Queensland Unit Buyers Beware: Do your searches

Unit buyers have been urged to shell out the extra cash for detailed
property searches at the time of sale, following concerns over the
plight of a group of Kangaroo Point owners.

Highlighting the case are nine owners who want the right to live
permanently at the Quest on Story Bridge apartment complex near the
Story Bridge Hotel.

Unit owner Cameron Green said lawyers carried out standard property
searches for him in 2009 but this did not reveal that only short-term
occupants were allowed.

He said he and other buyers were not made aware when they bought their
homes that they could not live in them permanently, due to a
development condition imposed on the 14-year-old building.

It is understood a building approval search would have revealed the
problem but this type of check is generally considered to be
"optional" during conveyancing.

Unit Owners Association of Queensland vice-president Paul Cassels said
buyers should be cautious and recommended they go beyond standard
property searches.

"When you spend $500,000 or $1 million [on a unit], to me spending
another $1000 on a report is money well spent," he said. "It's such a
specialist area."

He said buyers should check building classification and should also
familiarise themselves with body corporate arrangements.

Asked whether real estate agents should disclose short-term or
long-term occupancy rules, Mr Cassels said they may not know.

He said buyers should engage specialist lawyers and body corporate
experts to do such checks.

Mr Cassels also advised people buying apartments off the plan not to
simply use the developer's lawyers.

The state government's Office of Fair Trading last night encouraged
homebuyers to carry out adequate property searches.

"Queensland's real estate laws are based on the concept of 'buyer
beware' and purchasers are encouraged to carry out their own searches
and due diligence to their satisfaction when purchasing a property,"
the office said in a written response to questions last night.

"Agents must give buyers a copy of the warning statement before they
sign any contract. The warning statement stresses the need for the
buyer to get independent legal advice regarding the property they are
about to buy."

The office said state regulations also required real estate agents
"disclose information about a property to a buyer if it has been
specifically requested or if non-disclosure would be unfair to the

Conveyancing and body corporate inspection expert Dee Pannell said in
her experience it was not uncommon for unit buyers to find out
important information after the sale had been completed.

Ms Pannell said she hoped buyers would become more aware and
solicitors more diligent in sourcing property "search agents" who
provided a thorough inspection report.

"I have been beating my head against a brick wall for at least 10
years trying to get buyers to understand the worth of a comprehensive
report," she said.

The owners of nine units at the Quest on Story Bridge apartment
building have lodged a development application with Brisbane City
Council seeking approval to use them for permanent residency.

The 14-year-old Quest on Story Bridge apartment complex, opposite the
Story Bridge Hotel, currently contains mostly serviced or rented
apartments but also houses several owner-occupiers.

Local councillor Helen Abrahams backflipped on her initial support for
the development application after inspecting one of the units at Quest
and speaking to businesses and council officers.

The Quest on Story Bridge franchise, which manages the building and
services apartments in its letting pool, wrote to the council saying
it often had to turn business away because short-term accommodation
was in such strong demand, while warning that local shops relied on

Brisbane City Council neighbourhood planning chair Amanda Cooper said
she could not comment on the matter while the development application
was being assessed by council officers.

However, she said planning rules distinguished between short-term and
long-term accommodation because the impacts on neighbouring residents
were different.

Mr Green, a first home buyer and lawyer, said the residents simply
wanted to use their units for the purpose for which they were sold.

"While we may have be let down by a number of people along the way,
the critical thing to remember is that we haven't given up," he said.

"Instead of pointing the finger at others, which would have been an
easy option in many instances, we've tried to fix this mess.

"We've engaged lawyers and town planners and collectively spent tens
of thousands of dollars trying to comply with the law."

He said the issue was complicated by the fact business owners were
"looking to force us out of our homes to further their own commercial

Quest on Story Bridge was contacted for comment on Friday and
yesterday, but so far it has not responded.

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