How to avoid being stung by changes to off-the-plan apartment developments

There can be few feelings more gut-wrenching than finding out the apartment you have bought off the plan has either shrunk in size or disappeared altogether.

This shape-shifting exercise highlights a very simple concept that all off-the-plan apartment buyers need to bear in mind – a developer’s primary function is not to house people in a style that suits their needs and aspirations; it’s to make money.

There are generally various get-out clauses in contracts and Development Approvals can allow for a certain amount of reconfiguration of the floor plan.

The obvious answer to all these potential problems is for potential purchasers to check the contract, but when apartment paperwork these days runs to hundreds of pages full of plans and regulations, the search for the relevant fine print is not easy.

So how do you avoid getting burned?  You could try to strike out any clauses that allow the developer to reconfigure the unit, or to have something written in that gives you compensation.  However, in today’s overheated market you are likely just to be politely moved on so a more accommodating purchaser can buy it.

The answer is to do your research and choose a reliable developer. Thanks to your favourite search engine and various government websites you can do all that without leaving home.

Most established and reliable developers are not going to start moving the goalposts (and the bedroom walls) as they have reputations that they are anxious to maintain. So stick with the tried and tested if you can.

If the name is not familiar go to the ASIC Connect website and you’ll find a link where you can search for business names and ABN numbers.  Be wary of any companies that were created within a year or two of the project being announced.  They could be fly-by-night developers that won’t be around when the problems appear.

If they have been around for a while, then we can go to the Austlii website where you can search significant cases in the Supreme Court and the ACT Civil Administration Tribunal.

Type in the name of the developer and see how often they have been in dispute with their purchasers or strata schemes. Unless you are a lawyer, don’t even try to read the submissions.  And don’t assume that a court appearance is an indication of bad business ethics. Sometime unforeseen issues just need to be sorted out and court is a last resort.

However, if the same company is being sued time and again by its customers – or is taking them to court – why would you assume you were immune?

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