What are the top things to look for when buying a property? Veronica Morgan, Buyer’s Agent and TV Presenter, shares her top 10 tips.
Veronica Morgan – Buyer’s Agent and Presenter on Foxtel’s Lifestyle Channel, presented a fantastic segment at the recent Grand Designs Live Sydney, called “10 things to look for when buying a property”.
If you’re thinking – well I’m not buying a property at the moment, so I’m going to stop reading now … it’s worth remembering that, at some point, you will come to sell your home. I believe it’s always worth understanding what enhances a property’s perceived value so that any renovation work (minor or major) you undertake moves towards improving these specific assets.
Veronica began by debunking the myth that “location, location, location” is what matters when it comes to finding the right home. She confirmed that whilst it is important at the beginning, once you’ve decided on the location, you need to understand that there are still overperformers and underperformers in EVERY location.
So, here’s Veronica’s top 10 things to look for when buying a property (in no particular order), and my take/personal experience on each.
1. ARCHITECTURAL STYLE
Certain areas have particular architectural styles or aesthetics.
Think of the traditional weatherboard cottages around Rosalie and Paddington in Brisbane, or the terrace houses in Paddington in Sydney, or the bluestone cottages in certain parts of Adelaide.
Chances are, that most people buying in these areas prefer the specific style that the area is known for.
So, if you buy the odd one out, the home that doesn’t seem to fit – or you decide to build something that is significantly different, this may not work for you in maximizing your appeal to buyers looking in your area.
Our last renovation was in Ashgrove, in Brisbane, in an area known as The Avenues. Leafy streets lined with big Queenslanders, and the ‘triple-gabled-Ashgrovian’ the main architectural style. We bought an art-deco Queenslander – which I LOVED for its quirkiness and that it wasn’t like everyone else’s. It had been built at the same time as the other old houses, and I liked the fact that (when home owners would have been choosing a builder and their home from a catalogue-of-sorts), that the original home owner had chosen to do something a little different. I admired the non-conformance and the bravery of that (says more about me than anything else!).
We created a home that celebrated the art-deco façade, and renovated it as a contemporary home to suit modern family life. The inspections were packed – lots of sticky-beaking – but also LOTS of interest as this area of Ashgrove is always in demand. And also some contention about the façade and the fact it wasn’t a triple-gabled Ashgrovian.
We still sold for the top price in the suburb that year. Not as high as the top price in the suburb the year before – which had been taken out by a renovated triple-gabled Ashgrovian. And we sold to an out-of-area purchaser, who wasn’t as attached to the architectural style of the area.
My point is – we limited our pool of buyers and whilst it still sold very well, it took longer.
Think about what style is prevalent in the location you’re buying in, and if you’re renovating, how can you incorporate this style in what you’re doing to help your home appeal to more buyers when you sell.
2. STREETSCAPE + NEIGHBOURHOOD
This is the intangible stuff that adds inherent ‘demand’ value to a home.
The things that bring a sense of community and belonging to a street, and the homes in it, that then brings other ideas of security, safety, a great place to live. The street Christmas parties, the local cricket games, the communal vegetable gardens on nature strips, etc.
This is more about a line of pretty little homes with picket fences. It’s very important to understand what community brings to the feeling of a home. We tend to live very isolated lives these days. Can you get to know your neighbours better? What can you do to bring your street together?
Don’t do it just for the improvement it makes to your home’s value. Do it for the improvement it makes to your life’s value – and to those you share it with.
I was so excited when Veronica mentioned this in her top 10!
I have banged on a lot about buying for orientation, and it’s clearly a big factor for me – in fact it’s MY ONE BIG FACTOR!
It is worth remembering that if a home is advertised as “north-facing” that you check it’s NOT north to street. You can download compass apps on your phone to check when you’re on site. I’ve written here and here about buying, building and renovating for orientation, so you can read in more detail there.
4. FLOOR PLAN
Veronica outlined two main things to look for in the floor plan of homes you’re buying:
She defined balance as the collection and size of rooms making sense. So a 4 bedroom house, with 2 living areas and 2 bathrooms that then has a tiny outdoor area is ‘out of balance’.
She defined flow as the indoor/outdoor connection, and understanding the proximity of rooms to each other. Does the movement between rooms feel weird or awkward? Does it feel strange to walk straight off the dining room into a bathroom (so much so you could continue your conversation whilst going to the loo)?
It may be possible to fix balance and flow in a home quite easily, through simple reconfiguration of spaces, or closing or opening a door between rooms. See if you can recognize this if a home feels strange when you walk through it in an open inspection. And if you’re living in a home like this, how would you like to move through it? How would you PREFER spaces to connect and be sized? Making a home work in this way is a great way to renovate and realise the potential in a home.
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This one is relative to the location. Veronica cited the inner-city terrace home where on-street parking is expected, and off-street park a MASSIVE asset VS the big suburban home, where a 4-car garage may be a pre-requisite.
If building a new home, I recommend setting the garage 5.5m back from the front boundary if possible. This means you can park a car on the driveway without obstructing the footpath – which is handy for visitors at a minimum.
6. OUTDOOR SPACE
This relates to item 4, and helps with balance and flow. Veronica also cited it as an asset particularly as a point of differentiation from other properties on the market at the same time as you (especially when the market is a little slower).
Landscaping is one of those things where you don’t have to do everything all at once if you have some time up your sleeve, and that you can do really cheaply if you can wait for things to grow. Make an overall plan, choose low-maintenance plants and build it slowly. If you’re in a family area, make sure you have grass for dogs and kids. If you’re in inner-city area where no one owns a lawn-mower, make sure your outdoor area is a respite and sanctuary from the hustle and bustle.
