Fill your home-buying toolkit with the right expert help, reports, and sales and ownership terminology.

From getting property reports and council files to hiring lawyers and talking to the bank, whether it's your first time buying a home, or it's been a while, the to-do list of tasks can seem overwhelming and expensive.

Before you make an offer, it's good to consider:

  • Home buying experts — who to talk to and when to involve them.
  • Reports — what to ask for and what each document can tell you.
  • Know what to ask — knowing what's important to you in a home can help limit your search and know what questions to ask.
  • Types of ownership — whether you will own or lease the land and building.
  • Sales methods — understand the process and what's involved.

For in-depth information about each stage of the home-buying experience, from house hunting to settlement day, see the Settled website.

Buying a home(external link) — Settled

Home-buying experts — who to talk to

Before you visit your first open home, line up key experts.

  • Lawyer or conveyancer: They can make sure you know exactly what you're signing and how the process works.
  • Lender or broker: Getting loan pre-approval early will help you understand what you can spend and be realistic in your search.

For more information on lawyers and conveyancers, what the difference is between them how to work with them and what to do if you have a problem, see our page on Working with Lawyers and conveyancers.

Working with a lawyer or conveyancer

Lawyer or conveyancer

Your lawyer or conveyancer is possibly the most important of the experts involved in home-buying. They handle all the paperwork behind the scenes and make sure you know what you're signing when you do want to make an offer.

Get your lawyer or conveyancer on board as soon as you decide to start looking. You might not need them for a while, but they can help explain the process to you.

Do not sign a sale and purchase agreement until your lawyer or conveyancer has checked it.

Working with your lawyer or conveyancer

Banks, lenders and mortgage brokers

Ask about getting pre-approval for a home loan. You don't need to wait until you've found a home. Pre-approval doesn't mean you have a loan secured for a specific house, but it gives you confidence in knowing how much you can spend. 

Pre-approval usually lasts for three months. There are different options for how you approach finding your mortgage:

  • Go straight to a lender: This could be a bank or non-bank lender, e.g. building societies, credit unions.
  • Go through a mortgage broker: The broker isn't the lender but deals with a number of lenders and can shop around for you. Be aware some lenders don't deal with brokers so there may be options you aren't aware of. Most brokers are paid a commission by the lender, not by you.

The Sorted website can help you understand the benefits and disadvantages of each kind of lender.

Getting a mortgage(external link)  — Sorted

You don't have to get your mortgage from your regular bank. Shop around for the best option for you.

When you find a property, you want to put an offer on:

  • Sort insurance: Most banks and lenders won't confirm your loan until insurance is in place.
  • Get loan approval: Get back in touch with your bank, lender, or mortgage broker to find out what they need to approve your loan, e.g. building report, insurance details.
  • Get the best deal: Don't be afraid to haggle over interest rates and incentives, e.g. cash or overseas holidays.

If you have a problem with your loan, lender, or broker, check out our page about your rights:

Mortgages and home loans

If you want more information on insurance including how to resolve problems, check out our page about your rights:


Reports and paperwork

Find out as much as you can about the property before you make an offer. This will help you avoid nasty surprises.

Here are key reports to include in your research. Your lawyer or conveyancer can explain anything you don't understand and can identify any risks or problems.

With any of these reports, if you find something which you don't understand, ask the agent or your lawyer for information and advice. It's almost impossible to know everything there is to know about a property. Think of each report and piece of information to understand what other questions need to be asked.

If you are looking at a house in an area affected by natural disaster, there are additional checks and experts you need to consider.

Buying a house after a natural disaster


LIM report (land information memorandum)

A summary of the current information the council has on the property, including:

  • flood and erosion risks for the area
  • rates
  • consents and permits granted by the council, e.g. building consent for a bathroom, or deck built over a certain height.

It's a good idea to have your lawyer or conveyancer read the LIM report alongside the council files to spot any discrepancies, e.g. missing consent applications. This might cost extra.

Apply for a LIM report through your local council.

Council files

These contain information that isn't in the LIM report, including:

  • site plans that show where buildings are in relation to the boundary
  • original plans for the property.

This information can help you check if a property has the right consents and permits. Compare the consents and permits in the LIM with the original floor plan, current size, and state of the house to see if something might be missing.

If you can, take the file to a viewing, and compare it to the plan. Are all the rooms in the same place as on the plan? Have any extra rooms/space been added? If you're unsure, ask the real estate agent. If you can't remember what the house looked like, it's a good idea to ask for a private viewing. This gives you the chance to take your time, check out anything you're unsure about and take photos.

Some councils have this information available online, others you may need to visit council to see them. Ask your local council for more information on how to access them.

Doing your homework(external link)  — Settled

Council files can be cheaper than LIM reports and are sometimes more important. To get the whole picture about a property, read these together.

