How do you choose the best house when all the houses look the same?
Point Cook is a huge new subdivision located on the western outskirts of Melbourne and consists of street after street of project homes. Driving around Point Cook you could be forgiven for thinking all the houses are the same, however there are numerous subtle and some not-so-subtle differences.
Aspect & natural light. Something to bear in mind with project homes is that they have not been designed with a particular site in mind. So you need to make sure that whatever 'model' has been built on a particular block makes the best use of its aspect. A north or north-east facing garden is the ideal, especially in Melbourne when you need to capture all the sun you can get in winter. And you need to make sure that the living areas of the home share this aspect and the windows are well placed to bring that sunlight into the house.
Block size. A subdivision is commonly developed in stages, with each estate being released after the previous estate has sold. Often we find that the earlier releases feature larger block sizes than the newer stages. The reason for this is that the developers want to establish a high base price at the beginning of the sales program. In this search we looked at block sizes ranging from around 600sqm in the older areas right down to blocks around 450sqm in the newer estates. Obviously you can have more house on a larger plot plus a bigger garden. But the placement on the house on the block is also important and you will get more garden if you buy a two storey house.
Floor plan. Often the floor plans of project homes are very similar. The differences can be in the proportions of the rooms. It's important that the floor plan is balanced. In some layouts we saw lovely large bedrooms, but small living areas. In others the fourth bedroom or study was tiny, whereas in some the study was as large as the 2nd and 3rd bedrooms. Some houses had large sliding doors leading from the living area directly to the garden, while others did not offer the same easy flow from the indoors to the outdoors.
Then there is personal preference. In Suzanne and Joe's case they did not like a floorplan with a long hallway. They preferred to enter directly into a living area, which was just as well as this happened to be one of the more common layouts in Point Cook.
Established gardens. Landscaping costs money and it takes years for a garden to grow and look established. The older areas offer this key benefit over newer areas. And the way the gardens are maintained influences the general streetscape and provides a big clue on how house-proud the neighbours are. The prettier the street, the more desirable it is and that has a direct impact on saleability.
Neighbours. This is a hard one to gauge but certain streets develop a reputation for being great to live in. Keep an eye out for those with a sense of community. For instance some streets hold an annual Xmas street party while others get completely into the spirit with a light show spectacular. Ask the local real estate agents which streets have the friendliest reputations. Or you could knock on the doors of your prospective neighbours and see what response you get. A good indication of a quality neighbourhood is the general standard of upkeep. Are the lawns mowed or are cars parked on them? Have the fences and trims been freshly painted, or is the paint peeling?
High owner occupier ratio rather then investors. Often new housing estates are marketed heavily to investors and for the first 5 or 6 years there are very few owner-occupiers living there. As a result, these neighbourhoods don't develop the same appeal as those areas without the absentee owners. But as the houses age the tax benefits for investors start to wane and you start to see For Sale signs. This is when the flavour of the area changes as owner-occupiers begin to move in. This can offer some good buying opportunities in the transition stage.
Condition and maintenance. Some owners are great at keeping their homes clean and in good condition. And some are not so great at it, particularly if the house has been rented out for any period.
Warranty period. Be mindful that all newly built residential property comes with a home owners warranty insurance policy. The home owners warranty expires after 7 years so make sure you get your solicitor to check whether the property you are buying is still under warranty. If it is, it would pay to get a more thorough building inspection – one that can be used to lodge a warranty claim if required. Don’t let this date slip by because once it’s gone, so has the opportunity to claim.
Willing vendor. There are few more willing vendors than those in the unhappy process of undergoing a divorce. In the case of the property Suzanne & Joe wanted to buy, both parties had moved out of the property and it was clear that they had made the decision to sell. But there were plenty of other properties also on the market in Point Cook where the owners weren’t nearly so willing to meet the market. We were fortunate that the best house for Suzanne & Joe happened to have very motivated vendors, so the negotiation process was relatively straightforward.
However if we had had two similar properties under consideration, the more willing vendor would probably have the scales tipped in their favour
Good agent. An agent that has the trust of his/her vendors will be better equipped to negotiate a deal. When there is a lot of available property usually the only ones selling are those that are priced well. And to get the asking price right you need a good agent who can effectively manage the owner’s expectations. If the selling agent can’t negotiate, or can’t makes sensible pricing recommendations to their vendor, then often a deal simply can’t be done. Move onto a more reasonably priced alternative.
If you would like to read more of Veronica's insights on the property market, particularly in her own backyard of inner Sydney, go to Veronica Morgan’s blog.