Brisbane's sales market

Buying Brisbane apartments: fairy tales and big bad wolves!

Once upon a time, Brisbane apartment buyers hoped their properties would be all sparkling fresh and in tip top condition. Everything working, the walls straight and true, birds chirping as they fly past, the sun shining down on this, their very own vertical piece of Australia. After handing over a big chunk of their life savings, and submitting to the demands of the big bad bank in return for a loan, is it really so much to ask for a defect-free property??!

So it’s understandable that when the fairy tale comes to a crashing end, when the building inspection or body corp check reveals some imperfections in their property, Brisbane apartment buyers can feel jolted from their dream. But are we all really just expecting too much?

Have a good talk with any experienced builder and they’ll tell you there is no perfect construction. Cracks appear with movement and settling over time, windows leak, doors don’t seal properly. You’ll notice most modern apartment buildings have flat roofs – often with amenities and entertaining space – but rarely with a pitched surface. And yet we’re surprised when they leak?! So we wonder whether we’ve all just set our expectations unrealistically high. Interestingly house buyers expect at least a few items on the building inspector’s report, but we’re somehow surprised when apartment buildings (maybe made of slightly different materials but pretty much just a bunch of houses on top of each other) have items that need attention.

Apartment living is growing in popularity at a huge rate. Around 60% of inner-Brisbane residents call them home and they’re an affordable way to stay among the action of the city in a modern home. Their amenities, views, convenience and yes, low maintenance, are compelling for lots of us. No-one is predicting an end or even a slowing of the trend to apartment dwelling in Brisbane.

So if you’re buying an apartment here’s some things worth knowing. The seller has to disclose any patent defects in the common property (ones you could usually see by wandering around the building) as well as any latent ones (the concealed defects) that they have “actual knowledge of” or “ought reasonably to have knowledge of”. In practice most apartment owners are not residents in their building or involved in their body corp, rarely, if ever, read paperwork sent to them, and don’t attend meetings. So it’s highly likely they don’t know about the tiles cracking around the pool or the leaks in the basement.

Fortunately for buyers the law puts the onus on sellers to check the body corp records and make disclosures. But keep in mind a body corp isn’t required to keep records older than 6 years, even for major repair items. And we know of committee meetings where discussions on defects are not minuted, because one or more lot owners present is considering selling. Until a repair is quoted in writing or discussion detailed in the body corp books, there’s no record for a seller (and their buyer) to discover.

Brisbane apartment buyersOf course even if something is noted in the records and the buyer becomes aware during their purchase, they still have to read and understand the issue. We’ve heard buyers complain their solicitor didn’t alert them to something in a search that had expensive consequences for them as a future owner in the building. But to be fair to lawyers (yeah – we can do that…!) the cost pressure on conveyancing over the years really doesn’t allow them time to consider and advise unprompted on many of these things.

Like house defects, there can be major items in an apartment building that can cost a body corp a small fortune. Insurance and builder claims aside, every owner wears a share of that cost. This post is not asking buyers to ignore important issues. But more importantly we’re suggesting Brisbane apartment buyers need to take some responsibility for their purchase. Once you’ve signed a contract the law allows you full access to the body corp records so make your purchase subject to a satisfactory check. Take a hour or two and go have a read and make copies of important items. Call the chairman (an apartment owner who’s volunteered to sit on and lead the committee) and chat.

In our experience many committees and their body corp managers are hugely conservative and tend to overreact to what we might consider cosmetic items. Things that, were they mentioned in a house inspection, would rarely warrant a conversation. But these cautious committees send in structural engineers and builders to investigate the smallest of issue, lest they be accused of not taking enough care. Their records are littered with references to issues that “could” exist but may need more investigating.

Apartment buildings, just like houses and every other man-made thing, have defects and they need maintenance. Take the time to do your homework and seek the advice of someone who understands construction and can help you consider the findings.

Often the repairs are fairly run of the mill and no cause for concern – but there is no fairy tale. The body corp that has sparkling clean records could well be a big bad wolf hiding in grandma’s bed!