PROPERTY PURCHASE TYPES

VACANT LAND

This is just as its name states: a piece of land that is vacant. Quite simply, any land that doesn’t have a building located on it is considered ‘vacant land’.

 

There is residential vacant land, which can mean land that has been carved up by a developer with the potential for a residential property to be built on to it. This is usually done in high-demand areas.

 

Rural vacant land is a block of rural land that has been or is intended to be rezoned for residential use. A strategy usually done by advanced investors as it is considered a high-risk property purchase.

 

Commercial vacant land, is empty land zoned for commercial use. When a property or land is ‘zoned’, this means that that exact type of property must be built onto that land. So, if it is zoned commercially, then a building for business must be built on that vacant land.

RESIDENTIAL PROPERTIES

One of the most popular property types for investors, a residential property is any building that is used or is suitable for use as a dwelling. It can be in the process of being built or long established, so long as it’s use is to house people.

 

There are many different types of residential buildings, including: homes, units, townhouses, duplexes, etc. Depending upon the circumstances of the investor as to the type of residential property they wish to purchase, this type of property is generally a great choice for first time or beginner investors. 

COMMERCIAL PROPERTIES

This refers to any property that is used for business activities, or in other words a building that houses business(es). In some instances, it can also refer to land that is intended to generate profit, or a larger residential rental property.

 

When a building is designated as a commercial property, it majorly affects the financing of the building, the tax associated with it and the type of laws that apply to it.

 

Many residential property investors looking to diversify their investment portfolio will seek out commercial property for potential investment opportunities.

BUYING AT AUCTION

Buying a House

IMPORTANT

Unlike when you buy a house that is for sale, there is no cooling-off period when you buy at auction, or exchange contracts on the same day as the auction after it is passed in.

RESIDENTIAL AND RURAL PROPERTY

If you are thinking about buying a residential or rural property at an auction, you need to be well informed about your rights and responsibilities.

Under law, agents are required to give all potential bidders a copy of a publication called the Bidder's guide prior to the auction.

It is strongly recommended you take the time to read it. The Bidder's guide contains important information you need to know, such as, how you register to bid and what kind of identification you must provide before you can bid.

Because buying at an auction can be a nerve-racking experience, in addition to reading the Bidder's guide, it is a good idea to attend an auction or two as a spectator to familiarise yourself with the auction process.

Also, take the time to find out what prices properties in the area have sold for, so you have a guide to the market value of the home you want.

Before auctioning a property, the seller will nominate a reserve price which is usually not told to the interested buyers.

The reserve price is the lowest price that the seller is willing to accept. If the highest bid is below this price, the property will be ‘passed in’. The seller will then either try and negotiate a price with interested bidders or put the property back on the market.

If the bidding continues beyond the reserve price, the property is sold at the fall of the hammer. If you are the successful buyer, you must then sign the sale contract and pay the deposit on the spot (usually 10%)

Unlike when you buy a house that is for sale, there is no cooling-off period when you buy at auction, or exchange contracts on the same day as the auction after it is passed in.

 

So it is important to:

  • have your solicitor or conveyancer examine the sale contract before the auction to make sure everything is in order

  • have your finance arranged

  • have pre-purchase inspections completed prior to the auction.

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BUYING OFF THE PLAN

THE SALE CONTRACT

Sometimes strata units or retirement village homes are advertised for sale before the building has been constructed. The design of the building and sketches of its final appearance may be included in advertising material well before occupation is possible. Buying a property under these circumstances is commonly known as buying ‘off the plan’.

There are a number of issues to be aware of when buying off the plan because you are entering into a contract to buy a property without having first been able to view and assess the finished product.

THE CONTRACT

When buying off the plan, the date for completing the contract is usually not until the building is finished. Commonly, the buyer pays a deposit to secure the property, with the balance payable upon settlement.

The conditions of the contract should be closely checked. Legal advice should be obtained on the benefits or restrictions provided by the terms of the contract. For example, consideration should be given to whether there are any penalties for withdrawing from the contract. Other questions you might need to ask could include:

  • Can I make changes to the finishes in the kitchen and bathroom?

