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A guide to buying property in Australia

October 4, 2017 expats / property / retirees

Buying a house in sydney

Buying a House in Australia

UK Expert Guide to Buying Property in Australia

White sand beaches, year-round sunshine… you’ve fallen in love with Australia and you want to call it home. Now what should you do before you make the move of a lifetime?

Even if you have a good understanding of the property market in the UK, you might find that things aren’t done the same way abroad. Here’s our step-by-step guide on who to speak to and what to consider when buying a house in Australia.

1. Arrange your visa

Before you start the search for your dream home in Australia, the first step is to apply for the right type of visa for you. There are various kinds available depending on your circumstances – from three-month tourist and working visas, through to retiree visas.

Making a quick trip to find your dream home?

British citizens can enjoy up to three months in Australia, thanks to an eVisitor visa from the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). This is an ideal length of time to scope out potential properties and locations without any commitment. According to GoodMove, ETA visas can be used anytime within 12 months after approval date and are free of charge.

Planning to work in Australia once you’ve moved?

Mark King at The Guardian explains the visa options available for workers:

  • Business migration visa, “for entrepreneurial businesspeople and investors.”
  • Employer nomination scheme, “for people sponsored by an overseas employer.”
  • Skilled independent migration visa, “for those who are not sponsored, under 50, and with qualifications relevant to occupations on Australia’s ‘skilled occupation list’. This currently includes engineers, accountants, actuaries, vets, special needs teachers, dentists and electricians.”

What about retirement visas?

As SkillClear UK Visa Services explain, retirees looking to move to Australia need to meet certain criteria to be eligible for a visa. Applicants must:

  • Have no intention to work more than 20 hours per week
  • Have Australian Department of Health and Ageing approved health insurance
  • Have no financially dependent children
  • Be approved by an Australian territory government agency or Australian state agency
  • Be aged 55+

Once you’re approved for a retirement visa in Australia, Concept Australia point out that you’ll need to get it renewed at certain intervals. To do so you must:

  • Have active health insurance
  • Have a minimum income must be A$50,000
  • Still have approval from the Australian territory government agency or state government agency

2. Prepare for your arrival

Once your visa is sorted, it’s time to think about setting up an Australian bank account and buying your home.

Open a local bank account before you arrive

Set up a bank account in Australia as soon as possible. It’ll make financing any big purchases (such as property) so much easier. As Richard Musty, international director at Lloyds Bank explains in The Telegraph when buying a house in Australia with money lent from a UK bank “the legalities and finance regulations are extremely complicated”. Going through a local bank is the safest and easiest way to secure your mortgage.

HSBC recommend you get your new Australian bank account up and running before you arrive in the country, as it can take up to 30 days for applications to be processed.

Get in touch with the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB)

As Worldwide Lawyers warn, you must contact the FIRB before buying property in Australia. The only exception is if your spouse is an Australian resident. As they explain, “Once you have made your application for FIRB permission, found your perfect Australian property [and] agreed to the purchase price… you are ready to move forward with the property buying process.”

Prepare to move quickly

The house-buying process in Australia is lightning-fast. Just ask mum of three Karen from Tales of a Twin Mum who emigrated to Australia with her family. “We started viewing houses in May, found one we loved in June and put in our offer. We completed the purchase in 30 days. You need to be ready for things to move quickly when you make your offer. The more organised you can be, the better, so have pre-approval of your finances.”

3. Find out what you can afford

Dream of waking up to the smell of salty sea air and the soothing sound of crashing waves? It’s going to cost you.

Fred Sparrow at Just Landed explains that everyone in Australia wants to live along the coast — not only for the views, but because coastal areas have more school, employment and transport options. Sparrow notes that it may be wise to consider living further from the coast, where “prices drop substantially — perhaps by 50%”.

Karen from Tales of a Twin Mum experienced this first-hand. “My biggest challenge was making a head versus heart decision – did we want to stay right next to the beach and buy a smaller house with a larger mortgage, or move inland a few minutes and get a larger plot? In the end we found our dream home in an inland suburb and that made the decision for us.”

