Was a Pre-Purchase Habitation Check Worth It?

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Saturday 24 January 2015

Was a Pre-Purchase Habitation Check Worth It?

When it came to checking and testing the living space of our motorhome prior to committing to buying it we had been pretty thorough. During viewings, if we felt a motorhome was a strong contender and we were interested in making an offer, we would work through a checklist that we had downloaded from the internet to make sure everything inside worked as it should. We checked lights, taps, that the fridge worked on all 3 settings etc. However, as complete novices we still remained nervous about whether we had missed something and there were things we couldn't check as well, such as gas leaking and damp readings. So, once we reached the point of making an offer we decided to also pay for an independent pre-purchase habitation check before driving the motorhome away.

Our viewing experiences and checklist

During our research we'd found that the subject of habitation checks and services on motorhomes and caravans divided opinion (just as independent mechanical inspections had). Some felt they were an annual necessity, essential to maintain a motorhome in its best condition. Others felt it was a complete waste of money when you could just do the same checks and servicing yourself anyway. It was also quite confusing to find out what was actually included in a "pre-purchase habitation check", which is what we wanted, vs. a full habitation service (there is a good summary of a full habitation service here).

In summary, the pre-purchase habitation check we paid for involved a professional working through a detailed list of checks, testing every lock, roller blind, tap and handle plus a damp test and gas pressure test to verify that there were no leaks. The key difference between this and a full habitation service was that, since we didn't yet own the motorhome, the tester wasn't going to be 'servicing' any components along the way but simply preparing a report for us to help make a buying decision.

Most large motorhome dealerships seemed to include a very similar series of checks as part of their handover process, but with private and small trade sellers without a workshop it was up to us, the buyer, to organise a third party check.  Another topic that seemed to divide opinion was whether to use a mobile engineer or take the motorhome to a dealership/workshop. Some people seemed to think that mobile engineers were essentially cowboys offering substandard services and that the only way to be confident of a good service was to take their motorhome to their local dealership. Others felt that dealerships offered no extra reassurance, just a higher price tag for the same job. It's certainly true that dealerships charge more (we found pre-purchase checks at close to £300 in some dealerships vs. £75-£120 for the mobile engineers).

However, in the end our mind was made up for us on this issue when a dealership told us that when they were busy they call in a mobile engineer to help with the workload and recommended several in the area the seller lived in. In fact the dealerships close to the sellers were so busy the waiting time was just too long for us, as was the case with many of the mobile engineers as well. The way that we chose our engineer was a combination of web searching and recommendations, which we followed up with a telephone "interview" to make sure we knew they would be checking everything we expected and that we got a good feeling from them. We also made sure they were a member of "Approved Workshops" which provides the benchmark for servicing and testing of motorhome and caravan habitations.

So was it worth the money we paid for it to be done? Our opinion is that it, yes, it definitely was worth it.

It is true to say that much of what was tested during the pre-purchase checks were things we had already checked ourselves. We had already tried every roller blind, handle and tap and knew that they worked (we could even have downloaded an official checklist from the internet and kept our own record that way if we'd wanted to). However, the key things we couldn't check ourselves were the gas pressure test and the damp testing. Although we couldn't smell any propane leaking that didn't mean that there wasn't a tiny, slow leak somewhere. Likewise the motorhome didn't feel damp (and we'd had a good sniff in all the cupboards) but we didn't have a damp meter to push into every nook and cranny either.  We found that having a professional do these checks gave us, as novices, great reassurance and encouragement that we hadn't missed anything.

Also, as with the mechanical inspection that we'd paid for, we also placed a lot of value on the fact that a person whose job it was to spend time looking and evaluating the inside of motorhomes was able to speak to us on the phone and give us his personal opinion on whether it was "a good one". We might have looked at a few motorhomes, but they had seen far more and we valued their opinion on whether the motorhome was in good condition for its age etc. It also provided a dated written report that showed that at that point in time there were no faults with the motorhome habitation, adding to the service history. Although many owners don't bother with annual habitation checks and/or servicing we feel that they are quite good indicators of diligent ownership.

In the end we paid for two habitation checks on two different motorhomes that we had agreed offers on. In the first case, when the purchase didn't go through because of a very bad mechanical inspection report, the habitation engineer did annoy us by leaving his written report with the seller at the time of the inspection. As we argued with them on the phone it was us, the buyers, that were paying for his services and now the seller had a free habitation check to include with the motorhome paperwork for future prospective buyers! Of course it was too late to do anything about it by then. It was certainly a lesson for us and in the second case, where we did buy the motorhome, we were clear with the tester we found not to disclose anything to the seller  or leave anything with the seller until he'd spoken to us first.

Overall, we felt that the pre-purchase habitation checks were a good investment for the peace of mind they offered us as two novices making such a big purchase. Other than a house, it was the biggest purchase we'd ever made and we wanted that extra reassurance that we weren't likely to be faced with an expensive but avoidable bill in the near future. Since the price of a motorhome compared to an equivalent commercial van of similar age and mileage is so much higher, meaning that it is the addition of the habitation which adds much of the value so we felt it was essential to be extra careful.

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