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Landlord is selling - should I buy?

September 09, 2021

If you’re a renter, you’ve been there. You’ve arranged the furniture to your liking, bought some herbs for the kitchen windowsill, and redirected your mail. You know you’re a great tenant, your property manager knows you’re a great tenant, at last, you can settle down for the long haul.

And then disaster strikes: Your landlord has decided to sell.

Do you find somewhere else to rent, and go through the hassle of moving all your stuff again? Or could this be your opportunity to buy?

After all, you already know the place suits your needs. You’ve just got on a first-name basis with the barista at your favourite local cafe. And in the current market, you’ll have a better chance of getting your foot in the door if your foot is literally already in the door.

Here’s what to think about.

Are you in a position to buy?

This is the big question. If you’re living paycheque to paycheque, or your idea of a big commitment is watching an entire season of Bridgerton on Netflix, buying a house may not be for you just yet.

However, you might be in a better position than you think. If you

  • Have been steadily saving money towards a deposit;
  • Have a reliable income;
  • Are motivated and ready to take the next leap

It might be time to make the leap and become a homeowner.

Can you split the savings?

From your landlord’s point of view, selling to you is a huge win.

“A lot of landlords would really love to be able to sell to their tenant,” says Mark Wolens, Principal of Independent Woden & Weston Creek. “It’s easier, it’s cheaper, but most of all, it means they’re selling to someone they already know and trust. Knowing that your new buyer is someone who already loves and cares for the place can make it easier to let go.”

A landlord who is selling to their tenant doesn’t have to pay to market the property, saving on stylist, photographer, and advertising fees. Depending on what they negotiate with the real estate agent, they can probably limit those fees as well.

In addition, selling to an in situ tenant means they don’t have to spruce the place up with a fresh coat of paint or garden landscaping.

As the would-be buyer who is helpfully saving them all this money, it's worth seeing if you can see some of the benefits. Many sellers would be willing to negotiate a slightly lower price to recognise this.

This might mean you’re picking up a bit of a bargain. But one word of caution: don’t forget to do your market research. Just because your landlord is willing to discount the price doesn’t mean that it’s the best buy out there.

Is it love, or just inertia?

The moment you first become a homeowner is a huge milestone. Take a moment to make sure this is the property you want to commit to.

It’s definitely more convenient to buy a place you’re already living in. No need to give up your weekends to attend every open inspection in the area. No more worrying whether your rental application will be accepted. And of course — no need to move!

But don’t let the convenience factor override your better judgement. Before you decide to buy, make sure the home you’re living in really is the right fit for you.

  • Can you afford it? You’ll need to know your budget before you
  • Is it big enough for your future plans?
  • Is the location desirable?
  • Is the price fair and reasonable?

Have a look at other comparable homes on the market so that you can judge whether your landlord is asking for a reasonable price for the property. You may discover that somewhere newer or bigger is available for the same purchase price.

What don’t you know about the property?

One huge advantage of buying the place you already live in is that you know the quirks of the property. You know that the back door sticks a little after heavy rains, the hot water service can cope with a heavy laundry day or an extra deep bath but not both, and the security system was recently replaced.

However, don’t fall into the trap of assuming you know everything about the home.

“A lot goes on behind the scenes that tenants don’t see,” says Mark. “Especially in strata buildings, there might be repairs needed to the common property that a tenant won’t necessarily know about. Or the council might have sent a notice that there are building works planned next door, or the fuse box is due to be upgraded in a year or two. It’s really important that anyone who wants to buy, including an existing tenant, does the same due diligence as if they were coming in with fresh eyes.”

Any seller, including a landlord selling to a tenant, needs to make full and frank disclosure about anything that might affect the property.

As a buyer, you should check those documents thoroughly before exchanging contracts. Your solicitor or conveyancer can help. These vary depending on what the type of property is, but may include:

  • A title check, to make sure the person who is selling it to you is the legal owner, and there are no encumbrances on the title
  • Zoning certificates
  • Surveyor plans
  • Drainage diagrams

If you’re buying a house or a townhouse, you should also get a building and pest inspection to make sure there are no underlying problems that might be invisible to you as the tenant.

If you’re buying into strata, there will also be a second sheaf of documents to read through including:

  • The Unit Title (section 119) certificate
  • A copy of the units plan and schedule of unit entitlements
  • The last two years’ worth of minutes from the owner’s corporation

Buying your first home is a fantastic way to build security and wealth for your future. If your landlord is thinking of selling, it’s worth seriously considering whether you can buy.

As Mark says: “Buyers should definitely make sure that the home is in good condition and represents good value. I would also say, though, that you can get too cautious. Think of your first place as a step on the path to your dream home, not the destination. If the opportunity to buy arises, and you’re in a position to take advantage of it, sooner is always better than later.”

If you’re thinking of buying a first home, your first step is to see what’s out there. Check out our latest listings or get in touch with one of our agents for an obligation-free chat.