Is It Worth Getting a Building Inspection for an Apartment?

Building and pest inspection on an apartment building

For many Australians, buying an apartment is not just a significant financial commitment but also a step towards achieving their dream of homeownership. It’s an exciting process, yet it requires careful consideration and due diligence to ensure you’re making a sound investment. One crucial step in this process is considering whether to get a building inspection.

Purchasing an apartment in Australia often means buying into a strata scheme, a concept that can introduce a layer of complexity unfamiliar to those used to dealing with freestanding properties. Strata living offers numerous benefits, including shared amenities and reduced maintenance responsibilities. However, it also comes with its unique set of challenges and complexities. Understanding these intricacies is crucial for potential buyers to make informed decisions and avoid surprises.

What is a Strata Scheme?

A strata scheme is a system of property ownership designed for multi-level apartment blocks and horizontal subdivisions with shared areas. When you buy an apartment or unit in a strata scheme, you own the individual lot (your apartment) and share ownership of common property (gardens, exteriors, hallways, pools) with other lot owners. This collective ownership requires a structured approach to management, maintenance, and decision-making.

Understanding Strata Levies

Strata levies or fees are contributions made by all lot owners to cover the costs associated with the upkeep of common property, insurance, and other expenses. These can vary significantly depending on the size, age, and amenities of the building. High-rise buildings with elevators, swimming pools, and gyms, for instance, might have higher levies due to the cost of maintaining these facilities.

The Role of the Owners Corporation

Formerly known as the body corporate, the Owners Corporation is responsible for the management of the strata scheme. This includes making decisions about the maintenance of common property, setting the annual budget, and establishing strata by-laws. Understanding its role and how decisions are made is crucial for any prospective buyer.

Strata By-Laws

By-laws are rules that govern the behaviour of residents within a strata scheme. They can cover a range of issues, from noise restrictions to pet ownership, and can significantly affect your living experience. It’s essential to review these by-laws carefully before purchasing to ensure they align with your lifestyle and expectations.

Maintenance and Repairs

Distinguishing between common property and individual lot responsibility for maintenance and repairs can sometimes be challenging. Generally, the Owners Corporation is responsible for the upkeep of common property, while lot owners are responsible for their units. However, nuances in the law and the strata plan can blur these lines, making it imperative to understand where these responsibilities lie.

Capital Works Fund

Also known as the sinking fund, this is a separate pool of money for future capital expenses, such as major repairs, renovations, or replacement of common property elements. Knowing the health of the capital works fund can give you insight into future levies and the likelihood of special assessments.

Your Financial Responsibilities in a Strata Scheme

When you buy into a strata scheme, you’re not just purchasing your unit; you’re also taking on a share of the responsibility for maintaining the building as a whole. This responsibility is financial and practical, involving regular contributions to the strata fund and decision-making about the property’s upkeep.

Strata Levies

Owners in a strata scheme are required to pay strata levies (or fees), which contribute to the scheme’s administrative fund and capital works fund.

  • Administrative Fund: Covers day-to-day expenses, such as gardening, cleaning, and minor repairs to common property.
  • Capital Works Fund: Also known as the sinking fund, this is used for future capital expenses, including major repairs, renovations, or replacements of common property and shared amenities.

Special Levies

If the capital works fund doesn’t have enough money to cover a significant repair or improvement, the owners’ corporation may levy a special assessment or special levy. This is an additional fee on top of regular strata levies to cover these costs.

Assessing Potential Repair Liabilities

Before buying into a strata scheme, it’s crucial to assess the potential repair liabilities associated with the property. Click here for information about how strata repairs and maintenance work.

Review the Strata Records

Before purchasing, request access to the strata scheme’s records. Look for:

  • Minutes of Owners’ Corporation Meetings: These can provide insights into ongoing maintenance issues, upcoming repairs, or disputes among owners.
  • The Capital Works Fund Forecast: This document outlines anticipated major repairs and their expected costs, giving you an idea of future financial commitments.
  • Financial Statements: Assess the health of the administrative and capital works funds to ensure they are adequately funded for current and future needs.

Hire a Professional

Consider hiring a strata inspector or a solicitor specializing in strata law to review these documents. They can help you interpret the information and identify any red flags.

Understand the Condition of Common Property

Inspect the common property yourself, if possible, or ask your building inspector to assess the condition of shared spaces and amenities. This can give you a direct insight into the property’s state of repair.

Example Scenario


Imagine Sarah, who recently purchased an apartment in a medium-sized strata scheme in Sydney. She was thrilled to move into her first home, drawn to the building’s charm and the vibrant community it promised. However, just a few months after moving in, Sarah and her neighbours started experiencing issues with inconsistent water pressure and, at times, discoloured water. The problem was sporadic at first but gradually became more persistent, leading to discomfort among the residents.

The Discovery

Upon raising the issue with the strata committee, it was discovered through a professional assessment that the building’s plumbing system, original and aging, required significant repairs. The plumbing, being part of the common property managed by the strata scheme, meant that the responsibility for its repair fell on the owners’ corporation.

The Challenge

The cost of the repairs was substantial, requiring a complete overhaul of the aging pipes to meet the current standards and ensure a long-term solution. The owners’ corporation had to decide how to fund these unexpected repairs. They reviewed the capital works fund, which is set aside for such major repairs and maintenance of common property, only to find it insufficient to cover the total cost.

The Solution

The owners’ corporation called a general meeting to discuss the situation and explore solutions. They presented the options to the lot owners:

  1. Use the existing capital works fund to cover a portion of the repair costs: This would deplete the fund, leaving little for other unforeseen repairs or maintenance tasks.
  2. Raise a special levy among the owners: This would involve collecting additional funds from each apartment owner to make up the difference necessary for the plumbing overhaul.
  3. Consider a combination of both: Use some of the capital works fund and raise a smaller special levy to lessen the immediate financial impact on the owners.

After a detailed discussion and consideration of the financial implications for all owners, the decision was made to opt for a combination of both using the capital works fund and raising a special levy. This approach balanced the immediate need for repairs with the financial capacities of the apartment owners.

Navigating Strata Complexities: Tips for Prospective Buyers

Review Strata Records

Before purchasing, request access to the strata scheme’s records. This can provide valuable insights into the financial health of the scheme, any ongoing disputes, the history of repairs and maintenance, and the effectiveness of the Owners Corporation.

Understand Levies and Funds

Clarify what your strata levies cover and inquire about the balance and history of the capital works fund. This can help you anticipate future expenses.

Inspect Common Property

Evaluate the condition of common property and amenities. Their state can indicate how well the strata scheme is managed and potentially flag future levies for maintenance or upgrades.

Consider Strata By-Laws

Ensure the by-laws are in line with your lifestyle. Restrictions around pet ownership, renovations, or renting out your property can significantly impact your enjoyment and use of your apartment.

Seek Professional Advice

Consider consulting with a strata specialist or solicitor who can help you navigate the complexities of strata documentation and advise on any potential red flags.


Buying into a strata scheme in Australia offers a unique blend of community living with the convenience of shared amenities and services. However, it also introduces a layer of complexity that requires careful consideration. By understanding strata levies, the role of the Owners Corporation, strata by-laws, maintenance responsibilities, and the importance of the capital works fund, you can make an informed decision. With thorough research and perhaps some professional guidance, you can confidently embrace the benefits of strata living while being well-prepared for its complexities.