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Buying a home

What to look for before making an offer on a property


Ian Perkins is the CEO of Lawlab - Australia’s largest multi-jurisdictional specialist law firm that delivers streamlined conveyancing and property law services. Led by Ian, Lawlab works with thousands of property buyers each year to secure their home purchase.


Getting a head start

Buying a home is one of the biggest decisions you will make in your life. One, two or three bedrooms? What area should you buy in? When is a good time to buy?

If you have answered all of these questions and fallen in love with a property, here are some of tips to help you get through what comes next.

Before you make an offer or bid

Budget for the costs of buying

Just because a property is advertised to be sold at a certain price, that does not mean that’s the amount it’s going to cost you to buy it.

Particularly for first home buyers, many people often forget to factor in certain costs and the funds they will need when settlement time comes around. In addition to the purchase price, you will also need to budget for legal fees, stamp duty (unless you are entitled to an exemption), inspections, land title registration fees, loan fees and lenders mortgage insurance - and that’s just to name a few.

Get legal advice

Before you make an offer to buy a property or bid at an auction, make sure you buy securely and manage the legal risks. Most states have at least one standard contract for the sale of a property. But don’t let the word ‘standard’ put you at ease.

Standard contracts often present only the minimum terms and conditions, which may not entirely suit your circumstances. Ask your lawyer to review the contract of sale before signing on the dotted line and help draft any special conditions you might need.

Finance approval

You should apply and obtain finance approval for the property before you sign the contract. If you are unable to obtain finance approval before signing, then you can use the cooling off period to do so (if one applies). Alternatively, you can negotiate with the seller to make the contract conditional upon satisfactory finance approval within a reasonable time.

When you’re ready to buy

How to bid at an auction

Register to bid. You can do this by contacting the real estate agent before the auction day or at arrival before the auction. You will need to provide your full name, address and some photographic identification.

Raise your bidding number when you want to make a bid at the price the auctioneer calls. If you cannot attend the auction you can bid by telephone or by authorising someone to bid on your behalf. There is no cooling off period at an auction so your bid will be binding on you.

If your bid is the highest and above any reserve price set by the seller, then you have made the winning bid. You will then need to pay your deposit (usually 10% of the purchase price unless negotiated otherwise) by cheque or as otherwise agreed.

How to make an offer (not at auction)

Decide on the terms of your offer and have your deposit ready. You can negotiate the deposit amount which, similar to an auction, is usually 10% of the purchase price.

If you still need to obtain finance approval or haven’t had the opportunity to conduct a building and pest inspection, you should ask for the contract to be conditional on finance approval and a satisfactory building and pest inspection within a reasonable time (often 14 days).

You will also need to consider how much time you need before settlement (often between 30 to 60 days) so that you can make moving arrangements. Once you’ve decided, let the agent know you want to make an offer. The selling agent may take verbal offers from you or may ask you to submit an offer in writing.

Once the offer is accepted the contract needs to be signed.

How to avoid common mistakes

Not every property is what it seems and not every seller is honest. There can be a multitude of issues that can be hidden from unsuspecting buyers, turning their home ownership dream into a nightmare.

Do your due diligence

The laws relating to disclosure of matters affecting property vary from state to state.

Even in those states that have a robust disclosure regime, like NSW, Victoria, South Australia and ACT, the information that sellers disclose can be incomplete or out of date. If you’re spending several hundred thousand dollars on a property, trying to save a few hundred dollars by not undertaking due diligence on your property purchase doesn’t make sense.

A good lawyer can help you with due diligence by undertaking property searches and reviewing your contract. The quality advice and high service levels you can expect from lawyers like Lawlab may cost a little more than a local conveyancer, but it is worth investing in a lawyer to handle one of the biggest financial decisions of your life.

Decide how you want to own the property

Before signing the contract, you should work out whether you will buy the property in your own name, in co-ownership, under a company name or using a trust. Most owner occupier buyers purchase property in their own name because there may be stamp duty and capital gains tax savings in doing so.

Property investors may choose to buy property in the name of a company or trust for asset protection and tax benefits depending on their circumstances. If there is more than one buyer, you will need to consider whether to own the property as joint tenants or tenants in common (and, if so, in what proportions).

The effect of joint tenancy ownership is that on the death of one owner, the property passes to the survivor(s) who co-own the property, despite any provision in the deceased co-owner's will. If you purchase as tenants in common, then on the death of a co-owner their share in the property will usually pass in accordance with their will.

This information is provided by a thirty party, LawLab. This information is general in nature only and does not constitute legal advice. We and Lawlab accept no liability for the content of this information. You should obtain legal advice specific to your individual circumstances.