Puzzle Finance Blog

Nine reasons why your home may not be selling

You’ve put your place on the market but months later you still haven’t had any offers and you can’t figure out why it hasn’t sold. We asked some real estate experts to come up with the main reasons some properties languish on the market. 


The most obvious reason a property does not sell is because the price is too high. Fiona Hellams, licensed real estate agent at Ray White in Drummoyne, Sydney, says an unrealistic reserve price will often be why a property fails to sell at auction. “This can be caused by a lack of communication from the agent, a price guide being too high or sudden changes to the market such as elections, rate rises or changes to zoning.”

“Just because a similar home sold for a certain amount three months ago doesn’t mean that your property is worth the same,” says Damien Sienkiewicz, senior sales consultant of Beller Real Estate, in Melbourne. “The market is constantly changing and three months is a quarter of a year. Especially in a falling market, most vendors and their agents reduce prices to meet the market too late and end up chasing the market down. This normally results in a lower sale price than a vendor who responds to the market.”


Advertising the highest price in the area won’t necessarily attract the best buyer, says Jay Peters, director and licensee of Harcourts JP Elite Group, in Sydney. But “advertising a price guide with a lower scale will encourage more buyers and actually provide some competition between buyers when they all show up to an open house.”

Noisy locations

Too much noise nearby will put off potential buyers. “A property situated on a train line or a major car thoroughfare with heavy traffic and a shopping strip can present a selling challenge as people have a preconceived idea that it will be noisy,” says Stasi Adgemis, director of hockingstuart, Doncaster, Melbourne.


Adgemis says he always recommends to vendors and local developers that they install double-glazed windows and invest in thick, quality doors to block out the sound. “This shows potential buyers when they come to visit the home that there is a long-term solution to manage the noise and that the home is in fact comfortable to live in.”


“Poorly presented, under or partly renovated properties or properties needing repairs can deter buyers,” says Peters.

Sienkiewicz agrees. “With the younger generation of buyers purchasing a bigger proportion of the properties each year, you need to tailor your sale to them. The internet is the biggest source of buyer inquiries but there is always a sea of properties online at any time so you must ensure yours stands out.” 


“Where possible a coat of paint and a good clean always helps but also inquire into getting a stylist through to help you with your presentation or to fully furnish vacant properties to give it that wow factor,” says Sienkiewicz. Poor street appeal

Most buyers will do a drive-by past a home they are interested in before inspecting it, says Sienkiewicz. “If your gardens are dry and unloved, weatherboards are rotting or front door is hanging off its hinges, most buyers will keep on driving and won’t bother to inspect the interior.

First impressions last.”


If you can’t do it yourself, hire a handyman to tidy the front of the property and any gardens. Building works in the neighbourhood

Building works commencing in the street during the marketing campaign or neighbouring properties under construction will definitely put off buyers, says Hellams. 


Do your research to find out what building works are coming up and when and try to time your sale to avoid the disruption.

Over supply

Too many similar properties for sale in the area will affect the speed of your sale, and may even affect the price when you do sell. 


While this is beyond the control of home sellers, if you are in a position to hold off putting your property on the market until there is less competition, it is worth considering. Otherwise, speak to your agent about ways you can set your house apart from the pack.  

Choice of agent

Sometimes it isn’t your home that is the problem, it’s the agent says Sienkiewicz. “A good agent will give you a realistic price with comparable sales to back them up, handle all the marketing to ensure the property is presented in the best light and you should have a sale in a reasonable amount of time. A good agent will also build rapport with the buyers and know who the serious candidates are. However there are cheap agents out there and like everything in life, you get what you pay for.”


“When you are selecting your agent, don’t necessarily go for the cheapest or the most expensive, go for the best,” says Sienkiewicz.  “The one who you feel will do the best thing by you. I have seen a lot of people lose tens of thousands of dollars on a sale price just in order to save a couple of thousand on commission.”

House to block proportion

“These days, many builders will put the biggest house on the smallest block,” says Peters. “Now this may be all well and good if you want low-maintenance yards but many buyers looking for a family home want space for their kids to enjoy the outdoors, entertain their family and friends and enjoy some downtime. We have many buyers saying the house is ideal but the yard is not. It is all about what the particular buyer is looking for and how that home is marketed.”


Target your market. “If it is a small block with little yard space, it may be perfect for that buyer who has little to no time to spend on maintenance so it should be marketed to those buyers,” says Peters.

Poor marketing

You need a strong marketing campaign to reach every potential buyer and achieve a successful sale. Don’t do your own marketing or settle for photos that portray your property in an unflattering way.


