge of the cost and process involved in potential repairs and maintenance.  This knowledge is needed in order to assess defects and then recommend to the client, regarding the cost effectiveness of  undertaking repairs to defects. For instance, it is seldom cost-effective to replace damaged under-tile membranes.

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