Home loan guide / Buying a home

If you can't buy, build

9 min read

Bailey Underwood

Drive-bys, late nights and scoping out the neighbourhood. Sound like you? You’re either a local crim, or you’re hunting a home. Either way, we’ve got some tips for you.

If you’re a crim

  1. Go directly to jail.

If you’re a house hunter

  1. Do not go to jail.
  2. Please read on.

Finding a home you love is difficult. Many stars need aligning before the property gods shine light onto your ideal abode. And often, our aspirations are bigger than our eyes (everyone can dream, right?). If you’ve been struggling with finding a perfect match, we’ve got some ideas to help refine your search. And, if you still can’t find one, we’ll talk about how to get started with building - so you can make your home, from scratch, the way you like it.

All paths to homeownership are toll roads. You’ll need to be ready to cover the various costs, like stamp duty and conveyancer’s fees, as well as any home loan application fees (unless you’re with Tic:Toc, because we don’t charge any lenders fees). As a rough guide, you may be paying between $995 and $3,825 with other lenders to purchase a home (excluding stamp duty), or between $195 and $525 to purchase with Tic:Toc.

Have you looked under the couch?

It’s important to be clear with yourself: what kind of property are you looking for? Are you searching for your first home, looking to downsize, or expand? Define your goal early to help guide your decisions.

Then, start looking at more specific criteria. How many bedrooms, bathrooms, and off-street parking spaces (if any) would you like? Do you dream of a butler’s pantry, or a cute city apartment with a balcony garden? Perhaps both? What do you need, and what would be nice to have?

Here’s a checklist of things to keep in mind when considering a property:

How close are you to:

  • transport links? Bus stops, train stations, cycling routes?
  • schools?
  • your grocer?
  • your friends/family?
  • public facilities/attractions (local parks, sport facilities, the beach etc.)?
  • major roads/noisy traffic?
  • your place of work?
  • cafés and restaurants?
  • convenience stores?
  • pharmacies?
  • health centres?

Does the street have:

  • the right lighting?
  • decent landscaping? Tree coverage?
  • public parking space?
  • well-kept houses?
  • wide or narrow driving lanes? Two-way or single-lane traffic?
  • thoroughfares?
  • noisy residents?

Is the suburb:

  • still developing?
  • undergoing urban renewal?
  • planned to be affected by any major projects/works?
  • expected to provide good capital growth/future rental yields?
  • affordable? E.g. council rates
  • in a natural disaster-prone area? E.g. prone to bushfires or flooding?
  • relatively safe? Check your state’s suburb crime statistics.

And then ask:

  • Are you after a detached or semi-detached home for the family, a cosy unit, or an inner-city apartment? Each type may be better suited to different lifestyles.
  • What title comes with the property? I.e., is it a Torrens Title property (another great South Australian invention) or managed as a strata?
  • Consider the size of the property and whether it will fit your needs and living situation. A small unit might not be right for raising a family or pet.
  • If you’re a self-described MasterChef, will the kitchen accommodate your 12am fondant frustrations?
  • If you’re a green thumb, look at the potential gardening space and whether you’ll have enough sunlight to grow your veggie patch.
  • Your indoor plants deserve love too. Does the interior receive enough natural sunlight?
  • Proximity to where you work. What is your commute going to be like and how is this likely to affect your expenses and wellbeing? Work from home? Lucky you!
  • Check the condition of the property, and consider a building inspection before you make any commitments. Termites and structural damage are not fun (trust me).
  • Do any bedrooms face west? These rooms will be the warmest all year round, especially through Summer.
  • What kind of utilities are available? Check the air conditioning, water pressure, the hot water system, natural gas availability and solar panels.
  • What other ongoing costs may be associated? Check council rates, the cost of utilities, and insurance costs.
  • Is it a fixer-upper? Will the property require any renovations before you move in? In one, five, ten years?
  • How much can you afford to borrow, and what is your borrowing power?

Searching online

These days, in case you didn’t know, it’s easiest to browse available properties online. Use the advanced search features on sites like realestate.com.au and domain.com.au to drill down into property price, type, car spaces and land size, as well as more specific features like ducted vacuum systems and built-in wardrobes.

Still having trouble finding your dream home? It might be time to compromise. Search surrounding suburbs, and look at properties with smaller square metreage, or with fewer bedrooms. Try single, not double, garages or consider apartments with combined laundries and bathrooms. Backyard too small? Perhaps neighbourhood parks and community gardens can help you bridge the gap.

Nothin’?

You’ve hunted high and low. Maybe your dream home doesn’t exist…yet.

You may have already considered building, and found it would take too long, be too stressful, or just too difficult. But, building a home can be a great alternative to purchasing, and the process of building isn’t as hard as some episodes of The Block would have you believe. Here are some great reasons to build:

Have it your way.

Customisation is key. The extra-deep drawers for the pots and pans; a laundry with plenty of benchtops and storage; the study nook under the stairs. Bring your long-desired home features to life by incorporating them into your build. Pick your own colours, materials, and fixtures. The result can be a home you love, built by – and for – you. And if this means a hidden room behind a bookcase, so be it. You do you.

