All the good and bad points of apartment life

Blocks of unitsHere's everything you need to know about the pros and cons of apartment living.

Apartment living is – statistically – on the rise. Units now account for 46% of all Australian dwellings. With prices for houses still very high relative to average incomes, and the country's population projected to grow significantly, this number is only going to go up.

It may not be for everyone, but there are serious benefits to apartment living. It all depends on your lifestyle and aspirations for the future. To help you make the choice between apartments and houses, we've looked at the best and worst factors of apartment living and laid them all out.

Apartment life: the good

  • Facilities. Apartments often have shared facilities, such as a gym, outdoor barbeque area or pool. Not all apartment complexes have these facilities, and apartment owners pay for these facilities in their strata fees, but they can really improve the livability of an apartment.
  • Low maintenance living. Apartments are much easier to maintain than houses. You don't have to mow lawns, worry about gardens, clear leaves from gutters or sweep driveways. Inside the apartment, the building management handles much of the maintenance, so you have less to worry about there too.
  • It's cheaper (usually). Most apartments cost substantially less than houses, especially when you're comparing between places with the same number of bedrooms. For home buyers unable to afford a million dollar mortgage, apartments are much more affordable.
  • Convenience. Apartment living is convenient. Most apartments are located closer to services and amenities like shopping centres and train stations. You can live closer to work without paying enormous prices for a house. You'll spend less time on home maintenance and gardening, giving you more time to relax.
  • Security (hopefully). This obviously varies by apartment complex and neighbourhood, but many apartments have security systems across the building. And living in close proximity to your neighbours makes you less vulnerable than living in a more secluded, private dwelling.

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Life in apartments: the bad

  • Smaller spaces. There's no getting around it, apartment living means sacrificing space. Rooms will be smaller, and the lack of private outdoor space means all you have is the floor space and the balcony. Depending on your lifestyle, this might not be a problem, but if you have four kids and a sheep dog, it probably will be.
  • Noise from neighbours (and nosy neighbours). Apartments are also noisier and less private than houses. You're essentially living in a brick and concrete shelf with other people stacked beside you, above you and below you. This means more noise and less privacy. Noise and privacy issues depend heavily on who your neighbours are and the quality of the apartment construction.
  • The body corporate. The collective owners of all the apartments in a complex form the body corporate. This body makes decisions about how shared spaces in the building are used. At best, it's a shared decision-making system. At worst, it's a group of people you hardly know deciding what you can and can't do with your own space. Also, if you're merely renting an apartment, you don't even have a say in what the body corporate decides.
  • Stairs. Do you like walking up flights of stairs? This is the reality for a lot of apartment owners. And while some buildings have elevators, there always comes a day when the elevators break down.
  • Strata costs. Owning an apartment means paying quarterly strata fees which can cost in excess of $1,000 per quarter. That really adds up.
  • Renovation limitations. You can add value to a house by adding an extra room, extending a deck or altering the exterior. Your only limitation is getting council approval. But with an apartment, your renovations are far more limited, by both physics and the body corporate rules. This makes it harder to renovate and "flip" an apartment as an investment. But you can certainly add a fresh coat of paint, new floors or complete overhauls of kitchens and bathrooms.

If you're thinking of buying a unit, all these factors heavily depend on your own plans. If you live alone and work in a CBD, then a unit nearer the city could be perfect. If you love to garden and want to have kids, then it's a different story altogether.

But a property doesn't have to be a home forever. You can buy an apartment, live in it while building equity, and then upgrade to a house when you have children. You can keep the apartment as an investment, or sell it and use the money as a deposit on your new home.

You can read our unit buying checklist for investors to get more insight into buying an apartment as an investment, or check out our full guide to first home buying here.

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