First Home Buyer - Structural Issue Vs Flesh Wound?

I am a first home buyer. Currently interested in a duplex that is ~24-28years old. Internally it is well maintained
As part of inspecting the place, I think I have discovered a potential issue with the property, but not being skilled in home maintainance / building, I'm not sure how big an issue this is. My parents think the issue is not a deal breaker. The duplex afaik is torrens? titled. Strata only exists for building insurance. The rest of the property looks well maintained, and is otherwise almost perfect in my eyes

See images for my concern. The door pictured leads to the garage, I have highlighted in red the appearance of what I suspect the be patchwork on potential cracks in ?cementing between bricks. On the positive side, no bricks cracked on the wall.
The other photo shows crack through bricks around the driveway, with slope of ground arrow provided.

I understand I will probably recieve a ton of 'seek professional advice', I have not commited yet to making an offer, but in light of this issue will be getting some sort of building inspection done.
Would like to hear about thoughts on how big an issue this is / what you expect will happen with further wear / potential solutions/costs / issues re duplex and getting things fixed.



  • +5

    Given the age I would expect more cracking. I think its fine.

  • +2

    Where does the driveway drain flow to? These types of cracks are often caused by water softening the ground over several years and the weight of the building slowly sinking into the ground, I don’t think it’s that bad, but well worth getting an inspection, also check the history of the suburb and that it’s not in a mine subsidance area. Is part of the house on piers or slab on the ground? Does it have timber retaining walls?

    • When checking the driveway drain, all I can see is a pipe/drain but cannot determine direction of flow. The pipe is on the far end of photo. There are visible stormwater drains just on the street outside this property, so my assumption was that the driveway drain flows to here. Sewage plans on the draft contract do not mention these drains as far as I could interpret.

      Your idea of sinking building was also my suspicion.

      The draft contract mentioned that it is not a mine subsidence area. All parts of the exterior walls are brick to where it meets the ground which is also brick, so no sign of retaining wall / slabs / piers. What is the implications if it were on piers/slabs / retaining wall?

  • +3

    First pic is normal expansion/shrinkage cracks. Happens to the best of grouting. If the brick itself is cracked (not individual bricks but many in a line), that's a BIG issue.

    Second picture is brick but let's call it pavement because it is used as such. The pavement isn't attached to the building and floats on soil. Soil isn't solid and if water goes under the pavement, it can undermine the substrate. If the pavement is very large, the weight of itself will cause it to crack and sink at certain points.

    If the brick pavement is not the original part of the house and an afterthought (sometimes even if it is part of original), it could be pin point loading against pipes.

    • +2

      I'm not sure the second photo is brick it kinda looks painted on?

      • That's an amazing mural of a brick on the pavement.

        • +2

          It's not brick at all, it's stencilcrete.

          • @afoveht: Just going off the OP's report. Either way, same outcome. It's a paver for all intents and purposes.

            If it cracks and no longer loads flat across the ground, point loading will still damage PVC pipes.

            • +1

              @DisabledUser88699: It's not a paver, it's a slab.

              • @afoveht: I can buy "slabs" that large from my local garden supply.

                And it isn't structural.

                Call it a slab if that makes you happy. It's masonry on ground with no structural loading.

                • +1

                  @DisabledUser88699: It's poured, not placed. You can't buy that at your local garden supply.

                  • @afoveht: How does the garden place make the paver?

                    What's the difference between one poured on site but the ground has shifted, vs one that is placed? (Besides the custom shape which has no relevance).

                    • @DisabledUser88699: They sure don't bring a concrete truck to your place and pour over reo, possibly tying in to other work. Whatever.

                      • @afoveht: Big pavers also have reo or they'll never survive transit.

                        They make pavers at concrete places with leftover stuff.

                        The box up is the same.

  • +3

    First pic is probably from a lazy brickie using cut bricks lying around rather than cutting to perfect size after a bit of a misaligned course. Should be fine.

  • +1

    Definitely knock the whole establishment down and start again. Only way to be sure.

    • +2

      my pedantic detail on existing properties makes this feel like an option, but then you consider the workmanship of your average tradie, and you have no options. So I think I'll live in a cardboard box. Low risk, Low cost. High flexibility

      • DIY.

        You can get it to your exacting standards (provided you have the skill).

  • +3

    OP, I wonder if there are any drainage problems on this site based on the cracking on the path?

    Although I don't want to scare you OP, I'd be just as concerned at this stage about finding out more about your body corp. Most buyers have no idea how badly these can be run, or how few legal rights you have once you've brought into one.

    Based on my experience (in Queensland), it's quite common to find problems with a lack of KPI's for caretakers (making it almost impossible to terminate their contracts), as well as multiple problems related to incompetent committee members managing maintenance (lack of knowledge of the need for remedial works, accepting slack or incomplete quotes from companies that have no business doing the work, and paying contractors for work that was half completed or caused damage to properties). Worst of all, if you have a problem (particularly one that is expensive to fix), you can find that the committee is unwilling to spend the money to fix it and you can end up having to hire a lawyer to force them to act.

    It's incredibly important to find out exactly how your strata is set up, what management arrangements exist, what your bylaws are, and understand the inner workings of your committee before you put an offer in.

    • +1

      +1 on that. I would always try to buy a standalone house.

      • +2

        Will gladly buy standalone house if you've got a spare 400k lying around. Thanks :)

        • Joe Hockey said you just need a decent job :).