“Make sure you have professional photographs taken of the property and a property video highlighting your house’s key selling points,” says Peters. “Make sure your agent markets your home through all avenues. At JP Elite we use several marketing avenues from print to social media as well as the major real estate websites and through our database of clients. With technology playing a major part in today’s society the biggest avenue would be social media.”

Posted by Sandy Smith - Domain (Fairfax) on 27th July, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink

Want to renovate your home but don’t know where to start? A step-by-step guide to renovating


Don’t wait until you are halfway through your renovation to discover that you should have painted the walls before laying the solid timber floors or that the wiring should have been finished before the new ceiling went in. Follow a checklist in your renovation project for less stress and mess.

“The benefit to working from a checklist is clarity,” says property entrepreneur Michael Tiemens from property consultants, Peak Property Group in Melbourne. “It provides complete transparency about what needs to happen and when. It can then assist you in rolling out the process and managing your tasks and trades people in the right order. This creates overall efficiency and project flow.” 

Design and planning 

“Keep it simple and be as final about your decisions as you can be before you start. Changes to designs and materials during the process add delays and costs that can really destroy your budget,” says renovating expert Tim Carter, from Foreshore Projects in Sydney. Decide if you are going to do it yourself or hire a project manager or builder

“Employ a project manager/builder as this will keep the work flowing and they will employ licensed trades that will turn up and do a good job. You will also receive a seven-year warranty for the work completed,” says Angeline O’Shannessy, project manager and designer from Beautiful Hunter Homes, who has been buying and renovating homes for over 20 years. 

“If you decide to go it on your own you need to arrange the required trades in the correct order and make sure their work is done to Australian standards. I would recommend that you ask for a copy of their licences and insurances so you are covered if anything goes wrong.”

Get council approval

You will need to check with your council to clarify the local regulations before you start renovations, says Bernadette Janson from The School of Renovating in Sydney. “Are you doing additions? Are you changing the use of any rooms? (for example changing a bedroom to a bathroom.) Are you making structural changes? Are you planning a deck larger than 20 square metres and higher than one metre? Some areas require council approval for changes to the external appearance of the property, even changing paint colours,” she says.

What to buy

“Look at what needs to be purchased,” says Tiemens. “Many times the hot water systems, heating and/or cooling, roof tiles, weatherboards, wiring, plumbing can be costly items which can blow your budget. Don’t forget the cosmetic elements to the property, for example painting, floor coverings, tapware, kitchen, bathrooms, tiling, wardrobes, storage, landscaping and fencing.

“Purchase all your fittings and fixtures before you start, this will reduce the chance of delays on the job site,” says O’Shannessy. 

Sequence of works

In general, work from the top to the bottom of a room. For example, start with the ceilings, then the walls and the floors. “If you are laying new floors, it is best to have the painting done first to avoid splashes or spills,” says Dickins. As Janson points out, “it is best to co-ordinate the work by trade rather than room by room.” 
Dickins suggests the following easy guide for the sequence of works for a kitchen renovation. 

Design: Work out what you are doing, run it past the trades involved, such as the builder and electrician, and check requirements for special fittings, such as connecting the fridge to plumbing or tapware with filters. 

Demo: Remove all the rubble so there is a safe, clear space to work. Pull up the flooring and remove all the cabinets.

Rough in: This is when new wall framing goes in, plus electricals, plumbing and gas are positioned.

Walls and ceilings: Plasterboard is installed, with new ceilings if needed. 

Doors and windows: All trims, skirtings and architraves should go in before the cabinets.

Cabinets: Install the carcasses, leaving the doors until later so there is access for the appliances, like the dishwasher.

Bench sink and taps: The bench is usually cut to fit the sink so have them installed together.

Paint and splashback: Finalise all the painting before tiling or installing the splashback  and laying the floor.

Flooring: Lay the floor after the cabinets, but before the appliances.

Appliances and lighting: Call the plumber and electrician back to install these.

Cabinet doors: Hang the doors, position the drawers and add any open shelves.

Finally remember that the renovation is likely to be more costly and messy than you imagined. Tiemens has some sound advice for getting to the end of your project. “No matter which style of renovation you are pursuing, the last 20 per cent will take you longest and cost the most so it is important to persist right the way through until the end without cutting corners and be diligent in following your budget and check list.”

Posted by Sandy Smith - Domain (Fairfax) on 21st July, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink

What I wish I had known before buying a brand new apartment


When my husband and I were house-hunting, I had one demand: new construction. I’d spent most of my adulthood in “charming” apartments with “character”, which is real-estate code for tiny apartments with decades-old appliances.

For our first home, I wanted something brand new, and we lucked out: we found an apartment that was so new it wasn’t even built yet. The construction zone of a building had a model unit primed for viewings, and we went to look at it twice in two days before putting in an offer just 48 hours later.

