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5 things you need to do before you buy a house

Found a place you like or starting to look seriously? Here’s what you need to know.

Buying a home is an exciting time, but it can be daunting too. Before you get the keys to that place you really want, there are a few things you can do to make the process a little easier.

In this article we’ll share with you the tips and tricks to finding your perfect pad, covering everything from auction day nerves and contract negotiations, through to organising a conveyancer, preparing documents and going all the way through to settlement.

Find a solicitor or conveyancer

A solicitor or conveyancer is perhaps your most important ally when you’re buying a property – and a good one can make all the difference to the sales process. Getting recommendations from family and friends is a good place to start, rather than searching online.

Once you’ve found someone, you’re happy with, try to meet with them in person and put together a list of questions to bring with you. You should try to keep in regular contact and if there’s anything you’re not sure about when signing a legal document, get in touch with them.

Assess upfront costs

It’s important to do your own research into any potential upfront costs involved in buying a home. Here are the main ones: 

  • Stamp duty – use our stamp duty calculator to get an estimate of expected duty costs within your state. 
  • Building and pest inspections – so you can be aware of any structural issues or pest infestations before you continue with the sale. 
  • Moving costs – a post-settlement expense that has to be taken into account when you’re working out the total cost of moving house.
  • Legal fees – to cover the cost of hiring – and getting advice – from a qualified conveyancer or solicitor.

Review a contract of sale

A contract of sale is usually prepared by the vendor’s conveyancer. It may be the most important part of the home buying journey and you should look at it closely before signing.

Usually it will include details such as the settlement date and vendors’ names, plus a list any special conditions.

There are also additional documents that could be attached to a contract, including: 

  • A zoning certificate. 
  • A copy of the title to the property, as recorded in the Land Titles Office.
  • Documents detailing registered interests in the property.

It’s really important that you don’t sign a contract until you and your conveyancer are completely happy with it. Your conveyancer may suggest contract changes to the contract before you sign. 

Once you and the vendor have both signed and exchanged contracts, and the cooling-off period has passed, then the property is considered sold.

What happens at an auction?

An auction is held at a specific place, time and date and the sale is completed only once a reserve price has been reached. Going to an auction can be intimidating, particularly if you’re bidding for the first time, so it’s best to come prepared.  

Before auction day, make sure you have funds available to pay the deposit, if you’re successful with your bid. This is normally 10% of the purchase price. A cheque or Deposit Bond are the most popular payment methods. Its always a good idea to check in with your lender in readiness for auction day.

On auction day, you’ll need to register as a bidder. You can do this by contacting the agent before auction day or when you arrive at the auction. You can also arrange for someone to bid and sign on your behalf.

If you want to win at auction:

  • Consider going to a few ‘dummy run’ auctions to get a feel for how they work. 
  • Do some research into what comparable properties have sold for.
  • Keep your cards close to your chest.
  • Know what your ‘walkaway’ price is.
  • Choose your bidding strategy and stick to it.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you find auctions intimidating, get some help from someone who’s done it before. Speak to a friend or family member, alternatively, seek out a professional. You need someone who can both manage the pressure cooker of the auction and knows the market well.

What’s a private sale?

Considered by many potential buyers as a less intimidating option, a private sale is when a property is listed for sale and you put forward offers to the real estate agent. These offers are then presented to the seller, who chooses whether to accept or not. 

Private sales may be better suited to vendors with no real urgency to sell. As a buyer, this means you may be able to request special contract terms, such as an extended settlement period. 

The negotiation period of a private sale often involves lots of back and forth between the buyer and the seller, so be prepared for the process to take days, if not weeks. 

Once a sale price has been agreed between the two parties, you will be asked to sign the contract of sale, before paying a holding deposit.  Depending on which state you are in, you may enter a cooling-off period.

If you haven’t already, you should now go ahead and re-engage with your lender and provide a contract of sale. We will look to property valuation and then you can start with a building and pest inspection before the offer is finalised. 

Once the cooling-off period has passed, you will be asked to pay the outstanding deposit to complete the property purchase.

How does settlement work? 

Depending on which state you live in, the settlement period can normally take anywhere between 28 and 90 days. 

The actual date of settlement is agreed by both parties and detailed in the contract of sale. 

Below are some of the main steps that need to be covered during the settlement process: 

  • Check the contract

Together with your conveyancer or solicitor, make sure you review the contract, so you’re clear on what’s included in the sale. This can help you avoid any misunderstandings – and stress – further down the track. 

  • Do a final inspection

This is your last chance to do your due diligence and inspect the property before you legally own it. In most cases this will happen the week before settlement and will be organised by the vendor's agent. 

  • Get set for settlement day

So, the big day has arrived and it means settlement can be finalised by both parties legal representatives. This normally happens at the vendor's bank. After the cheques and all required paperwork have been exchanged, the vendor’s agent will be notified that the settlement is now official.

Once the above steps have been completed, you’re free to collect the keys from the vendor’s agent and officially take possession of the property. Congratulations – you can now move into your new home.

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