The Internet is certainly not the Holy Grail of buying and renovating property, but it's a great starting point, says renovation expert Cherie Barber.
Having been in the renovating game for more than 20 years, I’m constantly reminded how much technology has fast-tracked the way we work. And perhaps the single biggest gain is the ease with which everyone can research just about anything to do with property online. There’s very little excuse for not doing extensive due diligence before you buy, renovate or even hire a tradie.
1. Start with the big picture
We love sites like domain.com.au and realestate.com.au because they've taken the initial slog out of property hunting. Zero in on suburbs and even streets of interest; narrow your search down to the precise style of property and number of bedrooms you’re after; and then use photos, videos, floorplans and Google’s Streetview to filter down to the ones in your price range worth a visit. That’s days of old-style hunting condensed down to a few hours on the internet.
2. Drill down deeper
Sites like corelogic.com.au (previously RP Data) provide you with very detailed analysis of properties and suburbs, including demographics and complete sales history of any property, for a fee. The Australian Bureau of Statistics website - abs.gov.au - is a great source of free information about the demographic trends of an area. By consolidating research from a variety of sources you get a rounded picture of any property – before you’ve even ventured out your front door.
3. Get your head around the planning laws
It’s probably about as exciting as trawling the Yellowpages, but spending a couple of hours on your local council website familiarising yourself with the planning and environmental controls of your target suburbs will pay huge dividends later. You’ll quickly become familiar with jargon like setbacks (how close you can build to the boundary) and FSR (floor to space ratio – basically, how much you can increase the floor area of a building in ratio to the size of land it’s on), etc. You won’t be able to properly assess the potential of a property unless you know the limitations of what you can and can’t do with it. The local government site will also alert you to upcoming infrastructure developments and plans for the suburb.
4. Check up on your tradies' licences
This one is a no-brainer because it takes five minutes and instantly identifies the obvious cowboys – ie, unlicensed tradies or ones that have had a brush with the authorities or landed in court. The federal government Licence Recognition website - licencerecognition.gov.au/authorities.aspx - can direct you to the relevant regulator in your state so you can look up the licence details on their website. It will state what the tradie’s licence is for, when it expires, and in many cases, you can discover the results of any relevant disciplinary determinations and prosecutions, licence suspensions or penalty notices issued.
5. Identify businesses on the brink
This could spare you the anguish of hiring a contractor in obvious financial strife. You can check insolvency notices on the Australian Securities & Investments Commission register -insolvencynotices.asic.gov.au. Among other things, this will alert you to companies subject to a winding up application filed with an Australian court or companies to be deregistered. Imagine if you hired a builder who went bankrupt during the course of your reno and discovered later that all the warning signs were there on the ASIC register – but you just hadn’t checked.
The internet has certainly been one of the biggest game changers for property hunters and renovators, enabling any motivated layperson to gain the kind of expertise and knowledge that was once confined to a privileged few. So be sure to use its vast resources to your full advantage.