The ultimate Australian home buying guide
From suburb research to finance, signing contracts and moving in, we can guide you through the entire home buying journey.
As life decisions go, buying a home is one of the biggest. It's a complex, nerve-wracking process requiring a thousand decisions big and small along the way. But you don't need to panic: we've broken down the whole experience into six clear steps to make it easy for you.
You can read the whole thing or skip to the section that you need. You can also compare your finance options or get in touch with real estate agents in the tables below.
The home buying process step by step
When determining whether it’s the right time to own the roof over your head, you need to carefully consider your lifestyle needs both now and in the future. Your job security, number of dependents and lifestyle habits will influence your borrowing capacity when you submit a home loan application, and can indicate whether you’re in a sound position to buy a home.
Here are some key points to think about when deciding if you're ready to buy a home.
When reviewing a home loan application, most lenders prefer that you’ve been in your current job for at least 12 months as this demonstrates that you have a stable source of income that can be used to service your mortgage repayments. If you have high job security, then you represent a lower risk to the lender.
Lenders will also be interested to know about your type of employment (casual, part-time or full-time) and the prospect of your continued employment.
Depending on your occupation, some lenders may offer professional package home loans and in some cases it may waive lender’s mortgage insurance (LMI) if you’re a doctor or accountant, as you are perceived as a low risk borrower due to your high earning potential.
If your employment is secure, then you may be ready to buy.
On the other hand, if you’re a low-income earner or you’re receiving Centrelink benefits, it may be more difficult to qualify for a home loan. If this describes your situation, seek independent advice about your readiness to buy a home. While it may be possible for you to qualify for a home loan with a specialist lender if you can prove that you have a secondary income source to repay the mortgage, you need to think about whether this is a financially responsible move.
One of the biggest lifestyle changes comes with the decision to settle down and have kids.
While this can be an exhilarating time, you need to think about the cost of extending your family and how this will influence your ability to purchase a home. This is because the number of dependents that you have can affect your borrowing capacity.
In general, each dependent that you have will lower the amount you can borrow by $50,000-$60,000.
Recognising the sharp rise in costs that will result from having kids, many lenders will request that you factor in the cost of childcare, education fees and unexpected medical expenses when listing your day-to-day expenses.
If you plan to receive government benefits such as Family Tax Benefits, keep in mind that some lenders only consider this as a secondary source of income and you’ll need to supply supporting documentation when completing your home loan application.
Your intended length of stay in the home you purchase can help you determine whether you’re ready to buy.
Due to the significant transaction costs of servicing a mortgage and owning a home, many financial advisers believe that you should only buy a home if you intend to live there for 5-10 years. This is enough time to build up equity in your property and to allow your property to appreciate in value.
Taking out a home loan will probably be the biggest financial decision you’ll make in your lifetime, so you should sit down with an accountant during this preliminary stage to see how much you can afford to borrow.
Even if you haven’t started looking at suburbs or properties yet, it’s a good idea to get an idea of how much you can afford to borrow as this will help fine-tune your search later on.
Your credit file and the amount of existing debt that you have can reflect whether or not you’re ready to purchase a home. Request a copy of your credit file to review your financial health.
If you have bad credit, you may not be a good candidate for a home loan application. However, there are lenders that specialise in borrowers with bad credit.
Ideally, you want to come up with at least a 20% deposit so you can avoid paying lenders mortgage insurance (LMI) for a full documentation home loan.
If you don’t have at least 10-20% deposit saved, there are low-deposit loans available, however you may want to think about whether you are financially prepared to buy a home, and whether you can afford to pay for mortgage insurance.
Look below to see the mortgage insurance costs for different deposit sizes.
When estimating the costs of buying a home, you need to break down government charges (such as stamp duty), lender's fees (including the application fee) as well as other associated costs (such as conveyancing or inspection fees).
Use our calculator to estimate your home-buying costs.
Remember that you’ll also need to factor in a contingency buffer for holding costs such as repairs and maintenance or a rise in interest rates if you take out a variable rate mortgage.
Let’s assume you’re purchasing a property that will be owner-occupied and is worth $650,000. The interest rate is 4.5% and you have a 20% deposit of $130,000. But your deposit isn't the only upfront cost involved. Here’s a roundup of some of the major upfront costs.
- Stamp duty.
- Legal charges.
- Building and pest inspection.
- Mortgage application fee.
- Settlement fee.
- Home and contents insurance.
- Lenders mortgage insurance (LMI)..
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Once you’ve reviewed your lifestyle and financial status, and decided that you’re in a sound position to settle down and purchase a home, it’s time to start thinking about location.
We’re all familiar with the maxim “location is everything” paradigm. How your property location fits into your lifestyle is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in the home buying process. It’s a matter of balancing your priorities and finding a suitable location that will match your needs and improve your quality of life.
You need to carefully consider the geographic location of your property and how this will satisfy your lifestyle needs, particularly if you intend to stay there for an extended period of time.
Whether you’d like to live in the central business district (CBD) of your chosen state or in more regional area, it’s important that you think about how the geographic location of the area will affect your lifestyle. Does the area suit your needs in terms of current and future job opportunities? Is it close to transport services? Are there public amenities nearby?
When you start researching different suburbs, you may feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that you need to digest when trying to decide whether or not a particular location will be right for you. From planned infrastructure developments to the socio-economic status of an area to the number of public amenities nearby, researching (and comparing) different property markets can be challenging.
However, some research and due diligence can go a long way in helping you make a location savvy choice.
