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Guide to Buying a Pre-Owned House

Alvin bought a pre-owned house within Cebu City. It wasn’t really that old. The previous owners lived in it for just about a year before they decided to give it up to transfer to another country for good. Being in a nice subdivision owned by a local but well known developer, they simply jumped into the deal without double checking the state of the house.

It was only when they moved in when they noticed defects in the plumbing. Trying to save on the repairs, they asked the help of an untrained person to fix the matter. The problem, however, persisted. Pretty soon, they had to ask the help of a professionally trained plumber.

Weeks later, an appliance which had a big electrical requirement blew up and was beyond repair. The repair man told them the problem was with their electrical wiring. They again implored the help of an individual ill trained for the task to save on the cost. Luckily, they had a friend who had some electrical engineering background who visited their place. Having been told about the recent incident, their electrician friend double checked the wirings only to find out that the old ones, as well as, the new wires which were installed were not the right size. There was similarly a problem with the specifications of the circuit breaker. Had this not been discovered, this would have possibly caused great damage should a fire break out because of these substandard materials.

Bad Way to Save

“Cebuanos have a penchant for spending the least that they can on things to the extent of employing persons without the proper training or using substandard materials,” says Jude Gorgio, a contractor with experience in building and house maintenance since 1994. In the end, their safety most often is at risk. In most cases, they end up paying double when they realize they have to replace the cheap materials they originally used.

Actually, such dangerous cost cutting practices are actually done by contractors with or without the knowledge of those who hired them. In fact, Alvin’s house mentioned above is just a year old and is located in a supposedly good middle class subdivision in Cebu City. How much more with old houses?

Seek Professional Help

While one may say that a person who disregards his family’s and his own safety does need professional psychological help, when buying a second hand house, all you really need is an architect to do the job. You will need him or her to assess the condition of the house, identify safety issues, and estimate the cost of doing repairs. 

You will be surprised to find out that actually many architects actually ask P500.00 for consultancy services, per visit or appearance, that is. For a simple two storey house, it won’t take more than half a day for the professional to give you a recommendation.  Others even give this service for free hoping you would contract them to do the repairs.

There are actually several aspects to examine when buying a house. There is the structural, electrical, plumbing, roofing, and other aspects. Would the architect suffice considering that these other fields require their corresponding expertise? Actually, architect should have a general idea of all of the aspects in building and maintaining a house. This is especially true with practicing architects who are also involved in monitoring construction as opposed to being merely armchair practitioners designing houses from their desks.

As construction generalists, they should be able to see if there are any aspects of the house which will need some attention. Usually, they will refer specific matters to the specialists if necessary, especially on questions on structural soundness and on the condition of the electrical set up.

What to Look For

The most common noticeable problems of an old house are the hairline cracks that appear in the walls, poor plumbing, and the use of sub-standard electrical wiring materials. 

Hairline cracks could be tedious to correct, because these will require repainting after covering the cracks. While this doesn’t pose any structural danger, it is not a good sight to see and lessens the perceived value of your house. These cracks occur mostly because the right mix of water and cement was not followed during house construction. If the mixture is too diluted, hairline cracks are expected to occur. Masons have the tendency to use more water than required because it would be less heavy and would make it easier for them to work.

Gorgio tells of a house in which the family used partly for their business. They loaded large equipment in the second floor. They later noticed hairline cracks in the floors up stairs but never realized it was because of the heavy equipment. They had asked a carpenter to cover the cracks but it would just reappear weeks later. It took an architect to diagnose the problem properly. Had it not been so, there was a danger their floor would eventually give way.

Cracks may also be tell tale signs of structural problems which could be very serious defects.  If the structure of your house isn’t sound enough, your house could crumble. Appearance of cracks along the structural beams and posts are what you should be wary of. If these appear, especially in old houses and buildings, it is best to consult a structural engineer to make sure that your house is still safe.

It would be difficult to examine the steel bar reinforcements used in old houses as this would require chipping off the cemented walls and posts. But these are also important safety factors. Moreover, external walls of the house should use, at the least, six inch hollow blocks.

To save, some contractors use electrical wirings which are less than the required size. Many also do not use the right circuit breakers, though in many cases, this is out of the ignorance of some electricians, Gorgio reveals. This may destroy your appliances, if not, cause even bigger damage by making your house susceptible to fire. If you are to skimp on anything, don’t do that with your electrical wirings and electrician, Gorgio advices. You will save more money and lives in the end.

And another important thing which contractors skimp on is the use of PVC pipes to insulate the electrical wirings. This is said to be very important so that the wires are properly insulated and do not touch materials which would otherwise also cause fires. 

There was once this bakery which used baking machine and equipment costing more than a million pesos.  They were rendered perpetually inoperable one day when smoke was noticed emanating from its back portion and burned some of its parts. Upon investigation, Gorgio found out that the wrong circuit breaker specifications were used by a previous electrician, apparently improperly schooled for the task.

As for the plumbing, the stock vent of toilets should be checked.  Many contractors use smaller than required pipes for the stock vent. Stock vents are the pipes that ensure that your toilet flushes properly. Using something that is smaller than necessary makes flushing difficult. Thus when you flush, all you get is a slow circular flow of water, instead of a quick and loud flush when you push the flush lever.

Roofing is another thing that should be checked.  Roofs are often outsourced by contractors to specialists who have the materials and trained labor to install it. They have warranties for these roofs and may repair them if it is still within their warranty period. This may, however, be rarely so for second hand houses since warranties are usually given for a year or so only.

The wood components of the house will also require checking, mostly for termites and its general condition. Replacement or chemical treatment may be required.

“Considering that buying a house is a long term investment requiring a big amount of money, doesn’t it make sense to spend a little extra on a professional to asses it and be surer about your investment?” Gorgio concludes.

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