Record of title

It sets out all records about a property, including:

  • Owner: Check if the legal owner of the property is the person selling it.
  • Ownership type: See if you will own or rent the land and buildings — see Type of ownership for details.
  • Restrictions: What you can and can't do with the property, e.g. protected trees, limits on building height.
  • Access rights: Details of who is allowed on your property, e.g. utilities companies, neighbours who get to their home via your driveway.

Your lawyer can do a title search to get this information and can help you read it.

Tell your lawyer if there are issues you want to be clear on. For example, if the view is important to you, ask your lawyer if there are restrictions on the neighbours building over a certain height. 

Pre-purchase inspection or building report

Explains the condition of the property, including any maintenance or repairs needed.

Choose an accredited inspector who complies with NZS 4306 — the New Zealand standard for property inspections.

There is no licensing process for inspectors, so it's a good idea to choose someone who is a member of one of these organisations:

Our page on building reports has tips on what to look for, how to read your property inspection report, and what do if there's a problem.

Building reports and red flags

If your building report shows a problem the agent or owner hadn't mentioned, tell them what you have found. They must tell other potential buyers.

Other reports

Depending on the property, you may need other in-depth checks.

Your bank or insurance provider might ask for additional inspections by specialists. Examples include:

  • Building surveyor: Especially for questions or concerns about boundaries or structural soundness.
  • Registered electrician: To check the wiring and other electrical installations.
  • Geotechnical engineer: For advice on retaining walls and structural issues with the land.

For in-depth information about reports and researching your property, see the Settled website.

Researching the property(external link)  — Settled

In an area affected by an earthquake, landslip, or flood, do extra checks before making an offer.

Buying a house after a natural disaster

Example — Incomplete LIM

Hamiora is interested in a house. He orders the council files and LIM report from the city council. The LIM lists no building consents, but when Hamiora visits the house again he notices an extra room that isn't on the floor plan from when the house was built. This means an addition was made without consent. Hamiora knows it can be difficult to get consent after building work is finished. He changes his mind about making an offer.

Know what to ask

With so many issues and pitfalls, it can feel difficult to know where to start. It's good to ask questions early and get to know a house before you fall in love. You might ask questions based on:

  • What's important to you in a home, e.g. if a view is important to you, make sure your lawyer checks the record of title for restrictions on the neighbours to build above a certain height. If a warm home is important to you, ask the real estate agent about insulation and check that part of the building report carefully.
  • The home you're looking at: If the house is on a slope, you might want to ask about erosion and slips and check the LIM report for those issues. If the house has monolithic cladding, ask about leaks. If the house was built in the 1970s, ask about dux quest piping.
  • Issues raised by other checks and reports: If a building report or LIM raises questions for you, ask the owner or real estate agent about it. If they can't help you, find an expert who can.

For more information on what to to look out for and what to ask with different kinds of houses, see Settled's property checker.

Property checker(external link) — Settled

If you think the real estate agent or owner misled you about an issue, or didn't tell you something they should have known about, see:

Solving issues with the real estate agent or owner

Types of ownership

Your rights as a property owner vary according to whether you own or rent the land and buildings. Make sure you understand the pros and cons of the ownership type before you buy.

Example — Cross-lease renovations

Simon buys a house with cross-lease ownership, with two other houses on the same piece of land. Simon decides to change his carport into a proper garage. He must talk to the council because of its size, but then finds out he can't start building work until the other cross-lease owners agree.

Sales methods

Each has different rules, benefits and drawbacks for the buyer and seller. Talk to your lawyer about what you need to know and do for the sales type that applies to the property you're interested in.

Whatever type of sale you end up with, there will be a sale and purchase agreement with conditions from the seller, e.g. curtains and any appliances included in the price (also called chattels).

Three common sale types are:

Example — Tender success

Jamie finds a house she loves. She sends her lawyer the LIM report, council files and a property inspection report. The report mentions dux quest piping, which can be expensive to fix if it bursts. The lawyer advises a plumber also to inspect the property. Jamie asks the plumber how much it will cost to remove the dux quest piping. Jamie tells the estate agent about the plumber's quote and how it will affect her offer. She submits her unconditional offer, knowing she has taken extra costs into account.

If you have an issue with a real estate agent or owner, check out your rights:

Solving issues with the real estate agent or owner

More help

Get support at any point from:

  • Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) — a free, independent service, run by volunteers. CAB can advise you on your consumer rights and obligations, in person, by phone, or online.

Find a CAB near you(external link)  — Citizens Advice Bureau

  • Community Law Centre: Free one-on-one legal advice to people with limited finances. The organisation has 24 community law centres throughout the country. You can find legal information and other resources on its website.

Our law centres(external link) — Community Law Centre