Home inspection guide

Home inspection guide

You could be searching for your first home, upgrading from a bachelor pad to a family home or downsizing after the kids have moved out – whatever your circumstances, visiting countless open houses can leave you suffering sensory overload and feeling confused.

Was it the first property you inspected that featured a separate laundry or the third? And which home had the unrenovated bathroom again?

The physical inspection of your next home is possibly the most important aspect of the entire home buying process, so being prepared can save you a lot of time and minimise the stress.

Arrive prepared

Before you turn up at an open house, you should have a clear idea of what you are looking for. “Narrow your focus,” advises buyer’s agent Rich Harvey, CEO of propertybuyer.com.au. “Work out with your partner what is important and what’s not important. What can you live with and what can’t you live without?”

Take your checklist of must-haves and nice-to-haves along to the inspection and tick off items as you view the home. Either take a copy of the listing and the floorplan, or pick them up at the inspection to help keep track of the properties you have viewed. A measuring tape is also a good idea where a floorplan is not provided.

Make notes

“Keeping simple notes is very important as it’s easy to forget what you looked at four weeks earlier,” Harvey says.

An old-fashioned notebook or your smartphone can be the perfect note-taking tools. There are many inspection templates freely available online, which you can print and use for your notes. They generally have space to record a home’s size, location, age, condition of the exterior and internal rooms, outside space, heating, cooling and other features.

Make notes on every room of the house, looking at things such as the amount of light, the condition of the flooring, walls and windows, noise levels and anything else that is relevant.

Look at the big picture

Don’t be dazzled by the décor and cosmetic touches – these won’t be coming with the property. The same applies to untidy homes. The building itself is what matters.

“Look at bones of the building and the structure,” Harvey recommends. “Does it have structural integrity? I would also look for a functional floorplan that works or can be amended easily and inexpensively. And look at the property’s aspect – are you going to get good light? What is the outlook?”

In some cases, fresh paint may disguise mould so looking at the moisture levels of the property is also important. A pest and building inspection can look for rising damp and other issues, and can save you money down the track by uncovering any major problems.

Inspect more than once

For properties you like, Harvey advises returning at different times of the day to check the amount of light, traffic noise, whether the neighbours are noisy and to look for overhead wires.

He also suggests talking to the neighbours. “Having good neighbours is critical. Knock on their door and ask them about the area. They can provide a lot of helpful information.”

If you are not familiar with the area, drive around at different times of the day to check traffic conditions and get a feel for the local community.

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Learn more about home loans

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 much is the first home buyer's grant?

The first home buyer grant amount will vary depending on what state you’re in and the value of the property that you are purchasing. In general, they start around $10,000 but it is advisable to check your eligibility for the grant as well as how much you are entitled to with your state or territory’s revenue office.

Are bad credit home loans dangerous?

Bad credit home loans can be dangerous if the borrower signs up for a loan they’ll struggle to repay. This might occur if the borrower takes out a mortgage at the limit of their financial capacity, especially if they have some combination of a low income, an insecure job and poor savings habits.

Bad credit home loans can also be dangerous if the borrower buys a home in a stagnant or falling market – because if the home has to be sold, they might be left with ‘negative equity’ (where the home is worth less than the mortgage).

That said, bad credit home loans can work out well if the borrower is able to repay the mortgage – for example, if they borrow conservatively, have a decent income, a secure job and good savings habits. Another good sign is if the borrower buys a property in a market that is likely to rise over the long term.

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.

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. 

How do guaranteed home loans work?

A guaranteed home loan involves a guarantor (often a parent) promising to pay off a mortgage if the principal borrower (often the child) fails to do so. The guarantor will also have to provide security, which is often the family home.

The principal borrower will usually be someone struggling to find the money to enter the property market. By partnering with a guarantor, the borrower increases their financial power and becomes less of a risk in the eyes of lenders. As a result, the borrower may:

  • Qualify for a mortgage that they would have otherwise been denied
  • Not be required to pay lender’s mortgage insurance (LMI)
  • Be charged a lower interest rate
  • Be charged less in fees

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 do I take out a low-deposit home loan?

If you want to take out a low-deposit home loan, it might be a good idea to consult a mortgage broker who can give you professional financial advice and organise the mortgage for you.

Another way to take out a low-deposit home loan is to do your own research with a comparison website like RateCity. Once you’ve identified your preferred mortgage, you can apply through RateCity or go direct to the lender.

Will I be paying two mortgages at once when I refinance?

No, given the way the loan and title transfer works, you will not have to pay two mortgages at the one time. You will make your last monthly repayment on loan number one and then the following month you will start paying off loan number two.

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.

Will I have to pay lenders' mortgage insurance twice if I refinance?

If your deposit was less than 20 per cent of your property’s value when you took out your original loan, you may have paid lenders’ mortgage insurance (LMI) to cover the lender against the risk that you may default on your repayments. 

If you refinance to a new home loan, but still don’t have enough deposit and/or equity to provide 20 per cent security, you’ll need to pay for the lender’s LMI a second time. This could potentially add thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in upfront costs to your mortgage, so it’s important to consider whether the financial benefits of refinancing may be worth these costs.

Is there a limit to how many times I can refinance?

There is no set limit to how many times you are allowed to refinance. Some surveyed RateCity users have refinanced up to three times.

However, if you refinance several times in short succession, it could affect your credit score. Lenders assess your credit score when you apply for new loans, so if you end up with bad credit, you may not be able to refinance if and when you really need to.

Before refinancing multiple times, consider getting a copy of your credit report and ensure your credit history is in good shape for future refinances.

I have a poor credit rating. Am I still able to get a mortgage?

Some lenders still allow you to apply for a home loan if you have impaired credit. However, you may pay a slightly higher interest rate and/or higher fees. This is to help offset the higher risk that you may default on your repayments.