Should you buy an older or newer apartment?

Interior of modern apartment

Louise Baxter

Posted July 26, 2021

When it comes to buying apartments, age matters. Start your homework with these expert tips.

Apartment hunting can be a thrilling experience. There’s nothing like a beautiful terrace with a view or a warehouse conversion to get the imagination racing. But before signing on the dotted line for that stylish Art Deco or inner-city unit, you need to pause and consider ‘age before beauty’ – because when you buy an apartment, you’re also buying into the building.

Unlike a house purchase, apartments are intrinsically linked to the age of their complex, and the wrong choice can have a significant impact on your plans, lifestyle and hip pocket. For example, a heritage building may make renovations difficult or impossible – while a modern complex could have issues with soundproofing from lighter construction materials. Daniel Watts, director of Rapid Building Inspections, says it’s important for prospective buyers to be aware of the specific considerations for apartments and then do due diligence before signing on.

This includes having a checklist ready before a building inspection.

“Apartment buyers should ask for any existing warranty and certification documents such as waterproofing, electrical, smoke alarms, energy and water efficiency,” Daniel says.

So, what should apartment buyers be looking for when it comes to their building’s age? 

Exterior of an Art Deco style apartment

Art Deco remains a popular style. Image: Alamy. 


Older apartments

Many apartment buyers love Art Deco, mid-century and 1980s buildings for their architectural styles, and solid construction in stone, brick and concrete. However, there can be downsides to going retro.

“One of the key issues we find with older apartment buildings is settlement or structural cracking to the walls,” Daniel says. “While some cracking is to be expected in an older building, the size, length, pattern and location of the cracks are all indicators to if this is a minor cosmetic defect or a potentially costly major structural defect.” 

Daniel says older apartments can also commonly deal with a lack of adequate waterproofing to wet areas, such as bathrooms, and poor waterproofing around windows and openings, leading to wet and/or damaged plasterboard.

Other points to check for in an older building include uneven flooring, stuck windows, poor cladding, neglected common areas and outdated plumbing and electrical that hasn’t been upgraded to suits modern needs. Daniel advises getting a building inspection and maintenance reports to be clear on any existing issues.

“​Ask, what is the builders defect period? Is it still valid? What is and isn't covered by the builders defect warranty? Apartment buyers should also seek out information on body corporate and sinking fund fees." Daniel advises to ask as there could be existing agreements in place for repairs or renovations, which you would be taking on.

Exterior of modern style apartments

Modern apartments can come with mod-con fittings. Image: Alamy. 


Modern apartments

Unlike their predecessors, contemporary apartments can often be lighter on space and higher on noise, with more residents packed into multi-storeys than boutique older buildings. But perks such as mod-con fittings, open layouts, current styling and smart wiring can be more than enough to turn buyers’ heads. However, not all modern apartments are created equal – it’s important to not assume that ‘new’ construction means ‘quality’.

“Poor workmanship is the most common cause of defects that we detect to modern apartment buildings,” Daniel says. “Among the most common issues would be lack of fall to drain points in wet areas, such as bathroom and laundries, as well as defective waterproofing to wet areas. Poor fixing and functioning of doors, door handles and windows is also common.”

Whether buying old or new, it’s smart practice to obtain a building inspection before making any decisions – to put your mind at rest and enjoy the process.