Buying an apartment checklist

ALASDAIR DUNCAN
Once upon a time, it may have been an Aussie dream to have a house in the suburbs on a quarter-acre block, with a yard to put up a hills hoist or play cricket. But with lifestyle preference changes and house prices climbing, apartment living may now seem like a more attractive option to many.

If you’re considering buying an apartment, either to live in yourself or to use as an investment property, there are a number of important questions you’ll need to ask yourself, to make sure the property is a good fit for you and your needs.

What should I look for when buying an apartment?

Before buying an apartment, there are some questions that you can ask that may help you come to a decision in the apartment-buying process, such as:

  • What are the strata fees and other costs?
  • What’s the car parking situation?
  • What facilities are nearby?
  • How does the sale price compare?
  • How’s the noise level?
  • What are the neighbours like?
  • What is the waste disposal situation in the building?
  • Does the apartment have a pleasant feel and layout?
  • What are the by-laws in the complex and are they too strict?
  • Are you happy with the building’s structural integrity?
  • Are there any planned developments nearby?
  • How secure is the apartment complex?

What are the strata fees and other costs?

Strata title is a kind of ownership that allows individual ownership of a unit within a larger building. If you are buying an apartment, you will typically be buying into a strata scheme, and there will be fees associated with that. These fees cover the costs of repairs and upkeep, and will depend on the size of the apartment complex and the facilities. A modern apartment complex with more extensive facilities may have higher fees, although the cost of fees will depend on the individual complex. These fees will also include the cost of building insurance.

It is also important to keep in mind that the body corporate – the group of owners who are responsible for managing and maintaining a building – may, from time to time, vote to undertake renovations and improvements on a building. Depending on the rules of your body corporate, you may need to contribute towards the cost of this work, if your neighbours vote in favour of it. Your apartment complex may have a ‘sinking fund’, which is a pool of money saved for renovations. If there is no sinking fund, you may find that you will be required to pay out of pocket for renovations.

What’s the car parking situation?

If you drive a car, it’s important to work out if your apartment has a designated parking space for you, as well as shared spaces for visitors. Depending on the unit, there may be a car parking space on the title, or a parking space may come at an additional cost. It is also worth keeping in mind that street parking may be limited, especially the closer you are to the CBD. If you and your partner both drive and there is only one space on the title, you will need to factor this into your considerations.


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What facilities are nearby?

Do you want an apartment that’s convenient to bars and restaurants? Perhaps you have a dog and want a nearby dog park for them to play and exercise in, or maybe you would like to have grocery shops and public transport within walking distance. Whatever your preferences, you’ll need to research nearby facilities, to find out if the apartment you’re considering is conveniently located for the facilities you want.

How does the sale price compare?

Price is always an important factor when purchasing a property, and when considering an apartment, it can be worthwhile to search for any recent sales of apartments in the complex or surrounding area to see how the price of yours compares. It can also be worthwhile to consider if the building or local area have seen any growth in sale prices in recent times, and what this might mean for the future value of your asset.

How’s the noise level?

Before committing to an apartment, it’s important to consider the noise level of both the building itself and the surrounding area. For example, is the unit near a train line or major road, and if so, is it insulated enough to shield noise? As for the building, are you concerned that there might be large numbers of neighbours coming and going? Does the complex allow short-stay accommodation like Airbnbs, and if so, will noise from guests and parties be a concern?

If it’s practical to do so, it may be worth visiting the apartment building at different times of day, to get a sense of what the noise is like both outside and in, and what the neighbours are like, so you can get a sense of any potential noises that may disturb you.

What are the neighbours like?

Before buying an apartment, it is important to get a sense of what the neighbours are like to get an idea of the character of the complex. For example, if you are purchasing an apartment as an investment property, a high proportion of renters in the building can indicate that it’s popular. Likewise, if you’re buying as an owner occupier, you may find peace of mind in knowing that there are a large number of other owner occupiers in the building, meaning a smaller turnover of tenants and less potential disruption from people moving in and out.

