Buying an Apartment
Oct. 11, 2022
Most apartments in Wellington are unit title properties. This means that a purchaser acquires title to their unit, any accessory units such as a carpark or storage locker, and a share of the common areas such as lobbies, shared gardens or hallways. Upon purchase of a unit title property, a property owner automatically becomes a member of the body corporate. The body corporate will make decisions for the building, such as maintenance, repairs, insurance, levies, and management.
All unit owners are subject to the rules and obligations contained in the body corporate rules. These can include restrictions as to pets, restrictions on altering the appearance of the building or floor coverings, dictate certain colours for the internal lining of curtains, or even have a prohibition on drying washing on your deck.
A rarer form of title is a company share apartment. In that case, a company will be the registered owner of the building. A purchaser acquires shares in the company, together with a lease or license to occupy their apartment. It can be difficult to obtain finance for a company share apartment, and it is unlikely that you would be able to make a KiwiSaver First Home Withdrawal.
Body Corporate Disclosure, Minutes and Long-Term Maintenance Plan
Vendors of unit title properties must provide purchasers with pre-contractual and pre-settlement disclosure statements. These statements will contain information about the current and proposed levies for the apartment, the balance of the body corporate accounts, and a statement as to whether the building has ever been subject to a weathertightness claim.
In addition to those statements, we always recommend that purchasers obtain and review the last 3 years of body corporate annual general meeting minutes and financial statements. Reviewing these documents will often reveal any recurrent or major issues over the past few years, or any unusual expenditure.
We also recommend that you ask for a copy of the long-term maintenance plan (often referred to with the acronym LTMP). This will outline any planned or expected maintenance, which should be budgeted for in the financial statements.
New Building Standard
New Building Standard or "NBS" is a rating given to buildings to measure how earthquake prone that building is. NBS is represented as a percentage which indicates the building's seismic capacity compared to the New Building Standards. As these standards will change over time, a building's rating is also likely to change in the future.
Buildings are considered "earthquake prone" if they have an NBS of 33% or less. "Risky" buildings have an NBS between 34% and 66%. Buildings with an NBS above 67% are generally considered to be safer, although the higher the percentage, the better. The lower the NBS rating, the more likely it is that an earthquake will seriously damage a building. If you intend to purchase a building with a low percentage NBS, you should inform your lender early in the process as many banks will not lend against buildings which are considered earthquake prone.
Although insurance for a unit title apartment is arranged through the body corporate, you should be aware that if the building is considered earthquake prone or "risky", insurance may be difficult for the body corporate to obtain and is likely to be expensive, which will in turn raise the levies the unit owners are required to pay.
A building that is considered earthquake prone must display a sign stating that the building is an earthquake risk, and arrangements must be made to strengthen the building within a certain timeframe. This is likely to affect the saleability of the apartment.
The size of the apartment will dictate the type of lending available. Most banks require purchasers to provide a large deposit, or may refuse to lend against very small apartments. The minimum acceptable size varies between lenders, however for a standard owner-occupier loan with a deposit of 20% this is usually 40 - 50 square metres. We suggest you discuss this with your lender before you start looking, as it is likely to limit the scope of your search.
Weathertightness is an issue in many multi-unit buildings. Common risk factors include monolithic cladding, membrane decks and internal guttering. We suggest you specifically ask the agent and vendor in writing if the building has been subject to any previous weathertightness issues prior to making any offer. Review of the body corporate minutes may also reveal recent weathertightness issues or unusual expenditure. Formal claims to the Weathertight Homes Tribunal will be noted on the Certificate of Title.
We would be happy to advise you and assist with your apartment purchase. Please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and not tailored to your personal circumstances. It is only current as at the date posted and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you require legal advice, please contact us for further assistance.