In most cases property in Australia is sold through a real estate agent. The seller of the property pays the real estate agent a commission. In most cases this is a percentage of the sale price. This means that the real estate agent has a vested interest in selling the property for the highest amount possible and is working for the seller not the buyer (you!).
You can make yourself known to real estate agents when you are looking for a property, but if you truly want an agent to negotiate and have your best interests at heart you should consider a Buyers Agent. If you do, the Buyers Agent will charge you a fee. This can range from a percentage of the purchase price to a flat amount. Most people choose to save their money and do their own research and negotiation, but it is certainly an option if you are not familiar with a market and want someone to act on your behalf. A Buyers Agent should be able to save the amount of their fee through negotiation on your behalf and finding well priced properties in good locations.
Research property prices and be prepared to devote your Saturdays to ‘open for inspections’ (when potential buyers can visit properties for sale). There are many websites where you can search thousands of properties online and organise your inspections calendar, which can make your househunting a little easier.
Properties are sold either by private sale (where you’ll negotiate with an agent) or at auction. If you choose to purchase at auction it is essential that you have made all of your preliminary enquiries and have your finance in order as you are essentially making a cash offer to purchase and do not have a cooling off period.
If you are on a temporary residency visa you may have restrictions with regards the property you purchase, so make sure you check beforehand.
Points to consider
Floor plan and room sizes
Walk around the property to get a sense of how one room flows into the next. Check whether the rooms are the right size and shape for your existing furniture and appliances. If not, are you prepared to splash out on replacements? The rooms should also be practical. For example, does the kitchen layout suit your needs? Is there enough space for a dining table?
Orientation and natural light
Check where the property’s windows are and whether trees or nearby buildings will block out sunlight. If the lights are on, switch them off to get a feel for the natural light. The inspection may have been timed to maximise natural light.
Consider whether neighbours can see directly into the property. It’s also worth checking whether they’ve lodged any development plans with the council.
Walk around the block to see how well other properties in the area are maintained and to listen for noisy pets.
Heating, cooling and ventilation
If the property has heating or air conditioning systems, check that they work, how old they are and if they’ve been recently serviced. Keep in mind that high ceilings can make it difficult (and expensive) to heat a room. Ventilation is especially important in kitchens and bathrooms, so test the extractor fans.
Check whether the water pressure’s up to scratch, especially in the shower. Can you get the right mix of warmth and pressure, or will it cost you to change this? Consider whether the hot water heater is big enough for your family’s needs. Don’t be afraid to flush the toilets!
Do the built-in wardrobes suit your needs? If there aren’t any, will the bedroom be large enough for a freestanding wardrobe? If there’s a garage, check that it’s big enough for your car and any other items you’d like to store.
Fixtures and fittings
Are there enough power points? Are they in convenient locations? Check behind the furniture, because they may be hidden. If the house has blinds, curtains, flyscreens, light fittings or other fixed features, they should ideally be clean and in good working order.
Common walls, floors and ceilings can be a real issue, as can communal areas such as stairwells. Consider how well-insulated the property is, how well-fitted the doors and windows are, and whether there’s carpet or double glazing. Traffic, shared courtyards and nearby schools and sporting grounds are all potential sources of noise.
Outdoor maintenance can be hard work. Do you have the time or money to mow the lawn, weed the flower beds or clean the pool?
Note: If you have a disability and have access to the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) you may be able to use some of your funding for gardening and household maintenance.
Some older pools may need resurfacing which can be expensive, and check that fences and gates meet safety codes.
Will you need to install or repair security doors? If the property has a shared entrance, check whether the main door locks and if the other owners and tenants generally keep it closed.
No matter what the agent has told you, or how new the property is, a building inspection is a must. A building inspection report is sometimes referred to as a pre-purchase property inspection report.
An inspector will check for structural damage, damp issues, compliance problems and anything else that might prove to be a headache down the track. While building inspectors should also identify damage caused by termites, a building inspection is separate to a pest inspection.
Always use a qualified building inspector, such as a licensed builder or surveyor. Ask any potential inspectors what their qualifications are and whether they carry insurance. Also ask what the report will include – is it a standard report, or a more-expensive comprehensive report? There are Australian standards for building inspection reports and a professional must ensure that their report meets these standards.
You may also like to download and print this checklist.
Happy hunting, and all the best!
You have just read a sample chapter from my guide “Buying a house in Australia”
Topics in the series include:
- Residency and Home Ownership
- Residency and Finance
- Count your personal costs
- Count your property costs
- Improve your chances of getting a loan
- Types of finance and accounts
- Finding your property
- Buying your property
- Loan application process
- More about buying “off the plan”
- Adding value through renovations
- More about building
- More about auctions
- Alternative ways to find property
- How to repay your home loan early
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