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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Make building inspections common practice

By New Straits Times

Faulty piping, rotting panels and cracking walls. These are just some of the many faults that can arise as a result of shoddy workmanship.

For these reasons and more, it is high time building inspection be made a mandatory part of the house purchasing process, say industry watchdogs.

"Buying a house is perhaps the most important and most expensive investment most Malaysians will ever make," said Eastern Regional Organisation for Planning and Human Settlements (Earoph) secretarygeneral Khairiah Talha.

"However, this all too often turns out to become a buyer's biggest nightmare... just because he or she doesn't have the expertise to suss out or foresee inconspicuous defects before signing on the dotted line."

Pointing out that this is as likely to happen in new housing projects delivered under the highly encouraged Build- Then-Sell scheme as it is with purchasing a used unit from the secondary market, she said "building inspections are important because professional inspectors know exactly what to look for".

"They have the trained eye to identify faults disguised by cosmetic improvements, which may be missed by laymen."

According to Khairiah, this is why the country's real estate industry needs to emulate the likes of Singapore, Australia and several European nations that have made pre-purchase building inspection common practice.

In Australia, buildings are even graded based on a professional building inspector's report.

These inspectors are guided by strong codes of ethics that are set by the national Inspection of Building Standards and upheld by regional building inspection institutes.

"It is important to note that home inspectors in Australia are also held accountable for their reports," said Khairiah.

"Buyers are protected by law and insurance indemnity is taken out by the inspectors to safeguard them from any consequences arising from misleading reports... this is the kind of structure I hope can be implemented in our country."

Typically, she said a thorough inspection should pinpoint:
- Structural cracking or deformities on walls, roofs and floors;
- Dampness leading to rotting or unsound structure;
- Damage to timber caused by fungal decay, wood borers, termites or by industrial chemicals;
- Defective plumbing and drainage systems; and
- Superficial repair work.

In addition, the home inspector's report will estimate the cost of remedying any defects found.

ArchiCentre, the building advisory service of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects set up in 1981 to assist home buyers, new home builders and renovators, says in its website ( that house buyers are often deceived by "cover up jobs aided by DIY products".

Its head Robert Caulfield said many cover-ups are "effective because prospective buyers don't know what to look for, and where".

"They fail to understand cost of these hidden problems... a house that looks perfect the untrained eye may be some hiding some nasty surprises."

Common "weapons of deception" include the use of inferior gap fillers, wall panelling, or newly painted surfaces.

Cover-ups can even take form of strategically placed furniture, potted plants and rugs.

Earoph's Khairiah pointed out that in countries such as Singapore, Australia and the United Kingdom, the job of inspecting buildings typically falls on the shoulders architects, civil and structural engineers, or building surveyors who also have an architectural or engineering degree as well.

Although Malaysia has not made building inspection mandatory, there nevertheless are a few architectural and building survey firms that offer such a service.

However, the use of their inspection service is not widespread and the extent of the checks they conduct is usually limited to a client's specific request.

This is largely because the cost involved can be hefty - especially in the case of large properties and commercial buildings.

An advocate for the wider use of the service is architect and BIS Building Inspection Services principal Akbal Singh Sandhu, who believes the cost of the exercise is one reason why the service is commonly relegated to the "unessential" tray (see sidebar).

But, he says, the money spent "can ultimately save property buyers thousands of ringgit or more".

"House buyers in Malaysia need to be educated about their rights... they have to be made aware of the issues they face, and they have to demand quality for the huge sums of money they are paying for their property," he said.

Akbal, who has to date inspected more than 1,000 buildings around the country, pointed out that "buyers who don't consider defects and shoddy workmanship as important are allowing themselves to be short-changed".

Building surveyors, he explained, can provide the expert eye buyers need when deciding on a property to buy because they are familiar with building by-laws and knowledgeable about various building guidelines.

These range from the specified heights and lengths for staircases to the amount of ventilation a room should have.

Despite the cost issue, Akbal said he is confident the use of building inspection services will grow as the nation becomes more industrialised and the people more sophisticated.

Issues pertaining to quality, he said, have already been making headlines and it is only be a matter of time before buyers "naturally engage professionals for advice before making a major purchase".

Echoing Akbal's sentiments, is Specialised Surveying Solutions Sdn Bhd operations and liaison director Leon Hamid, who said more and more buyers are realising the need for expert help before confirming their purchasing decision.

Since his company was set up in March last year, its clientele has increase from two to eight a month, with inquiries increasing by 20 per cent.

Service users are mostly young professionals and firsttime buyers in their 30s and 40s.

"If you're buying from the secondary market, home inspection is important," advised Hamid.

"It can shed light on the amount you should be prepared to pay for repairs, or even save you from a disastrous purchase.

"If you're buying from the primary market, an inspector's report can be used to hold developers accountable for any shoddy workmanship."

National House Buyers Association (HBA) secretarygeneral Chang Kim Loong agrees that building inspections can save the buyer from unnecessary heartaches.

It can also serve as an effective tool to promote greater accountability among developers, he said, and is willing to put his association behind any move to make building inspection common practice in Malaysia.

"Several parties are lobbying for this... besides HBA, they include the Institute of Surveyors Malaysia," he said.

"Most people are under the mistaken belief that local councils issuing Certificates of Fitness for Occupation or professionals awarding Certificates of Completion and Compliance are able to ferret out defects and shoddy workmanship, but this is not true.

"Their duties are to ensure that no by-law or safety issues have been violated. The local council officers and building professionals are not quality assurance officers, nor do they have that kind of authority.

"The best way to have peace of mind is to engage an independent party to make sure the property you buy will bring pleasure instead of pain."

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