3 tips for choosing a luxury home

3 tips for choosing a luxury home

Sometimes, your standard, run-of-the-mill home is not enough. Buyers who sit in the upper end of the income bracket may want a little more from their real estate, wishing to spare no expense for a home that is the height of opulence. These are known as luxury, or prestige, properties. 

Though demand of course varies from state to state, and region to region, there have been signs that areas with previously dormant prestige property markets are waking up lately. The Real Estate Institute of Queensland reported on March 2, for instance, that 2,600 properties across 320 Gold Coast suburbs sold for more than $1 million in 2014.

But before you join the clamouring throngs and sign up for a home loan for a piece of real estate worth many millions of dollars, you’ll want to be sure you’re making the right decision. The following few tips are crucial to keep in mind when hunting for that dream luxury property. 

Choose the right real estate agent

Finding the right home often starts with finding the right buyers agent. This is true of just about any type of real estate. But with prestige properties, given the amount of capital that is being sunk into them, working with the right professional is even more crucial. 

The ideal real estate agent will not only have a detailed and intimate knowledge of the area you’re thinking of buying in – they’ll also be an expert in the particular price bracket you’re targeting. They should be able to rattle off facts and figures around: 

  • The number of homes on the market
  • How long they’re taking to sell
  • The number of recent sales 

And that’s just to name a few. They should also be able to tell you whether the price is right for the property you’re eyeing up. For instance, Melbourne had 59 suburbs with media house prices over $1 million in December 2014, according to the Real Estate Institute of Victoria. But were these prices an accurate reflection of the quality of the properties, or of a currently inflated market that doesn’t warrant pulling out  a home loan calculator? An experienced agent will know the difference.

Don’t judge a book by its…picture?

Anyone who’s ever spent hours meticulously preparing their appearance for a party, gone, had their photo taken and been disappointed with the result is familiar with the misleading nature of photography. Whether due to lens distortion, camera flash or momentary atmospheric effects when the image was taken, photos can come out worse than the real life image.

Given this, don’t simply stop at the first photo you see of a property. Make the effort to physically check it out. You may find that the photograph omitted important features of the home, or made it look far less grand than it really is. If you can’t spare the time to make it down there yourself, consider at least using Google Earth to look at the home’s surrounding area. 

But be wary. A Victoria University of Wellington study found that photos can create false or distorted memories, so that first impression may unfairly stick. 

Get a home loan suitable to your needs

Because you’re dealing with such an expensive property, carrying out a home loan comparison to find the most advantageous product is essential. But your job doesn’t end there. You’ve also got to make sure you structure the home loan appropriately. 

For instance, do you want to pay both principal and interest on the loan, or are you solely aiming to purchase the property for a quick-flip investment? If the latter, an interest-only loan might be your better option. 

In addition to this, what kind of rate do you want: Fixed, variable or both? If the latter, then you’ll have to decide how much of the value you’ll put under each rate option. Finally, there are the home loan features to consider. A 100 percent offset account might be useful in this circumstance in order to keep your interest payments to an absolute minimum. 

And while you’re at it, be sure to get a home loan pre-approval letter from your lender. This will put the seller’s mind at ease, and let them know you’re serious about the purchase. Happy hunting!

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Learn more about home loans

What is equity? How can I use equity in my home loan?

Equity refers to the difference between what your property is worth and how much you owe on it. Essentially, it is the amount you have repaid on your home loan to date, although if your property has gone up in value it can sometimes be a lot more.

You can use the equity in your home loan to finance renovations on your existing property or as a deposit on an investment property. It can also be accessed for other investment opportunities or smaller purchases, such as a car or holiday, using a redraw facility.

Once you are over 65 you can even use the equity in your home loan as a source of income by taking out a reverse mortgage. This will let you access the equity in your loan in the form of regular payments which will be paid back to the bank following your death by selling your property. But like all financial products, it’s best to seek professional advice before you sign on the dotted line.

What are the pros and cons of no-deposit home loans?

It’s no longer possible to get a no-deposit home loan in Australia. In some circumstances, you might be able to take out a mortgage with a 5 per cent deposit – but before you do so, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons.

The big advantage of borrowing 95 per cent (also known as a 95 per cent home loan) is that you get to buy your property sooner. That may be particularly important if you plan to purchase in a rising market, where prices are increasing faster than you can accumulate savings.

But 95 per cent home loans also have disadvantages. First, the 95 per cent home loan market is relatively small, so you’ll have fewer options to choose from. Second, you’ll probably have to pay LMI (lender’s mortgage insurance). Third, you’ll probably be charged a higher interest rate. Fourth, the more you borrow, the more you’ll ultimately have to pay in interest. Fifth, if your property declines in value, your mortgage might end up being worth more than your home.

How do I refinance my home loan?

Refinancing your home loan can involve a bit of paperwork but if you are moving on to a lower rate, it can save you thousands of dollars in the long-run. The first step is finding another loan on the market that you think will save you money over time or offer features that your current loan does not have. Once you have selected a couple of loans you are interested in, compare them with your current loan to see if you will save money in the long term on interest rates and fees. Remember to factor in any break fees and set up fees when assessing the cost of switching.

Once you have decided on a new loan it is simply a matter of contacting your existing and future lender to get the new loan set up. Beware that some lenders will revert your loan back to a 25 or 30 year term when you refinance which may mean initial lower repayments but may cost you more in the long run.

