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Smart guide

Choosing a home to suit you

A smart home or renovation will meet your needs, now and in the future.

Everybody has different priorities when it comes to choosing where they want to live. There are pros and cons associated with each different housing type and location. Think about your and your family’s needs both now and into the future before deciding where you want to live, and what sort of home you want.

New or existing?

Building a new house from scratch is a challenging but also rewarding activity. In particular if you want to implement sustainability features it is often important to incorporate these from the very start including smart site selection, building orientation and other design features that work together to make the house as a whole work well.

Buying an existing home will in most cases requires a few more compromises, but it is of course much easier and faster than building – and often you can live in it while you renovate. You will also have the advantage of experiencing the house and site when you visit the open home, or while you live in it. If it is a hot summer day you will get a feeling whether rooms overheat, or on a wet winter day you may be able to get a musty smell indicating that the amount of insulation, ventilation (inside the house or under suspended timber floors) and/or heating may not be up to scratch.

There are a few things you can do to upgrade an existing home, but some aspects are very difficult to put in place, such as:

A new home will give you far more choice and freedom to incorporate smart design features, but you may have to compromise on location due to availability or cost of land – particularly in inner-urban suburbs. You will also need to find alternative accommodation during the build process, while servicing any finance on the section and build.

A large section requires considerable maintenance – which doesn’t suit everybody. With busy lifestyles, an aversion to lawnmowing, or extended periods away from home, you may decide that you would rather have a smaller, lower maintenance section, or no section at all.

There are ways to achieve the vege garden without an expansive section, such as courtyard or balcony planter gardens. You may decide you’d rather use a nearby park as your backyard and dispense with a backyard altogether.

The size of land is often going to be constrained by the location that you would like to live in – typically larger sections are found on the outskirts, which may be car-based communities. Smaller sections may allow you to buy more house for your money in the location you want.

This is because the land component of the purchase price of a property is typically half or more of the value. Remember to factor in ongoing transportation costs, if choosing a non-central location.

Titles

There are several types of land ownership in New Zealand – it is important to know the differences, particularly before buying a property. These are outlined in the Certificate of Title held by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ).

The main categories in relation to land are:

  • freehold
  • leasehold
  • unit title or cross lease.

Land titles on the Citizens Advice Bureau website has more information. 

House types

Broadly speaking there are three types of houses

  • stand-alone houses
  • semi-detached or terraced townhouses
  • apartments.

When considering your options to buy or rent be aware that each type has different advantages and disadvantages.

Stand-alone

Stand-alone houses typically have the following advantages:

  • bigger sections
  • acoustically separated from neighbouring buildings (although they are not immune to noise issues)
  • typically freehold which means you decide what needs to be done and when. But check whether there are covenants in place – particularly in new developments (for example, size of new homes, minimum amounts of garaging, limits on pets, limits on activities such as working from home, restrictions on alterations – eg if you buy an existing home that needs recladding, you may be restricted on what you can reclad with).

Typical disadvantages include:

  • having to look after the maintenance and bearing the full cost of this
  • being responsible for the upkeep of landscaping, lawns and gardens.

Semi-detached

These can be on either freehold, cross-lease or unit titles. Maintenance responsibility varies with the title. For freehold or cross-lease titles responsibilities rest with the owner, for unit title with the body corporate.

Check any covenants and body corporate rules. Semi-detached buildings typically require permission from neighbours to do alterations. These houses may also have shared services with joint liability.

As with stand-alone houses, semi-detached houses also have a number of advantages:

  • sections and homes are typically smaller and therefore require less maintenance. Shared walls also reduce the area to maintain.
  • can be warmer than stand-alone homes due to shared walls and smaller floor areas, and are therefore more economical to heat.

But there are also some disadvantages. It is important to check:

  • there is sufficient cross-flow ventilation
  • the orientation allows sun in and does not expose you to unacceptable street noise
  • the smaller land size may not suit everyone
  • poor design can lead to acoustic issues and lack of privacy.

If you buy an existing house make sure you get it checked by a qualified independent building inspector – particularly if it was built between the late 1980s and mid-2000s.

Apartments

Apartments are typically on unit titles.

Typical benefits for apartments include:

  • lower maintenance effort and cost. Body corporates require regular contributions for upkeep, which means less potential for big surprises
  • easier to heat than stand-alone or semi-detached due to shared walls, ceilings and/or floors
  • no land to look after yourself, though many have common garden areas and/or are close to public parks
  • tend to be in larger urban centres, and close to amenities and/or transport hubs
  • tend to be cheaper to buy, but check with your bank on their lending restrictions for the particular property you are considering.

But there are also a few things to look out for:

  • check orientation and shadowing from neighbouring buildings
  • owners are obliged to pay body corporate fees, and some can be significant, so check how much it is per month, and what it covers. Some things are normally not covered by body corporate contributions, such as earthquake upgrades or fixing weathertightness issues – check individual liability in these cases, and get the property inspected by a qualified building inspector.

Responsibilities

Owning your own stand-alone house puts the onus on you to look after it. Home maintenance can be time consuming and costly, especially if you happen to own an older house that has some problems (weathertightness, plumbing, old wiring, etc). Equally so, if you live in a unit title townhouse or apartment there are likely to be rules and restrictions that you will have to adhere to as owner or resident.

Before you buy or rent a unit title property, such as an apartment or townhouse, make sure you are familiar with the body corporate rules and understand your responsibilities both in terms of restricted or required activities and, if you will own it, any financial contributions. If you will own the property, pay particular attention to your potential liabilities, and what you are liable for if the building requires major renovation, strengthening, or remediation work.

If there are upcoming weathertightness repairs or earthquake strengthening work, find out how much your share is likely to be (and whether this is realistic) and when it is likely to be required – you will need to raise the funds to contribute to this work.

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Other resources

  • Homeowner rights and obligations

    The Building Performance website has information to help you make informed decisions during the building process.

  • Quotable Value

    Find information about property price trends, valuations and past sales information on the Quotable Value website. You'll have to pay for some of this content.

  • Tenancy rules

    You can find out more about body corporate on the government’s Tenancy Services website.

Note that this document is published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Chief Executive as Guidance under Section 175 of the Building Act 2004. This is a guide only and, if used, does not relieve any person of the obligation to consider any matter to which the information relates according to the circumstances of the particular case.