"What about the neighbours – how do you check the calibre of those living next door or within cooee down the street?"
Minimise your risks of bad – and high-rise – neighbours when buying property
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There’s an old Jewish proverb that simply states “Ask about your neighbours, then buy the house.” It seems sensible enough advice. After all, even in prestigious zones, neighbours can make life heaven or hell, depending on how cordial the relationship is. Yet it seems even with due recognition of the importance of neighbours in daily life, Aussie home buyers spend more time watching the above-named television series than they do investigating a potential property and its neighbourhood surrounds.
A recent survey conducted by St George Bank suggests little more than an hour is spent inspecting a property prior to a home buyer happily signing on the dotted line. Consequently, over 55% of those surveyed reported experiencing problems once they’d moved in – problems ranging from plumbing complaints to insufficient parking, poor TV reception and unsurprisingly close to the top of the list: noisy neighbours.
To be fair, arranging a lengthy private inspection is not always possible due to work hours and family commitments. The majority of buyers are often restricted to weekend open for inspection times, during which the property is decked out in “show home” fashion, hiding the poor paint work or damp patch on the carpet with careful placement of furniture. This is why a building inspection is highly advisable even in the acquisition of new houses.
But what about the neighbours – how do you check the calibre of those living next door or within cooee down the street? It’s not an easy task, and there’s no fool-proof answer. However, from personal experience, spending time walking and assessing the local streets outside of work hours should uncover if there’s a yappy dog or would-be drummer residing close by. Knocking on doors, chatting to a resident while they’re putting out the bins, asking questions, checking if gardens are well attended and calling the council to assess if there are any proposed developments pending can all assist with risk management.
Of course, once you’re in the house, there’s nothing to stop new less than desirable neighbours moving in. However, if you’ve been careful and purchased into a neighbourhood predominantly attracting a similar demographic, the chance of a group of party-loving 20-year-olds renting in a family-oriented suburb should be reduced.
Another aspect affecting the type of neighbours buyers can adopt is the planning zone a residential property falls within. Purchasers are frequently unaware of the zoning around their property at the time of acquisition. They often assume they’re in a residential zone based on street appeal alone. However, business zones and industrial zones can look just as residential in their aspect and under current laws, should the council approve, unsuspecting owners can find themselves located next to a McDonald’s, factory, or worst still, an adult sex shop, rather than the dilapidated house situated there at time of purchase.
This is one reason banks are reluctant to lend on residential property in a business or industrial zones without a healthier-than-usual deposit – a matter that often catches the uneducated buyer off guard. However, all the checks in the world won’t protect a home owner if the movers and shakers in local or state government decide to meddle with current zoning laws – or for that matter, change them all together.
The primary purpose of zoning is to prevent over-development altering the character of a suburb or interfering detrimentally with residents and businesses residing there. Buy in a heritage-protected area, for example, and it’s unlikely you’ll end up with a tower block overshadowing the backyard. However, if you purchase a house situated in a business or capital city zone, it’s far more likely a high-rise monstrosity may be constructed next door.
Any change to a property’s zone can have significant consequences on the price and future potential it holds. In Perth, for example, large swathes of land have been re-zoned to allow for greater density in major activity centres. This could mean a house sitting on a block of land with the potential for a two-storey seven-metre-high development could easily become next month’s six-storey unit site! Obviously the affect it has on any area will advantage some and disadvantage others – but at the time of acquisition, none would have been the wiser.
Similar changes have been suggested in Sydney – and the Victorian government is also revising its zoning guidelines. Like Perth, the changes have the potential to affect individual property prices, not to mention the lifestyles of those unfortunate enough to draw the short straw. And the zoning alterations suggested in Melbourne are not by any means subtle. If you’ve ever been to a Melbourne auction and heard it spruiked in the preamble that the property to be sold is in the most desired “residential 1” zoning category, brace yourself! It’s all about to change.
As a brief rundown, the state government aims to delete the nine existing zones and merge them into five categories. Residential zone 1, 2 and 3 will become “Residential Growth Zone, General Residential Zone and Neighbourhood Residential Zone” For each the zone, the density restrictions alter. You can go here to find a rundown of the changes – however, in most instances, planning controls are loser, maximum height restrictions have been removed or increased (with the proviso they can also be exceeded) – and the size of land needed for subdivisions reduced.