Property owners are still falling into the traps of private property sales

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Despite various investigative reports on Carte Blanche and general media exposure, private property buyers are still getting caught by non-disclosed defects.

Although the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) provides relief to most consumers by ensuring that a seller or estate agent discloses all defects, the CPA does not apply to one-off, private sales. These sellers are still protected by the old voetstoots clause.

While a quick walkthrough and a second visit to the property for a spot check of the condition of the home can help buyers sift through their options and narrow down the property they would most like to purchase, it is best to have a professional inspector undertake a thorough check and advise accordingly.

Eric Bell of Inspect-a-Home, (a professional home inspection company) warned consumers against signing a disclosure before getting the property checked by an accredited inspector.

He said countless buyers nationally were left with extensive repair costs after signing the documents as they gave some consumers a false sense of security.

“These documents ask buyers to sign off on a number of key areas, including roofing, geyser condition, and damp problems. Unless you are a structural engineer or qualified building inspector, it is highly unlikely that you or the seller will be able to identify any latent defects.

Every day throughout the country we see houses that are painted to make them look good and unsuspecting buyers are then taken to the cleaners with extensive and unexpected repair bills once they have moved in – their dream house becomes a nightmare.”

He said sellers were liable for latent defects that existed at the time of the sale but, by signing a disclosure document, buyers were signing away their rights to that claim, effectively making the defects the buyer’s problem.

He gave an example of a consumer who bought his home through an estate agent who tried to get him to sign a disclosure document which stated that the house, its foundations and fixtures were in good working order. He was told that the document was required for the sale to proceed.

Fortunately, before signing the document he insisted on hiring a qualified building inspector. The inspector found that the house had badly corroded galvanised steel corrugated roof sheeting throughout, rotten door frames, structural cracks and a leaking geyser, amounting to repairs in excess of R150 000. None of this had been disclosed in the documents by the seller or agent.

Bell said investing in the services of an accredited home inspector should be standard practice when buying property, as it was in other countries such as the US, UK and Australia.

“It is important that all home inspections take place before any sales agreement is signed and it is stipulated in the agreement – subject to a favourable inspection report.

It is not required Remember you are not required to sign any disclosure documents. Not an expert? Then don’t sign! Ask the seller and estate agent to make full disclosure of any known defects up front and in writing.”

He said an expert inspector should deliver a comprehensive report on the interior and exterior of the property, highlighting structural concerns and hazards and recommending potential repair solutions. In addition, on request, the inspector would return once the work had been completed to ensure that it was carried out properly.

Bell added that using the services of a home inspector did not mean that the sale would not go through but rather that the seller and buyer would have an objective assessment of the value of a property and any possible concerns.

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