Home buyers
Home buyers guide
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Every home is different

There’s a lot to think about when buying a new home and top of your list might not be how it will stand up to a natural disaster. But natural disasters do happen and all New Zealand homes are at some risk of damage. Here are some things every home buyer should think about.

Icon - The importance of location

The importance of location

New Zealand is at risk of many types of natural disaster. Before you buy, find out which natural disasters are most relevant to the property you’re buying and how the risk of damage may be reduced.

Understand a home's natural disaster risk

Landslips

Landslips are one of the most common natural disasters to affect residential properties in New Zealand.

A home built on a hill, or near a steep hill, could be affected by landslips due to an earthquake or heavy rain from a storm. As well as checking slopes and retaining walls on the property, consider whether a landslip on neighbouring land might affect you.

Contact the local council as they may have information about areas that are more susceptible to landslips.

Love a home? Check to see if the location could be affected by landslips.
Homes affected by a landslip

Earthquakes

All parts of New Zealand are at risk of earthquakes and some regions are at higher risk, as shown on the map below. These areas are close to the boundary where the Australian and Pacific Plates meet and earthquakes are more common.

Every earthquake is different and the way the land moves can affect how a building might perform.

What’s the earthquake risk for your home
Earthquakes and houses

Even smaller earthquakes can be damaging to a home depending on its design, construction and the land it sits on. Pay particular attention to features like chimneys, foundations and retaining walls, noting their construction and quality.

Certain features could make some homes more susceptible to damage. These include:

  • houses on slopes with large open internal spaces, large windows along one wall and a lot fewer windows on the back wall
  • pole houses on slopes with limited foundation bracing
  • houses with more than one type of foundations (for example, concrete slab foundations as well as timber piles)
  • houses with irregular design shapes or several split levels
  • double skin brickwork and unreinforced concrete block walls.

If you’re interested in a home with these features, ask a structural or geotechnical engineer to assess the level of risk.

Love a home? Check the foundation quality and type.
Damage to a home with two foundation types, following the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake.
Earthquakes and land

When thinking about earthquakes, find out if the land on which the home is situated could be affected by:

  • liquefaction (where liquid, sand and silt rise up from the ground)
  • lateral spread (where land which has liquefied land pulls apart or cracks)
  • changes in level or landslips

Check with the local or regional council for information on areas of land that might be at greater risk of earthquake damage.

A property with land damage following the Kaikoura earthquake
Land damage following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. Image: Tonkin+Taylor

Find out more about the types of land damage in the earthquake hazards section of BRANZ’s Seismic Resilience website.

Flooding

Floods can cause significant damage and homes in low-lying areas near waterways are generally more at risk. How vulnerable a home is to flood damage depends on its floor level in relation to the predicted flood level.

Ask the local or regional council for a flood plain map, usually available free of charge. This will show whether the property you’re interested in is in an area at risk of flooding. You could also order a Land Information Memorandum (LIM) report from the local council.  

EQC insures a defined area of residential land on which a home is situated for flood and storm damage in circumstances where there is a current private insurance policy for the home that includes fire insurance (and most do). 

Flood damage and what EQC covers
Edgecumbe homes with flood damage
Flooding in Edgecumbe 2017

Tsunami

The likelihood of a severe tsunami affecting New Zealand is low, but even a small tsunami can affect properties in low-lying areas. If you’re thinking of buying a home close to the coast or near a river, find out if it is in a tsunami zone.

Some councils use blue lines on roads to mark how far a large tsunami may reach. Contact the local council or civil defence emergency management office to find out more about tsunami for the area you’re interested in.

Find out more about Tsunami and their effectson the GNS Science website.

Quick fact - coastal homes

Volcanic eruptions

New Zealand is an active volcanic region and while eruptions (and the earthquakes that often precede them) are rare, they are also unpredictable.

Damage to homes from volcanic activity could come in the form of falling ash, lahar (mudflows), pyroclastic flows (a flowing mass of hot gas and rock), landslips and fire. Most damage is likely to affect homes near an active volcano, but wind can spread ash over large distances causing damage to homes outside of volcanic zones.

