The five basics of the property search: Peter Chittenden

Peter ChittendenMarch 3, 20150 min read

After several decades working in this industry, I often get asked for advice.

I am referring to the casual questions that family, friends and associates ask me, such as: ‘I am looking to buy an apartment, where should I buy and what should I pay?’ or ‘I have been watching prices increase, do you think they’re getting out of control and may soon fall?’ and another common question – ‘Should I buy off the plan or an established apartment?’

Now in today’s fast moving market, these sorts of simple questions are loaded with so many options, because circumstances will be very different for each person. But if I stop and think about these questions, which I do, then I think that we tend to pay a lot of attention, possibly too much so to the big picture issues.

Like reflecting on interest rates, which has now turned into an almost never-ending narrative, or if there is an oversupply or too little supply and the constant reporting of auction results. I think that we forget about the basics. Buyers start to concentrate on the big picture instead of simply concentrating on their own plans and needs, the whole buying process becomes hard work, and it needn’t be.

For almost anyone looking to buy, even in the current market I would always suggest starting with the basics. Not being driven by constant media headlines, but concentrate more on what you as a potential buyer want, what are you looking for in your purchase, what are your immediate needs and plans for the future?

I think the same rules and basic ideas apply if you’re a first time buyer, a second or third time buyer or seasoned investor.

Just what are the basics? Nothing surprising really, but I would suggest: finance (your budget), location, timing and a hard-nosed view on the ‘must-haves’ in your property search. I think in that exact and, I suggest, somewhat logical order. This short list will I think serve any buyer well no matter their individual circumstances, so let’s look at each individually.

  • Finance

This is a subject that none of us, except possibly a very lucky Lotto winner can ever escape, the available finance or budget for any purchase is the essential starting point. It’s a topic that any buyer very likely thinks about the most, but I feel it’s important to appreciate that there’s lots of help and options available. Plan your finances and always think well beyond today, take into account the ups and downs, which might happen, in your personal affairs.

But above all, get as much information as you can. From the feedback I get, this is something that every buyer does appear to do these days. Lenders are keener than ever for your business, and help to find the best loan is free.

Right now we have the lowest interest rates since 1959. So plan your finances to take the maximum advantage of competitive rates, but keep in mind that rates will almost certainly go up sometime in the future. So make the best of the prevailing conditions.

If you lock in a three year or five year term, make sure that you still have the ability to make additional repayments, now while rates are low, and always keep in mind add-on costs like stamp duty, legal fees, moving costs, the possible need for temporary accommodation and be aware of any fees that attach to your home loan. Look beyond the headline details and understand the fine detail of your finances, that’s my basic point here, don’t only concentrate on the interest rate.

  • Location

When it comes to location, above all I think it pays to be flexible because it can be easy to become fixated about a particular location, and if this happens early in your search, the location can become an unnecessary roadblock. Again, take time to explore options because the ideal option might just be in an area or suburb you have previously overlooked.

The key points of any location often revolve around access to transport and facilities, but there could well be options if you take a flexible approach. As different governments start to roll out new infrastructure many areas will change over the next few years. If for example you want to live close to rail connections, an option might be the drive and park facilities.

Schools and shopping can also be important, the right school can be a tough one, but with many larger shops in particular supermarkets virtually now open 24/7, can you be more flexible? And it pays to be aware of what future developments might be coming to an area that may well add future value.

For apartment buyers open space is also a key point of location. Today many new developments are very well planned and designed with very attractive indoor and outdoor spaces, so when considering location take a close look at what’s on offer with individual projects.

  • Timing

Now I think that timing might just be one of those areas that you end up with possibly having the least amount of control over. In the housing market the most common reason to move house is usually associated with family formation. Marriage, living together, having kids, a divorce or retirement, in reality a variety of circumstances will bring buyers into the market.

Sometimes these things might sneak up on some of us, but generally timing of a move should not be allowed to become that critical that it forces you to buy or sell with little time to plan. If you’re in a buyers market, there’s possibly less pressure but even if the market is a sellers market plan your move to suit your own timeline and avoid over commitment of your finances in order to try and beat the market, that might just create more problems in the future.

  • Must Haves

This area involves possibly the most heart-burn, the most emotion, where dreams and reality may at times hit a bump. Responding to a marketing headline of ‘Inspired Design’ might be great for us in the business, but for buyers it pays to make sure again that you do not limit your choices.

Any new apartment needs to fit your lifestyle, your aspirations, I understand that, but always aim to sign-off on the basics first, like the number of bedrooms, do you need parking, or is a secure storeroom more important. A good outdoor area, a balcony, terrace or courtyard will always be high on the list of must haves for many buyers. Driven in part out of the reality that in some markets apartments are more compact but I think are generally well-designed.

However today the open plan approach to apartment design really does work to accommodate the living arrangement of most buyers, this creates flexibility. And if you’re buying off the plan there’s often a choice of interiors, finishes and colour schemes.

Kitchens and bathrooms are now attractive spaces, kitchens are evolving into almost bespoke pieces of furniture in their own right – but if everything is not perfect, think about the options you might change. Balance a good location against possible interior changes or furniture options that you can make.

Also keep in mind things like privacy and natural light, and aspect and sunshine because in the rush for the designer-finish these simple things can be overlooked and they can make a great deal of difference to the appeal of an apartment in the long run.

  • It’s Your Home

When looking to buy I think it’s important to work to your own timetable, explore all of the options of finance and location and take charge of what should be an exciting time.

Try not to be distracted too much by the big-picture because the market is still full of different options. Your final choice might end up being different from what you had first thought of as your ideal home, it might just be better! My suggestion is concentrate on the basics.

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.
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