Open homes are a chance for buyers to look through a property to see if it is suitable, but they’re also a chance for savvy sellers to hide the unsavoury features in their residence.
Buyers may initially look around open homes to get an idea of how they feel about the property, but they should also aim to look for ‘deal breakers’ upfront.
Remember to ask the real estate agent about anything you are uncertain about and be prepared to seek the services of a building and pest inspector as you undertake your due diligence.
Here are five things sellers try to hide and how to spot them.
1) Termite damage
When you’re in a property that has been freshly repainted, look very carefully, warns wHeregroup buyer’s agent Todd Hunter.
‘Painting is the biggest giveaway, especially when one or two rooms in the property have been repainted recently,’ Mr Hunter said.
‘This can conceal a repaired termite-damaged wall or water-leakage problems from a ceiling,’ he said.
Be sure to get a thorough building inspection, including a termite inspection with thermal imaging, to make sure you can see beyond the new coat of colour.
House Search Australia’s Jacque Parker warns fresh paint can also hide mould issues, which are not always obvious to a buyer.
Key things to be on the lookout for are ‘bubbling’ and ‘staining’ on the new paint – get your building inspector to use moisture meters to know what’s happening for sure, Ms Parker said.
2) Structural damage
A big red flag should be raised when you are denied access to to an area of the house, Ms Parker warns.
‘We’ve noticed that, clutter aside, sellers who have something to hide will block [or] lock access to manholes, sub-floor spaces and under-house areas to avoid inspectors being able to accurately report on any issues here,’ she said.
These issues can be wide-ranging, from pest damage and structural damage to drainage issues and poor DIY attempts.
Ask the vendor to make these areas available for your inspector and attend yourself if possible, she said.
3) Rising damp
Dampness and leaking problems usually leave a nasty mildew-type musty smell and astute buyers would be able to pick up on this straightaway, warns Wakelin Property Advisory associate director Jarrod McCabe.
‘Rising damp, dry rot, leaking roofs and rotting stumps often present symptoms that the unscrupulous vendor will try to hide,’ he said.
Some sellers will try to hide these issues with strong-smelling air fresheners.
These smells may make you feel at home, but be on your guard if you suspect they could actually be masking something else.
‘Brewing coffee or baking bread is often touted as a way to make a property seem homely, but the motivation may be more malign – to perfume damp smells,’ Mr McCabe warns.
Managing director of Cohen Handler, Simon Cohen, also warned against strong scents at an open home, including scented candles.
4) Poky spaces
Some rooms are so small as to be unusable, but that won’t stop sellers from trying to convince you otherwise.
Clever styling and furnishings can trick a naive buyer into thinking a space is larger than it is very quickly, chairman of WBP Property Group Greville Pabst warns.
‘Many buyers are not equipped with the experience and information required to interpret and understand the complex factors that make or break a smart property purchase,’ Mr Pabst said.
There’s a big difference between ‘perceived’ space and actual space available.
‘Some pressed vendors will remove furniture or ornaments and hang mirrors to make the space of a property look bigger,’ he said.
Instead, look at the square metres listed or on the floor plan and compare how it stacks up with similar properties you have seen.
If you see fancy new furniture then be on alert, Mr Cohen recommends.
‘New furniture is another really effective way of making an older house look new. It can be difficult for buyers to look beyond the impressive furniture and actually spot the bigger issues with the property,’ he said.
5) Noise and natural light issues
Natural light and noise issues are hard to fix in a home so they’re not looked upon favourably by buyers.
Unsurprisingly, sellers want to make their home seem as quiet, well positioned and brightly lit as possible.
‘Vendors try to hide poor outlooks by keeping blinds down or switch on every light in the hope you don’t notice the poor natural light,’ Mr McCabe said.
Don’t be afraid to open the blinds to take another look and, while you’re there, ask to open the windows. Sellers may be minimising the noise from next door by keeping them shut and playing music, he said.
The noise issue may also be affected by the time of day of an open home – take note of the time of the open for inspection, Mr Pabst recommends.
‘Particularly for buyers that are not local to the area, this is something that can mislead the ill-informed,’ he said.
‘Vendors attempt to sell a certain lifestyle by placing their opens at certain times of the day when traffic is less congested and the area is more quiet.’
Visit the area multiple times at different times of the day and the week to get a more accurate picture of what it would be like to live in the home.