Real estate agents will tell you to buy the worst house in the best street because you can make the most of potential value by bringing the property up to scratch. The same applies to apartments if you buy the worst apartment at a good price in the best block.
But the same definitely doesn’t apply to the worst unit in the worst block. Why? Because it’s a lot harder to improve the value of a whole block when you’re just one owner.
The reasons for that can range from systemic neglect by uninterested investors, tight control of budgets by rusted-on committee members and a basic lack of imagination.
If you are in a block like that, your first challenge may be to change its culture, something that happens organically in older buildings as established owners move out and new owners take over.
Failing that, to move things along, you’ll need a clear plan and the best arguments in strata start and end with finances.
So talk to a couple of local real estate agents, especially those who’ve been recently active in the block. Ask them what would raise its appeal and what those improvements would do to apartment prices generally.
You will probably end up with a list of projects like painting the outside of the building, tidying up the entrances, foyers and lift lobbies, and fixing cracked windows and broken letterboxes.
That’s what prospective purchasers and renters will see first and they not only make the building look better, they give a sense that the block is well run.
And while it’s great, for instance, tarting up a nice ornamental garden that can only be seen by a few lucky residents, bringing a tired and scruffy looking foyer up to scratch will change the outlook for everyone – current and potential renters alike.
Other less obvious improvements could involve cutting down the running costs. Change to low-emission lighting, possibly controlled by movement sensors, especially in undercover car parks. Exhaust fans can be put on timers to cut down on their use when they really aren’t needed. Water wastage can be curbed – a big saving all round.
Now that you have your list, you need to convince the majority of engaged owners – those who turn up for meetings or send proxy votes – that a relatively modest investment will improve the value of their properties by an even greater amount. That’s where your contacts with real estate agents come in.
There are no guarantees but if the people whose job it is to sell your properties tell you that expenditure in specific areas will generate a likely increase in demand, and therefor values, you should take heed.
The good news about this is that the decisions for this kind of thing only require simple majorities at general meetings. Unless you are radically changing common property, special resolutions with their high-vote thresholds, are not required.
The bad news is that there may not be enough money in the maintenance fund – usually because an obsession with low levies (fees) has let it run dry.
Some owners may not be able afford to pay more – especially if a special levy is required – while others will remain unconvinced by the promise of improved sale prices because they have no intention of selling any time soon.
But there are strata loans available if maintenance (sinking) funds are low, and, if some of your improvements offset costs in the medium term, it’s a matter of getting owners over that hump, in their minds if not their bank accounts.
And don’t forget that other vital aspect – your block will be a more pleasant place for you to call home.
If you have a good plan with significant benefits you’re halfway there. After that, all you need is infinite patience.