When purchasing a new home, it is vital to do your homework in relation to legal matters, otherwise the home ownership dream could turn into a costly nightmare.

“It is an exciting time and one in which the need for a considered, level-headed approach can be dominated by emotion,” Parke Lawyers Managing Director Jim Parke says.

Important checks such as up to date title searches, building inspections, planning reports and council checks are often not given due consideration or are even overlooked.

Illegal buildings are one problem that have potential to spoil the home acquisition experience.

The presence of illegal structures or buildings is more common than many would think, particularly when it comes to granny flats or self-contained bungalows, even if they are not news. With the rising popularity of renovating for profit, new decks or pool areas may be built without required permits, or attached garages unlawfully converted into living areas and rumpus rooms.

“This can result in the new property owner having to bring the site and structures into compliance, and if this is not possible then the local council can order the offending structures to be demolished.  Either way, there are considerable expenses involved.”

Prospective home buyers need to perform their own due diligence to make sure they are happy and satisfied with the property before buying it – it is not up to real estate agents or even conveyancers to ensure compliance.

Some common warning signs to look out for are structures too close to fences and boundaries, low quality work or newer outside areas being annexed to older houses. In addition, anything built over common areas where there is common property on a site should raise red flags.

The primary concern of regulators, including councils and the Victorian Building Authority, is to make sure the property is safe and complies with building laws. As well as the potential for owners to be prosecuted for breaches, unlawful building work can have serious insurance implications.

Mr Parke says these vital matters can be missed in the conveyancing process as conveyancers are not required to inspect the property and cannot advise on broader legal issues.

Obtaining legal assistance during the purchasing process can help address any concerns from purchasers’ research,” he says. While conveyancers are very limited in areas they can advise upon, lawyers can assist with all legal issues arising from the purchase or sale of property. If a vendor is concerned about compliance, this can often be rectified prior to sale. If a purchaser suspects that the structures on site do not match the information in the vendor statement, legal advice can help to identify any hidden traps.

A small investment in sound legal advice can help to prevent buyers from inheriting these ticking time bombs. Nobody needs more stress or the cost of rectifying building works when buying property.

Legal advice is an effective investment to ensure the home ownership experience is a dream, not a nightmare.