  • Can I select appliances such as stoves and dishwashers and items such as floor and wall tiles?

  • Can I visit the site during construction?

  • If the building is finished earlier than expected, has finance been suitably arranged?

  • What are my rights if construction is delayed?

  • Is my deposit secure if the building doesn't proceed?

  • Can I on-sell during the construction period?

Always read your contract and obtain advice from a lawyer or licensed conveyancer.

HOME WARRANTY INSURANCE

Home warranty insurance is required to be taken out by the builder for residential building work (including the construction of strata units) valued over $20,000. An exception to this requirement is for the construction of new multi-storey buildings built after 31 December 2003. A multi-storey building is a building of more than three storeys (not including the car park) and containing two or more dwellings. Exemptions also apply to certain types of retirement villages.

All other residential building work that is not exempt must have home warranty insurance cover in place and a copy of the certificate of insurance must be attached to the contract of sale. The certificate is to show that the necessary insurance has been taken out by the builder.

The insurance is required to insure the buyer against:

  • the risk of non-completion of the work, and

  • breach of statutory warranties relating to the work.

 

However, a developer who sells a non multi-storey strata unit off the plan is exempt from attaching a certificate of insurance to the sale contract, but only if the building work has not yet commenced and the contract informs the buyer that:

  • the developer selling the property does not need to give a certificate of home warranty insurance if the building work has not yet started

  • the law requires there to be home warranty insurance in place for the building work before commencement of the work

  • the developer is required to give the buyer the certificate of home warranty insurance within 14 days of the insurance being taken out

  • the buyer can cancel the contract of sale if the home warranty insurance certificate is not provided within 14 days of the insurance being taken out.

 

Cancellations

The legal right to cancel the contract under the Home Building Act 1989 is limited to situations without home warranty insurance at the arranged time. In this circumstance, the prospective purchaser can only cancel before the contract has been completed (settlement).

Warning to purchasers

A contract could be completed before the building work is finished and before any insurance is taken out. Where a contract for sale is completed and settled, the legal right to cancel the contract no longer applies, even if the builder has broken the law and not provided the necessary insurance.

THINGS YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT

There may be substantial demand for housing in popular areas of NSW and it is sometimes easy for developers to market such properties months before building work is complete.

Are you paying too much?

Market prices fluctuate, therefore the resale value may be different to that of your expectations or predictions. It may be difficult to know whether the selling price off the plan will reflect the actual market value at the time your property is ready for occupation.

Funding the purchase

You may need to sell your present home to raise the money needed to pay the balance owing upon settlement. Timing of this sale is critical. You do not want to sell your home too early or too late as problems could arise either way.

This may be a particular issue for those buying retirement village accommodation off the plan.

Changes to plans

Changes to the building plans often need to be made during construction. This can sometimes mean that the finished complex is not exactly the same as shown in the original plan.

Quality of finish

When signing the contract, you may not know exactly how your particular property will look when construction is finished nor the precise quality or standard of fixtures and fittings. Sometimes, the fixtures and fittings are different from how the buyer imagined, or what they were like in a display home at the time of sale.

Management contracts in place

In a strata scheme, the developer may have signed binding management contracts between the owners corporation and caretakers/building managers.

Prospective buyers are entitled to know the details and see copies of any such contracts. Your lawyer or licensed conveyancer can arrange the necessary searches.

Exclusive use or special privilege by-laws

The developer is not permitted to register by-laws which give exclusive use of desirable parts of the common property (eg. a roof garden or parking) so that they are only accessible to owners of certain lots. This type of by-law can only be made after the initial period (ie. after one-third of the lots have been sold).

Unit entitlement

The unit entitlement of the various lots within a strata scheme (which determines voting power at meetings and the required levy contributions) may not be specified or even known at the time properties are advertised for sale.

Summary

Remember that when you buy off the plan, you are paying for a property where the finished product may be different from your expectations.

