Buying a house vs an apartment: 5 factors to consider

By Olivia Gee ·

Are you a fast-paced city explorer or a breezy country cruiser? This could have a big impact on the kind of home you choose and plunge you into the age-old debate of if apartments or houses are a better buy.

But before you can crack on with the financial rebuttals and then settle on a top-value home loan, you’ll want to figure out which dwelling suits you best. So, we’ve laid out a few key areas to address before you dive into analysing the property spectrum.

Budget, location and lifestyle

Your deposit and financing can significantly impact your home-buying location choices and the features that come along with that.

In Sydney’s inner suburbs, $600,000 may buy you a basic one bedroom apartment, while the same amount in regional NSW could get you a five-bedroom house. So, you’ll need to take a long hard look at your professional and social expectations to decide how to balance price, lifestyle and broad location. 

Transport is an important lifestyle factor to consider regardless of whether you purchase a house or apartment. If you choose a suburb further from a city or town centre, you’ll want to investigate public transport routes to your workplace and other important venues like supermarkets, schools and hospitals, as well as traffic conditions, tolls and cycleways.

Building age and materials

The nuts and bolts of a building’s structure will also come into the decision to buy a house or an apartment. If you’re choosing a more mature free-standing house, you’ll want to investigate things like: 

  • Foundation problems: if doors and windows aren’t latching properly, that could spell trouble.
  • A leaking roof or poor waterproofing: water spots on the ceiling are a telltale sign of existing issues that could spread. 
  • Outdated layouts or materials: this could end up costing a lot if significant renovations are in order or if the job is specialised (like removing a Stucco ceiling or dealing with asbestos). 

Problems can also crop up with new buildings. Disasters like the Sydney Opal Tower show that new isn’t always superior. Lax building regulations (governed by the states in Australia) or deviations from original construction plans and budgets can result in structural instability or poor fire safety compliance. 

This can be particularly worrying in an apartment complex where repairs or reconstruction of the building are out of your control as a resident owner.

Ongoing costs

Any maintenance or renovations are going to be specific to your circumstances and what you want to change about a property. But there are other ongoing costs to consider for apartment and house owners.

Home & contents insurance

If you own a freestanding home, you’ll want to take out insurance for the building as well as your belongings. Building insurance covers the structural elements of your house and against a range of damage caused by disasters and accidents. Choosing a contents insurance policy will depend on what the rest of your belongings are worth to you.

If you buy a strata title apartment (most Aussie flats are under this classification), insurance for the building and common areas is usually covered by the body corporate to which you pay strata fees. This doesn’t cover the contents of your home and may not include insurance for every fixture within your apartment, so you might want to take out additional coverage.

Strata

Beyond insurance, strata fees pay for the maintenance of common grounds like gardens or pool areas, as well as general cleaning and waste management. If you live in a newer block with a whole lot of features like this, expect to pay more strata as an owner.

Rates

Rates are set by local councils and are essentially a tax all property owners pay whether they’re commercial or residential. It usually funds community projects and facilities, and will differ depending on the type of dwelling, with house owners paying more since they are solely responsible for the land their property sits on.

Potential to add value

Even if you intend to live at your new address for the foreseeable future, you should still consider it as an investment. The value of land is an important consideration within this. 

A parcel of land will generally appreciate as the population grows and needs more room to live. A building like an apartment will see wear and tear over time and may not necessarily rise in value in the same way. 

Similarly, home renovations and extensions can be more accessible if you own your own land. While you’ll need to comply with council restrictions, you’ll generally have more wiggle room for development than you would within a flat – in a practical sense as well as considering strata regulations.

This doesn’t mean you can’t build on the value of an apartment with the right renovations and additions. And since a flat will generally be cheaper than an independent house in a comparable location, this may be the more accessible option for many potential buyers.

Grants and subsidies for first home buyers

There are a fair few government incentives offering first-time home buyers a leg-up onto the property market, such as the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme and First Home Super Saver Scheme

Most of these offers have caveats around how much you’re paying for the property, your income, whether it’s a new or existing home, and if you intend to live at the address. While the type of dwelling doesn’t normally come into the equation, these other criteria could sway you to one side of the house versus apartment debate, or impact your location choice.

For example, if you’re buying your first property in NSW, you can completely avoid paying stamp duty if it’s under $800,000. However, it has to be a newly built home. 

This means any older, more affordable city apartments or free-standing houses are off the table. This could drive buyers further from the CBD or encourage them to buy within one of the many new apartment complexes closer to the city. 

You’ll find similar restrictions if you want to access the First Home Owners Grant in most states, and will need to consider your household income and job stability across most of these schemes.

Once you’ve answered all of these questions for yourself (quite a task), find a home loan which suits your financial needs at Mozo’s mortgage comparison page.