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, eg 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, eg building report, insurance details.
  • Get the best deal: Don't be afraid to haggle over interest rates and incentives, eg 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:

Insurance


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 as a way 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, eg 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, eg 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, eg protected trees, limits on building height.
  • Access rights: Details of who is allowed on your property, eg 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 particular 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, eg 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

My Alert Content 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.

Freehold is the most common ownership type. You own the land and (usually) any buildings on the land. If you want to make alterations and extensions to the house, you need to follow council rules, but you won't usually need to get permission from your neighbours.

Someone else owns the land. You have a lease for a set amount of time for the land and buildings on it. Sometimes you own the buildings, and someone else owns the land.

You pay lease fees or rent based on property values. The amount is usually fixed for an extended time period, eg 10 years, 27 years. If the area's property values go up, a rent review might see your leasehold fees rise too.

Leasehold buyers also pay a bond, refunded when you sell the house.

These are common when there are multiple homes on a single piece of land. Each owner in a cross-lease co-owns an equal share in the land, but not a specific spot on the land. They also lease their own properties/buildings from each other. These leases are often for very long time periods, eg 999 years, and for a tiny rent, eg 10c a year.

Cross-lease properties can be cheaper because land ownership is shared. Be aware you need permission from the other cross-lease holders to renovate the outside of your home. There might be rules on what you can do to the outside spaces. You share maintenance and use of common spaces like driveways and fences.

Common in apartment buildings and town houses with multiple homes — and owners — in one building. You own your apartment, and share ownership of common spaces like elevators, lobbies and driveways.

Unit titles tend to be cheaper than other forms of ownership, but you will also pay regular body corporate fees for the upkeep of common areas.

Understanding the types of ownership(external external link) (external external link)  — Settled

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 has to 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, eg curtains and any appliances included in the price (also called chattels).

Three common sales types are:

Buyers make offers to the agent by a set time and date. Some tenders include the wording 'unless sold prior'. This means the seller can accept offers before auction day. If you want to know about any early offers, ask the real estate agent to keep you up to date.

Sellers can choose whether to indicate a price. Buyers can make offers above and below that price. If no price is indicated, buyers need to figure out how much to offer. You can consider a number of different things when you decide on an offer amount including recent sales in the area and how much they are selling for in relation to the rateable values (RV) set by the council, how much you are prepared to pay, and value estimates by QV.

Offers can be:

  • Conditional: Sale goes through when stated conditions are met, eg extra inspections, approved finance.
  • Unconditional: No conditions. If your offer is accepted, the sale is final.

Before making an unconditional offer, make sure you have found out everything you need to know about a property and have no unanswered questions.

Buying by tender(external external link) (external external link)  — Settled

Potential buyers gather at the property, or an auction house, and place bids. The highest bidder above the reserve price — the lowest price the seller will accept — buys the property on the spot. Some auctions include the wording 'unless sold prior'. This means the seller can accept offers before auction day. If you want to know about any early offers, ask the real estate agent to keep you up to date.

Auctions are unconditional, so do all your checks and reports before the sale. On auction day, you won't know the reserve price but you will see how much others bid. If you win an auction, you pay the purchase deposit on auction day.

Buying by auction(external external link) (external external link)  — Settled

Unlike other methods of buying, there are no specific end dates for buyers to meet. The seller may set an asking price, or advertise it simply as by negotiation. Potential buyers make offers above or below the price, or their best offer. Then the sale is negotiated between the buyer and seller.

Buyers can put conditions in their offer, eg extra inspections, approved finance, an expiry date for the offer.

For in-depth information on sales methods, including what happens when multiple buyers make offers on the same property, see the Settled website.

Make an offer(external external link) (external external link)  — Settled

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 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.

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