Frequently Asked Questions

Don't be surprised tomorrow, call a member of the New Zealand Institute of Building Surveyors today!


Questions: Prepurchase house surveys

What is a survey?
What does a survey include?

When do I request a surveyor?

Can a building fail the survey?

What if the report reveals problems?

If the report is favourable, did I really need a survey?

Why do I need an survey?

Can I inspect the building myself?

What will the survey cost?

Should I attend the survey?

How do I find a qualified surveyor?

Questions: Other

I've heard some building materials have asbestos: which ones, and how much?
What is a LIM (Land Information Memorandum)?

What is a "Safe & Sanitary" report and how does this compare to a "Certficate of Acceptance"?

What is wrong with monolithic claddings?


What is a survey?

An survey is a visual examination of the structure and systems of a building. If you are thinking of buying a home, unit or commercial building, you should have it thoroughly surveyed by a qualified building surveyor before finalising the purchase. back to top


What does a survey include?

A complete survey includes a visual examination of the building and its systems from top to bottom. It can also include the entire property including such items as the grounds, outbuildings and fencing. The surveyor evaluates and reports on the construction and condition of what can be seen and operated of the structure, roof, foundation, plumbing, drainage, heating system, insulation, walls, windows, doors and such-like. Only those items that are visible and accessible and operable by normal means are included in the report. The survey if so requested can also include a review of a Council file (refer to the section headed “What is a LIM” below). back to top


When do I request a surveyor?

The best time to consult the surveyor is right after you have made an offer to purchase your new building. The real estate contract usually allows for a defined period to survey the building. Ask your real estate agent to include this survey clause in the contract, making your purchase subject to the receipt of a satisfactory report. back to top


Can a building fail a survey?

No. A professional survey is simply an examination of the current condition of your prospective building purchase. A surveyor, therefore, will not pass or fail a building, but will simply describe its construction and condition and will indicate which items will be in need of minor or major maintenance, repairs or replacement. back to top


What if the report reveals problems?

If the surveyor finds problems in a building, it does not necessarily mean you should not buy it, only that you will know in advance what type of work/repairs to anticipate. A seller may be willing to make repairs because of significant problems discovered by the surveyor. If your budget is tight, or if you do not wish to become involved in the extent of the current work needed or future repair work, you may decide that this is not the property for you. The choice is yours. back to top


If the report is favourable, did I really need a survey?

Definitely! Now you can complete your purchase with peace of mind about the condition of the property and its systems. You may have learned a few things about your property from the survey report, and will want to keep that information for your future reference. Above all, you can rest assured that you are making a well-informed purchase decision and that you will be able to enjoy or occupy your new home or building the way you want. back to top


Why do I need a survey?

The purchase of a home or commercial building is one of the largest single investments you may ever make. You should know exactly what to expect --- both indoors and out -- in terms of needed and future repairs and maintenance. A fresh coat of paint could be hiding serious structural problems. Stains on the ceiling may indicate a chronic roof leakage problem or may be simply the result of a single incident. The surveyor interprets these and other clues and then presents a professional opinion as to the condition of the property so you can avoid unpleasant surprises afterwards. Of course, a survey may also point out the positive aspects of a building, as well as the type of maintenance needed to keep it in good shape. After the survey, you will have a much clearer understanding of the property you are about to purchase and be able to make your decision confidently.

As a vendor, if you have owned your building for a period of time, a vendor survey can identify potential problems in the sale of your building and can recommend preventive measures which could make the property more saleable. back to top


Can I inspect the building myself?

Even the most experienced building or home owner lacks the knowledge and expertise of a qualified surveyor who has surveyed hundreds, and perhaps thousands of homes and buildings in their career. A surveyor is equally familiar with the critical elements of construction and with the proper installation, maintenance and inter-relationships of these elements. Above all, most buyers find it difficult to remain completely objective and unemotional about the building they really want and this may lead to a poor assessment. back to top


What will the survey cost?

The survey fee for a typical single-family house or commercial building varies geographically, as does the cost of housing. Similarly, within a geographic area the survey fees charged by different survey services may vary depending upon the size of the building, particular features of the building, age, type of structure, etc. However, the cost should not be a factor in the decision whether or not to have a survey. You might save many times the cost of the survey if you are able to negotiate a lower cost or have the vendor perform repairs based on significant problems revealed by the surveyor. back to top


Should I attend the survey?