- Connect it well visually and physically to your indoor living areas, and help it enhance your life, as well as be the ‘wow’ factor when you sell.
This is all about what you see outside your home. We’ve been through outdoor space in item 6, but what else can you see? And how can you improve it? For example, have you got fencelines right up against the bedroom windows? Can you grow planting along this to hide the fence?
In our second home, we sat below the house behind, so that they got a clear view into our bathroom and bedrooms that sat along that side of the house. Before we did anything else to the house, we planted a line of bamboo along the rear wall. It was spindly, about 1m tall, and spaced out along the rear wall. 2.5 years later, when we sold, the bamboo was 8m tall and we couldn’t see the wall or the house behind. And looking out the rear windows, we just saw our yard, and a lush wall of green. Research fast-growing plants and look after them – it makes a big difference.
If you’re buying and you see things like fencelines, properties overlooking each other, and views that aren’t great – think about how cheaply and easily you can improve it. And what views can you open up? It’s a great way to realise immediate value from the property.
These days, homes on the market are styled to within an inch of their lives for open inspections. Real estate agents have stylists working with them to help this happen. It’s not unheard of to rent furniture and move your own out for the sales campaign.
When we sell, I cull personal belongings (to an extent), reduce the clutter on bookshelves and in cupboards. I have a different set of linen, bath towels and various bits and pieces that come out for the inspections, and get packed away after. The house is ‘on show’, and in my opinion, you only get one chance to make a first impression with a buyer, and then you need to keep delivering that again every time they come back to the home. This is also why it’s never great to sell a home that’s empty.
Veronica pointed out though, that as buyers, we are not trained to actually look at what we’re buying. We’re trained to look at the IDEA of what we’re buying. Aspiration gets built in through the presentation, and it’s an exercise in seduction. Don’t you want to live here? Your life can look like this if you do … (even if the seller’s life doesn’t look like that anyway).
[easy-tweet tweet=”we are not trained to actually look at what we’re buying. We’re trained to look at the IDEA of what we’re buying” user=”undercoverarchitect”]
I’ve pointed this out before – look past this stuff, past the aspiration, past the seduction. Look outside the area between your knees and your eyeballs. Open cupboards. Flush toilets. Turn on taps. Look under things. Behind doors. Turn lights on and off. Test the building and the things that will be left behind when all the presentation is gone.
And Veronica’s advice (as a buyer) is to look for properties that aren’t styled. For example, tenanted houses or ‘nana’s house’. She suggests they’re an opportunity for easy improvement and potential profit.
Buy houses from house-proud owners that are well-maintained. This is still possible when buying an old home.
You inherit the previous owner’s attention to maintaining their property – or their lack of attention.
Maintain your own home – keep up the oil on timbers, wash the house exterior, clean the leaves out of gutters, repaint when needed. It will save it costing you in a lower sale price, or in big maintenance bills down the track.
I love this one, because this is one of my top design tips for creating spaciousness in your home – to design in great storage, where everything has a place to be put that’s intended for it.
Veronica pointed out that a lot of people move because they’ve run out of storage. If you’ve fallen in love with a property you may overlook this, and then struggle with how you actually live in it once you move in.
Tenants stay longer in properties with great storage, which increases their value.
[easy-tweet tweet=”Tenants stay longer in properties with great storage, which increases their value.” user=”undercoverarch” hashtags=”#veronicamorgan”]
Is this a fairly simple improvement you can make at your place? Creating more storage will certainly streamline your own life, and is a big asset when it comes to selling or renting out your home.
FINAL WORDS – VERONICA
- Keep a clear head and understand where you are in the property cycle when you’re buying.
- Make a concerted effort and invest time in the area you’re looking at buying in.
- Consider using a Buyer’s Agent
- Be nice to agents – they are the gatekeepers and once they know you, and know that you’re good to deal with (and what you’re looking for), they can lead you to properties.
FINAL WORDS – UA
Remember, you’re generally buying and selling in the same market – so if you’re waiting for things to get ‘hot’ as a seller, remember they’ll be ‘hot‘ as a buyer too!
If you’re buying (and selling), set up alerts on realestate.com and domain.com.au for your area, your price range. Get specific … I’ve had several alerts in the same area set with specific price ranges. Agents have to give the property a price when they input it on these websites, so even if it’s not advertised with a price, if you’re searching within a price constraint (and getting alerts that way) then you’ll at least know the ballpark of what they’re expecting.
If you’re looking in an area where properties are in demand, try to get through before open inspections start – it gives you a head start on the competition, and shows the agent you’re serious.
Do your research so you have an understanding of what a property is worth before you see it, so you’re in the position to make an offer immediately if you want to.
If you’re selling, educate yourself about the value of your home. Paying for an independent valuation is also good. We did this with our last renovation – it cost $440 to do, and I’m so glad we did. When the agent was pushing us to sell straight after auction for $125,000 less than what we finally got (with a different agent), we had the independent valuation to help us be brave and trust that the property was worth more.
And yes, be nice to the agents. Some are great. Build relationships with the ones you connect with. Treat them like humans. Remember that they’re working for the sellers, not for you. You’d want them to remember that if they were working for you.
Other blogs you may find useful …
Can’t decide whether to buy the land, or choose the new house design first? Here’s my tips.
Are you preparing, planning or procrastinating in your renovation or new build? Here’s how to know.
Want to learn from someone else who’s done it. Read the Andersons’ Project Diary here.