What you need to know before buying a house

couple inspecting home with estate agent

RACV Staff

Posted November 15, 2022

Buying a house is a big decision. Here are 10 things to ask before signing the contract.

Buying and selling property is a daunting endeavour. Is the house worth the asking price? How long has it been on the market? Is the suburb safe? Has a massive apartment complex just been approved for next door?

In any dealings with property – information, and lots of it – is your best friend. That means doing your research and asking the right questions to gain a clearer understanding of whether a potential investment will serve your property needs.

It’s no good buying an old house on a sizeable block, for example, with the intention of knocking it down and building a duplex, only to find out after the hammer falls that there is a heritage overlay in the area.

10 things to ask before buying a house

What is the zoning in the area?

“The property you are looking at might be in a neighbourhood residential zone, but over the back fence, the zoning may be general residential and could be developed,” says Craig Heaven, Chief Revenue Officer of Landchecker, a property data website that provides detailed information on about eight million properties across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and soon Western Australia.

Enter an address or suburb on the Landchecker website and find everything from planning applications, zoning and overlays to floodways, cultural heritage indications and even burglary statistics. You’ll also find details about for sale properties, typically found on general real estate sites. It’s all the information you need to help make an informed choice and avoid making a costly mistake.

If the house is located on a floodplain (an area of low-lying ground near to a waterway), you are automatically at risk of flooding.

Who else is interested in this house I'm keen on?

Researching and knowing the market is key. That includes knowing your competition. Ask the agent: of the top three contenders, what is their profile? Also ask are they first-home buyers, downsizers or investors? Downsizers have probably just sold a large family home and are cashed up, investors buy with their head, not their heart, while the first-home buyers will be cautious.

How strong is the competition?

Pin the agent down to a straight answer. An agent saying: ‘We’re getting another offer this afternoon’ is different to him or her saying ‘I have another offer’. A lot of people get pressured by the thought of missing out, hurry their offer to buy a property and make mistakes, such as not getting a building inspection done.

heritage home in melbourne

Tools like Landchecker can tell you if there are any heritage or other overlays in the area. Image: Lisa Luscombe.


Where do I want to live? How long has the property been on the market?

Some sales websites give the length of time the home has been listed, but that may not tell the whole story. The vendor may have changed agents or re-listed after an earlier, unsuccessful campaign. If the home went to auction and failed to sell, ask for the passed-in figure and whether the bid was from a genuine buyer or was a vendor bid.

More: What happens on auction day?

I am planning to knock down and rebuild. How do I find out about heritage overlays or anything else that might affect my ability to develop?

Landchecker has information on heritage and all other overlays, as well as details on all residential, commercial and industrial planning zones. It also provides details about planning permits that have been approved, rejected or are pending for your desired address. 

Is this house in a Cultural Heritage Sensitivity zone?

Cultural Heritage Sensitivity zones are areas registered as having, or being likely to have, indigenous cultural significance. Checking the cultural heritage indications of a site is pertinent if you are buying an older home to knock down and rebuild. If the property is located in one of these areas, you will likely be required to get an approved Cultural Heritage Management Plan or cultural heritage permit before any development can begin. You may have to get a consultant to assess the site and, if anything is found, go to a full excavation.

Should I get a building inspection?

A building inspection is essential but it’s important to ask what they do and don’t inspect. Inspectors cannot assess things that are hidden, such as footings or services in the walls. They generally don’t assess pools, appliances and things such as CCTV cameras, fire and smoke detectors.

You might even consider getting a more tailored inspection. For instance, a Child Safety Inspection to identify risks around the home for children as opposed to a Senior Safety Inspection to consider opportunities to improve accessibility and safety for elderly.

man and school aged child walking out of home

It’s important to check the planning zone of any property you’re looking to buy. Image: Getty.


Is this a termite area?

Find out if the property you are interested in is in a termite area and, if so, have the building inspected by a pest expert to see whether up-to-date termite management is in place.

RACV Members save on property and pests inspections with Rapid Building Inspections.

Do the garage and granny flat have council approval?

If the outbuildings do not have council approval, there is a risk of the council asking you to remove the structures. Also, make sure the building inspector checks these as well as the house.

More: Guide to granny flats for homeowners

What are the schools and community services like in the area?

Do as much research as you can and talk to people in the neighbourhood. Plus, check out our guide to the suburb features that add thousands to your property value.

Whether or not you have kids, public school catchments can drive up your potential property’s value. More: Melbourne schools creating property hotspots.

Buying or selling? RACV and its partners have a range of products to support your home buying or selling journey.
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