Buying Sight Unseen

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By Ross McLelland

With the pandemic continuing to put a spanner in Aussies’ travel plans, many interstate and overseas buyers are choosing the potentially risky option of purchasing a home sight unseen. In fact, a survey by comparison site Canstar found 11 per cent of property buyers seeking an investment property or home to live in would buy real estate without viewing it – a higher number than either pets (eight per cent) or vehicles (10 per cent). So as more and more buyers decide to take the risk and purchase online without stepping foot on the property, here are the biggest hidden dangers of purchasing sight unseen – and how to avoid losing out. 

Underestimating the amount of renovations that need doing

The property market is red hot right now, and it’s easy to overstretch your budget when paying for a new home – especially if you’re taking the leap without seeing any potential issues with your own eyes.
It’s common for photos of a home to be deceiving, with wide angle lenses making rooms look much larger than they are in reality, no natural light, and no pictures of the rooms that agents don’t want you to see.
These deceptive photos might conceal the true cost of the home, as you may be unaware of the renovations that you’ll need to do to get the property to a liveable standard. At the very least, make sure to get a full video walkthrough of the property, along with a detailed assessment of the condition of every area of the home. 

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Assuming a newly built home will stand the test of time

Many people think that buying a newly built home or apartment shields you from the problems that older properties bring, but a recent survey by the Office of the Building Commissioner and Strata Community Association NSW discovered that one third (39 per cent) of new strata buildings have serious defects representing an average cost of approximately $331,829 per building.
Make sure you do your research on the developer, go and view their previous projects in person, and see if they’ve previously been taken to the tribunal by the owners corporation for defects. Take into account the cost of levies for amenities such as lifts, swimming pools, EV charging stations to get the bigger picture on what their true cost will be. 

Noise and lack of privacy

Quiet and privacy are two very important factors in a home, but are very difficult to grasp without physically going and visiting a property. For example, photos won’t reveal the noise of a main road, being under a flight path, or being near a school or train line.
It can be hard to judge how much your neighbours will be able to see into your property, even from a satellite view. You don’t want a place with a lovely swimming pool only to discover it is overlooked by your neighbours. You can also run the risk of your property being backed into by a large apartment, big hill or another dwelling that blocks your views or sunlight.

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Not having that all-important local knowledge

Not having local knowledge can put you at a significant disadvantage as a buyer and you risk paying up to 30 per cent more than a property is worth. Locals have all kinds of intel about streets and neighbourhoods that interstate and overseas buyers won’t possess.
For instance, I know of one suburb where locals will only buy on the western side of the river, as they know that the eastern side is plagued with mosquitos, is damp and doesn’t get much sun in the afternoon. 

The safety factor

Safety is a huge factor in where you choose to live, especially if you’re a family with young children. By choosing to purchase sight unseen, it’s possible that you won’t get a true sense of the safety of a property before it’s too late. For example, if the property is built on a really steep block, or backs onto a busy road, it might not be suitable for children or pets.
It’s also important to get an idea of the crime statistics in your local area, and choose a suburb and street that’s not known for being overridden by crime, graffiti, and vandals. All of these factors are much better judged by an in-person visit to the street and surrounding area.
The best way to prevent these dangers is to ask a friend or relative in the area to go to open homes on your behalf and give you the lowdown on the suburb. If that’s not an option, consider engaging a local buyer’s agent with a good knowledge of the suburb you’re looking to buy into. This can be a great investment as they can negotiate on your behalf, ask the tricky questions and make sure you don’t end up spending big on a property you’re not 100 percent happy with. 

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About the Author: Ross McLelland (pictured above) is the founder of PropertyPricer, Australia’s most accurate property valuation site.This is an opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this publication.

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