It is not necessary for you to be present for the survey. But it can be useful if the surveyor’s report contains a number of items which need addressing, for the surveyor to talk you through those issues at the property. By having the surveyor do this and by you asking questions, you will learn more about the new building and any issues and will get some tips on general maintenance - information that will be of great help to you if you go ahead with the purchase. back to top


How do I find a qualified surveyor?

There are several ways of choosing an surveyor for your new property, the best is by contacting the New Zealand Institute of Building Surveyors for an surveyor in your area. Personal contacts, either from prior surveys or from a friend, relative, or business acquaintance who has had a recent survey is also an excellent method.
Only surveyors who meet NZIBS’s rigorous professional and educational requirements may qualify as members. Our members page has information on surveyors who carry out such surveys. back to top


I've heard some building materials have asbestos. Which ones, and how much?

Up until the mid-eighties, there were two well publicised building products commony used in New Zealand which contained asbestos: Fibre cement cladding of various sorts, and spray-on ceiling coatings.

Fibre Cement Cladding:
These include corrugated roofing and flat sheet and profiled sheet wall claddings

Spray-on Ceiling Coatings:
This was a popular way of redecorating during the eighties; especially where surface imperfections in a ceiling needed covering up. The effect is a sparkly, rough surface.

Below is a copy of a letter received from the Public Health Services in 1994, after sending them a sample of ceiling material suspected of containing asbestos:
"Sample of ceiling material containing asbestos.

During our recent requests to have your sample of ceiling material tested it was found that in almost all homes a variety of materials contained asbestos.

Analysis by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited in Gracefield, Lower Hutt has shown that the sample of ceiling material which you submitted contains a proportion of chrysotile (or white asbestos) Chrysotile, because of its larger particle size is the least dangerous of the three most common types of asbestos.

It is curly white to grey fibre which is difficult to separate into individual fibres.

When sprayed onto ceilings the individual fibres are bound into the plaster matrix and at this stage are not considered hazardous to health. The danger which can occur from the sample of ceiling material is that the surface may become friable or lose adhesion due to deterioration. In such cases when the piece of ceiling material becomes detached asbestos fibres can be released into the surrounding air.

Actions which may be taken should damage or deterioration to your ceiling occur are either:

1) Complete removal of the material (it is advisable that this work be carried out only by persons holding an Asbestos Certificate of Competency by the Department of Labour.)

2) Effectively sealing the surface so the fibres cannot escape into the air (encapsulation)"

This means, in the case of exterior wall cladding of this sort, sanding or waterblasting the paint right off has the potential to release fibres into the air, something that OSH will not permit. The cleaning and treatment or painting or sealing of raw fibre-cement claddings should only be undertaken by experienced and qualified persons. Refer to the "Asbestos" section in the Yellow Pages. However, so long as the preparation / cleaning is done only within the outer layers of existing paint, there is no problem.

So far as the spray-on ceilings are concerned, if the material is "dripping" or flaking off, you are advised to get professionals to fully remove it – do not attempt to do this yourself

For further information you can read the OSH document here
If you are unsure what needs to be done, contact the New Zealand Institute of Building Surveyors for an surveyor in your area:
Phone: 0800 11 34 00 back to top


What is LIM (Land Information Memorandum)?

Each city or district council holds a considerable amount of information about each property in its area. For a fee (which varies considerably), they will print out some of this information from their files. If there are any problems or unusual and important features, these should show up. For instance, the LIM might reveal the property is subject to flooding, or contains a council drain which may not be built over, or a protected tree or building. It should also help you to figure out how the district plan applies to the site. Sometimes the council will also supply pages of area plans showing the known stormwater and sewage drains, zoning and other details. The LIM will also identify whether building consents have been taken out for building work and whether code compliance certificates have been issued for that work.

However, from the point of view of the surveyor doing a prepurchase survey, it is the list of building permits and building consents that is often most relevant; usually for what is not listed. This is because the council only has records of the building works it knows about. Frequently alterations have been done to older houses, including landscaping, without council knowledge, so nothing shows up on the LIM. This means a LIM that shows no problems may be giving you a false sense of security.

You can visit the council offices and look at the property file over the counter (for a fee). After sifting through everything, the relevant material can be photocopied or the entire file provided on a CD. This will provide a great deal more information than is contained in the LIM. Ideally, if you have time, consult your surveyor first as to what to look for and get the information to him before the survey. back to top


What is a "Safe & Sanitary" and how does this compare to a Certficate of Acceptance?