As mentioned, it is also a good idea to check if the complex allows short stay accommodation like Airbnb to operate, as if so, the added level of strangers coming through the complex and possible additional noise from parties may be undesirable to you. On the other hand, if you are purchasing an apartment as an investor, then the ability to accommodate short-term lets may actually be beneficial to you.

What is the waste disposal situation in the building?

While it may sound mundane, it’s important to consider the ease with which you can dispose of garbage in the building – for example, if you need to carry all your rubbish down several flights of stairs rather than using a waste disposal chute near the apartment, or if there is one large shared skip bin or many wheelie bins individuals are responsible for. Likewise, it’s important to consider the location of the building’s rubbish bins, to make sure your apartment will be free of unpleasant odours.

Does the apartment have a pleasant feel and layout?

If you’re buying an apartment as an owner occupier, it’s important to know that you’ll feel comfortable there. Ask yourself if the apartment has sufficient light and airflow, and if there are sufficient fans and air conditioning for the summer months. Likewise, does the apartment have a layout that lends itself to your lifestyle, is the kitchen big enough for your needs, and is there sufficient storage space for your belongings? If the apartment is in a built-up area, you will also want to consider how much privacy is on offer.

What are the by-laws in the complex and are they too strict?

As mentioned, the body corporate of an apartment building will be responsible for maintenance and will occasionally vote on renovations to the building. The body corporate may also set by-laws around such things as pet ownership in the complex, parking rules and even renovations to your own apartment, which means you might need to get the body corporate’s permission to undertake even a minor home improvement project.

Are you happy with the building’s structural integrity?

The structural soundness of the apartment is an important consideration when buying into a building. While you yourself may be able to do a visual inspection for defects – cracks, patches of mould, broken sealants and the like – you will need to obtain a building and pest inspection report for peace of mind. In some situations, sellers will have an inspection report available on request, but you may also wish to obtain your own.

Are there any planned developments nearby?

Are there any planned developments in the vicinity of the unit that could affect its value, or change the character of the area? A large apartment development nearby could increase the amount of traffic in the area, whereas a facility such as a shopping strip could increase your apartment’s value. An advantage of consulting with a lawyer when you buy a property is that they can search these things for you, but also check with the council for nearby development approvals.

How secure is the apartment and the complex?

Apartment complexes can be busy, with residents and guests coming and going at different hours, so it’s important to know that the building is secure. Many newer developments will have features such as swipe card access, cameras and passcodes, giving you added layers of security. Older apartment complexes may not have such robust security features.

Depending on the size and location of the complex, you may also need to consider whether the balcony of your apartment will be secure, or whether it may be accessible from the outside, and if so, what the security door situation is. If you would like to know more, Canstar asked a senior police officer for a list of tips that may help you protect your home from break-ins.

Do you own the land when you buy an apartment?

When you buy an apartment under a strata title arrangement, the owner’s corporation – or body corporate – owns the land collectively, meaning you will share ownership of the land with the other owners. Typically, your individual ownership interest will be in the apartment, meaning you will have the title to the air space in which your apartment is situated and will also have the right to use common areas of the apartment building. In the case of a ground floor apartment, a backyard or courtyard space will likely belong to you, but it is worth asking the agent to confirm.

Is buying a unit a bad idea?

There is no easy answer to this question, as your individual needs and circumstances will determine whether an apartment is a suitable choice for you. There are a number of factors that may influence your decision, and some key considerations may be:

  • Whether you are happy to live the apartment lifestyle – with some shared spaces but potentially some appealing communal facilities too, like a gym or pool – or whether you would prefer a house all of your own.
  • Whether you are happy to be part of a body corporate, and potentially being bound by strict by-laws.
  • Whether you are happy paying annual strata fees and potentially paying for renovations to an apartment building, compared to the responsibilities and costs that come with house ownership.

To help you make the best decision possible and to avoid possible pitfalls, it may be beneficial to consult with some experts before committing, such as a buyers’ agent, lawyer or conveyancer, and – particularly if you are buying the apartment as an investment – a financial advisor.

 

 

Cover image source: Balance Form Creative/Shutterstock.com


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