Daniel Hopper

Ten questions buyers should ask real estate agents

What do you need to ask if you're thinking about buying a new house?

If you're buying a house, you probably have a lot of questions. What's the local school like? How much sun does the house get? Where's the closest place for a great coffee?

But savvy buyers are being urged to make sure they do not get caught up in the excitement of a new house purchase, and instead ask some hard questions. Real estate agents are duty-bound to answer honestly.

James Lockie, of General Finance, said many people became too emotional, particularly in high-pressure auction environments. "They are putting down a large chunk of dough, they need to make sure they are not picking up a lemon."

Are there any weathertightness issues?
If a house was built between 1992 and 2004, this should be one of your first concerns. The real estate agent can you tell you about any issues that have already come to light, and a building report can fill you in on whether there might be more problems lurking.

Lockie said it was something that people could not rely on a valuer for advice on.

Has any work been done without official consent?
If there has been major renovation work or additions made to the property without sign-off from the council, it can cause major headaches later on. In some cases, if work is found to be unauthorised, owners are asked to pull it down.

Kevin Lampen-Smith, chief executive of the Real Estate Agents Authority, said things such as a new garage or sleepout should spark questions in buyers' minds. "It's about understanding what you are going to come up against. If you know about [the unconsented work] you can negotiate that upfront."

Are there any problems with the boundary?
You cannot assume that just because the property has a fence, that's the boundary limit. In one case that made the news last year, a homeowner found out after he bought a house that the boundary of the neighbouring property was in the middle of his driveway. He was told if Housing New Zealand, which owned next door, wanted to develop the section, he would have to pay to redo the fence and driveway, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.

If there is uncertainty about the boundaries, you can ask a surveyor to map them out for you. 

Lampen-Smith said this was particularly important for people who were planning to develop the property in some way. "If you have plans to put a garage in a space that's quite tight, you need to check you have the use of all that land. You might find the boundary is actually a metre in and you can't build it after all."

Your lawyer should also tell you whether neighbours have any access rights to the property.

Has it been used as a P lab?
Lockie recommended all buyers get a check for methamphetamine contamination. "It doesn't cost very much but the cost of not getting it done can be very high."

Lampen-Smith said if someone was getting a P test done, it was worth investing a bit more to get a professional job. 

Why is the owner selling?
If you can find out what has prompted the vendor to move, it might give you more insight into the property - and help you work out how much room for negotiation there is on the price.

Are there any changes coming to the area's zoning?
With Auckland's Unitary Plan being finalised at the moment, zoning is top of mind for a lot of people. But it is always worth finding out whether any changes are planned for the area you are looking to buy in.

If it is going to be rezoned to allow more density, that could mean the neighbouring house could be redeveloped into units or apartments. If it zoned rural, it might mean you cannot subdivide.

Lockie said real estate agents should be fully aware of all the changes that were happening in the areas in which they were selling and be willing to discuss them in detail. 

Are there any community issues brewing?
Lockie said things such as a cell phone tower planned for the area were worth noting. Planned significant roadworks can also be something to watch for and if there is an empty section across the road, the agent should disclose any plans they know of for it.
What work has been done on the property? Are any urgent repairs needed?

If it's an older house, ask when it was last re-roofed, re-wired or re-piled. These things have to be done from time to time and can cost a significant amount.

If it's an apartment – what are the body corporate rules?
Apartments have their own issues. If you are buying an apartment, find out what the body corporate's long-term maintenance plan is, and whether they have money put aside to fund that. If they don't, it may mean you are hit with a bill when work needs to be done.

Does the house have an unusual past?
It's not uncommon to find that older houses have some history. If you're worried about what might have happened in the house before you moved in, ask the agent. A broad question such as whether there was anything unusual about it will cover off a range of things – one buyer said she asked whether anyone had died in the house and was told no – only to find out that someone had died in the garden.
Lampen- Smith said there were no hard and fast rules around what would be considered relevant but agents should tell a buyer anything that was widely known among neighbours. "You don't want to move in and have a neighbour come over and say did you know there was that murder here two years ago. If it's got a bit of an identity locally, the buyer should know about that."

From NZherald.co.nz