Top 10 things to look at when buying a unit

By Nila Sweeney
Considering an apartment investment? Units can be profitable for landlords, but they can also be a money pit – unless you know what to look for.

Thankfully Luke Woollard from Pilot Estate Agents in Mornington, Victoria is willing to give us the skinny on what makes a great unit investment. After all, he should know: he's seen more units than he can remember throughout his career, and he invests in them too.
Here’s Woollard’s advice to ensure you buy a unit investment that stacks up:
1. Size matters.
Can you live in the property comfortably now and into the future? Is it 'entertainable' if your family and friends drop in? Do you have room for your things? A comfortable size is around 60m2+ for a one-bedroom apartment, 75m2+ for two bedrooms and preferably 125m2+ for three bedrooms, not including parking spaces and storage.
2. Rental demand.
Will someone want to rent your unit if you don't live there? Is the yield reasonable? Investors will crunch the numbers of course but owner-occupiers should consider rentability as well, because circumstances sometimes change, due to a little bundle of joy, travel aspirations and job relocations.
3. Location.
Is the building in a good spot or a dodgy part of town? Look out for noise, my number one pet hate. In recent years, councils have rezoned commercial and industrial land into residential in some areas. Sometimes these sites are on busy main roads. Check with the local council for 'main road noise warnings' on your street.
4. Top spot.
I'd choose to be as high in a building as possible, as you'll get better views, less noise and often less apartments per floor. You may end up paying for the privilege in the form of increased council rates and levy-heavy body corporate fees.
5. Car parking.
Where can you (and your visitors) park? Secure basement parking is best but this comes with a higher overall price tag. Off street parking will usually reduce your insurance premium too. Some apartments include storage within the parking bay, which is very handy.
6. Do you need a manager?
In small unit complexes (under 30 apartments) an onsite manager is probably redundant, as the body corporate committee can easily manage the building operation by hiring subcontractors for general maintenance. Sometimes smaller unit buildings do have a building manager on site and they are remunerated by the Body Corporate by way of a yearly salary. Crunch the numbers so you can work out whether the onsite manager is providing good value for money. Are they really necessary, or just a pesky financial nuisance?
7. Aspect and natural light.
More light is best, but not at the expense of solar overexposure. Aspect is preferential based on the local climate.
8. Kitchen.
Often the main feature of an apartment is its kitchen. Is it chef worthy? I look for a large functional area. If you're planning to renovate, look out for the location of services, as sometimes with older units, plumbing and electricity conduits are embedded into solid concrete. They can be difficult (and costly) to move around.
9. Neighbours party (wall).
If you’re like me and you don't like hearing your neighbours walking around at 3am, then select unit buildings with solid acoustic party walls. Check what the party walls are made of; they divide the units, so it’s important. For superior acoustic performance, ask if the party walls extend into the roof cavity.
10. Every brand tells a story.
When it is permissible to offer short-term accommodation in your building, you are investing in real estate as well as the public perception of the building. Make sure you choose a building where the management is experienced and comes with a notable brand. The accommodation manager will promoted the building heavily in travel magazines and online. You want to make sure your manager has a good service offering to increase the value perception of your apartment real estate.