When buying a property, there is great excitement to have found your place to build or renovate a new home. It is heartbreaking to see the look on people’s faces when they find out later that all is not as it seems, and what they had wanted to do is not achievable. To help avoid this, I have created this five point property buying guide.
1) Check for restrictions.
When a property is sold the contract documents contain a Planning Certificate and the Copy of Title. It is critical to check these, as they state if the property has restrictions such as:
– A single building covenant – you are only allowed to build one house on the property. If your intention was two or more townhouses, this is not allowed.
– Heritage controls – you must keep the old house on the site or the front part of it. Renovation and extensions are allowed, although there are controls and restrictions on these to protect the original home.
– Easements – an area marked on the title that you aren’t allowed to build over, as a drain exists within that area that might require access for maintenance. Easements are usually along a property boundary, but I have seen rare cases where they run through the middle of a property dividing it in half, and at the same time halving the area you have to work with.
– Overlays – The planning certificate will state if there are any other special conditions, for example – a flood plane – meaning your house must be elevated a certain height above ground as the area floods. This can restrict how close you can build to a boundary as there are height controls relative to distance form a boundary. Another common example is a – vegetation protection overlay – trees on the site can’t be removed. Make a call to the council when an overlay is listed to find out the details on the restrictions they are imposing.
Size matters when it comes to properties. Have an architect check you will have enough room for everything you need in your house, whilst still having space left over for a yard. I’ve often had clients caught out by not realising a large tree on the site cannot be removed (council imposed overlay) and their space for a house is less than they thought.
3) Front setback.
This is how close to the street the front of your new house can be positioned. It is the average of the two neighbouring houses front setback, or 9 metres, which ever is lesser. I’ve seen numerous people caught out thinking a block is big enough, only to find out the house must be positioned further back from the street, reducing their space.
With heritage listed homes, the desire is usually to add an extension to the rear of the existing house. However, some old homes are set back far from the street, reducing the area you have to work with at the rear.
4) Sloping blocks.
It is virtually impossible to accurately gauge the slope of a property whilst on it. Perspective plays tricks with our eyes and the slope never looks as bad as it is. Often if there is an old house on the site and trees, you cannot get a clear view down the whole site, also making it hard to judge the slope. Why is this important to determine? Because building on steeply sloping sites adds considerable costs to a project. Refer to this blog post I wrote on designing for a sloping block.
Everybody needs good neighbours. What I am referring to however, is the need to consider the effect neighbouring buildings has on the site you’re interested in. A tall building to the north, the only side that gets sunlight all day, will mean your house will be in shade. Similarly neighbouring windows looking in will reduce privacy.
Lastly, large trees on adjoining properties near the boundary will affect where you can build due to their root system. Tree roots can damage your home by disturbing the ground which your house sits on, causing walls to crack.
This I hope gives you some idea of what to consider when purchasing the most expensive item you will likely own, a piece of land. It is always best to have an architect check to make sure none of the above will add costs or prevent you from achieving what you want. The need to sell a property you just bought and that isn’t right for you will cost you a fortune in stamp duty, agent’s commission and time.