Congratulations! Scraping together enough money to buy your first home in New Zealand is a great achievement. It’s now time for house-hunting – finding your dream home, a place to call your own. Now’s the fun bit, right?
Not exactly. While you may think the hard part's over, there's still a lot that needs to be done before you sign on the dotted line.
Investing in a property is one of the biggest financial decisions you're likely to make – so it's important to get it right. A charming villa full of character may seem like a good investment, likewise, a modern new-build may sound like an easy option if you have savings, but there are still things you should find out for peace of mind.
There may be plenty of information and advice out there so make sure any advice you follow, is given in your best interests.
The Real Estate Authority (REA), the Government agency that regulates the real estate industry, is behind settled.govt.nz – a resource which empowers those in the market by arming them with comprehensive, independent information.
It may be hard to know what type of questions to ask when buying for the first time. Thankfully, settled.govt.nz is full of handy information and hints to help you make a sound investment.
Here are nine questions to consider asking when you're in the market and checking out open homes.
1. Can I rely on my building inspector?
Your tradie mate Tony could do you a solid and check out a house you’re interested in for not much more than a box of beer, but, while inexpensive in the short term, you’re probably better off going with a professional.
Before you hit the internet looking for an inspector, do a bit of research. Building inspectors are not regulated – you may hire one who’s never been a builder. You can ask an inspector about their background, and what training they have before you hire them.
It’s important to make sure the inspector you hire has a good level of indemnity insurance to protect you – in case you later need to fix something that wasn’t picked up by the inspector. Also, they should carry out their work in accordance with the New Zealand Property Inspection Standards.
Read your inspection report carefully. Often inspectors won’t check the roof due to health and safety regulations. If the roof is not up to scratch, it may mean a very big expense in the future.
2. Do I understand the natural hazards the property faces?
We live in New Zealand and we’re not called the Shaky Isles for nothing. Thankfully, not every house in New Zealand will be susceptible to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes, but there are other natural hazards that are far more common.
You may be house-hunting in the dry months and not realise your backyard is prone to flooding in heavy rain, for example.
Stunning views can be enticing – but are you about to buy a property susceptible to land erosion or landslides?
Likewise, a property that backs onto the bush may also sound ideal but could the property be impacted by fire?
If in doubt, the local council should have information on some hazards for the property you are considering.
3. Do I know what is on the outside of the house?
Looking at a house built between the mid-’70s and mid-’80s? Check the cladding very carefully.
Weatherside cladding, a hardboard made from wood fibres glued together, was a commonly used material during the ‘70s and ‘80s, but issues occur when moisture causes the glue in the cladding to fail. In turn, the cladding swells, delaminates and turns to mush. Unchecked, moisture could penetrate and rot the entire wooden framing of the property. This type of cladding was withdrawn from the market, but there are still houses for sale that have Weatherside cladding.
Properties built between the late 1980s and mid-2000s may fall under the ‘leaky building’ category. Settled.govt.nz has a handy guide to help you identify a potential leaky building.
Whether you like the charm of weatherboards, or the practicality of bricks, all exteriors need maintenance. It’s important to understand what kind of maintenance the property you’re considering will require.
4. Do I know what condition the roof and guttering is in?
Find a way to look up. If the property’s roof is in need of repair, or the guttering is blocked, you could be forking out a lot of money to fix things up. Most building inspectors won’t check the roof, but may try to look at it from a vantage point. Your inspector might be able to tell if something is wrong by going up into the ceiling.
Some real estate agencies use drone photography — if you have aerial shots of the property, ask the property inspector to zoom in and look for problems.
Cracked or missing tiles can allow water to enter the building and cause serious damage. Iron and steel (including corrugated and long-run steel) roofs last between 40 and 70 years, depending on what they’re made of, the environment and regular maintenance. An iron or steel roof will need to be repainted or re-chipped every 10 years to ensure the roof remains watertight.
Talk to the real estate agent (or the seller if it is a private sale) to see what information they have about the roof’s history, construction and any maintenance that has been carried out.
Check the downpipe as some houses only have one so in heavy rain, moisture can spill out and rot the eaves or get into the roof cavity.
5. Do I understand what is underneath the house?
Look underneath the house to check for any subsidence, and the foundations are in good condition.
Bear in mind that there might be different foundations between different parts of the house - for example, if an extension has been added, this can cause problems in earthquakes when they move in different directions.
6. Do I understand what the lawyer/conveyancer does?
When you’ve decided to make this big investment, arm yourself with the right people to help with your decision-making. Your lawyer or conveyancer can review your property documents well ahead of time, such as title documents and the LIM report. They're likely to help pick up problems, for example missing Council consent, that can cost you a lot of money if you discover them later.
Some real estate agents will draw up a sale and purchase agreement, but your lawyer or conveyancer should check it first, to make sure you know exactly what you’re agreeing to.
7. Do I know what dodgy wiring and plumbing looks like?
Pay close attention to the wiring and light fixtures in the property you’re looking at. Do the lights flicker? Are the switches hot to the touch? Dodgy wiring could end up giving you, or a loved one, a shock, and can cause a fire.
Older properties may have the original wiring or wiring that was done before the industry was regulated - it pays to check.
Plumbing may also be an issue, especially if Dux Quest piping has been used. This type of piping tends to fail and flood homes, and some insurers will not cover damage caused by Dux Quest. The piping is typically black (but can also be grey and brown), with “Dux Quest” written on it in white font and it will need to be replaced.
8. How warm is the property in winter?
Real estate agents often say spring is the time to sell, with more buyers in the market. But house-hunting in winter is not a bad idea - you will be able to tell how warm and dry a property is.
Check if there is insulation in the roof, under the house and in the walls. Usually drapes are included in the sale, but check whether they are thermal, and if the windows are double-glazed.
Check what heating is used. An open fire can be charming, but it may not be practical in terms of heating the whole house.
9. Is there any asbestos?
Asbestos fibres are dangerous. They can get into your lungs and cause a lot of damage. Asbestos is mainly a problem when it is exposed so the fibres can escape, for example, where there is a broken panel, or the paint covering it has been worn away. Unfortunately, asbestos was commonly used in older properties – in textured ceilings, under vinyl floor laminate, on roofs, and cladding on buildings, including sheds and garages. Removing asbestos requires professionals, and is not cheap.
It may seem daunting, but buying a home is more than liking the look and feel of a place – and there is a lot to consider. Buying a home is more than liking the look or feel of a place. It pays to protect yourself, and your investment, by spending time and money upfront doing due diligence and research. It could save you a lot of money and emotional stress in the future.
Visit www.settled.govt.nz for independent and comprehensive guidance on buying a home.
This article is created for settled.govt.nz.