The Trusted Resource for Retirement Living

Property Buying Guide

More than having a roof over your head

Whether you’re looking for a home for yourself or a family, an investment property or a place to unwind during the holidays, buying can be an exciting and emotional process. There may be ups and downs along the way, but the right planning and preparation can ensure that buying a home is a positive experience – an experience that takes you a step closer to realising your financial dreams.

At Lifestyle Transition Services, we want your next home purchase to be as smooth and stress-free as possible, so we hope these Resources are a helpful starting point.

Step 1: Decide what you want

Before you start looking for a property, prepare a list of your requirements. You might want to consider:

  • What area or suburb do you want to buy in?
  • Do you want a house, terrace, semi, apartment, unit or townhouse?
  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need?
  • How much storage space do you need?
  • Do you need car parking or a garage?
  • Do you want a garden, courtyard or balcony?
  • Do you need to be near public transport, schools and work?
  • Do you have any special needs, for example, level access or room for a home office?
  • Are you prepared to renovate if the property requires repairs or upgrading?
  • What are you able to pay?

  • As you begin looking for a home, you may find some of the needs you identified at the start may change. This is quite normal. Be prepared to change your requirements as you gain a realistic picture of the property market.

    Step 2: Organise your finances and find a solicitor or conveyancer

    Make sure you have loan approval from your bank or lender before you make an offer. As loan rates vary, it’s a good idea to shop around. Some people use a mortgage broker to find the best deal.

    Prepare a list of costs. Don’t forget to allow for additional costs such as stamp duty, mortgage stamp duty and solicitor’s or conveyancer’s fees. You’ll also need to think about other hidden costs such as urgent repair costs, moving fees, insurance and adjustments to rates and levies on settlement.

    Find a solicitor or conveyancer who is experienced in conveyancing and check how much they will charge you. The Law Society of NSW has a list of solicitors by local area. Conveyancers specialise in conveyancing and must be licensed by the Department of Fair Trading. The Australian Institute of Conveyancers, can advise you on conveyancers in your local area. As conveyancing fees are deregulated, it’s wise to shop around and compare quotes. Check whether the fees charged include disbursements such as title searches, photocopying and other searches.

    Step 3: Research properties

    Be a smart consumer and do your research. This will take time and may involve looking at a number of properties over weeks and months, especially on weekends. Contact several real estate agents in your area of choice; let them know what you are looking for. Brief them on any special requirements. Always be aware that the seller appoints the agent and as such, agents must act in the seller’s interests.

    Research recent sale prices of properties similar to what you are looking for in your local area. A number of agency websites such as, supply some information about recent sale prices in your suburb, or you can access sales information by paying a fee from the likes of RP Data ( or Residex (

    You’ll probably need to look at a number of properties before you decide to buy. When you look at properties, ask questions about anything you are uncertain about. Keep an exercise book and make notes about each property you inspect. It’s easy to forget important details when you look at multiple properties over a period of time.

    Some questions to keep in mind at a property inspection:

  • Is the property in good condition?
  • Is it located in a suitable street and area?
  • Does it have the features you want? If not, list what isn’t there.
  • Is there any rising damp?
  • What repairs are required?
  • Is it in reasonable condition for the price being asked?
  • If you like a property, inspect it at different times of the day and ask the agent for a copy of the Contract for Sale.

  • Step 4: Consider professional inspections

    The cost of professional inspections might seem high. However, they may find faults that could be expensive to fix and add to the overall cost of your property, so the inspections may be money well spent. Your solicitor or conveyancer can give you guidance in this matter.

    If you are considering buying at auction, inspections must be arranged prior to the auction day.

    Some points to consider:

  • A building inspection is done by a licensed architect or a registered builder.
  • If a house is on a steep block, consider getting a geotechnical report to check the stability of the land.
  • It is also a good idea to check for pests, such as termites.
  • If you are considering buying a unit, you should arrange an inspection of the books and records of the owners’ corporation.
  • Make sure qualified professionals conduct all inspections.

  • Step 5: Make an offer

    When you find the property you want to buy, you need to make an offer of what you are prepared to pay. Negotiate with the agent if you think the price is too high. You may be asked to pay an initial deposit. Doing so is a sign that you are serious but it does not secure the property for you. Until contracts are exchanged, the property may remain on the market and the seller may consider other offers.