          Just an observation I would go to a “lower” suburb to get a stand-alone house. But a unit is better than an apartment.

    • re drainage, what would be the best way to investigate this. In terms of gutters on the property, there is only one that is uphill of the photos which leads to soil. I would have no idea about drainage of toilet/shower/laundry, but all of that stuff is located on the back side of the property and my understanding of the sewage plans, suggests these run parellel against the the back fence. So I would suspect if I were to see issues, I would see it on the back side first/as well.

      re legality, this is probably where 'seek professional advice', but from the draft contract I have been sent there is a NSW land registry services document that at some point says "Title system: Torrens". I suspect there is no committee? as there are only 2 properties on the strata plan, and as far as I know, there is only a strata plan to ensure shared building insurance. Anyway thanks.

      • It doesn't matter if it is an apartment, a townhouse or a house, they are all (barring a few remaining exceptions) Torrens title in NSW. Torrens is a titling system, not an indicator of the type of property you are buying.

        The draft contract should say if it is a lot in a strata plan, in which case you have a body corporate and some common property. Whether it is self-managed or 'professionally' managed is the question you should be asking. Either way, they should be able to provide details about what the shared costs are, etc.

        • Thanks, this is the sort of info I was after. I'll look into it.

      • +1

        The drainage problems I'm thinking of would relate to overland flows or seepage (i.e. from water coming from neighboring lots during rain or other events where there might be excess water that is looking for a path to escape). The evidence you find will probably depend on how fast the water flows (whether it just pools in an area, or is moving quickly through an area during a rain event.)

        There are various red flags you can look for
        -Evidence of cracking/subsidence in the foundation or other structures (which a building inspection will pick up)
        -Council flood maps/ flood property reports indicating the area is flood prone, or has sources of overland flow.
        -The age and characteristics of the neighboring properties (for example in Queensland alot of problems are caused by pre '74 properties that aren't required to have exits to storm water drains). Identifying that your neighbors are all pre 74 in Queensland means it's a great idea to investigate their drainage (using an aerial mapping application) to rule out possible problems.Not sure what policy legislation exists in NSW unfortunately.
        - If you have access to an aerial mapping program (like Nearmap) you can also look for evidence of water carving a path/ rubble pits/ custom drains in neighbouring lots which might point to the nature of any problems.
        -Evidence of subsidence or erosion on your property or your neighbours.

        You can also try mapping out where water is likely to flow during a rain event based on the layout of the lot and surrounding lots (include flows to your own stormwater). This can tell you alot about potential weak spots that might struggle to drain during a rain event. There are usually drainage considerations to be aware of with most properties, and a cracked pavement doesn't necessarily points to huge issues. It could just be a matter of poor bedding underneath the pavement, or localised subsidence.

        When it comes to accessing nearmap, most university libraries have access, so if you happen to have an alumni membership (or know someone who has) you can access it for free this way.

        It sounds like you're buying into a smaller complex which is a great idea- it means that there isn't likely to be a site manager/body corp with his/her hands in your pocket, and the fewer owners you need to coordinate with to get things done the better :) Good luck :)

  • +2

    Looks fine. Cracks due to settling is normal and won't affect the structure. Unless the wall is sitting crooked or bowing it's not worth worrying about. Also I don't see any evidence somebody patched over cracks in that wall. It looks more like the lazy bricklayer couldn't be bothered to cut a brick to the correct length.

    Yes, you should get a building inspection regardless even if the cracks were not there. It's like $250 and it's worth every penny. At least in Canberra the seller must provide a building inspection as part of the sales docs, and you can request a copy at no expense, but there's nothing stopping you from getting a second building inspection at your own cost. Do that.

  • Get the building inspection done but it won’t guarantee they pick up the faults. Maybe find a builder you trust to do it. The worst cracking is usually clay areas where droughts/heavy rains cause the moisture of the subsoil to vary by a lot.

    • Yep, I second this.

      This might sound a bit odd, but make sure that you're with them as they inspect, and if they note something ask them questions about it. You are likely to get more information this way than you would if you just waited for the written report. Reports can lack detail, underestimate the costs of the problems, or fail to pinpoint underlying issues.

  • Looks like a lazy brickie in photo 1.

    I'd bet they haven't used any steel mesh in photo 2 or it's a join without an overlap piece. It looks bad but not a major structural issue.

    My biggest concern is what your fellow neighbour is like. Try and find out if they are a nutter. Try and get in touch with previous occupant of the place you are buying. They might have moved out due to the neighbour. Don't take the neighbour at face value. The biggest nutters are always friendly at the start.

    • +1

      lol, yeh actually there are a few warning signs already eg. washing hung out the front, dumpinng outside their corner on the footpath. Although given the setup of their side, they probably have no sunlight due to new apartment blocking westside and hill downslope. Planning on a evening stakeout, to sus out the neighbourhood. At the same time, 1 guarenteed nutter is better than an apartment of potential nutters surrounding you

      Also the common wall is the garage, so 2 x garages separating us

      • Love the evening stakeout. Extra points if you wear camo and face paint.

        I hate dumping. One of the things our body corp recently did was install security cameras, so we could bill renters for the cost of cleaning their stuff up. It's almost completely eliminated the problem :)

  • -1

    knock the (profanity) building down mate!!

  • looks fine to me

  • It's slab heave. Some plaster to fill the cracks and paint over it. Strong as new :)

  • +2

    Check out other units in the complex. If yours has been patched up recently to hide the faults, the others should show similar signs.

Login or Join to leave a comment