Research, research, research

Avoid any nasty surprises and do your homework on property prices, before you arrive Down Under. Karen’s year of online research certainly paid off. “It meant we knew what the prices were like in different suburbs so we were able to spot good deals when they came up. We shortlisted a few potential suburbs with the help of some friends who already lived in Australia.”

Don’t forget about foreign property investor fees

In 2015, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott introduced charges against foreign property buyers in a bid to “level the playing field” for domestic buyers.

According to the FIRB expats investing in agricultural land and residential real estate valued at A$1 million or less will need to pay A$5,500. This cost rises based on the price of your property.

buy house in australia

4. Don’t rush into buying

When planning your purchase, keep an eye on the Australian dollar. In 2015, the currency steadily fell in value against the British Pound – to around 2.20 GBP in September – but then rose back to around 1.90 GBP. You can track and convert currency rates using our currency calculator and with our free exchange rate alerts, you can stay on top of the latest AUD market movements.

Consider renting first

The Huffington Post suggests that before making a permanent move, it’s wise to rent, first. That way, you can live in your dream city on a trial basis, without committing to a mortgage straight away. Get to know the area and, if you still love living there after a few months, start looking for a home of your own.

Karen from Tales of Twin Mum agrees. “We knew we didn’t want to buy straight away as we needed my husband to secure a job first. We also wanted time to explore the suburbs to make sure we chose the right place to settle. So, we found a rental property and signed a 12-month lease so we could start to put down roots.”

Be thorough

Before buying a property, get a flavour of what it would be like to actually live there. Take Karen’s advice: “Time how long it takes to drive to work and school from your chosen suburb at different times of the day.”

Find out how the weather affects your chosen location, too. “Do any streets get flooded during storm season? Will flooding cut off your route to work or school? Your council should be able to advise you about flood-prone areas.”

buying property in australia

5. Get practical

It’s easy to be swept along in all the excitement of planning your move to Australia, but it’s important to remember practical considerations, too.

Think about your pets

Planning on bringing your four-legged family members with you? Property law specialist John Kettle from Stacks Law Firm warns pet owners about buying off-plan properties from local developers. Many will have bylaws that restrict or forbid pet access, so read the small print and ask before you sign anything.

If you do plan to bring a pet to Australia, you’ll need to submit a form to the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, who advise that “cats and dogs can be imported to Australia under strict conditions designed to manage biosecurity risks.”

house buying tips in australia

Find out what you can’t ship

Once you’ve found your new home, you’ll have to decide whether you want to buy furniture and items in Australia, or ship over your existing possessions. Want to keep your current pieces? According to the Australia Buying Guide, some item are prohibited from being shipped into the country. These include:

  • Unlabeled boxes
  • Unclean shoes (“If you are putting shoes in the container, they need to be thoroughly disinfected, especially the soles,” the site says. “The stronger cleaning product you use, the better, as the smell will show you have cleaned them properly.”
  • Any wicker or bamboo furniture

Bring Your Car With You

Believe it to not, it may be cheaper to import your own car rather than buy one in Australia. Emigrating to Oz explain that anyone buying a vehicle in the country could be subject to up to 33% percent more tax, known as the Luxury Car Tax. If the car you buy locally costs more than A$57,180, prepare to pay this extra fee.

Don’t forget about hosting visitors

Chances are that when you emigrate, there will be family members who’ll be keen to visit. This was an important aspect to Karen’s property search. “While you don’t want to buy a house just because it suits having guests, think about where you will put your parents/in-laws/siblings when they come to stay.”

When you have visitors traveling from the other side of the world, they’re likely to stay for at least a couple of weeks, so a sofa bed in your living space might not be practical.

Still need some inspiration on which city to call home? Read our guide on the best places to live in Australia.

For all expenses and payments involved in buying a property in Australia, CurrencyFair offers the best available exchange rate and no hidden fees and charges.

images by: Seb Zurcher, Linda Xu, Frances Gunn, ©andreypopov/123RF Stock Photo

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