The Property Checklist – things to look for when buying a house organised by decade

There are plenty of buyer checklists around, but I thought I’d take a moment and compose a basic list of the good and bad bits of housing in each of the building decades in NZ that I have experienced while working in the Real Estate industry in Wellington. This is definitely not an exhaustive list and I would love your input if there are things left off the list. I’m not a builder and this is not intended to replace a builders report. I’m also trying not to “bag” certain building eras and want to point out the strengths as well as the weaknesses. Something else to remember is that a house that has been added to or renovated may have good and bad examples of a number of construction styles and products.

Pre 1940′s

– check the piles (produced from native timber in this era). Look for signs of subsidance, piles not being strapped to bearers, rot, or missing piles and “spongy” or uneven floor boards.

– wooden flooring – may not be tongue and groove (drafty and squeaky). Made from moisture resistant native timber.

– check wiring  – any original wiring needs to be replaced as soon as it is found as there is a high risk of fires and shorts.

– plumbing – check hot water cylinder for age, original waste pipes (sewer and storm water) are porous and may become blocked with roots from trees and bushes growing in close proximity to the pipes.

Check the roof – may need maintenance if it hasn’t been replaced

– Insulation – no insulation in original homes of this period.

– Walls and ceilings maybe be scrim or fibre board rather than gib. Will need  to be replaced if you want a good paintable surface.

– Made from high quality native timber with a great resistance to rot and weather. Will need alot of effort in painting over time.

– check for borer

– lead in painted weatherboards? – be careful when removing

– impurities in window glass may spoil the views – cosmetic only. Check condition of any leadlight windows.

– check condition of light switches and electrical outlets, light fittings, door handles, door and window hinges, window catches – the cost of replacing period bits and pieces can add up!


– Concrete began to be used in residential building on a large scale. Look for poorly mixed concrete in foundation structures concrete (crumbly seams in solid concrete walls and foundations).

– concrete piles began to replace wooden piles.

– experimentation with non wood exterior cladding systems – becomes brittle over time – check for cracking, asbestos, joints coming  apart.

– check for asbestos in any sheet products used on walls or as skirting for subfloor. Asbestos roof tiles or corrugate?

– check the wiring – replace if original, old meter box – big and bulky,  is it still inside?

– plumbing – hot water cylinder original? – low pressure cylinder – good pressure on hot feed at showerhead?

– good pressure on col feed? (Galve water pipes can block over time if water is hard)

– check for borer

– lead paint?


– Generally a great building era in NZ. Solid well built homes predominantly weatherboard with iron or concrete tile roof.

– Wiring should be okay – older style wiring gave way to insulated (TPS) wiring. Meter box will be inside if it hasn’t been moved.

– plumbing – hot water cylinder need replacing? Original will be low pressure with a header tank in ceiling. Replace with mains pressure if hot water pressure is too low. Copper plumbing.

– concrete piles and concrete ring foundations – good!

– weak points – original corrugated roofs will be on their last legs but may still have a few years in them if they’ve been looked after.

– look for rot in weatherboards especially around corners, window frames and barge boards.

– no insulation in original homes of this era

– tongue and groove flooring – usually tighter, thinner boards – native wood rimu, matai, and some beech wood featured (may have small areas of borer – usually not a structural problem, more a cosmetic one.

– lead in paint on exterior? Oil based paints on interior ceilings?

– asbestos in any old lino that was put down in kitchens and wet areas?

– laundry – original concrete tub?

– original kitchen?

– Fireplace? woodburner in original chimney? – Has it been updated in the last ten years or is it past its useby? Check chimney for signs of cracking and gaps. Check flue and cowling. Any signs of leaking around flue?


– move from wooden floors towards chip board – very sensitive to moisture and will swell and turn to mush with prolonged water contact. Composite products often used on window sills which may have swelled – replace with tanalised timber.

– early aluminium joinery – less painting needed than earlier styles of windows and doors. Check seals and latches on windows and runner wheels on sliding doors.

– asbestos! Have any sprayed ceiling checked for asbestos, sheet products, roof tiles?

– hot water cylinder? – if original, check for leaking.

– check for cheap and leaking plumbing fittings and taps (especially in the laundry)

– Homes into the mid 1970′s were usually insulated in the walls and roof – check roof space and replenish insulation. Insulate subfloor space.

