There are all sorts of risks that come with purchasing commercial property but hidden issues with the building can be a common source of unexpected problems. Getting a comprehensive building inspection will reduce the risk of finding these hidden surprises after it is too late, but how do you know what questions you need to ask your Inspector?
We invited Andrew Mackie-Smith, Principal Consultant at BuildingPro Pty Ltd to outline the questions you ask before engaging a building inspector. Andrew's approach can be summarised as - "to get the right answers you need to know the right questions" - he has 20.
1. What date and time can you do the inspection?
Put simply, the inspector must be available to carry out the inspection at a time and date that suits you, the agent and tenant (if necessary). You also need sufficient time to consider the results of the report(s) and arrange any further investigations and inspections. There's no point going any further with your interview of the inspector if they are not available when you need them.
2. Do you have current professional indemnity and public liability insurance?
This is essential. Some inspectors are not insured so if they miss a significant issue you will have to sue them personally to recover any costs. If they have no assets, then you have little hope of being compensated. What if they fall off the ladder while inspecting your property and become permanently paralysed, will they sue you, or claim on their insurance?
3. Are you licensed to carry out inspections?
Most states of Australia require that the inspector be licensed. If the state does not require the inspector to be licensed, what relevant qualifications does the inspector have? A licensed builder, registered architect or registered building surveyor licences are acceptable.
Warning: Someone who has received training by their employer but has no professional background in building and construction is not worth the risk.
4. Is your building report in accordance with AS4349.0? Is it the 'structural' inspection or the full inspection?
If it's a residential pre-purchase inspection, then you want the full 'Appendix B' inspection. Some companies have a low inspection price because they only carry out a 'structural' inspection. Whilst this sounds like a logical choice, the 'structural' inspection is very basic and will generally miss out on many critical components of the building. My insurer does not insure inspectors to provide a 'structural' only inspection as there are too many complaints from clients when they later realise how many components were excluded from the inspection.
Warning: Fire Safety, Disabled Access, Occupational Health and Safety, Air-conditioning, Plant, Equipment, Electrical, Plumbing, Asbestos, Planning Issues, Flood Reports and other items are usually excluded from the reports.
5. Is your pest report in accordance with AS4349.3?
There are two Standards of pest inspection. AS4349.3 is one, the other is AS3660 and this is suitable for annual 'termite only' inspections. I therefore recommend that for pre-purchase inspections you always specify the AS4349.3 Standard.
6. How long have you been doing inspections for?
Not the company, the actual inspector. At least five years' inspection experience is adequate. Note that building experience does not count as inspection experience (this is a different skill set). Most inspectors out there count their years building and renovating houses as inspection experience, so it's important to be specific.
7. Can I attend the inspection?
You should be welcome to attend the inspection if you can, or to send a buyer's agent, family member or friend on your behalf. If you cannot attend the inspection I suggest you arrange to have a phone conversation with the inspector after the inspection to summarise the main findings and answer any questions you may have about those findings.
8. Can I see a sample report?
Ask for a sample report to be sent to you via email. This sample report should give you a good idea of what you will be getting. Is it clear and easy to understand what the main issues are? Is there a summary and recommendations? Is there too much irrelevant information and disclaimers? The report should detail: what the defects are, where they are located on the property, why the defects are a problem, and what action needs to be taken.
9. Do you provide a verbal report and answer my questions about the report either onsite or over the phone?
This is essential. Do not expect that you will be able to fully grasp the report findings by simply reading the report. You must be able to have a detailed conversation with the inspector as it is often very difficult to adequately communicate the inspection findings in a written form.
10. Does the report include photos of the defects?
Photos are essential. A picture does tell a thousand words at times. Some inspectors are stuck in the dark ages and still don't include photos. If there are no photos included I would look elsewhere for an inspector.
11. Will you access the roof and crawl into spaces if reasonably accessible?
These are the areas you probably did not inspect yourself when you looked at the property and these are the areas that you want the inspector to see as they are often the location of major defects and timber pest issues.
12. What specialised inspection equipment do you use (such as Termatrac, thermal camera and moisture meter)?
A moisture meter is essential and basic kit for any inspector. Other equipment is nice to have but not essential. Do not expect that all of the equipment will be used on every inspection. The inspector will use the equipment as appropriate. Beware that high-tech, expensive equipment does not find termites as often as the trained eye of an experienced inspector.
13. Do you comply with a Code of Conduct and or Code of Ethics?
The company should have both and strictly adhere to them.
Warning: It is usually better not to use the inspector who was recommended by the real estate agent as they may not be truly independent.
More specific questions about you situation
14. What inspections will I need?
The inspection company will likely ask you some questions over the phone or by email about the property and what your needs are. This establishes the brief and scope of work.
This information helps the company/inspector estimate travel time, time onsite and what inspectors are required to provide in terms of the reports needed. Some companies have a fixed price and others vary their price depending upon the type of property, travel time, size, age, inspection types and any special requests.
Once your requirements are understood the inspector can recommend the appropriate service needed.
15. How long will the inspection take onsite?
Many agents have formed the opinion that a building and pest inspection takes an hour, and they are wrong. The reality is that the length of time the inspection takes is affected by a range of factors including the use, type, size and method of construction of the property; its age; whether it was constructed by an owner builder; whether the client is onsite; the occupancy of the property; and its overall condition. Ask for an estimate of time required onsite at the time of booking.
Some clients give us an hour head start before they arrive at the inspection if they have a busy schedule and cannot be there for the entire time.
16. When will I receive the report?
In years gone by the reports would take two or three days to be typed and posted or faxed to clients. Now with handheld devices and modern reporting software, reports can be emailed to the client on the same day or at least within 24 hours of the inspection. There is a trend towards onsite reports where some inspectors are now able to email the report at the end of the inspection. Allow enough time to read the report so that you can clarify your understanding with the inspector and arrange any recommended further investigations or inspections.
17. Do you have an inspection agreement that I need to approve? Can I see this before I engage you?
All inspectors are required to provide an inspection agreement. Read the agreement and make sure you understand it. If you are unclear on any aspect of the agreement, ask for clarification before you proceed.
18. How much does the service cost?
Usually the quote is a fixed lump sum in Australian dollars that includes GST. Ask what methods of payment the inspector has. Most inspectors are set up to accept major credit cards or internet bank transfers. Personal cheques often need a few days to clear so many inspectors do not encourage this method of payment. Most Inspectors require verification of payment in their account before they will inspect the property.
19. What are the next steps?
Once you accept the quote, you should be sent an email with confirmation that the inspection time and date has been arranged with the real estate agent (or person providing access), the inspection agreement and the tax invoice.
The inspector will usually be the one to contact the real estate agent (or other responsible party) to book in the inspection time and date and then confirm the time and date with you via phone or email.
I strongly encourage you to be present at the inspection, if possible, so that you can see the defects for yourself and have the inspector explain the findings to you first-hand.
20. Ask the inspector to explain the inspection findings.
This conversation typically only takes around 10 to 15 minutes for a summary of the more significant findings. Although some conversations have been almost an hour.
Don't take it for granted that all inspectors and reports are the same. Make sure the scope of work on a Commercial Building inspection is agreed between the parties. Asking the right questions of your Building Inspector gives you the best chance of getting a useful report from a qualified expert in a timely manner.
About the author:
Andrew Mackie-Smith is the Principal Consultant at BuildingPro Pty Ltd. He has recently written a book on the subject called "Building Success" details are available at the BuildingPro website. Visit www.buildingpro.com.au to find out more or request a call to discuss your building inspection requirements.