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Does your dream home have a downside?  Find out how to cope with three of the most common property problems

Buying a house is a nerve-racking time so when you factor in issues such as a main road or termite damage, many house hunters simply shut the front door and move on. But if you’re after a good deal, those very same problems could be the ticket to your dream home. Some things are obvious. But agents are canny – open for inspections and auctions don’t take place during rush hour, for example. So whether you’re aware of the problem up front or it’s a nasty surprise, don’t despair. Here’s the lowdown on three potentially deal-breaking issues and how to turn a turn-off into a home advantage.

rising damp

What is it? In a nutshell, rising damp is what happens when water from the ground is soaked up through the bricks and mortar  of your walls. It’s normal for your home’s footings to be damp – you just don’t want it coming up the walls. The signs of rising damp include rotten skirting boards, wallpaper that peels from the bottom and damp marks or staining on the wall.

The expert advice: Many older buildings will have slate or bitumen coated products acting as a damp proof course (DPC). This is eventually compromised and turn-of-the-century houses may have no DPC at all. But the first thing a homebuyer needs to establish is that rising damp is definitely the culprit. “You need to eliminate other possible reasons for dampness in the wall, such as moisture from a leaking downpipe or dirt piled up against the outside wall,” says Panel builder Wayd Munro. “Old paint on exterior walls will also allow moisture to be absorbed. Once you’re sure it’s rising damp, you can tackle it. We combat the lack of an effective DPC in one of two ways: we can create a chemical DPC by injecting the sub floor walls with a solution that soaks into the brick and seals it. The advantages of this system are that it tends to be cheaper and can be done from inside the house so it’s not invasive. But if you haven’t moved in yet – or you’re renovating – the second and generally more effective way is to cut a slot in the wall and place a plastic membrane along the wall, forming the DPC. This is done in sections to ensure the wall’s structural integrity. Once you’ve had the DPC installed, you need to let the walls dry out before painting and repairing. This can take weeks or months depending on how extensive the problem was.”

termites

What are they? Termites are tunnelling insects that feed on dead plants and trees. They will devour building timbers and, give them enough time, they’ll literally bring the house down. To make matters worse, your home insurance policy doesn’t cover damage by vermin, including termites.

The expert advice: “If you love the house, you need to look closely at the situation,” says Glenn Dubois from the Australian Pest Control Association (pestcontrol.org.au). “Reputable pest inspectors will use infra-red scanners and moisture meters to find termite activity inside your wall cavities. If there are active termites, you should get an inspection to assess the damage. Be extremely cautious if you’re buying a house with termite damage. It’s on your head unless you can prove the seller has made a fraudulent attempt to disguise the issue – there’s no comeback once your money has changed hands.”

“For absolute termite control in the vast majority of circumstances, I’d recommend a water-based termiticide be used to treat the soil around the perimeter and sub-floor of the building. Termites travelling through treated soil areas will collect and transport the chemical back to the central colony nest to feed others, with the devastating effect of killing all the termites in the colony. Be sure to have the treatment done before you start on any repairs. Don’t stir things up by knocking down walls first – termites haven’t been around for a hundred million years without learning a thing or two. If they sense disturbance in one area, they’ll simply leave and go to another part of the house. Depending on the house, you’ll be looking at between $2000 and $5000 to properly treat and eradicate termites, generally with a six-year warranty.”

traffic noise

What is it? There are bargains to be had if you’re prepared to compromise on location and buying a house on a busy road or under a flight path can save you thousands. But is it worth the savings?

The expert advice: It’s very hard to make an old house totally soundproof, but there are steps you can take to reduce the noise. “Fit solid-core timber doors with acoustic seals around the edges,” says Wayd. “Choose thick glass for the windows and replace the putty to stop any rattling. Secondary glazing will help enormously – as long as there’s a reasonable gap between the glass layers you should be able to reduce the noise a lot. These fixes should mean any traffic noise is more in the background rather than in your living room.” And what about outside? A thick hedge should work wonders, right? “Tight, dense screens such as conifers will absorb a small amount of noise,” says garden designer Peter Fudge. “Most conifers do best in full sun – I like Juniperus chinensis ‘Keteleeri’ or Camellia sasanqua. Small-leaf plants do better as they let less noise penetrate. But really, planting won’t noticeably reduce noise but will remove a busy road from sight.”

The advice provided is of a general nature and should be treated as a starting point. Be sure to seek advice to meet regulations and suit your own circumstances.

Want more property advice? Here’s what you should know:

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