– texture coated cladding? Check for cracking and moisture

– woodburner – in good order? If it is an original woodburner it will be well past it’s useful life. Plan to replace it. Any signs of leaking around flue?

– ventilation? Is a DVS style system retrofitted?

– wallpaper on walls or paint finish? Has a big effect on the time and energy needed to renovate or modernize.


– early plastic plumbing – check for leaks or signs or moisture. Dux Quest?

– hardiplank cladding – generally a cladding system with few major problems. May get brittle over time – check for cracking and make sure joints are well sealed.

– homes of this era are generally insulated to a reasonable level.

– decramastic roof? – make sure it is free of moss/lichen. – May need rechipping and painting if it is original.

– chipboard floors – make sure wet areas are well sealed

– stippled or textured ceilings? Not usually asbestos but makes the house look very dated and can be a real pain to remove.

– homes of this era are generally of lighter construction than previous eras.

– tanalised wood framing – may have been treated with arsenic or chromium – don’t use in a woodburner and make sure you wear a mask when cutting or sanding. The health risks aren’t generally publicised but there was a move away from some processes used to make tanalised wood in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s. Retaining walls and raised garden areas probably made from  tanalised wood – be wary about planting gardens especially with nutrient hungry plants like fruit trees and tomatos near tanalised wood.

– better quality aluminium joinery – check seals and runners

– mains pressure hot water? Better pressure for showers

– unflued gas heaters?

– woodburner? – still in good repair? Was it permitted originally?

– ventilation? DVS style system installed? Are bathroom fans and rangehoods vented externally or into ceiling space?


– Texture coated monolithic cladding – check for signs of moisture, cracking, movement

– Be wary of homes with unusual design elements – lack of eves, lots of angles, internal gutters, decks over living spaces

– Good insulation. Double glazing?

– Kiln dried timber framing? Rots very quickly if exposed to high moisture.

–  Gas central heating? Unflued gas heaters? Heatpump – need servicing?

– Plumbing – check for signs of leaks at joints and along lengths that are bent especially on hot feed.

– Ventilation? DVS style system installed?

– chipboard floors creaky or squeaky? They may not have been glued and screwed. Plan to do this when the carpet is replaced or get a builder with a nail gun to fire pins into the joints on an angle to stop the creaks.

– tiled wet areas well sealed? Check for signs of moisture and for cracks in tiles and grout.


– Excellent insulation including some double glazing and central heating.

– monolithic cladding?  – check for signs of moisture, cracking, movement on exterior

– plumbing – check for leaks at joints and along lengths that have been bent or curved especially on the hot feed.

– Concrete pad – no subfloor area? Can make it harder to upgrade plumbing, telephone/broadband  and electrical

– Walk in wet areas? Check for signs leaking in adjoining rooms or in spaces below the bathroom.

– Ventilation? HRV or DVS style systems

– Heatpumps – have they been serviced?


– Double glazed – great insulation

– Home Ventilation system installed?

– Heating options? Gas central heating or heatpumps? Underfloor?

– Builders guarantee? Able to be transferred to new owner?

– Has house been built and plumbing installed to manufacturers specifications? Have plumbing run through ceiling or in under floor space (if there is any) so that it is easy to fix or add to down the track. Any sign of stress to plumbing joints?

– Broadband wiring? Surround sound wiring in living spaces?

– Cavity systems used for cladding – more protection against leaks in cladding.

Hopefully this list has been of use to you.

If you have any further things to add to any of the decades, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll add your suggestion.

List compiled by David Garratt – Guardian First National – North Wellington.

Print a PDF version of this checklist from my website here


September 01 2011 03:24 pm | General Real Estate

4 Responses to “The Property Checklist – things to look for when buying a house organised by decade”

  1. Karen Hitchcock on 04 Sep 2011 at 11:58 am #

    Great list David – you’ve given it a lot of thought. I’m sure people will find it very handy. Cheers Karen

  2. Paul Martin on 06 Sep 2011 at 2:23 am #

    This list is really well thought out! thanks for the tips. I recently bought a house from the 1960’s and you are right in saying that it was a great building era in NZ. We had to change to insulation to make it more efficient but other than that a great home.

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