The term "Safe and Sanitary" came into existence after the first Building Act was introduced in 1992. There were specific sections in that act which made it clear that:

  1. All building work required a building consent (there were exceptions, but they were very seldom relevant to domestic housing)
  2. A building consent cannot be issued retrospectively.
  3. Territorial Authorities (Councils) could declare buildings unsafe or insanitary, regardless of when they were built. This therefore applied to buildings or work built prior to July 1992 with or without what was then known as a building permit.

Many members of the public who owned buildings which had work done (including the construction of the complete building) without a building permit or building consent believed that they could get such "illegal" or "unauthorised" works legitimized by obtaining a "Safe and Sanitary Report". This is simply not true.

However, councils do have discretion whether to allow such unpermitted or unconsented building work to remain in place. Their main consideration was and still is, Is the work dangerous or insanitary?

In essence, "dangerous" means likely in the ordinary course of events to cause injury or death to any persons or damage to other property; or would give rise to almost certain loss of life in a fire (again, in essence).

"Insanitary" means situated or constructed or in such disrepair as to be offensive or likely to be injurious to health; subject to undue dampness or without adequate potable water or sanitary facilities (for the intended use).

Councils don't like illegal work and will not preclude the possibility of taking steps at some stage, but they will accept a report from a suitably experienced person, (usually an NZIBS member) and issue in reply a "letter of comfort", which has come to be called a "Safe and Sanitary Certificate", despite the fact that it is not a "certificate" at all (it is usually just a letter), is limited to the time of issue, is non-statutory (doesn't appear in any law) and is not a consent or guarantee.

What this means is that if the illegal work is not dangerous or insanitary, the council has better things to do than make you tear it down and rebuild, but they do retain the right to take further action at some stage in the future should they decide it has become necessary because the work has become dangerous or insanitary. back to top


What is wrong with monolithic claddings?

The simple answer is: when they are done well, nothing at all. Of course, these are not the cases that receive publicity.
Most of the so called "leaky homes" have poorly constructed monolithic claddings and other defects. There are a number of different cladding systems being used which produce a (visually) similar result. This effect is "monolithic", so this is the name that is used to cover the various types. The main types are solid plaster (stucco), texture coated fibre cement sheets and exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS – plastered polystyrene).

This is the oldest "monolithic" or smooth finish cladding system and is usually about 20 to 25 mm of only slightly modified sand/cement plaster, reinforced with some form of galvanised steel mesh. It was installed over either a rigid backing board (timber boards, concrete or fibre cement sheets, plywood, fibreboard or polystyrene sheets) or over building paper over a cavity. Sometimes the cavity in the latter case was omitted and this in part caused problems.

Texture coated fibre cement sheet:
There are a number of cladding systems that involve fixing fibre-cement sheets over the framing, flush-stopping the joints between the sheets and then applying a waterproof paint coating (most often textured).

Modified plaster over polystyrene (EIFS):
The house is covered in sheets of polystyrene (the thickness varies according to the desired level of insulation but is typically 40 mm). A form of reinforced modified plaster coating is then applied over the polystyrene, the plaster may be as thin as 3 mm (three coats).

Changes in recent years:
At the end of 2004 a new Building Act was introduced, which is part of a whole raft of changes being introduced by central government to improve the Building Industry overall. One of the changes now in place is that almost all monolithic claddings are installed over a cavity - the structural framing of the house is now separated from the cladding, which reduces the chances of water reaching the framing. Very few older monolithic clad houses have such a cavity.

Further to the above broad categories, there are various sub-groups and variations due to the substate (plaster over brickwork or blockwork for instance) or the make-up of the coated plaster system.

To the unskilled eye from the outside there may initially be little or no difference between any of these. The smooth, unbroken extent of the walls is what is most obvious.

Because cement plaster is a rigid material and can move with temperature and moisture changes monolithic claddings usually need to have some forms of movement control joints. To stop rain water getting in at these joints and where the plastered cladding system abuts other constructions (eg windows and doors), there need to be in place carefully designed and executed water deflection systems ("flashings” and “seals”) at all openings. It is these areas that, when neglected or skimped over, lead to the leaking problems.

For example: a badly plastered handrail can, unfortunately, have some rather unpleasant resuls. back to top