Updated 29 January 2014

For sale: 12 home disasters

Buying the wrong house could be a very expensive mistake. Here's how to spot possible hazards no one will willingly point out to you.


House prices have dropped, and there are some real bargains around if you can get the finance, that is.

People in the know say that the three most important things you should look for when buying a home, are location, location, location. Only then do you look at price, size and condition. But does the home you are about to buy pose some health risks?

There is a point where a so-called renovator's dream turns into a nightmare. Experienced estate agent, Elsabé Franck, gave the following tips on what to look out for.

We're not suggesting anyone would miss a cockroach infestation such as the one in this video, but take a look at this to see what things could turn into if seriously neglected.

As a general rule, it would be a good idea to get in a building engineer to check out the structure of the house. But there are many other things you can find out for yourself if you take the time to look properly before signing on the dotted line.

Damp disaster. Rising damp is a scourge in older houses in areas that receive a lot of rain. Rising damp is expensive to fix, as it entails going in under the walls and placing waterproof materials above the foundations. This dampness could be detrimental to people who have respiratory problems.
How to spot it: Along the bottom two thirds of walls, paint is flaking and bubbling off and in bad cases, the plaster could be coming off the wall and there could be darker damp patches on the walls.

Faltering foundations. These shifting foundations can sometimes be hidden well by sellers, but what cannot be hidden are huge cracks in walls. These could be extremely expensive or impossible to fix. Nothing could be more detrimental to your health than having part of a house collapsing on you.
How to spot it: Look behind pictures and large pieces of furniture for telltale signs of structural problems. In two-storey houses, cracks are often more visible on the upper floors. Just don't buy this one, unless you find some strange pleasure in financial ruin.

Noisy neighbours. Neighbours who run an illegal crèche, or who specialise in all-night drunken brawls, could make your life hell. Lack of sleep and high anxiety levels owing to noise pollution could wreak havoc with your health. Also check how busy roads, railway lines or shops in the area are. Make sure the council is not planning to extend the existing highway to within three meters of your bedroom. These things happen.
How to spot it: Go to the house you're wanting to buy during peak hour traffic time and check how noisy it is. Visit unexpectedly on the last Saturday night of the month to check on the party scene. Check with the council for future building plans in the area.

Faulty floors. Sagging wooden floors or tiles that are trying to part company with the floor they're stuck to, could cost you a fortune and cause a bad fall or two. Replacing floors could be very costly.
How to spot it: Lift loose carpets and check what's going on underneath them. Ask the present owners what type of flooring is under the carpet if it is wall-to-wall.

Heat hell. A house that faces west or which has no ceiling insulation or very low ceilings can be like a hell-hole for the six hottest months of the year. The heat gets trapped under corrugated iron roofs as well, making the house pretty intolerable well after the sun has set. Putting in ceiling insulation is not that expensive, but if the house is badly designed, there is not much you can do. Persistent heat places great strain on your body and could be bad for people suffering from asthma and hypertension.
How to spot it: Go to the house late in the afternoon of a hot day and check the inside temperature. Also check the furniture in the west-facing rooms for signs of serious fading.

Cockroach crisis. While this problem is not terminal if the house is freestanding (in flats the problem could be beyond your control), it could make your life hell. If the cockroaches are breeding on the property, you can call in exterminators (at a price), but if they're in the municipal drainage pipes, there could be a serious problem. A cockroach or two wouldn't pose a serious health problem, but where cockroaches thrive, rats are likely to do so as well.
How to spot it: Open kitchen drawers close to the sink and check for small black droppings that have been left behind by cockroaches. Ask the neighbours if they have a problem. If they do, the cockroaches are more than likely in the municipal drainage pipes. Think twice about this house.

Plumbing problems. These include blocked drains, rusty pipes, old geysers and faulty pipe connections. Fixing these can be expensive, especially if they have already done damage to the house. Needless to say, blocked toilets and overflowing outside drains pose huge health hazards.
How to spot it: Look for telltale signs of water damage against walls or on floors. Water stains on wooden floors or curling tiles could be telling you what you want to know. Check the outside drains. Ones that have a foul odour or are of the ancient cement-type could be problematic. Strange water and rust marks on the ceilings of the first floor could be a dead giveaway of piping problems.

Wiring woes. Electricity certificates, paid for by the seller, are sometimes unreliable. Needless to say wiring problems could deliver you a nasty electric shock, or even burn the house down.
How to spot it: Frayed wires, loose wires, ancient electrical boxes, endless trains of extension wires leading from room to room are all signs that something is amiss in wireland.

Mouldy mess. Mould growing on bathroom or kitchen ceilings and on inside or outside walls can cause great difficulties for people with allergies or respiratory problems. The mould spores released into the air can irritate people's respiratory tracts. Mould also only grows in damp or badly ventilated areas.
How to spot it: Check the bathroom for green or grey marks on the walls or ceilings around the bath and the shower. Grey spots often indicate the presence of mould.

Wrecked roof. A roof that's leaking or hanging on by a thread could damage your possessions severely. Same goes for leaking gutters. Do you think this roof will withstand the onslaught of a vicious southeaster?
How to spot it: Watermarks on the ceilings are a dead giveaway of a leaking roof. Check whether sections of the roof look newer than the rest – it means that parts have already had to be replaced. Spot the holes in an ancient corrugated iron roof by looking into the roof during daytime and checking for spots of sunlight shining through.

Beetle blues. While the presence of woodborer in the floors might not impact directly on your health, it could cause a great deal of anxiety. A bad case of termites or woodborers or beetles could eventually make the floor collapse.
How to spot it: Check for little holes in the wood, about 1mm across. Woodborers also deposit little heaps of wood dust on the floors, which are easily spotted.

Pollution problems. Before you sign on the dotted line for your dream home, just check whether there isn't a problem in the area with exhaust fumes off the highway, a refinery, a nearby industrial area, a tannery or a sewerage plant. All of these could exacerbate or cause lung problems – especially in children.
How to spot it: Check the area for industrial activity, or go to the area on a windfree day to see and smell how clean the air is.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated January 2013)


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