NOTE

 A contract has not been made and is not legally binding before the exchange of contracts and the payment of a deposit.

 
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STRATA SCHEMES

BUYING INTO A STRATA SCHEME

How much do you know about buying a unit in a strata scheme? Before  purchasing a strata title property you should be aware of the following  issues:

WHAT IS A STRATA SCHEME?

A strata scheme is a building or collection of buildings, where individuals each own a small portion (a lot) but where there is also common property (eg. external walls, windows, roof, driveways etc) which every owner shares ownership over.

Strata schemes are, in effect, small communities where the activities and attitudes of residents can have a significant impact on the satisfaction and enjoyment of others. It is important for people to be aware of the responsibilities and obligations when owning a property in a strata scheme.

WHAT WOULD I ACTUALLY OWN IN A STRATA SCHEME?

One of the major differences between owning a house and owning a unit (known as a ‘lot’) in a strata scheme, is that the external walls, the floor and roof do not usually belong to the lot owner. These areas are usually common property and the maintenance and repair of these parts of the building is usually the responsibility of the owners corporation. As it is common property, the lot owner is not able, without permission of the owners corporation, to alter or renovate these areas, or install services such as cable television. As a further example, a lot owner is not allowed to put an additional window in a common property wall without obtaining owners corporation approval.

Before purchasing a strata lot, it is essential that the prospective buyer is clear on where the common property boundaries are. This information is available from the strata plan, which shows the layout of the strata scheme and the common property details. Close attention should be paid to items such as sliding doors leading to balconies, garage doors and balcony railings, as strata plans may differ on whether these items are part of the common property or not.

It is recommended that expert advice be obtained if there  is any uncertainty over common property boundaries. For a definitive answer on  what forms common property in your strata scheme, you should refer to the strata  plan for your individual strata scheme. A copy of the strata plan may be  obtained from Land and Property Information NSW (formerly the Land Titles Office) at the corner of Macquarie Street and Prince Alfred Road Sydney NSW, or on 9228 6798.

In most strata schemes, the lot owner owns the inside of the unit but not the main structure of the building. Usually the four main walls, the ceiling, roof and the floor are common property. The internal walls within the lot (eg. the wall between the kitchen and loungeroom), floor coverings such as carpet and fixtures such as baths, toilet bowls and benchtops are all the property of the lot owner. While it is sometimes a hard concept to envisage, a lot owner effectively owns the airspace (and anything included in the airspace) inside the boundary walls, floor and ceiling of the lot.

Airspace can also extend to balconies and courtyards. You should get proper advice about ownership of such things as a tree in the courtyard or responsibility to maintain a pergola covering a balcony or courtyard. They could be in your airspace and therefore, would be maintained at your cost.

OWNERS CORPORATION AND EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

The owners corporation is the body made up by all the  owners in the strata scheme. The owners corporation has an executive committee which can make many of the decisions on its behalf.

WHAT ARE LEVIES?

The role of the owners corporation is to look after the business of the strata scheme. To carry out this role, the owners corporation must set up and keep an administrative fund (for day-to-day operational expenses) and a sinking fund (for long-term future expenditure). The owners corporation must estimate how much money is needed each year for the funds to cover all the expenses and needs of the strata scheme. The levy amount to be paid by owners is decided at each annual general meeting by a majority vote. All levies must be worked out based on the unit entitlements of each lot. Levies are usually paid every 3 months.

An owners corporation has the same type of expenditure as a conventional householder. There are council rates, water and electricity charges for common areas, building and public liability insurance and repairs and maintenance of common areas. In a strata scheme, there is also additional expenditure such as workers compensation insurance, building valuations, the resolution of any disputes which may arise within the scheme and any other matters related to the running of the scheme.

Lot owners must be aware that they will be required to make regular contributions to the owners corporation to cover the maintenance and administration of the strata scheme. Owners should pay close attention to the quality and finishes of a building as everything the scheme has to offer must be maintained eg. swimming pools, lifts, tennis courts, saunas etc.

ARE THERE ANY MEETINGS I WOULD HAVE TO ATTEND?

