House hunting

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I haven't actually ever bought a house, so take all this advice with a huge grain of salt. I have however, read a few books on the topic of real estate and investment, and been on the "hunt" for a unit in Brisbane a couple of times, and so I've written this to help remind me what is important and what questions to ask when trying to find a place to buy!

Open Inspections

What to take in:

  • Document folder - use this to store everything (print outs, business cards etc).
  • Pen - to keep in your top pocket.
  • Print outs of properties - (click "print brochure" link for any house at
  • Digital camera - by recording a short video "walk through" you can remember what the place looks like and agents will take you seriously.
  • Tape measure - you'll appear to really mean business when you whip out a tape measure! Many places don't have a floor plan, so you can sketch up your own, and measure the bedrooms with a friend.
  • Cheque book - in case you decide to make a deposit.
  • Mobile phone
  • Your partner! - having your partner present will halve your stress. And if you don't have a partner take a parent or friend instead.

What to put in the car:

  • GPS - (much easier than using maps!)
  • Maps
  • Water bottle and snacks - because it's tiring work
  • Sunglasses
  • Umbrella

Meeting the Agent

When first meeting the agent try to stand out from any others and take the initiative by introducing yourself:

  • Hello, I'm Andrew and this is my girlfriend Debbie. (then shake hands firmly)
  • Nice to meet you Colin

At this stage Colin will probably ask you to sign a visitor form and/or take a printed profile of the property.

  • Do you mind if we take some photos and measurements? (if you are lucky they'll give you floor plans)

Take your time to look around and if you like the place you can approach him again to ask questions:

Questions to ask

Colin, I was just wondering ...

  • What age is this building?
    ... anything earlier than the 70s is likely to have some damage
  • Do you know much about the neighbours?
    ... find out what type of people live there: old/young , owners/renters
  • Is there any problems with noise you're aware of?
    ... find out if there is a noise problem from neighbours, traffic, trains and/or planes
  • What about temperature, do you get a breeze?
    ... important factors are: NE aspect, air-conditioners, heaters and ceiling fans.
  • Are there any problems with security around here?
    ... find out about history of break-ins and the state of locks and security screens (especially if screens are missing)

  • How long has this place been on the market?
    ... if it has been a while the agent will tell you if it has come down in price
  • Have you had any serious offers yet?
    ... hopefully will tell you what offers have been made, approximate price and whether owner is likely (or has already) rejected them.
  • What kind of offer is the owner looking for?
    ... be prepared for the agent to ask what YOU think it's worth - if unsure then joke or say:
  • As an agent in this area you're the best person to ask; what value do you think this place is worth?
    ... if you're lucky they'll tell you what the owner might settle for (even if they're not supposed to)
  • When does the current lease expire and occupants more out?
    ... ask this if the place is occupied (by owner or tenants)... or otherwise ask if the place is ready to be moved into straight away.

If you're still interested you may also ask to see the garage and ask:

  • Do you know how much rent these rooms make?
    ... if the place is owned, the agent might know what the neighbors rent for (or estimate).
  • Regarding Internet, do you know if the people here share an Internet plan or if the place has fibre optic cable?
    ... chances are they won't know, but just in case.
  • What are the body corporate fees again?... Are they likely to change?
    ... these are probably printed on the sheet, but not always.
  • Are there issues with shared facilities in this building
    ... there might be a shared pool or bbq etc, and maybe policies for their use.
  • Why are the owners are selling?
    ... will hopefully give you valueable insight into why the owners left and how desperate they are to sell.

I like to remember these questions using "ANTS LOVE RIFFS":

  • Age,
  • Neighbours / noise,
  • Temperature,
  • Security,
  • Long,
  • Offers,
  • Value,
  • Expiration,
  • Rent,
  • Ineternet (cable),
  • Fees: body corporate + sinking funds,
  • Facilities
  • Selling.

