Looking at buying your first apartment?

Don’t forget to breathe. Buying property of any kind is a big step and can be overwhelming. Although apartments may be smaller than a house, there are still some big questions to be asked.

Here’s a checklist of 15 questions to ask before you buy your first apartment.

1. What are the body corporate or strata fees?
When you buy into a townhouse complex or apartment block, you’re automatically a member of the owners corporation, also known as body corporate or strata fees. The owners corporation decides on issues concerning common property, like the exterior of the apartment building or landscaping.

Find out if there are fees associated with the corporation and what’s included. Once you have a rough idea of the overall expenses, you can evaluate if it suits your budget and lifestyle.

2. What about major repairs?
Strata maintenance fees generally cover the basics like window cleaning, gardening, pool upkeep etc. But what about the larger jobs?

It’s important to understand who is responsible for major repairs and how the costs will be shared. A sinking fund, also called a capital works fund, is a common solution for apartment owners needing to contribute a certain amount of funds towards work on the property.

Make sure the maintenance fees and sinking fund are clear and factor them into your budget.

3. What’s the parking situation?
If you have a car, ask whether the apartment comes with a designated car park that is included in the overall price. You don’t want to move in only to find there are extra charges for parking.

Apartment blocks generally don’t have much parking space, so visitor parking is also a beneficial asset.

4. How is the apartment positioned?
Smart positioning is key for an energy efficient and comfortable home. The ideal orientation is a balancing act between catching enough sunlight as well as cool breezes to suit the region’s climate.

Visit Your Home: Australia’s Guide to Environmentally Sustainable Homes to get an idea of how positioning can affect energy efficiency.


5. How old is the building?
The key thing to look out for is maintenance. If the building is run down, chances are you will have to fork out more money to keep on top of things. Ask for an engineer or architect’s report on the building before buying an apartment.


6. Is there a lift?
If the answer is yes, be aware that you may be pitching for maintenance fees through strata. If you live on the 10th floor this might make sense, but it can be frustrating for ground floor residents!

Everyone in the building is required to chip in for repairs and insurance, so it only makes sense to avoid paying for something you don’t even use.

7. Are pets allowed?
If you have a pet, a pet-friendly apartment block is a must. Depending on how you feel about other people’s pets, consider how the pet policy might affect you. Dog lovers may not mind a neighbour’s barking pooch, but if it’s likely to bug you then it’s something to think about.

8. Is it a block full of holiday rentals, rentals or owners?
If you thought a yapping dog upstairs was a deal breaker, consider the building occupancy. If the majority are holiday rentals, it could bring more noise.

On the other hand, if the majority are rentals, it could indicate popularity and possibilities to rent your own apartment out in the future. If a large portion is owners, the level of changeovers will be minimal. Whether it’s rentals, owners or holiday goers, it’s not a deal breaker.

The key thing is to make peace with your neighbours, whoever they may be, for a happy living environment.

9. What’s the vacancy rate?
If you’re buying an investment or plan on renting the apartment out in future, it’s important to know the vacancy rate. This will give you a rough idea of how easy or difficult it may be to rent out the apartment.

10. Is public transport nearby?
Multiple car park spaces are very rare in apartment blocks, so public transport is often key; the closer, the better in most cases. Check to see whether there are bus or train lines that connect to the area.

11. Why is the owner selling?
There are plenty of reasons to sell an apartment, from relocation to cashing in on an investment. But in some cases, an apartment may have been more trouble than the owner bargained for. It’s worth asking why the owner is looking to sell, as it can fill in some of the blanks for you as a buyer.

12. What alterations can be made?
Unlike buying a house, when you buy an apartment you’re not buying the land. It’s important to know what you can and cannot modify. Want to renovate the kitchen? That’s a more likely possibility than putting in a pool.

13. What amenities are nearby?
Location is key when buying any kind of property, but flashy architecture can often distract first home buyers from the surroundings.

Picture yourself living there. Where will you do your grocery shopping? Is there a convenience store within walking distance? How long will it take to get to work, gym or other activities?


14. Are there any area developments in the works?
Find out what’s brewing in the area and determine if it’s a good or bad thing for you. For example, a tall new high rise could potentially cut out views. On the other hand, a new school or shopping centre could up your location value.


15. What are the security measures?
No matter how ‘safe’ the area may be, it’s good to know there are security measures in place. Can anyone walk into the complex or are there locked gates and doors? Security cameras may also bring peace of mind.

There are plenty of things to think about before buying an apartment, but once you answer these questions then you’ll be in a better position to move forward.