There are several steps to buying a house. Now that you’ve determined your financial situation and have an idea on how much you can borrow, the next step in the buying process is the fun part – looking for your new home! There are thousands of properties available for sale across the country and finding the house that is right for you can be a daunting task.

The first step in your property search should be to narrow down the options.  This will help you focus on a small list of properties that may appeal to you, rather than spending time on properties that you’ll never consider buying. The key things to ask yourself when you start to look for a new house include: Where do you want to buy? What type of property do you want to buy? How can you find properties that match your criteria? These are just some of the questions that are discussed further in this section.

Most people will have some kind of idea of the area they want to buy in and the cost. However, it is still a useful exercise to go back to ‘square one’ and write down what you are looking for. This is especially important for couples to do, as well as groups of people buying property together, to ensure that you are all ‘reading off the same page’.

What are you looking for in a suburb?

Do you need easy access to the city, public transport, parks, beaches, cafes or entertainment facilities? What about a family-oriented suburb with large homes, a bush setting or being close to family?

What can you afford?  

Identify which suburbs match the criteria you have identified above and find out how much properties cost in these suburbs (i.e. what is the average price for a house/unit/land in your short-listed suburbs?).

You can gauge the average price of property by talking with locals in the area, talking with real estate agents and keeping an eye on auction and sale prices published in your weekly newspaper and on the internet.

Once you’ve found out the average price of properties for different suburbs, you can eliminate the suburbs that exceed your price limit. Now you have a list of suburbs to focus on.

The type of house you buy should be based on your budget, your current and future needs and your lifestyle. There are a number of different types of properties including units, town houses, semi-detached and free-standing houses.

If you have a demanding job or spend a lot of time away from home participating in sport and social activities, then a low maintenance unit or townhouse may be suitable for you.

If you have a large family, pets or are a keen gardener, a larger house with a good-sized back yard may be the right property for you.

There are advantages and disadvantages with each type of property, for example, houses may require more maintenance (with you covering 100 percent of the cost), but may provide more privacy than a unit or townhouse. Units may offer you a great lifestyle at an affordable price, where common area maintenance costs are shared between the owners of the units in the complex. However, you must abide by the rules of a body corporate and consider issues such as noise and how to deal with your close neighbours.

Buying a house or investment property ‘off the plan’

Buying a house or investment property ‘off the plan’ means that you purchase a property (usually an apartment or townhouse) prior to completion of construction. You are required to put down a deposit and then have to wait until the property is finished. When buying off the plan make sure you have your solicitor or conveyancer thoroughly check all aspects of the contract.

Legal forms of ownership

There are many legal forms of ownership for residential properties, including:

Common Law or Old System Title
Torrens Title
Company Title
Strata Title
Community Title

Note that these forms of ownership vary by state, so ask your solicitor or conveyancer for further information about them.

If you are planning on buying a flat, unit or townhouse you need to understand how a body corporate works. If you buy one of these types of properties you automatically become a member of the body corporate.

A body corporate oversees the collective responsibility and decision making in relation to use and maintenance of the common property in your building. Owners are required to make financial contributions to the body corporate. Owners must pay fees and levies for administrative expenses including maintenance, upkeep and repair of buildings that form any part of the common property. Owners may also be required to contribute to a reserve or sinking fund to cover anticipated costs of repairs to the building or replacement of essential items or services such as fire services, security systems or lifts.

Body corporates have rules and restrictions that apply to residents. There may be restrictions on keeping pets, car parking restrictions or use of public spaces. You should consider how these regulations may impact on your lifestyle.

Other issues to consider when buying units are:

Noise (e.g. Is there traffic noise? Is there sound insulation between units? Are there rules in the body corporate about floor coverings? Are there any polished floorboards?

Layout of apartment (e.g. Where are the common walls?)

Security (e.g. Are there security doors or intercoms? Are there signs of vandalism or break-ins?)

Social dynamics (e.g. How many units are in the complex? How many units are owner-occupied or rented? How long have owners or tenants lived there? Generally, if residents have lived there for a long time, it indicates they are happy with their surroundings)

Parking (e.g. What type of parking do you have? Are there rules about visitors parking on common areas?)

Now that you’ve developed a short list of possible suburbs to buy in, you need to write a checklist of essential features you require in a property (e.g. three bedrooms, two bathrooms, two living areas, grassy back yard, quiet street) and a ‘nice to have’ list (e.g. four bedrooms, large back yard, exclusive street, swimming pool).

Once you’ve written your checklists, you won’t need to waste your time looking at any properties that don’t fit your criteria. And that can be handy, especially when all the ‘open for inspections’ are often on at the same time!

Internet advertising

One of the best ways of finding property that matches your criteria is via the internet. There are websites that carry details of properties for sale where you can type in your requirements and your price range (search for ‘properties for sale or auction’). When a property that matches your criteria is advertised you can be notified by email immediately, and act quickly.

Real estate agent magazines

Most real estate agents produce free glossy magazines advertising the properties they have for sale or auction. If you visit the suburb in which you wish to buy a house in you will usually see magazine stands outside real estate offices.

Real estate offices

Real estate offices usually display their properties in their front window. It’s a good idea to make contact with the agents in real estate offices in your desired suburb, and let them know what you are looking for so that when a property comes onto the market that matches your criteria, they can contact you. But always keep in mind that the real estate agent is working for the vendor, not you. You may be asked to see properties that might not fit your ideal criteria, but at least you can get a broad understanding of what’s on offer in the market and for how much. If you do this, it might give you a better handle on what a fair and reasonable price is when you find a property you like.

Newspaper classified advertisements

The major newspapers in each state/ territory contain listings of properties for sale and auction, with most properties being advertised in the Wednesday and Saturday editions (with the Saturday edition usually in a ‘lift out’ property section).

The local newspapers of many areas often contain a large property advertising section, with many newspapers dedicating half the publication to property advertising.