Buying an existing home

If you are buying an established property to renovate, ask an architect, draftsperson or builder to report on the kind of work possible, some ideas may look good on paper but not be structurally sound.

Even if you do not intend to renovate, a building inspection before you buy can identify repairs and maintenance requirements, and estimate some unforseen costs.

If building work has been carried out on the property within the past 10 years, check if these works had council approval. You can do this by:

  • asking the selling agent (and getting their response in writing)
  • contacting the local council.

The quality and workmanship of registered building works are automatically covered by warranties from the builder. For more information, visit the Building Commission website.

There are different types of property you can buy.  

Green title

Green title is the most common form of land title. It refers to land that generally has no common areas (unless indicated on the certificate of title) and may include a freestanding dwelling.

Green title properties may still have restrictions or instructions about how the land can be used. For example, the Water Corporation may have a right to install or access a sewer line on the property, and depending on its location, it may restrict your ability to install a pool or build an extension.

As many restrictions are recorded on the certificate of title, it is a good idea to check the title and make other relevant enquiries before buying a property.

Purple title

Purple title refers to ownership of an undivided share in a property.

Although this is not now a common form of title, some retirement villages or multi storey units (for example) offer residents an undivided share in the complex. The right to occupy certain areas in the complex is then determined by the contract with each resident.

Buying from an owner builder

An established property may be an owner-built house or include other building work that has been completed by an owner builder. An owner builder is a person who:

  • used their own skills to build, extend or renovate their home
  • managed sub-contractors to do the work.

You can tell if a house is owner built, or has had work carried out by an owner builder, by:

  • checking the name of the builder on the building permit contacting the local council
  • contacting the Building Commission.

Flats, units or apartments (strata title)

A strata title is a form of individual ownership of a home, unit or apartment within a multi-unit complex. At settlement, you will receive a certificate of title for the unit you have purchased  and become a joint owner of the common property (common areas such as hallways and foyers that are shared by all the unit owners).

Buying a strata title property

When looking at a strata title property, consider:

  • Can you hear people walking and talking in other apartments? 
  • Can you smell cooking? 
  • Are you near the garbage bins or waste collection areas? Are there any odours? 
  • Is there a parking space on the title? If so, then check this matches the plan of subdivision and the contract of sale. 
  • What are the rules for the complex? Are you able to have pets?
  • What are the fees or levies to administer the strata?
  • Can you view any minutes from the strata company annual general meetings?

If you are considering a strata-title property, find out about the strata company (formerly called the ‘body corporate’).

The unit owners are members of the strata company, which owns and manages the common property.

If you buy the property, you will be a member of the strata company. You will have the right to vote on decisions about the operation of the strata company and, among other responsibilities, must:

  • pay annual strata company fees, levies and charges
  • obey strata company rules. Rules may restrict renovations to the property, pet ownership, and noise.

Strata information you must be given

Before you buy a strata titled property, the property seller must give you the following:

  • A form called Disclosure Statement:  Sale of Strata Titled Lot or Proposed Strata Titled Lot (Form 28). Form 28 sets out a list of all the information you should receive before buying a strata titled property and your rights if you do not receive the information.
  • A form called Buying and Selling a Strata Titled Lot (Form 29). Form 29 outlines your rights and obligations if you decide to become an owner of a strata titled property.
  • A copy of the strata plan, which indicates the lot being sold and provides information relating specifically to the lot.
  • A copy of the standard by-laws (and amendments) and any non-standard by-laws.

When you are happy with the content of the forms, sign the Form 28. Signing the Form 28 is not an offer or contract to buy the strata titled property–it simply shows that you have received and understood the information provided.

Strata information you should know

After reading through the forms, make sure you have answers to the following questions, or find out in writing from the property seller or real estate agent.

  • Does the strata company have rules about keeping pets, car parking and use of common property?
  • How much are the strata company fees and levies, water and local authority (council/shire) rates?
  • Are there any shared facilities, like a swimming pool or a laundry area?
  • Is there a clear procedure to follow regarding maintenance problems?
  • Is there a person who is paid to maintain the complex?
  • How old is the strata property?
  • How often is maintenance carried out?
  • Does the strata company have enough funds to properly maintain the complex?
  • What is the financial position of the strata company?
  • Are there any legal and/or insurance claims pending against the strata company or outstanding levies due?
  • Does the strata company employ a strata manager and what functions does he/she carry out?
  • Is there a mechanism for resolving disputes between owners or tenants of the complex?
  • Regarding issues such as noise or the opportunity to meet people within the complex:
    • what is the age group/mix of tenants?
    • are units owner-occupied or rented?
    • are the unit walls free standing or are they shared?

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