The whole time, I’d been wearing rose-tinted glasses, confident that we’d avoided all the hiccups that come from buying an older home. No hidden lead paint for us! No replacing the furnace in the next 10 years! No creaks in our wood floors!

Sure, there were some serious benefits to a never-before-lived-in abode, but as a novice homeowner, I wasn’t prepared for some of the surprises that revealed themselves along the way. Here are some of the biggest lessons learned after buying a newly minted home.

1. Don’t have them install things you don’t want

The apartments in our building came standard with a 50-bottle wine fridge that took up a third of the kitchen island. I love a nice Chardonnay now and then, but I love storage space more. Because it wasn’t yet installed, I was able to have them put the cost of the mini fridge toward building out more drawers in its place. Speak up if there’s some add-on that, while impressive, isn’t a feature you’ll use.

2. Customise what you can, trust them on the rest

I always fantasised about designing my own home from scratch (who hasn’t, I suppose?), so when the developers told us we’d put in our offer when there was “still time for customisation”, I was elated. I couldn’t wait to study different tile samples and pick out paint swatches. It took one week – which included an epic, heated knob-vs-handle debate with my husband — before I threw in the towel. I made some requests, like different pendant lights in the kitchen and a grey subway tile backsplash I’d always swooned over in interior-design magazines, but for the most part, I stuck with what was in the model unit.

My thinking? The development team — which included professional stagers — selected finishes that worked for the space and the style, and without a ton of knowledge, I was likely to choose some fixture that, once installed, really wouldn’t “go”.

3. Ask for more than you think you can get

When touring the model unit, I’d see something and think, “Aw, too bad, I wouldn’t have chosen that,” before realising that they hadn’t even put our floorboards in yet. I figured it was worth a shot in asking for big-ticket tweaks if it meant me saving thousands of dollars in replacements … or a lifetime of aggravation. Our powder room had a pedestal sink, and I preferred a standard vanity (hello, storage space). The fridge had a side-by-side freezer, and I’d grown fond of having the freezer component as the bottom drawer.

To my surprise, on both counts, the developer made it work, without pushing added costs onto us. Miracles do happen; you just have to request them.

4. Assume nothing

One of the biggest draws of our apartment was that it was in an elevator building. Because we were on the top floor, and because I had grown to hate navigating a stroller down a flight of stairs in my last apartment, it was a big deal. But because the building was a construction zone for most of the waiting period before closing, I didn’t realise that the developer wasn’t entirely honest about the lift access.

For some reason that still mystifies me, our elevator begins on the second floor. From street level, in order to get to the elevator, you have to go through a separate door, up a handicap-accessible chair lift, and then down a corridor to the elevator. It’s still a ridiculous hassle, and even though I remind myself that me noticing it earlier wouldn’t have changed anything (we weren’t going to back out and they weren’t going to completely rebuild an lift shaft because I was annoyed), I wish I had paid more attention to what was unfinished as much as I did what was on display.

5. Prepare for everything to get sloppier as time progresses

After our offer was approved, we were at the construction site frequently. The first visits were so hopeful – we’d see workers installing the wood flooring with expert precision. Then a few weeks would go by, and we’d pop in to see contractors studiously installing the closet shelving. A few more weeks later, and painters were priming the walls … and spilling some drops on the floor. Then, the appliances arrived, and one hurried guy who I assumed was supposed to be there dented the fridge while trying to shimmy it in place. The closer to the contractor’s deadline, the less TLC our home got from those making it. Understandable, sure, but still painful to witness.

6. Get an inspection even if it seems unnecessary

With new construction, developers have inspectors coming in daily to ensure everything is being built to code. That, coupled with the fact that all the appliances are new, might make you think it’s a waste of money to hire an inspector on your own dime. Not true. Thankfully, our inspector detected a small, persistent gas leak (that would one day rear its head in ways I try not to imagine), and it was fixed.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that most inspections will have to take place further down the line than when buying a finished home. By the time you have it with new construction, it might be too late to walk away without a sizeable financial hit if you aren’t satisfied with the findings.

7. Get every little thing in writing

It’s by scrimping and saving that we were able to afford to buy a home in the first place, so I wasn’t about to trust handshakes and verbal agreements when it came to who was paying for what. During our closing appointment, the developer’s attorney asked for a cheque for the average cost of the fridge, since we’d gone for a more expensive option. Instead, I just handed him a copy of the email that stated we didn’t have to pay any extra.

8. Accept that the house will change

With a new home, what you walk into on move-in day won’t be exactly the same as what you’re living in a year later. Houses, and apartment buildings, need to “settle”, and that only happens with time. Like clockwork, at the end of every new season, we’d notice cracks in our windowsills and along our crown moulding. Certain doors would all of a sudden be tighter and harder to open. The best advice we got to minimise these subtle but sometimes frustrating changes was to install a home humidifier and use it diligently.