    Step 6: Exchange of contracts

    The contract sets out the terms and conditions of the sale. It also identifies which items, such as floor coverings and curtains, are to be included or excluded in the sale. Your solicitor or conveyancer will examine the contract carefully.

    There are two copies of the sale contract—one for you and one for the seller. You each sign one copy before they are swapped, or ‘exchanged’, and the deposit is handed over. Only when both the seller and the buyer have signed the contract and exchanged copies do you both become bound by the contract.

    There is a five-business-day cooling-off period unless you buy at an auction or sign a waiver. The five-day cooling-off period allows you time to conduct searches, obtain reports and confirm your finance. If you withdraw from the sale during the cooling-off period, you will forfeit 0.25% of the purchase price from the deposit you have paid.

    Step 7: Settlement

    Settlement occurs when the buyer pays the balance of the selling price. Adjustments are made for strata levies and water and council rates, and any outstanding mortgages are paid out by the seller from the purchase price. The buyer becomes the legal owner of the property after settlement.

    The period between the exchange of contracts and settlement is usually four to six weeks, although either party may ask for a longer or shorter settlement period prior to exchange. Make sure the settlement period suits your needs, as it will affect your move and the sale of your own property if you have one. Organising a move into the property on settlement day can sometimes be difficult, as last-minute issues may delay settlement by hours or days. Ideally, do not plan to move in on the day of settlement.

    Buying at auction

    Before auctioning a property, the seller will nominate a reserve price, which is usually not disclosed to the interested buyers.

    The reserve price is the lowest price that the seller is willing to accept. If the highest bid is below this price, the property will be ‘passed in’. The seller will then either try and negotiate a price with interested bidders or put the property back on the market.

    If the bidding continues beyond the reserve price, the property is sold at the fall of the auctioneer’s hammer. If you are the successful buyer, you must then sign the sale contract and pay the deposit on the spot (usually 10%).

    Unlike when you buy a house that is for sale (called ‘private treaty’), there is no cooling-off period with an auction – this situation also applies if the property is passed in at an auction and you exchange contracts the same day. So it is important to:

  • have your solicitor or conveyancer examine the sale contract before the auction to make sure everything is in order;
  • have your finance arranged; and
  • have pre-purchase inspections completed prior to the auction.
  • You will not be able to bid at an auction of a residential or rural property in New South Wales unless you give the selling agent your name and address and show proof of your identity. You can register with the selling agent at any time prior to the auction or on the day itself. The agent will then provide you with a bidder’s number, which must be displayed when you bid.

    Agents are required to give all potential bidders a copy of a publication called the ‘Bidders guide’ prior to the auction. Take the time to read it, as it contains important information you need to know, such as how to register to bid and what kind of identification you must provide.

    Because buying at an auction can be a nerve-racking experience, it is a good idea to attend an auction or two as a spectator to familiarise yourself with the process. Also, take the time to find out what prices similar properties in the area have sold for.

    Strata schemes

    A strata scheme is a building or collection of buildings where individuals each own a share, such as an apartment or townhouse, but where there is common property (or area), such as foyers, paths, external walls, floors, roof, fences, lawns and gardens.

    The maintenance and repair of common area is usually the responsibility of the owners’ corporation (also called ‘body corporate’). There are a number of rules or by-laws relating to living in a strata scheme. For instance, you must ask the owners’ corporation for permission to have a pet or alter common property.

    The NSW Department of Fair Trading provides a number of publications relating to strata schemes. Copies can also be downloaded at, or phone 13 32 20.

    Working with agents

    While agents act for sellers and want to achieve the best possible results for them, agents are professionals in their field and developing a relationship with them is helpful when buying a property. They know there are two parties in a transaction and will try to be as helpful as possible.

    Buyer’s agents

    Unlike a real estate agent who represents the person selling the property, a buyers’ agent acts exclusively for the buyer. Recently a number of buyers’ agents have appeared on the real estate scene offering services to buyers ranging from market research, inspections, bidding at auctions to organising pest and building inspections.

    Appointing a buyers’ agent may appeal to people who don’t have the time to attain sufficient knowledge of the market to confidently purchase a property. Fees charged will vary from agent to agent depending upon the services offered and the services you require. Fees are open to negotiation. Buyer’s agents must be licensed under the Property Stock and Business Agents Act. They might operate solely as a buyers’ agent or might also operate as real estate agents offering a wider range of services.

    Information provided by: REINSW, NSW Department of of Fair Trading