The value in a Property File

Housing Market Written by John Bolton, Sep 24 2013

In the market to buy a property? There are, as you are probably aware a couple of critical documents that are vital to check out prior to making an offer or participating in an auction, these are the Legal Title and LIM. Both documents are legally important to being confident that firstly the property is what it claims to be and secondly that the building is effectively up-to-date in regard to compliance from a local authority perspective with any recent work or requirements.

In my mind there is another critical document set that is well worth reviewing before making that critical step of making an offer and that is the Property File held by the local authority. In the case of Auckland the Property Files for most residential properties have been digitized and for some areas of Auckland are available as a download, alternatively they are available as a CD.

A Property File costs from $50 to $100 depending on how quickly you want the data and in my view is an essential part of investigating a prospective property purchase. The Property File is the collected documents that the local council holds on a property. The local authority describes the Property File as including the “rating information, building and drainage plans, consent information, licensing details and more”.

In my experience the more is the gold nuggets that make the Property File so valuable. The type of information you will find will include all documents related to any consented work undertaken on the property over the years, often going back decades. I have found copies of documents going back to the 1940’s in some cases. When I say documents, I mean all documents which include architect drawings, letters of communication between council and homeowners / architects, building estimation work, plans, approvals and compliance notices to fix issues, resource consent applications and notices. Some are detailed reports, some simply handwritten notes – all digitally scanned. The richness of data can allow you to build up a history of the property to see when work was done on the property over the years. Beyond constructional work on the property you may find documents relating to any issues with trees or any other issues related to the section including drainage and sewage pipes or other services across the section or the boundary to the council services. What also can be included which makes for a bit of insightful background reading is any complaints or compliance reports on the property; from personal experience I came across a history for one property which many decades previously had had environment complaints related to the number of dogs and cats held on the property and the ensuing health hazard. Another cited the formal noise complaints lodged against a former owner and the dispute that arose between two neighbours. The Property File is not a book to be read, be prepared to spend a bit of time making sense of the file coding of the documents, they are not in chronological order nor easy to understand.

My advice would not to print everything off. Many Property Files run to several hundred pages and your printer might not appreciate it! However the time spent reviewing a Property File in my view is time well spent and of great value. The picture that emerges gives you an insight into the history and activities around a property. It is all fact as it is the collected documents held on file by the council and therefore not open to speculation or conjecture. It’s yet another tool to make your decision making in buying a property a more informed choice, and well worth the investment. It certainly is no substitute for a building report but for the money it is a great complement.

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