Houses in all of Australia’s major cities (along with Hong Kong and New Zealand) are “severely unaffordable” according to the 8th annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.

The median house price in Australia’s capital cities is, on average, 6.7 times higher than the median household income, making it the most expensive behind Hong Kong where the median house price is 12.5 time median income.

This will come as no surprise to anyone currently attempting to purchase a house in any of our major cities. A shortage of new land releases and strict planning and development laws mean this situation is not set to change any time soon.

Warwick Brookes, president of the Real Estate Buyers Agents Association of Australia  (REBAA) says tactics used by real estate agents who work for vendors also make a major contribution to forcing buyers to pay too much.

“That’s their job,” he says. “They’re not your best friend. They are working for someone else to sell the property for the highest possible price.

“Essentially what happens is if a vendor’s agent knows someone will over-pay they will make them over pay and it’s fairly easy to make someone pay 10-15% more than they should.”

Brookes says there are seven steps that all buyers can take to improve their prospects of negotiating a lower price for their next property.

“In times like this it is more important than ever that buyers research the market, find out how much they can comfortably spend and stick to their budget,” he says.

Research the market 

This is the best way to make sure you don’t get hoodwinked by vendors’ agents. Brookes says the starting point should be to decide exactly what you want in a property and where you want it to be located.

“Most people buy a house on average once every seven years and they buy based on emotion, on what they want and they are more likely to pay more for something they really want.

Avoid casting your net too broadly. Comparing similar properties in different suburbs, for example, means you may not be comparing apples with apples. Likewise, if you limit your research to looking at properties a vendor’s agent tells you are comparable, you may end up mislead about how much you need to pay.

The best way to find out what is really going on in a market is to attend auctions and ask agents what prices recently-sold properties have actually fetched. You might have to talk to a few competing agents to get the real story about recent sales.

Brookes says to avoid buying property over the internet without doing an inspection or at least sending someone to do an inspection for you.

Get building and pest inspections

It’s essential to get professional building and pest reports to understand the total cost of any work you will need to do on a property but don’t fall into the trap of paying for these expensive reports on properties you can’t really afford.

“If a home is quoted as being in the $400,000 to $450,000 range most people believe they will be able to buy it for $400,000 but, in fact, the reserve is over $450,000. The agent knows you can’t afford to buy it but they want you involved to create competition with other potential buyers and inflate the price,” says Brookes.

Choose a home with your future needs in mind

Brookes says he has many couples in their late 20s and 30s who choose properties without considering whether that house will still be appropriate when they start a family. He says you really need to have a 10-year plan in mind to buy a property that will give you true value in the years ahead.

Consider buying a home that has the potential to be extended or renovated, for example. It may stretch you now but give you better outcomes down the track.

Learn as much as you can about the seller

Keep your own cards very close to your chest. Divulge as little as possible about your personal financial situation to any vendor’s agent. At the same time, find out as much as possible about the seller and the history of the property.

“The best way to learn about the seller is to call competing real estate agents in the local area that missed out on the listing. Say you’ve had a look at the property and ask them what they know about it.”


Australians are not naturally good at haggling but it’s essential if you wish to come out of negotiations with the best possible price.

“The best way to go into it is to be willing to walk away. That way you can play hardball with the agent. Start with a low price but not too low or they won’t take you seriously. It is very easy to save an extra $10,000-$15,000 by calling the bluff of an agent in a private treaty sale. In an auction it is just a matter of walking away.

Brookes says most properties are selling by private treaty at the moment but vendors’ agents sometimes pull unsuspecting buyers into a “blind auction”. This is a situation where they tell you there is another bidder and ask you to put your best offer forward but you don’t even know if anyone else is even bidding for the property.

“Your first instinct in this situation is to pay as much as possible but I have seen people end up paying $60,000-$70,000 more than the next person under them.”

If you find yourself in this situation either walk away or say you’re only willing to enter a bid in a boardroom auction where all potential buyers are assembled and the bidding is done in the open. Then you know what you’re competing against.

Read: How to ask for an interest-rate discount

Understand the total cost of buying

Don’t forget to factor in costs such as mortgage insurance, stamp duty, building and pest inspections and conveyancing fees. This will ensure you know exactly how much money to have to play with before you start making offers on houses.

Employ a buyer’s agent

Of course Brookes recommends employing a buyer’s agent, someone who is a professional negotiator. They should be able to save you tens of thousands of dollars, according to REBAA because they cut through the emotion to keep your budget and wish list front of mind in all negotiations.

A buyer’s agent will usually cost you around 1% of the property’s purchase price so it’s another fixed cost you need to budget for but Brookes claims you should at least break even and will usually end up spending less for your ideal home than you set out to.