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Things to consider when buying a unit or townhouse

December 13, 2020

It’s no news that apartment living is on the rise. Whether rented or owned, there’s a greater number of Australians living in apartments and townhouses than ever before.

However there are a few key differences between buying a standalone house and a property that’s adjoined with others, such as a townhouse or unit.

If you are planning on buying a unit, apartment or townhouse, here are a few things you need to consider first.

Strata

If you’re buying an apartment, you’re likely going to be buying into a strata scheme. Be aware of what this entails. Aside from having to pay levies and attend and vote at annual general meetings, there are bound to be some by-laws in place. This might be laws on short-term letting, keeping pets in the property or even displaying laundry on balconies. It’s best to know what the by-laws are beforehand in case some are too restrictive and do not suit your lifestyle. You should also check body corporate records prior to purchase. You might find there are regular complaints, ongoing disputes or other issues that may be a red flag. You should also get a strata inspection report, which the sales agent should be able to organise, so you know what you’re buying into.

The neighbours

It goes without saying that in a unit or townhouse, you’re going to be a whole lot closer to your neighbours than you would be in a house. You’ll be sharing walls, common areas and bumping into each other on your way to work. If you can, get an idea of what your neighbours are like before purchasing. If you’re a new parent with a job to go to, it’s fair to say you don’t want to be sharing a wall with hard-partying uni students. This is not always easy to determine, but try to pick up this information where you can.

You should also check the ratio of investor-buyers to owner-occupiers in the building. Generally speaking, those with a higher ratio of owner occupiers are better maintained, as the owners are on-hand to ensure conditions are up to standard.

Unit positioning

Speaking of neighbours, think about the positioning of the unit you’re buying. If you’re a light sleeper, a lower level apartment might not be ideal if your upstairs neighbours tend to be heavy of foot or tap dancing enthusiasts. If you’re an investor buyer, a ground level unit might appeal to a broader range of renters and not exclude groups such as the elderly, for instance, who may physically be unable to get up to higher levels. Whether you’re looking at a unit or townhouse, also pay attention to the relative positioning of the place – will the neighbour’s property block the sunlight coming in for most of the day?

Shared facilities and maintenance

What shared facilities are on offer at the complex? If there is a shared laundry at the unit complex, are there enough machines for each apartment, or will you be lining up waiting to do your washing each week? And what condition are they kept in? Pay attention to how shared facilities such as visitor parking, swimming pools and clotheslines are used and maintained. Also check if there is a caretaker, or if not, who maintains these common areas and how often.

Size

For resale potential down the track, size definitely does matter when it comes to buying apartments. Consider whether the size of the property will be comfortable for you both now and down the track, with future plans in mind. Generally speaking, a comfortable size for a one bedroom apartment is considered to be 60 square metres or more, more than 75 square metres for a two bedroom apartment, and more than 125 square meters for a three bedroom place, not including any parking or storage areas.

Build quality

As with any property purchase, ensure you get a building inspection report completed before you sign on the dotted line. You want to ensure the build quality is adequate – not just the apartment you’re looking at but the complex overall.

Does it need renovation work?

If you’re planning to buy an older apartment and undertake extensive renovations to bring it up to scratch, be careful. Once again this is where you need to check the by-laws to see what rules apply in regard to renovations. There may be restrictions on removing walls or altering the actual structure of the place, as well as changing the external appearance. Changes may need to be reviewed and approved by strata before they can commence.

Beware apartment oversupply

Carefully research the market you’re buying in to see if the property is a good investment. While some markets such as Sydney and Melbourne don’t seem to be affected so far by the apartment oversupply predicted, there are reports that the value of units in Brisbane have started to take a hit, with many sellers selling at a loss. As with any purchase, it’s important to do your market research beforehand.

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