Buying a Unit – What You Need to Consider
There are important differences between buying a freehold house as opposed to a unit on a strata title.
What are you buying?
In the case of most high-rise titles, you are exclusively buying the unit from the paint on the walls inwards. You are personally and solely responsible for maintenance of the internals of the unit. For all the other components of the building which include the external walls, doors and windows of your and others’ units, plus all the common areas, you are jointly responsible together with the other owners. These shared responsibility components of the building are known as common property. The management jointly of the common property is undertaken by the body corporate which is a body representing all the owners collectively. The body corporate is run by a committee elected by the owners annually.
Body Corporate Fees
Each owner pays a fee or levy to the body corporate to cover the cost of managing and maintaining the building. This body corporate fee covers annual costs of maintenance, insurance, compliance costs etc. and a portion will also be accumulated to cover significant, less regularly occurring items such as repainting the building, replacing lifts etc. This accumulated pool of money is called the sinking fund and is usually seeded by the developer when the building is completed. Rates, water, and electricity costs are in addition to this levy.
Some high rise unit buildings have a manager whether onsite or offsite, who has bought the Management Rights to the building from the developer. These rights for which only the developer gets the benefit, entitle the Manager to an income for a contracted period in exchange for undertaking a schedule of duties. In addition, this manager may also have rights to letting out of any units. When the body corporate is established the liability for this contracted arrangement with the manager is transferred to the body corporate. If the building has a manager with management rights you should make yourself aware of the implications and discuss this issue with your solicitor before buying. This is particularly important if buying off-the-plan.
The first and very important step in buying a unit off the plan is to make sure that what the developer is planning to deliver to you is the same as what you are expecting to receive. To do this, review the contract with the developer and your solicitor and ensure that there are as few grey or ambiguous areas as possible. Home warranty schemes that protect those building a house do not apply to high-rise units so discuss these risks with your solicitor.
When the unit is ready for handover you should ensure that two key things are done.
- Check that the tiles, appliances, tap fittings, etc. that you listed in your contract have actually been included.
- Have a Practical Completion Inspection or Handover Inspection completed to ensure that the unit has been actually finished and that the workmanship is of an acceptable standard.
Buying an Established Unit
There are two important steps when buying an established unit.
- Have a Building and Pest Inspection conducted to identify any significant defect in the Unit.
- Obtain a Strata Report which will identify from the minutes of the body corporate any major maintenance expenses and can also give an indication of the level of harmony in the unit complex.