Five classic errors of unit block newbies


New to apartments or teetering on the brink of buying your first unit? Trusting that someone somewhere will make the right decisions for everyone?

If only.  You need to have your wits about you when you enter the brave new world of apartment living. Here’s a guide to the five basic mistakes apartment-owning newbies often make.

Skimping on the strata search

Of course you’ll do a pre-purchase search – your solicitor or conveyancer will arrange it – but will it be just a spreadsheet of your new unit block’s assets and liabilities, with a nod in the general direction of pest control and fire safety inspections?

Or will it be a forensic examination of the way the strata community works, warts and all? You want the strata committee minutes for the last three years to be studied with an eye on all the conflicts in the past – especially the unresolved ones – and any proposals to changing things in a way that might affect you.

You are looking for expensive works that can’t be delayed any longer. Is the pet-friendly building you took ages to find, about to ban animals?  Or vice versa?

Is that lovely heated swimming pool about to have the gas turned off in winter to save money (and the planet)?

You can get a comprehensive report relatively inexpensively – anywhere between $200 and $500 — from a search sharing website like strata specialists in NSW, in Queensland or (where the cost depends on how many people have shared the report). Do your own search for the best option in your area, including Victoria which doesn’t seem to be particularly well-served.

The critical element to look out for is whether they report on the “harmony” in the building.  A practised eye on correspondence will reveal  most of the cracks in your new community as well as any in the fabric of the building.

And if there’s nothing contentious to be found, be equally cautious.  Better to buy into a scheme that had problems and resolved them, than one that pretends it never had any to begin with.

Delaying defect claims

While you are floating away on the “new car smell” of your just-completed apartment, the clock is ticking on building defects. You have six years to claim major defects – fualts that might render the building or your flat uninhabitable – and two years to claim anything else.

Insist your committee gets a building survey done ASAP and, if necessary, lodges a claim. Tick tock, tick tock…

Not reading your by-laws

Your by-laws (or rules) are attached to your contract of sale and tell you what you can and can’t do in your building – whether it’s having a pet or smoking on your balcony. Just because you haven’t read them doesn’t mean they don’t apply – as you will discover when you get a warning followed by a fine.

Not getting involved

Only losers with nothing better to do get themselves elected to strata committees, right? Who has the time? And, hey, how much harm can the people who did get elected do?

You’ll find out when your committee is stacked with fixed-income retirees who do have the time and won’t spend a cent on the building unless the bill is attached to a court order.

Believing that as owners, you can do as you please with your flat

All you really own is the airspace between your walls, the floor and your ceiling. Start messing with anything else without permission and you could be in big trouble.  

Apartment living and investing is a very different lifestyle for most Australians. But go in with your eyes open and it can be very rewarding.

This article first appeared in the Australian Financial Review



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