The following questions and answers are amended from the website of the New Zealand Institute of Building Surveyors. The website and additional information can be found at: http://www.buildingsurveyors.co.nz/
Questions: Prepurchase house surveys
What is a survey?
An survey is a visual examination of the structure and systems of a building. If you are thinking of buying a home, unit or commercial building, you should have it thoroughly surveyed by a qualified building surveyor before finalising the purchase. back to top
What does a survey include?
A complete survey includes a visual examination of the building and its systems from top to bottom. It can also include the entire property including such items as the grounds, outbuildings and fencing. The surveyor evaluates and reports on the construction and condition of what can be seen and operated of the structure, roof, foundation, plumbing, drainage, heating system, insulation, walls, windows, doors and such-like. Only those items that are visible and accessible and operable by normal means are included in the report. The survey if so requested can also include a review of a Council file (refer to the section headed “What is a LIM” below). back to top
When do I request a surveyor?
The best time to consult the surveyor is right after you have made an offer to purchase your new building. The real estate contract usually allows for a defined period to survey the building. Ask your real estate agent to include this survey clause in the contract, making your purchase subject to the receipt of a satisfactory report. back to top
Can a building fail a survey?
No. A professional survey is simply an examination of the current condition of your prospective building purchase. A surveyor, therefore, will not pass or fail a building, but will simply describe its construction and condition and will indicate which items will be in need of minor or major maintenance, repairs or replacement. back to top
What if the report reveals problems?
If the surveyor finds problems in a building, it does not necessarily mean you should not buy it, only that you will know in advance what type of work/repairs to anticipate. A seller may be willing to make repairs because of significant problems discovered by the surveyor. If your budget is tight, or if you do not wish to become involved in the extent of the current work needed or future repair work, you may decide that this is not the property for you. The choice is yours. back to top
If the report is favourable, did I really need a survey?
Definitely! Now you can complete your purchase with peace of mind about the condition of the property and its systems. You may have learned a few things about your property from the survey report, and will want to keep that information for your future reference. Above all, you can rest assured that you are making a well-informed purchase decision and that you will be able to enjoy or occupy your new home or building the way you want. back to top
Why do I need a survey?
The purchase of a home or commercial building is one of the largest single investments you may ever make. You should know exactly what to expect — both indoors and out — in terms of needed and future repairs and maintenance. A fresh coat of paint could be hiding serious structural problems. Stains on the ceiling may indicate a chronic roof leakage problem or may be simply the result of a single incident. The surveyor interprets these and other clues and then presents a professional opinion as to the condition of the property so you can avoid unpleasant surprises afterwards. Of course, a survey may also point out the positive aspects of a building, as well as the type of maintenance needed to keep it in good shape. After the survey, you will have a much clearer understanding of the property you are about to purchase and be able to make your decision confidently.
As a vendor, if you have owned your building for a period of time, a vendor survey can identify potential problems in the sale of your building and can recommend preventive measures which could make the property more saleable. back to top
Can I inspect the building myself?
Even the most experienced building or home owner lacks the knowledge and expertise of a qualified surveyor who has surveyed hundreds, and perhaps thousands of homes and buildings in their career. A surveyor is equally familiar with the critical elements of construction and with the proper installation, maintenance and inter-relationships of these elements. Above all, most buyers find it difficult to remain completely objective and unemotional about the building they really want and this may lead to a poor assessment. back to top
What will the survey cost?
The survey fee for a typical single-family house or commercial building varies geographically, as does the cost of housing. Similarly, within a geographic area the survey fees charged by different survey services may vary depending upon the size of the building, particular features of the building, age, type of structure, etc. However, the cost should not be a factor in the decision whether or not to have a survey. You might save many times the cost of the survey if you are able to negotiate a lower cost or have the vendor perform repairs based on significant problems revealed by the surveyor. back to top
Should I attend the survey?
It is not necessary for you to be present for the survey. But it can be useful if the surveyor’s report contains a number of items which need addressing, for the surveyor to talk you through those issues at the property. By having the surveyor do this and by you asking questions, you will learn more about the new building and any issues and will get some tips on general maintenance – information that will be of great help to you if you go ahead with the purchase. back to top
What is LIM (Land Information Memorandum)?
Each city or district council holds a considerable amount of information about each property in its area. For a fee (which varies considerably), they will print out some of this information from their files. If there are any problems or unusual and important features, these should show up. For instance, the LIM might reveal the property is subject to flooding, or contains a council drain which may not be built over, or a protected tree or building. It should also help you to figure out how the district plan applies to the site. Sometimes the council will also supply pages of area plans showing the known stormwater and sewage drains, zoning and other details. The LIM will also identify whether building consents have been taken out for building work and whether code compliance certificates have been issued for that work.
However, from the point of view of the surveyor doing a prepurchase survey, it is the list of building permits and building consents that is often most relevant; usually for what is not listed. This is because the council only has records of the building works it knows about. Frequently alterations have been done to older houses, including landscaping, without council knowledge, so nothing shows up on the LIM. This means a LIM that shows no problems may be giving you a false sense of security.
You can visit the council offices and look at the property file over the counter (for a fee). After sifting through everything, the relevant material can be photocopied or the entire file provided on a CD. This will provide a great deal more information than is contained in the LIM. Ideally, if you have time, consult your surveyor first as to what to look for and get the information to him before the survey. back to top
What is a “Safe & Sanitary” and how does this compare to a Certficate of Acceptance?
The term “Safe and Sanitary” came into existence after the first Building Act was introduced in 1992. There were specific sections in that act which made it clear that:
All building work required a building consent (there were exceptions, but they were very seldom relevant to domestic housing)
A building consent cannot be issued retrospectively.
Territorial Authorities (Councils) could declare buildings unsafe or insanitary, regardless of when they were built. This therefore applied to buildings or work built prior to July 1992 with or without what was then known as a building permit.
Many members of the public who owned buildings which had work done (including the construction of the complete building) without a building permit or building consent believed that they could get such “illegal” or “unauthorised” works legitimized by obtaining a “Safe and Sanitary Report”. This is simply not true.
However, councils do have discretion whether to allow such unpermitted or unconsented building work to remain in place. Their main consideration was and still is, Is the work dangerous or insanitary?
In essence, “dangerous” means likely in the ordinary course of events to cause injury or death to any persons or damage to other property; or would give rise to almost certain loss of life in a fire (again, in essence).
“Insanitary” means situated or constructed or in such disrepair as to be offensive or likely to be injurious to health; subject to undue dampness or without adequate potable water or sanitary facilities (for the intended use).
Councils don’t like illegal work and will not preclude the possibility of taking steps at some stage, but they will accept a report from a suitably experienced person, (usually an NZIBS member) and issue in reply a “letter of comfort”, which has come to be called a “Safe and Sanitary Certificate”, despite the fact that it is not a “certificate” at all (it is usually just a letter), is limited to the time of issue, is non-statutory (doesn’t appear in any law) and is not a consent or guarantee.
What this means is that if the illegal work is not dangerous or insanitary, the council has better things to do than make you tear it down and rebuild, but they do retain the right to take further action at some stage in the future should they decide it has become necessary because the work has become dangerous or insanitary. back to top