New Zealand’s volcanic centres are well known and shown in the map below. Check with the local or regional council for information on whether the area where you wish to buy is at greater risk of damage.

Read about New Zealand’s volcanoes on the GNS Science website.

The North Island’s volcanic zones map

Hydrothermal activity

Most of New Zealand’s hydrothermal activity occurs in the North Island’s Taupo Volcanic Zone, an area that extends from White Island to Mt Ruapehu. Hydrothermal activity poses risks to homes and land from hydrothermal eruptions, ground subsidence and emissions of gas.

When viewing a property, watch for warning signs of hydrothermal activity, such as:

  • patches with grass dying
  • unusually warm or cracked hard surfaces, such as paths and driveways
  • holes or steam from the ground or hot surface and groundwater.
The Taupo volcanic zones map

Before you buy

  • Ask the local council for information that might help you understand any natural disaster risks associated with the property.
  • Talk to your lawyer about the advice they can provide on documents you receive and what other information you might need.
  • Check with your private insurer as to what level of cover may be available for the location and type of home you’re interested in.
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Chimneys and roofs

While you’re having a good look around a prospective property make sure you look up, too.

More about chimneys and roofs

In an earthquake, chimneys may crack, move or collapse, and heavy roof tiles can fall or shatter – potentially causing damage to property and people.

Some things to look for

  • Tall, unbraced chimneys made from brick or concrete masonry – these are usually found in houses built before the 1970s.
  • Cracks in the chimney, leaning and twisting of the chimney, loose or broken bricks, loose masonry or plaster.
  • Heavier style roof tiles made from concrete, terracotta or slate that are not fixed to the supporting framing.
Chimney damage to a house. Fix. Fasten. Don’t Forget.
A brick chimney that collapsed through the roof during the 2013 Seddon earthquake

Fixing chimneys and roofs

Chimneys can be removed or braced to make them more secure. Brick or concrete chimneys may be replaced with lighter and stronger materials that look the same as heavy construction materials but pose less risk of falling.

Heavy roof tiles may be secured to the roof framing using wire, metal clips, nails or screws. Heavy roof cladding may be replaced with lighter weight material like corrugated iron or light tiles.

Work on chimneys and roofs are usually jobs for experts. Contact a licensed building practitioner or engineer to get an idea of the work involved.

You’ll find information about hiring licensed building practitioners  on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) website.

Quick fact – roof tiles need to be well secured

Before you buy

  • Organise a home inspection report by an appropriately qualified professional such as independent building surveyor or structural engineer to assess and identify possible issues.
  • Check local council files on the property to ensure any building or construction work has appropriate consents and ask your lawyer to review these.
  • Consider the potential cost of any construction or repair work needed and talk with your lawyer about how this might affect your offer.
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Icon - Natural disaster foundations

Foundations

Every home has foundations. But not every home has foundations that are secure and in good condition. 

More about foundations

A house should be well connected to its foundations and those foundations need to be well connected to the ground. If a house isn’t secured to its foundations it’s more likely to move during an earthquake or flood.

House foundations may be concrete slab on grade or suspended timber floors on pile foundations (typical of older houses and houses with mixed types of foundations).  

Some things to look for in concrete slab foundations

Try to get information on the construction of the concrete slab, including whether it is reinforced. You may be able to find this information in the local council property file. If the home is on land that might be at risk of liquefaction in an earthquake, check with an engineer about what this could mean for the home.

Some things to look for in pile foundations

  • Check there are connections between the joists, bearers and piles and that those connections are in good condition (not loose, rusted or broken). 
  • Check piles are standing straight, are evenly supporting the bearers and haven’t been exposed by ground movement.

  • Check piles aren’t showing any signs of degradation (rot or borer for timber piles, cracking or crumbling for concrete piles).

  • Check piles are properly braced, with diagonal timber braces between the piles and bearers or joists.

Securing, repairing or replacing pile foundations

If you decide to buy a home with pile foundations that need securing, you may be able to complete this work yourself. Special fixings such as wire, bolt or bracket bearers are available from building suppliers that can be fitted to existing concrete and timber piles. 