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After fine-tuning different locations for your future home, you now need to research different properties that are listed on the market within these suburbs.
Here are some things to keep top of mind when deciding on property type.
One of the most important issues to think about when evaluating different properties is the structural integrity and quality of the build. When reviewing the structural integrity of the property, make sure you enquire about plumbing, electrics, insulation, materials in the structure and any existing damage (if it’s an established property).
To help you understand whether the property is structurally sound, you should organise building and pest inspections to pre-empt any issues that may appear further down the track, (remember that inspections should only be organised if you have a strong intention to purchase the property, as you will have to pay for each inspection you request).
Regardless of the type of property you choose, you’ll need to have an idea of the size. How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? Is the amount of space you need now the same as the space you’ll need in the future? Do you want an extra bedroom for guests or potential tenants? Do you need a study if you plan to work from home?
Think about your lifestyle needs and the property size that will allow you to live comfortably. This will help you determine whether you need a 2-bedroom or 3-bedroom property, as well as whether you need additional rooms such as a living room, a baby’s room or an outdoor entertaining area.
House or unit?
One of the biggest choices you'll have to make when selecting a property is whether to buy a house or a unit. While houses are typically more expensive, they've historically seen higher levels of capital growth. A detached house also offers more flexibility for renovations and additions.
Units, meanwhile, can have enormous potential as rental properties. They also have a lower price point than detached houses, so can be a good choice for first home buyers.
You may feel a sense of relief after locking in a location and property for your upcoming purchase, but there is still work to do before you get the keys to your property. Analysing your financial situation, knowing how much you can afford to borrow, and understanding the type of home loan that will suit your homeownership goals are just some of the things that need to be ticked off your list before you apply for a home loan.
When you're comparing home loans, you'll want to consider the following factors:
- Interest rate. Ideally, you want to find a home loan that offers a competitive interest rate by market standards. A lower interest rate can go a long way in helping you maximise your savings. You should always pay attention to the comparison rate of different home loans, as this reflects the true cost of the loan by taking fees into account.
- Fees. When comparing different home loans, you should keep an eye out for application or establishment fees, ongoing fees and discharge fees. Finding a home loan with fewer fees will help you to minimise your holding mortgage costs.
- Features. As mentioned previously, there are many competitive features available that can help you save money. Compare if the lender allows you to make additional repayments without penalty, if a free redraw is available, if a 100% offset account is available, if split loans are offered, if the lender provides packaged discounts, and if salary crediting is offered.
Once you've applied for a home loan, your application will progress through several stages. The first is pre-approval, which is a lender agreeing in principle to extend you a certain amount of finance. This stage is important, as it will give you an idea of your budget. However, the lender is under no obligation at this stage to offer you a home loan.
The next stage is conditional approval. At this stage, a lender often will have performed credit checks and verified your income and expenses, but will be waiting on more information either about your finances or the property you're buying.
The final stage is full approval. At this point, you'll sign and return your loan contracts and will have entered into a formal, binding agreement with your lender.
Once you’ve completed your preliminary research, decided where to buy, and organised your finance, you need to prepare for your property purchase.
Get inspections done
Pre-purchase inspections give you a chance to see if any damages are present in the property and also allow a professional to view the fixtures and fittings that come with the property, such as air conditioners, carpet or furniture, to make sure they are sound. Generally, the contract of sale requires the seller to hand over the property to you in the same condition as it was on the day the sale was finalised.
You'll want to organise a building and pest inspection if you're buying a house, and a strata inspection if you're buying a unit.
Decide how to buy
Houses in Australia are generally sold in two ways: via private treaty or auction.
A private treaty sale takes place when the property owner sets the sale price and the real estate agent negotiates with buyers to achieve the highest possible sales price.
An auction involves buyers bidding on the property at a fixed location and time. The highest bidder on the day purchases the property, as long as the bid matches or exceeds the reserve price and the bidder has 10% of the property price available as deposit.
The main difference between a private treaty and an auction is that a private treaty has an asking price, whereas an auction involves marketing the property without a price guide.
Prepare for settlement
If you win at auction or your offer is accepted in a private treaty sale, the next step will be to exchange contracts and pay your deposit to the vendor. Make sure to have a conveyancer or solicitor inspect the contract of sale.
Once contracts are exchanged, you'll be headed towards settlement day. Settlement is the process of paying the vendor and changing ownership of the home. Your lender will disburse funds for your home loan and you'll receive your keys.
There are several costs associated with settlement that you'll need to prepare for. You'll need to have enough funds in your account to cover settlement, legal and conveyancing fees, as well as stamp duty.
After settlement is complete, your home purchase journey will have come to conclusion. It will be time to move into your new home.
Once the settlement is complete, the property is all yours. But before you start packing boxes, there are a few items to prioritise on your agenda.
Familiarise yourself with the body corporate or local council of your area, organise removalist or cleaning services (if required) and get your utility accounts sorted. These are just some of things you need to organise before moving in.
Before making the transition, ensure that you're fully prepared to enjoy life in your new home from the moment you get the keys.
- Sort through your belongings. Now is the time to ruthlessly cull anything you don't need or won't use.
- Transfer accounts. Move all your services and utilities to your new address, and have your mail redirected.
- Pack. It's a good idea to categorise your boxes by room for easy unpacking at your new residence.
- Book removalists. It's wise to leave yourself a buffer of a few days between settlement day and your removalists coming. If you don't and run into any delays at settlement, it could add significant cost to your removalist bill.
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