Who has the best home loan?

Determining who has the ‘best’ home loan really does depend on your own personal circumstances and requirements. It may be tempting to judge a loan merely on the interest rate but there can be added value in the extras on offer, such as offset and redraw facilities, that aren’t available with all low rate loans.

To determine which loan is the best for you, think about whether you would prefer the consistency of a fixed loan or the flexibility and potential benefits of a variable loan. Then determine which features will be necessary throughout the life of your loan. Thirdly, consider how much you are willing to pay in fees for the loan you want. Once you find the perfect combination of these three elements you are on your way to determining the best loan for you. 

Does Real Time Ratings' work for people who already have a home loan?

Yes. If you already have a mortgage you can use Real Time RatingsTM to compare your loan against the rest of the market. And if your rate changes, you can come back and check whether your loan is still competitive. If it isn’t, you’ll get the ammunition you need to negotiate a rate cut with your lender, or the resources to help you switch to a better lender.

Can I change jobs while I am applying for a home loan?

Whether you’re a new borrower or you’re refinancing your home loan, many lenders require you to be in a permanent job with the same employer for at least 6 months before applying for a home loan. Different lenders have different requirements. 

If your work situation changes for any reason while you’re applying for a mortgage, this could reduce your chances of successfully completing the process. Contacting the lender as soon as you know your employment situation is changing may allow you to work something out. 

What is a variable home loan?

A variable rate home loan is one where the interest rate can and will change over the course of your loan. The rate is determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, so while the cash rate might go down, your bank may decide not to follow suit, although they do broadly follow market conditions. One of the upsides of variable rates is that they are typically more flexible than their fixed rate counterparts which means that a lot of these products will let you make extra repayments and offer features such as offset accounts.

How can I get a home loan with bad credit?

If you want to get a home loan with bad credit, you need to convince a lender that your problems are behind you and that you will, indeed, be able to repay a mortgage.

One step you might want to take is to visit a mortgage broker who specialises in bad credit home loans (also known as ‘non-conforming home loans’ or ‘sub-prime home loans’). An experienced broker will know which lenders to approach, and how to plead your case with each of them.

Two points to bear in mind are:

  • Many home loan lenders don’t provide bad credit mortgages
  • Each lender has its own policies, and therefore favours different things

If you’d prefer to directly approach the lender yourself, you’re more likely to find success with smaller non-bank lenders that specialise in bad credit home loans (as opposed to bigger banks that prefer ‘vanilla’ mortgages). That’s because these smaller lenders are more likely to treat you as a unique individual rather than judge you according to a one-size-fits-all policy.

Lenders try to minimise their risk, so if you want to get a home loan with bad credit, you need to do everything you can to convince lenders that you’re safer than your credit history might suggest. If possible, provide paperwork that shows:

  • You have a secure job
  • You have a steady income
  • You’ve been reducing your debts
  • You’ve been increasing your savings

How can I calculate interest on my home loan?

You can calculate the total interest you will pay over the life of your loan by using a mortgage calculator. The calculator will estimate your repayments based on the amount you want to borrow, the interest rate, the length of your loan, whether you are an owner-occupier or an investor and whether you plan to pay ‘principal and interest’ or ‘interest-only’.

If you are buying a new home, the calculator will also help you work out how much you’ll need to pay in stamp duty and other related costs.

What is a fixed home loan?

A fixed rate home loan is a loan where the interest rate is set for a certain amount of time, usually between one and 15 years. The advantage of a fixed rate is that you know exactly how much your repayments will be for the duration of the fixed term. There are some disadvantages to fixing that you need to be aware of. Some products won’t let you make extra repayments, or offer tools such as an offset account to help you reduce your interest, while others will charge a significant break fee if you decide to terminate the loan before the fixed period finishes.

What is an investment loan?

An investment loan is a home loan that is taken out to purchase a property purely for investment purposes. This means that the purchaser will not be living in the property but will instead rent it out or simply retain it for purposes of capital growth.

How does Real Time Ratings work?

Real Time RatingsTM looks at your individual home loan requirements and uses this information to rank every applicable home loan in our database out of five.

This score is based on two main factors – cost and flexibility.

Cost is calculated by looking at the interest rates and fees over the first five years of the loan.

Flexibility is based on whether a loan offers features such as an offset account, redraw facility and extra repayments.

Real Time RatingsTM also includes the following assumptions:

  • Costs are calculated on the current variable rate however they could change in the future.
  • Loans are assumed to be principal and interest
  • Fixed-rate loans with terms greater than five years are still assessed on a five-year basis, so 10-year fixed loans are assessed as being only five years’ long.
  • Break costs are not included.

Does Australia have no cost refinancing?

No Cost Refinancing is an option available in the US where the lender or broker covers your switching costs, such as appraisal fees and settlement costs. Unfortunately, no cost refinancing isn’t available in Australia.

Can I get a home loan if I am on an employment contract?

Some lenders will allow you to apply for a mortgage if you are a contractor or freelancer. However, many lenders prefer you to be in a permanent, ongoing role, because a more stable income means you’re more likely to keep up with your repayments.

If you’re a contractor, freelancer, or are otherwise self-employed, it may still be possible to apply for a low-doc home loan, as these mortgages require less specific proof of income.