Buyer beware of rats, rot and rogues!

courtesy of Western Port News, published May 2012.

Stuart Bitters’s workplace sometimes resembles an episode of Man vs. Wild with Edward Michael “Bear” Grylls with tales of hair-raising adventure and the odd dangerous encounter. While trying to give the thumbs-up on properties his clients considered buying, Mr Bitters has had a redback spider up his leg, disturbed rat nests, been sandwiched in a four-inch subterranean cavity and had a roof’s supporting beam disintegrate “almost bringing the whole thing down on an old seaside bungalow a client was about to put a deposit on”. Following years of drought and, more recently, two years of rain deluge, some older houses are starting to show the effect of our unpredictable weather.

Mr Bitters has been a carpenter and property inspector on the Mornington Peninsula for more than 25 years and can’t remember a time when the natural elements have conspired so greatly to reduce the foundation capacity of bayside homes. He lists three things that cause unease: wild weather, increased vermin and rogue building inspectors. “It’s unprecedented. Most houses expand and contract marginally, but sometimes I’ve been under a house and found significant shifts in the foundations. This invariably leads to leaky water pipes, cracks and unstable walls.

Over the past summer, from Flinders to Seaford, Mr Bitters’s company South Metro Inspections has found significant water leaks caused by drought and rain. Houses are moving all the time. Water stains on ceilings and around skirting boards, especially in basements, have led us to excavation work that reveal sometimes multiple leaking pipes and occasionally unstable.

Qualified check: Building inspector Stuart Bitters says it is important to hire “people you can trust”.

Foundations. Rising damp and mould are other issues of concern. I had one family forced out of their home near the beach in Shoreham by mould that required a month-long renovation to eliminate. “It had got to the point where the owners felt constantly sick – making the house virtually uninhabitable. “Leave these things unchecked and they become big problems.” Across the region, it’s not just cracking that is the worst scenario. “I’ve been under the fl oor and discovered nests of sometimes over a dozen rats. Rats are invading houses as changing weather conditions lead to rising numbers of rodents. “Biologists are now talking about a plague, yet most people remain ignorant. There are definitely heaps more vermin around these days.

“When I show a client a video or photo from under their home they are quite traumatised by what they see.” Mr Bitters says dodgy building inspections are another thing on the rise. “When you feel things just aren’t right, it is so important to have an inspection done by people you can trust. I’ve had clients experience trouble after having one of these ‘cowboys’ look over their property. “They ring me and are invariably shocked to learn that literally anyone can do a building inspection with no need for any qualifications, no experience and no insurance or building fault knowledge.” Across the peninsula there are concerns with construction work on new homes approved by inexperienced inspectors who don’t have adequate knowledge to see faults or potential

Problems. “The seriousness of this should not be underestimated,” Mr Bitters said. “An insurer may be able to deny cover in circumstances where work has been carried out by an unregistered person simply because of the fact that legislation requires them to be registered.” Mornington Peninsula Shire has an environment protection unit within its building planning department. While it does not have a building inspection register, it does recommend residents and potential home buyers conduct a careful check before they employ anyone. There are rogue operators out there and it is important to do your homework to ensure your most valuable asset is inspected by someone well qualified.