Repairing or replacing degraded pile foundations and adding bracing are jobs for experts. Get advice from a licensed building practitioner or structural engineer to find out more about the work involved.

You’ll find information about hiring licensed building practitioners  on Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s website.

Before you buy

  • Organise a home inspection report by an appropriately qualified professional such as independent building surveyor or structural engineer to assess and identify possible issues.
  • Check local council files on the property to ensure any building or construction work has appropriate consents and ask your lawyer to review these.
  • Consider the potential cost of repairs needed and talk with your lawyer about how this might affect your offer on a house.
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Icon - Retaining walls

Retaining walls and slopes

Retaining walls are important; pay particular attention of big, structurally important walls when buying a home.

More about retaining walls and slopes

Well-designed, well-constructed retaining walls that are in good condition are more likely to withstand a natural disaster.

Land movement due to earthquakes can have a significant impact on retaining walls, causing them to move, crack or even fail. Inadequate drainage may cause excess water to build up behind a wall during heavy rain from a storm – potentially causing the wall to fail or collapse.

Some things to look for

Retaining walls

  • Check retaining walls for any cracks, bowing, bulging, tilting or leaning and that weep holes are not blocked. These things may mean there’s a problem that needs to be investigated by a geotechnical engineer.
  • Check overland drainage doesn’t direct stormwater into and over the retaining wall.  
  • Some retaining walls may have required building consent before they were constructed (for example, if they’re supporting land that has a building built upon it). Depending on a wall’s age and size, local council property files may tell you whether it has appropriate consents.

Slopes

  • Check the slope above a retaining wall. Is it steep? Does it show signs of instability (for example, bulging, cracking and leaning trees)? If so, you may want to get advice from a geotechnical specialist.
  • Check slopes are planted as vegetation generally adds stability to a slope through the drying out and reinforcement effects of the tree or plant roots.
  • If the property has a big soil bank without a retaining wall, get advice from a geotechnical engineer about whether it needs one. 

Quick fact – retaining walls can be larger than you think

Repairing or replacing damaged retaining walls

Repairing or replacing a retaining wall, especially if it’s large, can be a big job and may require building or resource consent. For an accurate idea of what’s involved, talk to a structural or geotechnical engineer.

Be aware of retaining walls (and their condition) that are on the boundary between properties. There may be added complexity with different owners, insurance companies and policies if these need repair or replacement.

Find a qualified engineer  on Engineering New Zealand’s website.

Retaining walls, bridges and culverts covered by EQC

Before you buy

  • Organise a home inspection report by an appropriately qualified professional such as an independent building surveyor or engineer to assess and identify possible issues.
  • Check local council files on the property to ensure retaining walls over 1.5m high have appropriate consent and ask your lawyer to review these.
  • Check with the local council to see if they have information on whether the property could be susceptible to landslips – which a new retaining wall could help mitigate.
  • If you’re buying a home that needs repairs to a retaining wall, or a new wall built, you’ll want to think about the potential cost. Talk with your lawyer about how this might affect your offer.
  • Find out who would be responsible for repairing or replacing walls that border neighbouring properties.
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Units, townhouses and apartments

If you’re thinking about buying a unit, townhouse or apartment, you might need to consider different things to a standalone house.

More about units, townhouses and apartments

Understand what’s involved with shared property ownership

Units or townhouses, where there is a shared property ownership arrangement, can raise complex issues when it comes to thinking about repair or rebuild following a natural disaster. Some reasons for the complexity are:

  • each unit or townhouse may have varying degrees of damage
  • owners may have different private insurers and levels of insurance for their unit or townhouse
  • where units or townhouses are physically joined, multiple owners may need to agree on a repair or rebuild strategy before work can begin following a natural disaster.

There are many other details to consider, so seek legal advice to help clarify the nature of the ownership arrangement and your rights and obligations before you buy a shared property.

Is the apartment building up to standard?

Is it up to standard?

