22/08/2015 10:18 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

What It's Really Like Buying Off The Plan In Sydney

Moving House
Monkey Business Images via Getty Images
Moving House

There's nothing quite like parting with your entire life savings for a patch of dirt.

We discovered our pile of rubble future dream home on a sunny Sunday while taking a morning stroll around our neighbourhood. My fiancée Lucas is in the construction biz, which means walking past a building site without stopping just doesn't happen, ever. If there's a hole in the ground, my man is going to need to check that shiz out for himself.

This particular hole was once a factory (and before that, a psychiatric hospital) and was now filled with bricks and dirt and discarded Red Bull cans. So naturally our immediate reaction was "shut up and take our money." It was love at first site.

I should point out this was about a year and a half ago, in February 2014. We were fairly new to the real estate game, but it hadn't taken us long to realise our original plan to buy a nice little doer-upper somewhere central was not naïve, it was laugh-out-loud crazy. We inspected one Redfern property where you had to sign a waiver of liability before you entered because it was so dilapidated it was actually dangerous.

It sold at auction for over $900K.

So we went back to the drawing board and decided the best way forward, for us, was to buy off the plan. We reasoned it would give us more time to save and, if prices went up, we would be infuriatingly smug in the knowledge we locked this baby down way back in el-cheapo '14. (Of course, if prices went down, we'd be kicking ourselves, but we tried not to think about that.)

Instead we imagined poring over the plans with our patient and understanding real estate agent, making suggestions and little tweaks to what would one day be our home. And also....


Calves to the slaughterhouse, I tell you.

Fact: Buying off the plan does not mean you are exempted from paying stamp duty, unless you are buying a property for less than $650K.

Let's all just take a minute to imagine the likelihood of finding ANY two bedroom apartment in central-ish Sydney for under $650K.

Oh, the lulz.

We also quickly discovered those discussions we imagined having with our real estate agent were sheer fantasy. The minute he had our deposit in his hot little hands he was mentally vacationing in Mexico fanning himself with hundred dollar bills.

Fact: even though you have parted with your entire life savings, it's peanuts to your real estate agent. Before you hand over your cash, the promises will fly thick and fast. Afterwards, fugeddaboutit.

It's probably worth pointing out we were totally naïve in our expectations -- I get that now. But when you've just forked out a huge amount of dough (for which he gets a commission, I might add) for what amounts to a photocopied floor plan stuck to your (rented) fridge -- I don't think it would kill the guy to fake a little interest.

Or, perhaps, to have a remote clue of when our place might be ready to move into (Spoiler Alert: It wasn't Christmas 2014 as promised).

Here is an example of a typical conversation between us.

Us: "Heyyyyy! Really sorry to bother you but, last time we spoke you mentioned the apartment would likely be finished by January, and it's now February, soooooo.... You know. Just checking up on progress."

Him: "Oh yeah, well the guys said it's now March."

Us: "March? OK, cool!"

Him: "More likely March / April."

Us: "Oh OK, so probably April then."

Him: "Maybe May. June latest. July at a stretch."

Us: "Are you literally just listing the months of the year?"

But perhaps I sound ungrateful.

I should (and do) count my lucky stars we're fortunate enough to have actually bought a place in this crazy market. A similar off-the-plan property was advertised recently for nearly half a million dollars more than what we paid for ours last year. Yes, it had better finishes and fewer apartments in the complex, but the size and location were almost identical. How this has happened in the space of 18 months I just can't fathom.

And though we're still not in our new place (mid-August and counting), it gives us great joy to walk by and see it taking shape, knowing that eventually we'll get to move in and have a patch of dirt to call our own.

At the rate we're going, I don't know how many Sydneysiders are going to be able to say the same.