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What you need to know about buying on a hill

Buyers  |  4 April 2018  | By the settled.govt.nz team

Villa

Want a room with a view? Like the idea of looking down on your neighbours? New Zealand’s varied topography means there’s plenty of opportunities for hillside living, but if you’ve never lived on a hill before you may be unaware of some of the issues involved.

Just as with any property purchase, you need to do as much research as you can before making an offer. You can do some of this homework easily by yourself. Take, for example, the property’s position. What’s the access like? If the property is set away from the road, think about how you’ll feel walking up (or down) to and from the house in wet and windy weather. Factor in that you may often be carrying luggage, small children or bags of groceries – still keen? If the property is tucked into a hillside, think carefully about its position relative to the sun and the prevailing winds. If it’s standing proudly on the side or top of a hill, consider the impact of high winds while you gaze at the views. Think too, about how future trimming or clearing away any vegetation to maximise views and sun could impact on land stability.

When you’re inside, look around the property to see if you can find anything that could signpost land movement, such as doors or windows no longer closing easily or uneven floors. The old marble trick – drop a marble on the floor and see where it rolls – will indicate uneven foundations caused by instability. Outside, keep an eye out for any steps that may be pulling away from the building, or diagonal cracks in plaster, brickwork, solid walls or foundations.

If you’re used to living on the flat, you may be unfamiliar with things like retaining walls. These are often found on hillside properties and it’s absolutely crucial to check them out as they can be expensive to fix. When you’re viewing a property, keep an eye out for any retaining walls or fences that are tilting at unusual angles. Can you see any small slips, subsidence, bulges or cracks? It’s worth checking out any large retaining walls belonging to adjacent neighbouring properties as well. The Earthquake Commission’s website (www.eqc.govt.nz) has detailed information on what to look out for.

One of the key documents that can help you find out more is the Land Information Memorandum (LIM), which is a summary of all the information held by the different departments at the local council on the day the LIM was produced. A LIM will provide information on issues with the land (such as whether it is prone to slippage or erosion), stormwater and sewage drainage. It should show all the permissions, building consents or resource consents that relate to the original property and any changes since it was built. It should also tell you if it is in a high wind area or in a flight path.

A LIM is not the be-all and end-all of information about a property – it can only show issues that the council has been notified about – but it is a very good place to start. The property file at the council may also contain a lot of relevant information that isn’t on the LIM, such as a site plan and the original plans of the house. It may also show whether uphill properties drain onto the one you’re interested in. Some property information is free from some councils online or if you visit the council offices in person. 

Your lawyer can help you get a LIM or you can get it yourself from the local council. You will need to pay a fee, and the process may take several days. Once you’ve got the LIM, it’s a good idea to ask your lawyer or conveyancer to help you understand the report. If you have any concerns about the property following reading through a LIM, it may be a good idea to seek further professional advice from a surveyor or engineer. 

There’s no guarantee that any property will be trouble-free, but you’ll sleep much easier knowing that you went into any transaction armed with as much information as possible. There’s no point in buying a room with a view if you’re too worried to enjoy it.

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