Ask the real estate agent or vendor if they have any information about the strength or construction of the building, including what percentage of the New Building Standard (NBS) it meets. Your council may also have this information.

If an apartment building is listed on a council register as ‘earthquake prone’ it may require strengthening in the near future to bring it up to the standard, which may be costly. Councils are now required to assess the earthquake prone level of all buildings that are two or more storeys high and include three or more residential units. 

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Insurance, reports and legal advice

Sometimes the list of things to think about when buying a home can seem overwhelming. But as this may be one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make, it’s important to be well informed before putting in an offer.

Read more

Seek advice from appropriately qualified professionals such as building surveyors, chartered professional engineers and lawyers. They can help you get the information you need and to think about what’s most relevant for your situation.

Private insurance

Your new home might be your most valuable asset. To protect it against damage or loss caused by natural disasters you need to purchase private insurance for your home that includes fire insurance (most policies do).

One of the most important things to consider is how much it will cost to rebuild your home should it suffer significant damage from a natural disaster. Deciding on this number can be complicated as there are many different factors to consider such as the types of material used and cost of demolition.

Online calculators can help estimate your rebuild cost, but for greater certainty ask a registered quantity surveyor, builder or architect to provide an estimate.

Find out more about insurance and purchasing a home on the Insurance Council of New Zealand website.

EQCover insurance

You will automatically receive some insurance cover from EQC (EQCover) for your home, land and contents under the Earthquake Commission Act if you have private home insurance (that includes fire insurance) at the time of a natural disaster event. EQCover insures against residential loss or damage caused by natural disasters such as earthquakes, landslips, volcanic eruptions, hydrothermal activity and tsunamis. Damage caused by fire as a result of any of those disasters, and some land damage as a result of storms and floods, is also covered.

EQCover is capped, meaning if your home suffers significant natural disaster damage EQC can only pay up to the applicable cap for that natural disaster event. The amount EQC can pay to repair or rebuild your property for an event is generally capped at a maximum of $100,000 (+ GST) per event. For contents, the maximum cap is generally $20,000 (+ GST) per event. Caps for land cover are a bit more complex.

These capped amounts are set in legislation and don’t allow for any discretion, so you will need to talk to your private insurer about what natural disaster damage they will cover over EQC’s capped amounts.

What you’re covered for

Tips – New Zealand landslip damage

Builder’s reports

It’s a good idea to get a builder’s report (also called property inspections, pre-purchase inspections or building surveys) before purchasing a property. 

A building inspector will assess the home, or particular features of the home, and prepare a report for you. Make sure you know what they will include in their inspection and ask for a sample report so you know what to expect. Check that they’ll consider how chimneys, foundations and retaining walls might perform or be affected by a natural disaster. Ask them to comment on the maintenance of the house.

Find out all you need to know about property inspection reports and hiring an inspector on the Real Estate Agents Authority website.

LIM reports

Local councils provide Land Information Memorandum (LIM) reports – usually for a fee. A LIM report will have historical and current information that the local council has on a property, including:

  • potential erosion, subsidence or slippage of land
  • risk of flooding
  • any consents, notices, orders or requisitions affecting the land or buildings.

You can ask your lawyer to explain any important issues or potential problems that might arise from the LIM report. LIM reports can take a few days to receive - check with the council for current turnaround times.

Legal advice

Your lawyer can help with obtaining and reviewing any relevant information about a property. Make sure you understand the scope of the advice they will provide so that you are clear about the work your lawyer will do for you, and which aspects you need to look after.
 

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Buying a home that's had an EQC claim

Find out whether the home has had an EQC claim, and what to be aware of if a property claim is being transferred.

Read more

Ask the vendor or real estate agent whether the home has had an EQC claim. If it has, ask for more information about the claim including whether it has been resolved or not, and seek legal advice before you sign an agreement for the purchase of the home. You can ask the real estate agent anything you want to know about the property. They can’t withhold any information they know. 

See Transferring a property claim to someone else for information about what homebuyers need to be aware of, and what EQC needs, when transferring an EQC claim as part of a property purchase.

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