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 Real Estate Authority's Settled 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 Settled 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 real estate publications and go to open homes, to 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. 

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 checks should I do before 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: 

  • Familiarise yourself with the neighbourhood, for example accessibility to public transport, schools and shops; perhaps meet the neighbours.
  • Find out what the rates are for the house, as well as the home and contents insurance. 
  • Check whether the homeowner is still paying off the cost of installing insulation or 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. Also look at the long term maintenance plan in case major maintenance work is planned.
  • Look for features that might make maintenance more difficult. For example some types of wall claddings need specialist knowledge to maintain; check that access to the gutters is straightforward. More about home maintenance is on the Consumer NZ website.
  • Request a LIM report This tells you everything the local council knows about the land and the buildings, including what building consents and code compliance certificates they have issued for work done 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) and to check where the boundary is.

You’ll find additional information on the Real Estate Authority's Settled 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. The inspector should present all of their findings to you in a report. More information about building inspections is on the Real Estate Authority’s Settled website.

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How do I choose a building inspector?

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

Inspectors are not required to hold a formal qualification - so in theory anyone can set themselves up as a building inspector. Therefore it is best to get recommendations from people whose opinion you trust.

You can choose a member of a relevant professional association. Members have to follow their associations’ accreditation processes:

Other things you could do before making your choice:

  • Ask for a sample property inspection report. A sample report will give you a good idea of what kinds of information they will give you.
  • Check that the inspector's 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, check that it identifies you (the buyer) as the client, in case there’s a problem later and the case ends up in court.

If there’s any possibility that someone has manufactured “P” methamphetamine or ‘meth’) on the property, 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 problems which the real estate agent and the building report did not mention. 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 escalate your complaint to the professional body the inspector belongs to, if you and the building inspector are in dispute over who is at fault, or unable to agree on a remedy, you can make a complaint.

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 - issues page. 

You can try to get compensation for loss by making a claim at: 

  • the Disputes Tribunal (if the claim is for up to $15,000 – or up to $20,000 if both parties agree to it), 
  • the District Court (if the claim is for up to $350,000) or 
  • High Court (if the claim is for more than $350,000).

More information about what to do if there are unexpected problems with the house you bought, is on the Consumer Protection website.

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

A LIM report (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 description of the site and the buildings on it, including historical information on the property. It can include:

  • zoning details of the property,
  • 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. There is usually a fee charged for a LIM.