What to Look For

When looking at the property there are a number of things you should look for.... and to make sure you don't forget these when you get to the inspection I have created a Home inspection checklist


Contacting Agents

Letting Agents Know what you Want

In the book Real Estate Mistakes (book) (I'm a big Jenman fan), Paul Jenman suggests a good agent will take you to see three or four houses just to get a feel for what you're after in a house. To get to that stage it's a good idea to first find out what agents work in your desired suburb(s) online or by collecting business cards at open house inspections. If you've already figured out roughly what you want you can let them know in an e-mail such as this one I wrote recently:

Dear {Agent's Name},

My name is Andrew Noske and I've recently started looking to buy a unit to live in, in the St Lucia area. I used to live in a semi-rural property with my parents in Cairns, so one of my fears would be buying a place where I end up feeling closed in and not having a garden or open space to retreat to. After having thought about what I need and want I have come up with a short list:

My needs are:

  1. Large master bedroom .................. (at least enough for queen bed and computer desk)
  2. Airy feel ............................. (lots of windows, so I never get claustrophobic)
  3. Secure garage ......................... (might lock up stuff if I go away for a while years)
  4. Open kitchen .......................... (preferable with good bench space opening out to living room)
  5. Close to UQ and bus ................... (where I rent is great as I can walk to uni in ~40 mins)
  6. Decent second bedroom ................. (can rent out to another person)

And my wants are:

  1. Bottom level ............................... (I'm bad with heights)
  2. Patio/courtyard or balcony ................. (somewhere to retreat)
  3. Under $XXX k.

If you have any such places for sale, or the immediate future I would be very grateful if you could send me some information or call me on 0405 555 555 and hopefully we can arrange some inspections together.

Kind Regards,
     Andrew Noske

Or if you are less sure about what you want, you should simply call them and try to arrange a meeting. Take everything they say with a grain of salt though: their success as a agent is about selling properties quickly, and so many are used to exaggerating the truth.

As Jenman tactfully says: "many real estate agents do not give good investment advice". A good place to start is to visit the Jenman Group website and they'll send a list of "Jenman certified" agents, plus a PDF copy of his latest books. Otherwise go to, enter your desired postcode and compile a list of agencies selling properties.

Good Real-Estate Agents

Trying to decide which real-estate agents are good, and which not to trust is extremely difficult. I would define a good agent as one who isn't just interested in making a quick sale - or conditioning the seller.

I believe good agent should be:

  • Genuinely friendly ...... (approachable and down-to-earth)
  • Genuinely honest ..... (made of good moral fiber)
  • Genuinely helpful ..... (willing to show/e-mail you other properties or recommend other agents)
  • Proficient ...... (this should include giving you good handout info - including a floor plan!)
  • Knowledgeable about the area ... (can quote land values over time - and has been selling in this suburb a few years)
  • Knowledgeable about the property! ... (i.e. knows about the neighbors, internet access etc)

The last one is obviously a big one! But as for friendliness, it's almost a matter of looking them in the eyes and trying to decide whether they are naturally people person, and willing to joke, or whether they're just interested in your cash, and would rip you off in a heartbeat. If you are among many people at an open inspection it's obviously lot harder for agent to befriend you, but a good agent will find a way and/or offer to take you on a private inspection. Being friendly is part of their job-description, and so the ones which are not friendly are not particularly good agents. Strong emotions are involved in buying a house, and so a good agent will go out of his way to make sure both the seller and buyer are happy. On the other hand, some house hunters may appreciate an agent who skips the chit-chat and gets straight down to business. One thing is sure though, a good agent shouldn't put pressure on you to buy, and may even say something like: "You look like your not sure, and I wouldn't want you to bid on a place your not sure about" or "How about I show you some other properties to get a feel for what you're looking for in a home".

And if you find a good agent, and buy from there, there is every chance you'll look them up in the future if you move and need to sell.


  • - biggest and most used property search in Australia.
  • - fairly big site - probably about 80% overlap with though.
  • - nice site for people looking to sell/buy without agents (although don't be surprised if there are few or no listings for any given suburb).