While it is not compulsory for any lot owner to attend owners corporation meetings, a strata scheme operates better if those concerned take an interest in its affairs. It is helpful if people are willing to make themselves available for election to the executive committee. There would usually be several meetings of the owners corporation each year, although the annual general meeting (when levies are set for the coming year and the executive committee is elected) is the only meeting required by law. The executive committee would usually meet more often than the full owners corporation, as there would normally be a number of issues to deal with during the year.

WHAT ARE THE BY-LAWS/LIFESTYLE RESTRICTIONS?

By-laws are a set of rules that all people living in a strata scheme must follow. By-laws are made in relation to issues such as safety and security measures, floor coverings, the keeping of pets etc.

WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE SIGNING A CONTRACT?

You should get professional advice about the complexities involved in buying property. If you are interested in buying a strata unit, it is essential you look at the records of the owners corporation and know as much as you can about the maintenance of the building.

Particularly, you should consider how much it may cost and whether there are signs that money may need to be spent soon. Sometimes your solicitor will arrange this for you, but not always. There are companies which specialise in inspecting the books and they know what to look for. You can inspect the records yourself (upon payment of the necessary fees) and the owners corporation must make these records available:

  • the strata roll (shows: who owns each unit, mortgagees and others who have an interest in lots, general information about the strata scheme, the name of the managing agent, insurance details, the by-laws and the unit entitlements for the scheme and each lot)

  • general records, such as notices served about disputes or required by legislation, orders, minutes of meetings, accounting records, financial statements, correspondence received and sent, notices of meetings, details of proxies, voting papers

  • plans, specifications, certificates, diagrams and other documents if supplied by the original builder at the first annual general meeting

  • the certificate of title for the common property

  • the last financial statements

  • current insurance policies and the receipt for the last premium paid

  • other records held by the owners corporation, and

  • records or books of account kept by a strata managing agent.

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BUYING PROPERTY WITH FAMILY & FRIENDS

Property co-ownership offers an increasingly popular way to get into the property market that allows you to drastically reduce the costs of buying a home and building equity. Whenever a person wants to buy a home, commercial lot or other piece of real estate, they might want to do so as a member of a group of like-minded investors.

There are many ways of going about doing this, with the buying as Tenants in Common one of the most often faced. A form of co-ownership, tenancy in common is a term used to describe how the property is owned and which party is responsible for what.

What is property co-ownership?

Property co-ownership refers to an agreement between two or more people to share the ownership of a property. When entering an Agreement between Tenants in Common, each party agrees to certain responsibilities in return for the exclusive right to use the property at certain times. It involves:

  • Combining your money with others to put a deposit down on a property;

  • Combining your borrowing power with that of your family/friends

  • The chance to pay money towards your own mortgage and to build equity instead of paying rent (for Owner Occupiers), or earning an income as a property investor

  • The option to move out of the property and to use it as an investment property, or to sell out if you decide to end the co-ownership agreement

Legal Aspects

Co-ownership is legally referred to as ‘tenancy in common’, which in Australia’s property law allows two or more people to own a property together. A Co-ownership Agreement outlines the rights and obligations of the co-owners or as they are known, ‘tenants in common’. Tenants in common can have an equal or different share in the ownership of a property, with equal or different obligations under the agreement. A co-ownership agreement is a legally binding document that sets out the parameters and details of the co-ownership, allowing each party to fully understand the terms of the deal regarding mortgage repayments, percentage of ownership and exit strategies (that is, if one of the co-owners decides to sell out).

What is the difference between Tenants in Common and Joint Tenants?

The biggest difference between joint tenants and tenants in common is the manner in which the property rights continue in the event of a death of one of the co-owners. In a Joint Tenancy, when a co-owner dies their share of the property passes to the other owners. In a tenancy in common, the share of the deceased co-owner will pass along to according to their last will and testament, or if they die without one, according to the rules of the state. The Agreements Between Tenants in Common will usually state the co-owners have the exclusive right to decide how their share will be passed on after they die.