Finally, a snack stash spot no one will find. | Stefan Steinbauer, Unsplash

Start fresh

If you’ve ever lived in a pre-loved house, you’ll know they can come with their own set of peculiarities. By this, I mean there will be signs the house has been lived in previously. Marks on the walls from where frames once hung; the oil patch on the driveway; the fake plastic lattice adorning the veranda. It might give the place a Victoriana feel, but is it really what you want?

A build will give you the chance to craft your own castle, and you won’t have to worry about any pre-existing oddities from previous owners. Better yet, you can sleep peacefully knowing your home is brand-new and structurally sound.

Save money

If you’re a first home buyer, you’re in luck. Your state or territory likely provides assistance through their respective First Home Owner Grant when you build or purchase a new home. Quite often, you’ll pay less stamp duty too through exemptions or concessions.

Our friends over at Finder.com.au ran the numbers, and the median price to build is almost always lower than the median cost to purchase (except if you’re in Perth. Sorry Perth).

Ready to build?

From A to Build

Tic:Toc doesn’t offer construction loans… yet. But, here’s what to think about when you’re building.

Time

Hold ups are usually inevitable; between progress payments going through, council approvals, and tradesmen availability, you could be waiting additional weeks/months for your home to be finished. Prepare yourself for a marathon vs. a sprint.

Land

You’ll need it. You can purchase an empty or new block of land, or some builders will offer house and land packages. Alternatively, it may be worth finding an existing property in a state of disrepair for easy demolition and clearing.

Sorry Donkey - this swamp has gotta go. | Roya Ann Miller, Unsplash

Architect and/or builder

You’ll need to find someone to design and build your house. If you’ve watched enough Grand Designs to glean some project management skills, you could try managing your own build. But just know Kevin McCloud will not be there to console you when your property is inevitably off schedule and over budget.

If you’re not keen, conduct a search for home builders in your state. When assessing options, check:

  • Whether they are a volume or a custom builder. Volume builders offer cut-and-paste designs which are cheaper to produce, but lack flexibility. Custom builds may suit your site better, but typically come at significantly higher costs.
  • Whether they hold the relevant accreditations and building licences.
  • Customer testimonials. Check their Google Business listing, Facebook reviews or other review site such as Trustpilot or ProductReview. Or, ask friends and family who have built for recommendations. Don’t get stuck with a bad egg.
  • Quoted prices for similar designs. Compare price to get the best deal available.
  • Previous builds the builder has completed. Visit past projects and swing by display villages to view in person (but keep in the mind display homes usually come with all the optional extras). Check build and finish quality and keep an eye out for anything not quite right.

Customisations = costs

Build in customisation buffers when budgeting (sounds obvious). Whether you’re going down a custom build or an off-the-plan, every time you decide to upgrade a finish or feature the costs will add up.

Construction loans

Tic:Toc don’t offer construction loans right now. But here’s how most lenders do it:

First, you’ll need to provide your construction plans as well as your builder’s details and accreditations to your lender. From the plans, your lender will value your future home and determine how much you will need to borrow for the build.

You’ll likely need to provide a few supporting documents, such as council certification of your plans, a detailed breakdown of the builder’s costs, insurance policies, soil tests, building permits, a copy of the contract between you and the builder, and bank details of the builder.

Then, when your loan gets underway, the lender will usually release the funds in stages corresponding to your build. So, you’ll only make repayments based on how much you’ve been lent at each stage, and the repayments are typically interest-only until the build is complete. The stages are commonly defined as:

  1. Base Stage

    The site is cleared and the foundation is poured.

  2. Frame Stage

    Where the wood/steel frame is erected, and the roof structure is put on.

  3. Lockup Stage

    Your windows and doors are installed, internal cabling and plumbing goes in, and the roof and external walls are built to seal off the inside.

  4. Fit-out Stage

    Internal walls, skirting, and flooring are all fitted.

  5. Practical Completion/Handover Stage

    Settlement on your home loans occurs. You'll complete a final walkthrough of your home with the building supervisor to identify anything that still needs attending to. Loose ends are tied up, appliances are installed, and all the finishing touches are added. Get excited, this is when you finally get given the keys.

    During the build

    You’ll need to think about a few things:

    1. Where will you live during the build? Will you continue renting, or live with parents? Make sure you’re not caught out in the cold if your build takes longer than expected; think about entering a periodic agreement with your landlord if possible to give you greater flexibility.
    2. How will you fit your home out? Your builder will have options available for you to choose, and you can normally customise everything from light switches to external bricks (at varying costs of course).
    3. How long might the build take? Consider the time of year and the effect of inclement weather throughout your build. Can you foresee any potential challenges which may cause delays? How will you work around them?

    Finally: move in and enjoy.


    Check out more of our great content

    How the First Home Owner Grant works.

    You’ve found your dream home. Now what?

    What is a building inspection? Do you need one?

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