Before you buy a house 

What should I consider if I’m thinking of buying my first home?

Buying a house is a big commitment. Some questions you should ask yourself include: 

  • Is it the right time for you to buy? The answer can depend on things like your lifestyle, job situation and whether you are intending to start a family soon. More about whether it’s the right time to buy a home is on the Kiwibank website.
  • Where do you want to buy? What type of house, apartment or unit do you want to buy? Do you want a house that needs work? More tips about deciding what kind of house to aim for is on the Kiwibank website. Prioritise your list of ‘wants’ as you might not find a property that fits all of your criteria.
  • Do you have the financial ability to buy a house? This might mean contacting your lender and checking how much you can borrow and the size of deposit you’ll need to have. More about this is on our Mortgages page.
  • Look at the real estate publications and go to open homes, so that you can get a good idea of what’s on the market in your price range. You can view real estate listings on the website and other sites. Attend one or two auctions just to experience what they are like. 

More things to think about are on Trademe’s guide to buying a house.

If you’re new to New Zealand, you might be interested in Immigration New Zealand’s house-buying guide for newcomers.

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What kinds of checks should I do if I’m thinking of putting an offer on a house?

Ask the real estate agent or seller as many questions as you can about the property. However don’t rely solely on them for all the information you need, and be prepared to do your own research.

Here are some checks that are well worth going through before you make an offer: 

  • Find out what the rates would be for the house, as well as the home and contents insurance. 
  • Check whether the homeowner is paying off the cost of installing insulation/heating units through their rates (because you will inherit that debt if you buy the house). 
  • If the property is on a unit title development, you need to know what the body corporate fees are.
  • Note any features of the property that might affect ease of maintenance of the property, such as wall claddings which need specialist knowledge to maintain or anything that might impede access to the gutters. More about home maintenance is on the Consumer NZ website.
  • Request a LIM report from the local council which tells you everything the local council knows about the land and the buildings, including what building consents and code compliance certificates have been issued in relation to work that has been carried out on the property.
  • Get an independent building inspector to examine the house thoroughly and look for things like problems with weather-tightness, wiring, plumbing or foundations.
  • Check the property title for things like easements (which might allow a neighbour to access part of your property, for example).

You’ll find really useful additional information on the Consumer NZ website.

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What will the building inspector look for?

A building inspector (also known as a building surveyor) should check for:

  • structural defects e.g. rotting wooden piles 
  • areas where there is damp or mould 
  • areas, including bathroom and kitchen fittings and insulation, which need repair 
  • areas which need re-painting
  • any evidence that the property might be a 'leaky building'.

A building inspector should look at the whole building, including the ceiling and under floor spaces, and any fences and outbuildings (e.g. garage). However they will only check areas that they can access without having to remove wall linings, floor boards etc. All of their findings should be presented to you in a report.

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How do I choose a building inspector?

Ideally the building inspector would be a qualified building professional with experience in the inspection of houses, and be independent (i.e. not associated with the seller or the real estate agent).

However, there is no requirement for inspectors to hold a formal qualification and in theory anyone can set themselves up as a building inspector. So it’s best to get recommendations from people whose opinion you trust.

You can also try the professional associations listed below, which have their own accreditation processes for members:

Other things you could do before making your choice:

  • Ask for a sample report. A sample report will give you a good idea of what kinds of information they will give you.
  • Check that the work will comply with the Residential Property Inspection Standard (called an NZS4306). This standard requires a visual inspection according to an extensive checklist, and the inspector is required to have professional indemnity insurance.

If you’re concerned about the house’s weather-tightness, it might be worth getting this checked by a building inspector who specialises in weather-tightness.

When you receive the inspection report, ensure that you, and anyone buying the house with you, are named as the inspector’s client/s (in case there’s a problem later and the case ends up in court).

If there’s any possibility that the property has been used in the manufacture of ‘P’ (methamphetamine or ‘meth’) you should get it meth tested by a specialist. Living in a house contaminated by the chemicals used to make ‘P’ can cause serious health problems, and the decontamination process is costly.

More about checking a property for evidence of ‘meth’ contamination is on the Tenancy Services website.

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The house I bought turned out to have all sorts of problems which should have been highlighted in the building report. What can I do about it ?
If the problems you found with the house should have been evident in a visual building inspection then you can try making a complaint to the building inspector.

You can make a complaint to the professional body the inspector belongs to (if any), if you and the building inspector are in dispute over whether they are at fault, or unable to agree on a remedy,

It may be worth making a claim at the Disputes Tribunal, District Court or High Court if you’ve lost money because you bought a house based on an inadequate or false report. For a dispute involving a claim of $15,000 or less (or up to $20,000 if both parties agree to it), you can make a claim to the Disputes Tribunal. The District Court deals with civil claims of up to $350,000 and the High Court can deal with claims over $350,000. 

If you’re a Consumer NZ subscriber you’ll find more about this on their website.

If you bought the house through a real estate agent and think they should have known about the problems with the house, then you might have grounds to make a complaint about the agent. More about this is on our Real Estate Agents page.

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What is a LIM report and how do I get one?

A LIM report, or Land Information Memorandum Report, gives you all the information about the property which is held by the local council. It should be a clear and detailed run-down of the site and the buildings on it, including historical information on the property. It can cover zoning details of the property, any land features such as land fill contaminants, resource consents within 25 metres of the boundaries of the property, building consents or permits, and a building certificate of fitness among other things.

You apply to the council to get the report. It is only based on the records held by the local Council, so there could be further information the council is unaware of. There is usually a fee charged for a LIM.