The ﬁve apartment building problems that can cost buyers dearly
01 September 2016
Buying an apartment isn’t just about assessing the view from the
balcony – there’s also a question of whether or not the building is in
A Griffith University study revealed last year poor building quality
and construction issues were two of the biggest concerns for apartment
owners, and it pays to check out the building quality before you buy.
Minor issues like faulty fixtures can be vexing to the resident or new
tenant, but bigger building defects such as poor waterproofing can wind
up costing the buyer a lot of money.
When buying an apartment, the first step is the strata report, (Reserve
Fund Study) according to buyers’ agents Amanda Seger. She says if there
are any visible faults that aren’t recorded in there then a
pre-purchase building inspection (Performance Audit) is in order.
She notes that “water damage, water sitting around, and concrete
cancer” would all be causes for concern, as would poor upkeep in the
Agent Anthony Birdsall, from Laing Real Estate, says few of his
potential buyers would get a separate building inspection (home
inspection) report: “95 per cent just get the strata report.”
The strata report should pick up any defects, Birdsall says, but if a
reno has been done, “it might pick up something that’s not been brought
to the attention of the Executive Committee” (Board of Directors).
The New South Wales Department of Fair Trading suggests checking
windows and doors are easy to open, damp or mould, sagging ceilings,
the age and condition of the hot water system, rust and damage to
visible plumbing, and cracks and other damage to the walls.
The difficulty is in telling what problems will wind up being the biggest hassle and the most costly to fix?
Gus Kernot, director of O’Connors Property Reports, gave us a rundown
of the top five building issues to look out for in an apartment block
1. Water penetration
When it comes to new buildings, Kernot says “there is no way of
actually knowing if the waterproofing has been done properly”. A leak
often comes through from a bathroom or balcony—both usually tiled
surfaces with a membrane underneath.
Repairs can vary from adding a coating to replacing the entire surface,
which in the case of a bathroom can set you back an average
$12,000-$15,000, according to his estimations.
So how do you avoid buying a leaky apartment? “The real key thing
with waterproofing is kind of reputational. Good builders are very
aware that it’s a problem,” he says.
In short—do your research into the developer behind the building and
see if there are any reports of problems. And keep in mind,
particularly in larger blocks, if it’s an issue in one apartment it may
be a problem throughout the complex.
2. Lifts (elevators)
This is an issue that tends to crop up in conversion or refurbishment
projects. A noisy lift might not be noticeable in a commercial
building, but a real pain in a residential block.
Kernot notes: “Lifts are quite expensive. In a building that’s 20-30
years old, the lift might need a refurbishment. You’re looking at
$100,000-$120,000 per lift.”
When testing out a lift, note the ride speed, how smoothly it operates
and whether it has any operational issues, such as not stopping on the
3. Fire cladding/fire safety issues
Fire cladding is something a purchaser can get an idea on from looking
around the building. This is less of an issue in inner-city buildings
and more likely to crop up in older blocks—in areas such as Manly or
In suburban apartments from the 1960s or 1970s, Kernot says, “the cost
isn’t actually that high” to fix – about $2000 a unit in an upgrade.
(In townhouses, look for fire stops in the attics.)
fire safety certiﬁcate
What the buyer can do is look for a fire safety certificate, which
should be on display, often in the foyer. (It will be in the management
It should, at least, mention emergency lighting, extinguishers and
smoke detectors. You can also check that your potential apartment
allows a keyless exit, and the door comes with a door closer.
In a big, newer building, “you’re not going to be able to determine if
they have an early warning system”, he says. But in older blocks you
can check for the visible, front-end additions that indicate it’s had
4. The roof
“A complicated roof is always risky,” says Kernot. It’s hard to pick up
on – you can climb onto the roof of a house but in apartment buildings
there often isn’t access.
It’s “particularly a problem with old, repurposed roofs” as found in a warehouse or commercial conversion project.
“Again, you’re relying on the builder to waterproof the roof.” Ideally
for him, in a building conversion, the “roof would be replaced”.
5. The building manager
Or rather, the lack of a good building manager and/or strata manager.
The building manager, particularly in a big building, “should be
Kernot recommends that “if you are buying into a building with an
employed building manager or caretaker, go and talk to them”. They
should have a list of building defects and what is being done about
them, including a time frame.
And don’t necessarily be put off if there’s already been a considerable
amount of money spent on fixing up an old building, as “every dollar
they’ve spent is a dollar you don’t have to spend”. Plus, if they’ve
sent professionals through to examine one problem, there’s a good
chance they will have picked up any other issues.
Nobody gets it 100 per cent right
“Buildings are really complicated things. there will always be something wrong. Nobody gets it 100 per cent right.”
Strata expert Jimmy Thomson (of Domain’s Flat Chat column) echoes this sentiment.
He suggests particular care should be taken when checking very small or
very large apartment blocks, as there’s not as much incentive for the
developers or a strata management service to find problems.
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