What you can learn from my house-buying mistakes By Veronica Milsom
I've spent the last year doom-swiping real estate apps like a horny single on Tinder.
Every day, I'd log on expecting to be hot property, only to learn that everything was out of my league and I'd have to settle for shacking up with any old… shack. And I say that in the most privilege check-y way possible.
While I count myself lucky to be in the position to swipe right on a house, I feel unlucky to have picked the worst time in history to have wanted to do it.
Australian property is booming; there's too much demand and not enough stock, high interest in the low rates, and sales have shot through the recently retiled roof.
If you're also in the fortunate/unfortunate position of attempting to buy a house in 2021, here's a round-up of my dos and don'ts — from experience.
Don't buy a defective house
Most of the time when you buy a house, you are prepared to lose some dollars. But in exchange, you get a house.
My greatest real estate regret was losing thousands of dollars in return for no house.
It was a sunny Saturday morning, my husband and I were driving away from our 12th crushing auction defeat, the car filled with the loudest silence you've ever not heard, as I wept into my hanky.
It was in this desperate state of mind that we made an on-the-spot offer on a brand new duplex which was tentatively accepted by the agent (a red flag) who didn't even bother to haggle on the price (a billowing red flag).
It wasn't until after we'd hurriedly handed over a portion of the deposit that we ordered a building defect report, naively assuming it'd be futile for a BRAND NEW, never-before-occupied property.
But this house, it seemed, had been built to withstand only a couple of months of the year.
Among other issues (like the bath wasn't attached to the tiles), the report detailed several hundred thousand dollars' worth of waterproofing work to be done.
Like a phone dropped in the toilet, that house was only water resistant.
So we cut and run, waved goodbye to our precious cash and again, I got out the hanky. The same hanky, mind you — I'm not blowing extra cash on additional hankies.
I'm told that the problems with 'new builds' in NSW started in the '90s, with the deregulated the building industry. But before you feel left out because you are from another state, these kind of building issues can happen anywhere.
NSW Minister for Better Regulation Kevin Anderson says it's the responsibility of purchasers to research the developer of the property they're planning to purchase.
"Buyers could visit previous projects from the same developer and speak to current owners to hear about their experiences," he says.
"While real estate agents are obliged to tell consumers of orders, buyers can also check the RAB Act Orders Register on the Fair Trading website to see if any orders have been issued to the developer or the building."
Turns out I should've spent more time googling the house I was buying and less time searching for the name of the guy who played the dad in Marvelous Mrs Maisel. It's Tony Shalhoub by the way. The guy from Monk. Very impressive.
Don't cut a deal with a conveyancer (or do)
As a notorious cheapskate, nothing makes me happier than picking up an almost expired yoghurt from the clearance corner of the supermarket.
I love a good deal, and although solicitors don't do groupon coupons, there are some conveyancers offering a 'no cost contract review', meaning you only pay for the work on a property you win.
It's a wonderful deal for unsuccessful losers like me, but the emotional cost of feeling like you're ripping off a hard-working young lawyer does take its toll (cue the strings) and any joy there was on the great deal gets gobbled up by the weekly dread of calling them to confess yet another shameful loss.
So heed this warning: only take the deal if you can handle the weekly dread and guilt, and remember you can always compensate them with expired blueberry drinkable yoghurt.
Don't search for a house in your price range
Apparently only inexperienced suckers look to buy houses in the price range they can afford.
It's a fact that is both confusing and infuriating because it makes very little sense.
If you go down to your local convenience store for a one-dollar pack of mixed lollies, you're paying a dollar, baby. No more, no less.
But in real estate, if you try to buy a house advertised for a million dollars, you'll find yourself embarrassed at the bank asking for another half million dollars that you can't afford to pay off.
While real estate agents are legally allowed to underquote by 10 per cent, the disparity between the quoted price and the actual sold price can blow out to being far greater.
According to buyer's agent Amanda Bidder that can happen when there's a "lack of stock".
"[This fuels] the sheer enthusiasm of the buyers right now and prices are being pushed over everybody's expectations."
Ms Bidder, who ironically spends a lot of her time at auctions doing some of that fuelling by bidding for clients, says the current possibly unintentional underquoting may increase as the year goes on.
"There is now talk of the Sydney market growing by 22 per cent by the end of this year. This kind of conversation causes panic buying."
Don't ever put your best foot forward
That's some good life advice. But I'd also recommend it when dealing with real estate agents.
As someone who's spent a whole year of Saturdays traipsing through homes furnished with undersized beds, I can say with certainty, the first thing real estate agents will ask you for is your "best price".
It's a silly trick they pull to test whether you have any idea. Luckily I only fell for it once, which is pretty good for someone with no idea.
Ms Bidder explains: "If a property is going to auction, or you need to bid blindly, it wouldn't help a buyer to share their budget with the agent. It may be used against the buyer to either push them to this level or be divulged to other buyers to give the competition leverage."
Don't be fooled by their wily ways or distracted by their flashy shoes and shiny cars.
Don't be surprised by skeletons in the (linen) closet
I've always been someone desperate for approval: from my parents, my teachers and most of all, local council. Turns out there aren't many Australians who agree.
Of the 12 houses I almost bought, there wasn't one free of council-related complications.
It's the Wild West out there and cowboy vendors are putting their places on the market with such haste they're not even getting basic subdivision paperwork, renovation approvals or occupation certificates.
So, I guess, the very unsexy advice is do your homework and don't be sucked in by the hot market. But if you're reading this article and have already made the same mistakes, let's commiserate together as FOMO suckers.
Come to my overpriced house and we can cry into each other's wet hankies.
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