With consumer confidence in brand-new or off-the-plan apartments taking a hit after the Opal Tower crisis in Sydney, where massive cracks started appearing in supporting walls on Christmas Eve, many potential purchasers are turning to new but established apartment blocks as a safer option.
Basically, you want a well-managed building: everything else flows from that. But how do you find this unicorn of an apartment block? The obvious answer is to avoid the bad ones (d’uh!) and to do that, first look for the clearer signs that the building isn’t being properly looked after.
Security and fire doors chocked open would be on your checklist, as well as furniture and other goods stored randomly in parking spaces or, even worse, fire stairwells. Overflowing bins, cars parked permanently in visitor parking, and broken or missing lights in communal areas are also sure signs of systemic neglect.
Less obvious but even more worrying are lifts that don’t quite line up with the floor and rattle and clatter as they move. That’s an expensive issue just waiting to drop in your lap.
Remember, as an owner, you will be responsible for a share of all repair and maintenance so don’t be the last player in a game of pass-the-buck.
Still interested? Now you want a forensic search done of the building’s committee and general meeting minutes. A good, experienced strata lawyer or conveyancer will know what to look for, but they have to be prepared to read between the lines.
One dog-owning Flat Chat website reader was caught out when her pre-sale strata search failed to notice that, although there was a pet-friendly by-law in place, there had been discussions about changing it to a more restrictive model.
By the time she moved in, the new by-law was in place and she was told to get rid of her dog. The situation was eventually resolved but not without a lot of avoidable angst.
There are, however, more obvious warning signs. For instance, a lack of committee meetings is generally not good. That said, the smaller the building the fewer meetings required – in a two storey walk-up, a lot of the day-to-day can be handled in lift lobby chats.
However, any block of 50 or more units should be having meetings once a month. By the way, the legislation in most states only demands a general meeting, the AGM, once a year. The frequency of committee confabs is not legislated.
Other danger signs are perfunctory committee minutes that basically take the agenda and add the words “discussed”, “defeated” or “agreed” to the motions. Or there are the great sweeping novels that name, blame and bully every individual with whom the chair or secretary disagrees.
Be wary of blocks where where nothing contentious is ever recorded by the committee. No building has no problems, so no reference to any issues can mean they either aren’t being dealt with or they are being covered up (or both).
More reassuring are minutes that reveal problems that have been or are currently being resolved.
You also want to make sure the 10-year capital works plan has been properly devised and updated, and that money has been set aside to pay for repairs and upgrades as they arise.
A lively noticeboard and, even better, a regular newsletter is a good sign of an active and engaged committee and community.
Tick all of the above boxes (and a physical checklist is worth compiling) and you may have found the epitome of a well-managed block. Good luck!
A version of this column previously appeared in the Australian Financial Review.