Apartment living is becoming the first choice for lots of New Zealanders, whether they’re first home buyers looking for a starter property, older people looking to downsize or just people who want to live in a low-maintenance home in the middle of all the action. Whatever your reason for buying an apartment, you need to do your homework first.
1. What is a unit title property?
Apartments, units and townhouses in New Zealand are usually unit title properties. This means that when you buy the apartment or unit (and any ‘accessory units’ such as garages, car parks, private courtyards and storage areas included in the record of title) you’re also buying an undivided share of the ownership of the common property - lifts, laundries, lobby areas, driveways and gardens.
2. What's a body corporate?
As the owner of a unit title property, you automatically become a member of the body corporate (all the unit owners acting as a group). You and your fellow members pay annual fees to the body corporate and it, in turn, looks after the management and maintenance of the property. The body corporate arranges things like rubbish collection and gardening or cleaning of common spaces.
3. What's a long-term maintenance fund?
In most cases, you’ll also have to contribute to a long-term maintenance fund (LTMF). If a lift in a multi-unit property needs replacing or repairs, most people would agree that all the members of the body corporate should contribute (through the LTMF) to make this happen.
4. What else do I need to know about when buying an apartment?
As a unit title property owner your apartment is linked – physically and legally – to all the other areas in the complex.
A recent Court of Appeal decision about a 12-storey Mount Maunganui apartment complex found that the repair works to several units affected the overall weathertightness of the whole building. The court found that some of the costs should be shared between all the owners because they related to an “interlinked and indivisible” weathertightness issue.
In other words, if you’re looking to buy Apartment A, but Apartment Z has some issues that could affect the whole building, Apartment Z’s woes may be your problems too.
5. What research should I do?
Ask the real estate agent or the seller to give you copies of the complex’s long-term maintenance plan, and at least the last 12 months’ worth of body corporate meeting minutes. Get your lawyer to look over these documents and identify any issues.
Ask the real estate agent if the building has any weather-tightness issues and about its current earthquake rating.
You can also request a copy of the complex’s contingency plan (which will show you if there are other costs on top of the body corporate fees). Remember to ask for a copy of the building’s insurance policy, too.
Get a building report on the property done by an accredited property inspector who complies with the New Zealand building inspection standard 4306:2005.
Last but by no means least, don’t forget to find out who your potential neighbours are and what kind of complex you’re thinking about moving in to. Will you be able to take your pets, have guests or hold parties? Getting as much information as you can about a property before you make an offer on it will set you up for much better decision making.