If the great Australian dream is buying a house on the traditional quarter acre block, then the fantasy is renovating it. Reality TV shows such as The Block, House Rules and Selling Houses Australia don't do anything to dispel the illusion.
Simply follow their lead, knock down a few walls, pull up the carpet to reveal original floorboards and a slap on a new lick of paint to transform a house from dull and drab to sleek and sexy. Well, that's the dream. Reality is something different altogether.
While buying the worst house on the best street is an opportunity to add value to a home, it can also result in stress, tears and cost blowouts if you aren't careful.
Before exchanging contracts, it's essential to conduct a pre-purchase inspection report.
Although they aren't mandatory, Philip Connor from Express Building Reports says it can save a lot of heartache and money.
A standard report will set you back around $500 and will tell you the present condition of the property, the structural integrity of the building and what potentially expensive problems you'll be inheriting.
As building inspectors no longer have to be licensed, Philip suggests the best way to find someone reputable is to look for a person with 15 years of practical experience and who is insured.
"My first question would be, are you insured?'' he says. ``If they make a mistake and they're not insured you can't sue them.''
A property inspection on a house reports on the entire property from fence to fence; it's a different story for apartments.
"With a unit you're inspecting only the unit and the immediate surrounding area,'' Philip says. "It can be problematic because you don't inspect lifts or other people's apartments.''
Philip recommends buying a house rather than an apartment, but if you can't afford to, choose a unit in a smaller block.
"You can get a better feel for the history of smaller buildings,'' he says. "Important issues that apply to units include noise and we don't inspect or comment on noise between units.
"The other is fire. If the unit block isn't certified for fire safety, you could be looking at $15,000-$20,000 to certify it.''
Philip says houses built between 1895-1920 can be affected by rising damp, and those built from 1920-1985 can have asbestos.
"One issue that affects all of these houses is drainage,'' he says.
"Rising damp, termites and wood decay fungi are all basically caused by poor drainage, so if you can solve the drainage problem you can often resolve all three issues with one stroke.
"It's inexpensive, just make sure that the water that comes off the roof is taken away from the base of the building using a stormwater system or conservation tank.
Then you'll need some patience.
"Once you resolve the drainage issue, you need to allow at least three to 12 months for the building to start to dry out,'' Philip says.
"Rising damp is like sex; every generation has to find it out for itself,'' Philip says.
"I've been around for so long I assumed everyone knew what rising damp was but that's not the case.''
Rising damp is when moisture seeps up from the ground through porous building materials, such as brick, and up through the walls of the home. It stains the walls, causes paint and wallpaper to peel, rots skirting boards and generates a musty smell.
While it's unpleasant, it's also treatable.
A damp-proof course, made from lead, slate or asphalt, is used to waterproof walls so moisture doesn't penetrate the bricks.
To ensure they do their job, Philip says the soil needs to be kept at least 500mm below the damp-proof course. ``Rising damp rises only to one metre above ground level, however if ground levels are built up it's going to go another metre,'' he says.
Philip says that inspections don't cover asbestos because it's virtually impossible to detect without ripping up the home.
"The company may say, `If we see fibro then we will flag that as most likely containing asbestos,' but here is the catch: there may be a painted surface that you don't flag as fibro, so you might miss it,'' he says. ``There are some fibro materials that do not contain asbestos, but as a general rule, you should always suspect fibro as having it.''
WHEN TO BE CAUTIOUS
Philip says it's important to take a realistic look at the numbers before you buy.
"If you're buying a dump in a bad location, watch out. If it's in a great location, it changes the ballpark rules substantially,'' he says.
Paul Myors, energy efficiency specialist from Ausgrid, says renovations over $50,000 require a BASIX certificate, which measures a home's energy efficiency.
Approximately 60 per cent of a home's energy consumption comes from heating, cooling and hot water systems so a major renovation makes it easier to install insulation, reverse cycle air conditioning and a gas hot water system to reduce bills.
John Rose from TKD Architects believes it pays to be aware of local council requirements before buying, otherwise your dream of turning that single level semi into a split level home could be shattered.
"There are always development control plan differences between councils and that can be the character of an area, heritage or environment,'' he says.
"You have to know the local council code requirements, but having said that, in recent years a number of changes have happened to council codes to bring them into line. It's much easier these days to understand how a building can be placed on a site.''
John has seen an increase in clients asking architects to attend site inspections.
"Most people feel that getting a builder's advice is the most important thing but in reality you need to understand if and how you can make it into the home you want. Inner Sydney is full of cottages 40-80 years old that need a substantial amount of work done,'' he says.
"You need to make a judgment call on what good advice is worth to you. Most people are paying for one or two hours of an architect's time, which is between $150-$500.''
John suggests discovering what you can do to a property without approval before purchasing.
Top 10 costly repairs
David Hallett from Archicentre, archicentre.com.au, lists his top 10 renovation money pits.
Re-stumping:An inspection of the sub-soar area is the only way to tell whether the foundations are solid.
Roofs: A dodgy roof, which includes leaks, scracked roof tiles or poor guttering, can cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair.
Wiring: Blackened power points are an syndicator that the home's wiring is problematic.
Pests: If access hatches to the sub-floor or sceiling are blocked, chances are they could be trying to prevent access which would reveal pest infestations.
Plumbing: Rusted pipes in old homes may shave poor water flow. Check water pressure by having a few taps running to test pressure and see if the water is discoloured.
Painting: If paint has been used to mask a sproblem, you could be up for the cost of repair and repainting.
Plastering: Plastering can be as simple as sminor cracks or major work if restumping a home. Framing: affected by termites will also need replastering.
Rising damp: Damp walls encourage mould and weaken a building's frame.
Guttering and downpipes: Guttering that sis badly fitted, rusted or neglected can cause issues during heavy rains.
Stormwater drains: Underground pipework, including stormwater drains and sewer pipes can be expensive to repair.