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Checklist for buying an apartment

ByGeorge Hadgelias

Apartments can make the perfect first home or property investment, but no one should choose the high-life without first taking into consideration these important factors.  

Much cheaper than homes, apartments are a great alternative for those who want to live close to the city. But they vary in size and facilities, and some come with hidden costs.

So discerning buyers need to look beyond the price tag and really dig into the pros and cons of each property before signing on the dotted line.

Here is a checklist to help you buy an apartment that’s right for you.

1. Ask about strata fees

Buying an apartment generally means buying into a strata scheme, which is basically a system of ownership that sees individuals wholly own their apartments, or ‘lots’, and share ownership of the building’s common property with their neighbours.

Strata schemes charge their members annual fees, or ‘levies’, to cover the cost of repairing and maintaining an apartment block’s shared areas. These fees depend on the size of the building complex and the facilities they include.

As a result, modern apartment buildings with lifts, pools and gyms tend to charge quite high fees, with individual owners usually charged an amount that’s proportionate to the size of the apartment they own. And so it’s worth finding out much these are, before you decide whether to buy a property.

Capital improvements are another potential hidden cost.

More likely than not, your unit will be part of an owners corporation – a committee of owners that is responsible for managing the maintenance of a building’s common areas – which means you may have to pay for renovations, should the majority of your neighbours vote to make improvements to the common property.

Add in the need to fork out for building insurance on an annual basis and your once appealing investment might suddenly look a lot less desirable.

Key questions to ask about finances:

  • what are the annual owners corporation fees?
  • does the owners corporation have a maintenance fund?
  • is the owners corporation in debt?
  • what is the yearly cost of building insurance?

2. Research your owners corporation

If you choose to buy a property on a strata title, you will most likely become a member of an owners corporation.

These legal entities have the power to enforce strict rules on noise, pet ownership and the use of common areas, and so it’s important to do your homework on the owners corporation to make sure their rules are a good match for your lifestyle.

Some owners corporation also require members to attend regular meetings, while others are much more relaxed.

Check your contract of sale for details about the owners corporation, ask the agent what they’re like, and, if you can, take a look at the minutes of recent meetings for further information.

3. Check out nearby facilities

In most cases, apartment living means less space, so it’s essential to consider nearby facilities before you purchase.

For example, if you have a dog, you will want parkland or access to an open area. And then you might want to consider whether the apartment has good access to supermarkets and a gym.

Apartment living can be quite stuffy, too, so it’s worth buying somewhere close to bars, cafes and restaurants.

If investing, these nearby highlights will also make your property more desirable to renters.

4. Look for car parking space

Car parks are often in short supply around high rises, especially those close to the CBD.

Which is why it’s best to look for a unit that has a designated car space on the title – unless the added convenience adds too much onto the price tag.

If you don’t have a car, then check out what public transport is available and familiarise yourself with the parking situation, so that you can guide any visitors in the right direction whenever they come to stay.

5. Consider storage

Apartment owners must be savvy when it comes to using space.

Many large complexes offer access to storage cages in the car park, but if you don’t have added space available on your title, make sure to investigate nearby storage facilities.

Alternatively, you can get creative with some simple storage hacks, or purge your belongings before moving in.

6. Suss out the neighbours

You can’t often control who your neighbours are in an apartment complex, but it’s important to remember that they can have a big impact on your lifestyle.

Ask the agent about other tenants in the building, and set up as many walkthroughs as possible before signing the contract. That way, you’ll have a much better chance of working out how your neighbours’ lifestyles might affect yours.

After all, if you’re after a quiet life, then moving into a student-friendly apartment tower near to a university might not be right for you.

Before buying consider:

  • Noise – can you hear people in other apartments?
  • Odours – can you smell animals, dampness, or rubbish?
  • Light – will you have access to a window or balcony with natural sunlight?
  • Air – does your apartment have enough windows and free-flowing air?

7. Learn about waste disposal

Waste and recycling procedures differ between apartment complexes. Some use garbage chutes; others, old-fashioned wheelie bins.

And some are much more environmentally-friendly than others, too. Which is why it’s a good idea to research what system your potential new home has in place.

8. Vacancy rates and short stay accommodation

If you are buying an apartment to live in, it’s important to find out how many units in the building are vacant and whether any units are being used for short-stay rentals.

This is because empty apartments can impact the feel of the complex community, and short-stay rentals often present noise and security concerns.

9. Assess the security

Apartments have more people coming and going than houses, and so it’s important to consider what security features each complex has in place.

New and larger complexes usually have swipe cards, security cameras, pass codes and sometimes guards. These provide greater piece of mind, but also add a bit to your annual fees.

Meanwhile, dated apartment blocks sometimes have no security at all.

10. Structure and layout

The structural integrity of the building and the layout of the apartment should be key considerations for any buyer.

When inspecting a unit, look for red flags such as cracking, mould or broken sealants. Check whether the apartment has carpets and what the walls are made of, too, so that you can get a good idea of how the unit will insulate noise.

Getting approval to renovate apartments is difficult, especially if you are making big changes, so if you are not happy with the design, then it’s best to look elsewhere.

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