If you're planning to buy a new property, a pre-purchase inspection is an essential part of the process. Pre-purchase inspections highlight potential problems with the property that you need to know before you ask your lawyer to finalise the transaction. Unfortunately, inspection mistakes can easily come back and bite you later in the process, by which time is often too late to avoid unexpected costs or legal wrangles. Learn from other buyers' mistakes, and avoid the five following pre-purchase inspection errors.

Failure to check an inspector's credentials

You must choose an experienced, qualified inspector to carry out this activity for you. Licensed builders, surveyors or architects can all legally carry out these inspections, but it's important to check the inspector's credentials. If you hire an unqualified inspector, you may have no legal recourse if something goes wrong.

In Australia, pre-purchase inspections must comply with the  Australian Standard AS 4349.1. Check that the inspector is familiar with AS 4349.1, and ask for evidence of previous reports completed to this standard. You should also check that the person you want to work with has adequate professional indemnity insurance. If something goes wrong, without insurance, the person you pay to inspect your property may not have the finances to compensate you. As such, even if you successfully take legal action, you could still end up paying out of pocket.

Failure to confirm which parts of the property an inspector will cover

It's important to make sure you understand exactly what the pre-inspection report does and does not include. While an inspector will normally look at the interior or exterior of the building, larger properties may have other features that the inspector may not include as standard. For example, you may need to confirm with the inspector that he or she will include any small retaining walls, fencing, steps, sheds and other outbuildings.

Draw up a written agreement with the inspector before the inspection starts. You may have specific areas of concern you want the inspector to look at. For example, you may want the inspector to check for visible signs of asbestos. If there is any uncertainty later on, you can reference the written agreement. In a worst-case scenario, you may even need to present the document in court.

Failure to ask for a 'special-purpose' property report

A standard pre-purchase inspection aims to identify major problems that a qualified inspector can find. It's important to remember that these issues vary between properties depending on the age and style of the home. Larger, older property inspections take more time, but the key elements of the work remain largely the same.

In some cases, buyers want more detailed inspections. For example, in an older property, you may want advice about a fireplace and chimney or the windows in every room. In other properties, you may want the inspector to look at the air conditioning system, the swimming pool or built-in kitchen appliances. As these items are not structural, you will normally need to ask for a 'special-purpose' property report that covers all these areas. A  'special-purpose' report will also often show the estimated cost to put something right, which a standard report won't.

Failure to get a separate pest inspection report

A pre-purchase inspection will generally not account for problems with pests, unless the surveyor can see obvious damage that pests (such as termites) have caused. In almost all other cases, you'll need to ask for a separate pest inspection report on the property.

A lot of pests are difficult to spot unless you have expertise in the industry, and a serious infestation could cost a lot of money to put right. If you buy a property without a pest inspection report, you can't later take legal action if you discover expensive pest damage.

Pre-purchase inspection reports give buyers peace of mind, but it's important to use these documents carefully. A pre-purchase inspection will not find every possible problem, so make sure you use the report properly, or you could face unexpected costs. If you have specific questions related to buying or selling a home and conveyance, work with a lawyer from a firm like Woodgate Lawyers.