Jerry Tyrrell’s book: Househunting – A consumer’s guide to buying a home in Australia makes interesting reading. Based around the housing market in 1991, the contents remind me how much conditions have changed over the past 26 years.

Marketing and buying an apartment are two areas in the book I wanted to take a closer look at, as both areas bear little comparison between conditions in 1991 and today.

In today’s market there’s access to an endless diet of information right at our finger tips and mainly on our smartphones, this is a huge influence. Technology has revolutionised all forms of advertising and promotion and the apartment market has been transformed.

Tyrrell’s main focus was to help his readers organise themselves to find a suitable property, help with financial planning, inspections, buying at auction or private treaty, alongside a look at real estate agents and industry jargon and legal requirements. Technology has impacted all these areas.

I found it surprising that I could find no mention about off-the-plan buying, clearly that was not a big or popular option in 1991. The history of strata title in NSW may have something to do with that.

Interestingly, the first strata-titled building in the world was in Burwood, for 18 apartments approved by Burwood Council in June 1961. Today there are more than 270,000 strata schemes Australia wide and apartment living is now a common place, increasingly the preferred choice of many buyers.

Saving Newspaper Clippings

In 1991 if you were looking for a new home, Tyrrell advised to first save your deposit, speak to your ‘friendly’ bank or building society and establish your priorities of where you might buy. To do this the generally accepted sources of information were noted as coming from:

  • metropolitan newspaper advertisements
  • suburban newspaper advertisements
  • real-estate agent’s windows
  • specialist re-estate magazines
  • for sale signs in the areas of your choice.

There was also the suggestion to get to know your local real estate agent to help your search and compile a list in the below format. illustrated below:

Note the recommendation to ‘stick-on’ the (newspaper) advertisement – which would have been a small mono classified advertisement. The use of colour had not yet become wide spread and the first web site for the SMH was not launched until 1995. There’s also a note to attach an instant photo and to hand draw a floor plan.

In 1991 most sales were by private treaty through an agent and auctions were far less common and price checking was done by looking in newspapers and agent’s windows, impossible to believe by modern standards. One interesting comment was the suggestion that buyers might inspect 20 properties, which could reach 50, an exhausting prospect given the time and work involved.

There’s also the clear suggestion that buyers should work very closely with the local real estate agents, to quote “you should approach agents as allies in the purchasing process and obtain their respect and assistance as soon as possible.”

For potential buyers going to auction, there were some interesting tips: including the first which is fascinating – ‘don’t bid unless you know what you are buying!’

Apartments Were Yet to Take Off

In 1991 only 15% of people lived in ‘flats’. Today nationally the figure is 29%, but in Sydney, it’s much higher with 41% of the population living in high or medium-density housing. Poor management was a problem back in 1991 and building conversions to strata apartments were seen as a bit risky.

Flat or apartment buyers were advised to pay attention to: the condition of common property, the accuracy of body corporate records, by-laws including the perennial question around keeping pets. Of concern was advice to buyers that they should double check their ownership rights over their unit area, garages, car spaces and storerooms.

Fortunately, strata title laws have kept pace with the move to higher density living and buyers today can be sure of secure tile and an improved quality of management.

However, as I noted earlier there was no mention of buying off-the-plan but there was a clear recommendation to make sure buyers had full details about the builder of any new homes. The suggestion was to check your potential builder’s license details, insurances and any previous concerns or reports over liability for quality and repairs.

Concluding the book, anyone buying a home in 1991 was recommended to: check the condition of every property thoroughly, never sign any contracts unless fully satisfied with the terms and only with legal assistance from a solicitor and finally to ‘pay off any loan as fast as possible.’

All of which I suggest would still apply to the market in 2017, however today’s market is very different which my next post explores.