Launch of ‘Thinking of buying a property?’ guide, 2/219 The Terrace, Wellington

  • Marian Hobbs

Hello and welcome to the launch of the Ministry for the Environment’s new guide 'thinking of buying a property - some things to think about.’

Before I tell you all about this new guide, and why we’re here, let me first take a moment to thank David Russell, Chief Executive of the Consumer’s Institute for being with us today and for lending both his, and his organisation’s support to the launch of this publication. I would also like to thank all of you - the lawyers, planners, real estate agents, building inspectors, mortgage brokers and others, for being here today. It is to you that most people looking to purchase a property, go to for advice. That makes it all the more pleasing that you’re here to support this launch.

While we can't all own a historic home in a location like this - and neither do we all want to, think of the maintenance! - owning our own home is a dream that many New Zealanders aspire to. It's a strong kiwi tradition, or as Austin Mitchell said in the late 1960's, for Kiwis, owning a home is like having your own “half gallon quarter acre pavlova paradise”.

A quarter acre section may not be for all of us, but many New Zealanders work hard, planning for that day when they can start seriously searching for their own place. We scrimp, we save, we dream, and for most of us it’s the single largest investment we will ever make.

Imagine if you had just bought this home. It’s beautiful right? Fantastic views, great location, and plenty of natural light. But what if a new development right next door were to spoil all of that - would it be such a great place to live, or even such a great investment after all?

Imagine a couple selling their family home for an apartment with cafes at their doorstep – great -- only to be woken every Saturday morning at 4 am by a tonne of glass bottles being tipped into a metal skip! Small consolation that they would be heading for recycling.

The fact is, whether you’ve just invested in you first own-your-own or moved into a smart new townhouse, things change - and not always for the better.

How often do people encounter these sorts of problems you might ask? Here in Wellington, for example, there were 3251 complaints about noise in the first six months of this year, while noise complaints from inner city dwellers made up 27 percent of the total, up from 15 percent three years ago.

So we’re aiming with this guide, for informed consumers - people who know by asking the right questions and doing some basic homework that they can avoid nasty surprises further down the track when buying a property.

Take the inner city noise example; checking out existing activities around the apartment and paying attention to what your building is made of can make a big difference to the noise experienced and therefore the enjoyment of the property.

The guide is not just a one off. It’s designed to complement the rural property guide ‘Thinking of Living in the Country?’ These guides are a practical illustration of a bigger vision I have of an informed, educated and participating community. Rather than just producing technical information aimed at councils, we are developing “people driven publications” designed to provide real and practical advice.

This approach is proving to be effective. Thinking of Living in the Country? and The RMA and You, Getting in on the Act have been very successful and in great demand. You might even describe them as best sellers… except that we give them away!

The guide will help people get to grips with District and Regional plan property issues before they find themselves embroiled in a problem. It alerts people to a few basics, such as how a district council plan can set limits on things like the height of an extension, what you can (and can’t) do on your property, or how much noise you can make. It also points out how to check on what restrictions might exist that could affect a property, such as a motorway designation, heritage site or road widening area.

I know there’s a lot to do when buying a house - it’s definitely a pressure situation, and things are easily missed. Unfortunately, property buyers may find that the very reason they bought a place, like the view, could be the first thing they lose if they don’t do some basic checks.

Often, simply knowing what questions to ask can be the biggest hurdle. With that in mind, we have included a Do-it-Yourself section in the guide. It tells people how to access council files and services, and the key questions to ask. We have a handy wallet sized summary of the guide as well. It’s only when people have information like this that they can make smart decisions.

As professionals, you have an important role in ensuring that the information reaches people and is used. You have an important role in passing this onto your clients, early in the process. You have an even more important role in ensuring that those same people understand the benefits of doing some basic checking before they sign on the dotted line.

The message is, ‘before you buy, take a minute to stop and think about what you value about a property and how that can be affected by activities around you.’ Quite simply, do some basic checking, and help avoid problems in the future.

On that note, and with the aim of ensuring smart and informed consumers, it’s with great pleasure that I now hand you over to David Russell.