Sinking House

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When 50-year-old Selina Simmons re-entered the property market she didn't expect to be left picking up the pieces of a broken home, and a broken heart...

Two years ago, the single mum invested in this modest two-bedroom house in Tarlee an hour or so north of Adelaide... She thought she'd made all the right checks - paying $700 for a building inspection by a licensed builder.

“I thought we had a professional come in and he had a building license so I thought that what he was writing must have been fact… and the last sentence in the actual report states this house has many good years of service to come so I thought I'm okay, I'm alright,” says Selina.

But the situation was far from okay...

“I started noticing some movement in the bathroom external wall but at first I thought it was me, that I was imagining things... At the time I also got my water bill and it was 3 times the amount of any other water bill so that kind of made us think that there'd been a major water leak,” says Selina.

Another building inspection proved she was right... Just two years on and her supposedly near-perfect home has become a sinking nightmare… The whole back-half of the house is leaning and it's dropped 22mm.

“As you see, the copper piping goes to plain old every day plastic pvc piping which over time can just disintegrate… that’s illegal, it's something that shouldn't have been done,” explains Selina.

Unbelievable and it wasn't something that was spotted by the building inspector?

“Not at all… he's not mentioned it at all,” says Selina.

The leaks from those pipes is causing the house to sink?

“That's right… well if you think it's bad here you'll want to see inside… come through Fran…

Oh yeah you feel it leaning straight away don't you?

“Yep and you can see this door, it shuts on its own… you can see it too with the fridge, it’s leaning and it's getting more of a lean,” says Selina.

It'd be interesting cooking in this kitchen!

“For sure cooking is fun because on the stove if I'm cooking with oil or anything, the oil ends up all in the back of the pan so it's interesting… yeah leaning house of Tarlee,” says Selina.

Three seperate plumbing and engineering assessments have since picked up the dodgy plumbing and excessive water leaks not mentioned in her first report.

“I really don't' believe he did his job properly because if he'd done his job properly he would have detected the plumbing, it’s so obvious, some of it's held together by string,” says Selina.

Now she'll have to fork out tens of thousands of dollars to fix this mess but working six days a week just to cover her mortgage leaves little left over...

“We've gone from me thinking it's about $15 to $20 grand to 30, to now it's $75,000,” says Selina.

To make matters worse, her insurer RAA says it won't cover faulty workmanship but only damage caused by a "defined event". It's advised Selina to fix the plumbing before it can re-assess her property and only then will they consider her claim.

“How can they turn around and say now we might pay for it but if we do it will be retrospectively and in the meantime I'm meant to spend $75,000 with a maybe they'll pay it back,” says Selina.

“Unfortunately anyone can become a building inspector, there's no regulated system that preludes anybody,” says Cameron Fraser from Archicentre.

Cameron urges home buyers to do their homework. Make sure the inspector is a licensed architect or builder, has qualifications and is registered with a reputable organisation.

“For instance the Institute of Architects or the Master Builders or the HIA, checking that they've got insurances as well to back up their inspections so if for some reason they miss something you're not left carrying the can for an expensive change,” explains Cameron.

“At the end of the day I'd rather have spent to have two or three reports and be 110 per cent sure,” says Selina.

Selina's only option now is to take legal action against the previous owner... That's what happened in this case when the new owner of a double story house had to spend more than $140,000 to fix the massive white ant damage which was also missed in their building inspection.

After taking legal action against the vendor, the real estate agent and the inspector, the matter was settled in favour of the new owner… Selina's hoping for a similar outcome.

“Mentally, it's probably shattered me and emotionally I guess I've become a bit of a hermit… I guess I question what kind of people are out there,” says Selina.

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