Buyers shun plaster houses

05:12, Jul 05 2010

Millions of dollars are being wiped off Christchurch property values as buyers spooked by the leaky homes crisis spurn houses.

Owners of dry homes with monolithic cladding say they are unfairly being tarred with the leaky homes brush.

Yvonne Evans and Gerald Wilson, of Fendalton, have struggled to sell their 11-year-old townhouse and have taken it off the market for now. They say their home – architecturally designed with a timber frame, plaster-covered polystyrene cladding, elastomeric paint and wide eaves – has been moisture-tested and has no sign of leaks.

"We've never had a problem in 10 years," Evans said.

"We had so much interest and huge numbers through, but we found a lot of negativity to the poly cladding.

"One woman was really keen but her husband ruled it out when he heard what it was made of.

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"One real estate agent came in and said `oh, it's a poly house, that's at least $150,000 off the price'. It hits a lot of people unfairly."

Massey University property professor Bob Hargreaves believes the stigma effect of the leaky homes crisis has knocked many millions of dollars off Christchurch values – "maybe even billions nationwide".

"You can build monolithic houses properly, but people [buyers] just don't think it's worth the risk – they have heard the horror stories."

Valuers say awareness of leaky homes in Christchurch has coincided with a slow market and choosy buyers.

"A lot of people just won't look at plastered homes," Bevan Fleming, of Valuation Solutions, said.

"It may be very soundly constructed and there may be nothing wrong with it. It may have never leaked or never be going to, but it's ultimately seen to have a risk factor, and that's the unfortunate thing."

Fleming said even if a home was "not a leaker", potential buyers worried it could be hard to resell.

Owners should price to attract buyers, and consider paying for invasive moisture testing.

He said a $100,000-plus loss in value was possible, with many 1990s homes affected.

Valuer David Hargreaves, of BKK Properties, said lightweight plaster-clad houses originally sold very well, but solid masonry now sold better.

Buyers should look for wide eaves, flashings, external guttering and sloped roofs on monolithic cladding homes.

Mark Jones, of independent building researcher Branz, said every house should be taken individually when assessing weathertightness.

"Always get an inspection if you suspect problems. There are specialist reports for weathertightness available and it's better to be sure."

Weathertightness expert Greg O'Sullivan, of surveying and valuation company Prendos, said a combination of materials, building techniques and design caused leaks.

Plaster coating over polystyrene was one of three cladding styles at risk when poorly finished, but was the least risky of the three, because the insulation drew moisture away from the frame, he said.

"Not everyone with polystyrene should be concerned."

The type of timber was also important, with untreated radiata pine the riskiest framing material for leak damage.

However, O'Sullivan sounded a warning on moisture testing. He said some tests were misleading and the specialist job should be done by a registered surveyor with a weathertightness certificate.

"It's easy to get false negatives; you have to know what you are doing, especially in drier climates like Christchurch, where problems are much slower to show up."

O'Sullivan advised homeowners or would-be buyers to visit the Institute of Building Surveyors website for advice, and to find a qualified inspector.

Real estate agent Craig Prier, of Ray White, said buyers preferred more traditional materials.

He always advised clients to get thorough reports, so everyone knew where they stood.

"As long as people do their homework and go into it with their eyes open, then there shouldn't be problems."

The Press