You’ve found your dream home at the right price, in the right location. But don’t take things at face value. Some additional research can confirm if there’s more to your new home than meets the eye.
When you inspect properties listed for sale it’s easy to base a home-buying decision on what you see today. But there can be unexpected nasties – anything from hidden pest problems to a neighbour’s plans to build a multi-storey mansion next door. Some simple investigative work can provide a ‘warts and all’ picture of what you’re really buying, and help you avoid unpleasant (and potentially costly) surprises further down the track.
So – what should you watch out for when buying a new property?
Have the contract of sale reviewed by a professional
Unless you have a legal background, a property’s contract of sale can be hard to understand, and it pays to have the contract reviewed by a solicitor or conveyancer before you sign on the dotted line. This can identify any restrictions, covenants or easements (which give someone else the right to cross or use the land) that may impact your property.
Pre-purchase building and pest reports
In addition to giving a property a thorough inspection yourself, it can be worth investing in pre-purchase inspection reports.
A building inspection report can identify serious defects like a dodgy roof or problems such as rising damp, which could see you facing budget-breaking repair bills.
To be sure you won’t be sharing your new home with destructive creepy crawlies like termites, it can also be wise to think about a pest inspection.
If you’re planning to buy an apartment or townhouse, think about organising a strata inspection report. As an apartment owner, you’ll also be a member of the ‘owners corporation’, which is responsible for the maintenance of common property and the overall building.
This means paying corporation fees and levies, and potentially contributing cash to a capital works fund covering longer term repair bills.
To know what sort of financial shape the body corporate is in, you should take a look at the strata records yourself. A strata inspection report can also show the quarterly levies you’ll be up for as well as current or proposed special levies to meet the cost of future building works.
Investigations to undertake yourself
While the above can be investigated by professionals on your behalf, it’s important that you conduct some research of your own.
In particular, one important step is to check out any development applications (DAs) that could impact your new home. A neighbour’s building plans could have a significant impact on your property – something that Sydney-based home buyer, Tom, experienced firsthand.
When Tom purchased his new family home earlier this year, it was the realisation of a long-held dream. The house had lovely views and Tom says, “We’d been working towards this goal for many years.”
The purchase process saw Tom take all the right steps. The contract of sale was reviewed by his conveyancer, and he spoke with the vendor to enquire if any neighbours had submitted DAs. While the seller said “no”, it was also pointed out that Tom should rely on his own investigations.
24 hours to object
Fast forward several weeks, and Tom and his family were celebrating the first day in their new home when a letter arrived from his solicitor advising that their new neighbour had lodged a DA with the council, and alarmingly, Tom had just 24 hours to object.
“It was very disappointing,” recalls Tom. “Instead of unpacking boxes we found ourselves wading through a DA and making frantic calls to the council for an extension of time.”
The council gave Tom an extra ten days to review the plans, and with the help of his father-in-law, a retired engineer, Tom’s family was able to understand how the proposed works would impact their home. The news wasn’t good.
If the DA was approved, the neighbour’s existing home would be demolished, and the new building would not only encroach on Tom’s land, it would also block out views, reduce the level of natural sunlight entering the home and significantly impact the family’s privacy.
In lodging an objection, Tom systematically worked through the local building regulations listed on the council’s website. Another neighbour also objected, and the DA was eventually withdrawn.
Check the council website
Tom’s story may have a happy ending but his experience highlights the importance of being proactive. Tom cautions, “Don’t rely on the vendor’s word. Do plenty of research of your own. We discovered that our council’s website features a list of current as well as past DAs that can flag the potential for a property to be developed.”
With this in mind, it’s a good idea to take a good look through the relevant council’s website, which can outline major infrastructure developments planned for the community as well as lists of current development applications. State or territory government may also have online planning portals, such as the Planning Portal in NSW or the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in Victoria featuring information on government plans that could impact your new neighbourhood.
For more information on getting the bigger picture on a property you’re planning to buy, talk to your Aussie Broker.
You may also be interested in 10 hidden costs of buying a home, Costs beyond the mortgage – and ways to save and How to Avoid an Infestation of Cockroaches and the Neighbours from Hell.