The real cost of buying a home

You may have a vague idea of the fees and charges associated with buying a home, but many first-home buyers are caught by surprise by the hidden cost of becoming a homeowner.

From inspection costs to legal fees, bank fees and insurance, the real cost of buying a home can be as much as 5 percent of the sale price.

Make sure you’re prepared for the additional costs by doing your homework before you begin scouring the property market, and following this checklist to take the sting out of the home buying process.

Home inspections and valuations

Banks are increasingly demanding buyers conduct home inspections before they approve home loans – and that’s a cost you have to wear. ArchiCentre and the Housing Industry Association conduct home inspection reports for between $350 and $500.

Many banks also use a valuer to inspect the property before approving finances. If you want an independent valuation to ensure you are not paying more than the property is worth, you will have to pay for it yourself. The cost varies depending on the property.

Legal fees

The often complicated legal issues involved in buying a house makes it virtually impossible to avoid using a lawyer. A solicitor will conduct the legal transfer of ownership, and ensure everything is completed correctly. They’ll also perform title searches and ensure the seller is legally entitled to sell the property. When buying an apartment, the solicitor will check the strata corporation’s records to ensure everything is above board. Legals costs are generally around $1000.

Tax

State governments charge stamp duty on all property purchases. The cost is based on the purchase price and varies in each state (exemptions may apply).

Bank fees

There’s a common misconception that banks and fees go hand-in-hand. While most borrowers will have to fork out for home loan application fees and other establishment fees, accounts and loans with low or no ongoing fees do exist and it pays to shop around for these options, because the savings can really add up.

Insurance

Most banks require that you sign up for insurance as a condition for approving your home loan, so you’ll need to factor in this ongoing expense as part of your budget.

Moving costs

Even if you rope in your friends to help with the move, you may still have to hire a truck to move your belongings into your new home. And if you decide to freshen up the property with new paint, new carpet or new furniture, you’ll need to count these costs as well.

Rates and utility connections

As a home buyer, you will be responsible for council rates, water rates and strata fees (depending on the property type) immediately on the day of settlement. You should also factor in power charges.

To get a better idea of the costs of buying a home try using one of the many online tools available for homeowners, such as home loan calculators or the government’s MoneySmart budgeting tool.

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Learn more about home loans

What fees are there when buying a house?

Buying a home comes with ‘hidden fees’ that should be factored in when considering how much the total cost of your new home will be. These can include stamp duty, title registration costs, building inspection fees, loan establishment fee, lenders mortgage insurance (LMI), legal fees and bank valuation costs.

Tip: you can calculate your stamp duty costs as well as LMI in Rate City mortgage repayments calculator

Some of these fees can be taken out of the mix, such as LMI, if you have a big enough deposit or by asking your lender to waive establishment fees for your loan. Even so, fees can run into the thousands of dollars on top of the purchase price.

Keep this in mind when deciding if you are ready to make the move in to the property market.

What is an ongoing fee?

Ongoing fees are any regular payments charged by your lender in addition to the interest they apply including annual fees, monthly account keeping fees and offset fees. The average annual fee is close to $200 however there are almost 2,000 home loan products that don’t charge an annual fee at all. There’s plenty of extra costs when you’re buying a home, such as conveyancing, stamp duty, moving costs, so the more fees you can avoid on your home loan, the better. While $200 might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, it adds up to $6,000 over the life of a 30 year loan – money which would be much better off either reinvested into your home loan or in your back pocket for the next rainy day.

Example: Anna is tossing up between two different mortgage products. Both have the same variable interest rate, but one has a monthly account keeping fee of $20. By picking the loan with no fees, and investing an extra $20 a month into her loan, Josie will end up shaving 6 months off her 30 year loan and saving over $9,000* in interest repayments.

What are exit and discharge fees?

The Federal Government banned exit fees in 2011, removing one of the biggest barriers to taking switching home loan providers. Lenders can still legally charge a discharge fee, which is payable when you come to the end of your home loan, however these fees are relatively small at an average of $304 while 134 products don’t have them at all.

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.

How much money can I borrow for a home loan?

Tip: You can use RateCity how much can I borrow calculator to get a quick answer.

How much money you can borrow for a home loan will depend on a number of factors including your employment status, your income (and your partner’s income if you are taking out a joint loan), the size of your deposit, your living expenses and any other debt you might hold, including credit cards. 

A good place to start is to work out how much you can afford to make in monthly repayments, factoring in a buffer of at least 2 – 3 per cent to allow for interest rate rises along the way. You’ll also need to factor in additional costs that come with purchasing a property such as stamp duty, legal fees, building inspections, strata or council fees.

If you are planning on renting the property, you can factor in the expected rental income to help offset the mortgage, but again it’s prudent to add a significant buffer to allow for rental management fees, maintenance costs and short periods of no rental income when tenants move out. It’s also wise to factor in changes in personal circumstances – the typical home loan lasts for around 30 years and a lot can happen between now and then.

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 a guarantor?

A guarantor is someone who provides a legally binding promise that they will pay off a mortgage if the principal borrower fails to do so.

Often, guarantors are parents in a solid financial position, while the principal borrower is a child in a weaker financial position who is struggling to enter the property market.

Lenders usually regard borrowers as less risky when they have a guarantor – and therefore may charge lower interest rates or even approve mortgages they would have otherwise rejected.

However, if the borrower falls behind on their repayments, the lender might chase the guarantor for payment. In some circumstances, the lender might even seize and sell the guarantor’s property to recoup their money.

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.

What is breach of contract?

A failure to follow all or part of a contract or breaking the conditions of a contract without any legal excuse. A breach of contract can be material, minor, actual or anticipatory, depending on the severity of the breaches and their material impact.

What happens when you default on your mortgage?

A mortgage default occurs when you are 90 days or more behind on your mortgage repayments. Late repayments will often incur a late fee on top of the amount owed which will continue to gather interest along with the remaining principal amount.

If you do default on a mortgage repayment you should try and catch up in next month’s payment. If this isn’t possible, and missing payments is going to become a regular issue, you need to contact your lender as soon as possible to organise an alternative payment schedule and discuss further options.

You may also want to talk to a financial counsellor. 

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Why was Real Time Ratings developed?

Real Time RatingsTM was developed to save people time and money. A home loan is one of the biggest financial decisions you will ever make – and one of the most complicated. Real Time RatingsTM is designed to help you find the right loan. Until now, there has been no place borrowers can benchmark the latest rates and offers when they hit the market. Rates change all the time now and new offers hit the market almost daily, we saw the need for a way to compare these new deals against the rest of the market and make a more informed decision.