9. Be flexible on timing

In life, and in home buying, it’s best to operate on the philosophy that what can go wrong will go wrong … and it’ll go wrong later than you anticipated. We’d been warned that closing dates on any type of property, new or old, can get pushed back, so we made sure that we had an extra month on our lease as padding. With homes in the process of being built, those delays can be exponentially longer. Thankfully, we were able to close and move in before our final lease was up, but you can bet we regretted not having a Plan C.

10. After close, it’s all yours

For better or worse, once you sign on the dotted line, the apartment is your responsibility. No landlords or superintendents to call when a hard-to-reach light bulb goes out. Most new-construction homes come with a one-year warranty for building-related issues – if, for instance, the lock on your back door falls right off or you get mould from a poorly ventilated bathroom (both of which happened to us). That way, you aren’t completely on the hook for every issue that bubbles up.

It’s also a smart idea to organise documents for all your appliances, fill out warranties, and get an idea of what is included in coverage, before a need arises. Our developer maintained our building warranty didn’t cover the fact that I wasn’t getting any hot water in my gorgeous, marble-tiled shower, so I had to scramble to go straight to the source on that one. And, now that the year-long window of coverage is up, our home is officially ours … and ours alone.

Posted by Kate Schweitzer - Domain (Fairfax) on 15th July, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink

How buying with friends can get you on the property ladder

Priced out of the real estate market but desperate to buy? More and more people are turning to friends to help them buy a home or an investment property.    

When Julie O’Donohue and her husband wanted to secure a property in a good neighbourhood of Melbourne, they discussed the idea with friends who said they would be interested in buying it with them. 

“This gave us a way of buying a two-bedroom property in a reasonable location,” says O’Donohue, who lives in a regional town of Victoria. Together, the two couples were able to purchase an older unit with large rooms in South Yarra.

O’Donohue enjoys the fact that they are building an asset and “can add value without disrupting the tenants, as the tenants are our family”.

“We have adult children and they were both paying rent which we were helping them with, so it made sense to secure a home to pay off for ourselves. They would then benefit in the long run.The friends are younger and they know their children will probably study in Melbourne, too. We see this as a 10-year plan,” says O’Donohue. 

ME Bank head of home loans Patrick Nolan says it is a favourite first-home buyer strategy “to team up with friends and family to purchase a property jointly”.

“Co-buying offers valuable advantages. By pooling resources, buyers can afford a better-quality home or a more desirable location. Ongoing costs like rates, insurance and maintenance are also more manageable,” says Nolan. 

Research by ME suggests 4 per cent of buyers have purchased with friends, but that trend looks set to increase. 

“Co-buying is becoming prevalent because of affordability,” says John Cunningham, president of the Real Estate Institute of NSW. “It’s probably now becoming one of those options that people have to seriously consider. People are looking for opportunities where they can live together at far less cost than it would be for them to actually go and buy those properties separately. It’s a smart idea. It gets them into the market.”

But, warns Nolan, despite the pluses, buying a property with someone else calls for planning. “Rather than simply hoping it will all work out, it makes sense to have a formal co-ownership agreement drafted by a solicitor. This will set out in writing how varying possibilities will be handled by everyone, from the arrival of a partner on the scene to what happens when one owner wants to sell up.”

Dr Adrian Raftery, senior lecturer in financial planning and superannuation at Deakin University, Melbourne, says there are two big risks in property ownership between friends. The first is the risk of loan default.

“Whilst you technically own only half of the property, you are liable for 100 per cent of the debt. So if your mate doesn’t stump up his or her half of the loan repayments then expect that you will have to, otherwise expect a nasty call from the bank.”

The second risk concerns what happens to the property should you die. “Do you want your half of your property to go to the beneficiaries named in your will or do you want it to pass automatically to your mate?” says Raftery. 

“You also need to consider that joint ownership may impact on future goals you may have, particularly if you want to start a family down the track. Your borrowing capacity greatly reduces. For example, when you go to borrow for another property, the bank will only assess half your asset but 100 per cent of your combined loan.” 

And what happens if you can’t live with your friend? “You may love going out every weekend and having a few beers or wines, but what happens if they are a pain to live with? Who moves out? Things can get complicated rather quickly.”

Buying with friends is not without risk, agrees O’Donohue. It is important to be clear about who is responsible for what element, she says, but on the upside “we also have a place to crash which doesn’t cost us”. 

In fact, co-buying has worked out so well for the couple that they have purchased another property with their friends that they are in the process of developing.

Posted by Sandy Smith - The Age on 4th July, 2016 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink

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