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Home buyers

Features to look for in a property

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. Here are some things every home buyer should think about.

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Know what makes a safer home

Certain features can make some homes more susceptible to damage in a natural disaster.

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There are steps you may be able to take to improve the strength or safety of some of these features. You’ll want to know the potential cost and time involved in this work before making your offer on a home. 

Also take into consideration the natural hazards associated with where you’re looking to buy.

Check the following features when you’re house-hunting.

Foundations

A home’s foundations should be in good condition and its parts well connected to each other and the ground. If a house isn’t secured to its foundations it’s more likely to move during an earthquake or flood.

Foundations explains the different types of foundations and what to look for. 

Roofs and walls

Homes with lightweight, well secured roofs are likely to be safer in an earthquake or storm. Different types of wall construction also behave differently in natural disasters.

Roofs and walls provides some basic checks for roofs and explains how different wall types may perform.

Chimneys

If you’re considering a home with a chimney, is it a lightweight metal flue or does it need replacing? In an earthquake, tall, unbraced chimneys made from brick or concrete are more likely to suffer damage or collapse. 

Chimneys explains what to check and what’s involved with replacing or removing a chimney.
 

Chimney damage to a house. Fix. Fasten. Don’t Forget.
A brick chimney that collapsed through the roof during the 2013 Seddon earthquake

Slopes and retaining walls

There are specific things to look for if you’re buying a property on a slope. You want to make sure retaining walls are well constructed and maintained, including ones on the boundary or outside the property.

All retaining walls are important, but you need to be particularly aware of big, structurally important walls when buying a home. Well-designed, well-constructed retaining walls that are in good condition are more likely to withstand a natural disaster.

Slopes and retaining walls has information about what to look for, including information about what happens if a retaining wall fails. 

House design

Even smaller earthquakes can be damaging to a home depending on its design, construction and the land it sits on. Certain house design features make some homes more susceptible to damage, including:

  • houses on slopes with large open internal spaces, large windows along one wall and a lot fewer windows on the back wall
  • houses with irregular design shapes or several split levels.

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

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

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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.

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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?

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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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.

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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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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.

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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.

Insurance

Your new home is likely to 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).This will give you automatic cover from EQC (EQCover) for your home, land and contents.

Your insurance has more information about EQCover, what to check with your private insurance, and how to work out what a rebuild might cost.  

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.

You can find accredited building inspectors on the Building Officals Institue of NZ 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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Before you buy

  • Add the features that make a home safer from natural disasters, to your checklist. Organise a home inspection report by an appropriately qualified professional 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.
Home buyers guide
(PDF 1.7MB)

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