Top Tips When Purchasing Land 'Off the Plan'
Building your dream home can be one of the most exciting times in your life but securing the perfect location can be difficult in some circumstances, especially in the current market.
One of the ways to secure your dream block that is becoming increasingly popular is purchasing property ‘off the plan’. This simply means that the 'Lot’ (or block) you are purchasing has not yet been ‘created’ by the developer at the time of signing your land Purchase Contract. While purchasing off the plan can seem like a great way to secure your dream block, it is important to understand some potential issues you may face with this strategy.
A Sunset Date is a date inserted in your Purchase Contract to say that the Seller must ensure the Lot has been created with the Titles Office by this date. By law, a Seller can take up to 18 months to do this. It is important to look at this date before you sign your Contract to make sure it fits in with your plans for the property, especially if you are planning on building straight away.
There are two approaches that a Seller may have in relation to a Sunset Date. Under the first approach, they may have a shorter timeframe, knowing that the subdivision is only a few months away from being completed and having a shorter timeframe is obviously more attractive to potential buyers. However, whilst you may think that the land will be subdivided by the date specified in the Contract, some key steps (i.e Ergon connection, council sealing) may take longer than expected and push dates out, meaning the Seller will need to ask for an extension of the Sunset Date to accommodate these delays. In these circumstances, you can agree or otherwise terminate the Contract, missing out on your ‘dream block’.
Alternatively, a Seller may include the full 18 months in the Contract as the Sunset Date even though they are expecting the works to be completed in 6 months (for example). The reason why sellers do this is to leave extra time ‘up their sleeve’ legally under the Contract, should progress be pushed back.
As a Buyer, it is extremely important that you understand that even though you may have been told by the Seller or real estate agent that the subdivision will be completed by a certain date, you will not really have the ability to rely on these representations, if they don’t match the timeframes and dates specified in the Contract. The takeaway here is to prepare for the ‘worst case scenario’ timeframe (eg. 18 months) and don’t get sucked in if the Seller or the agent make you promises to the contrary!
As a Buyer, arguably the exciting part of this process is the actual building of your new home. Unfortunately, a lot of people rush into signing a build contract without fully understanding what some ramifications may be should there be a delay in the purchase of your block of land settling (refer to our comments above).
With the current state of the market and the construction industry, price increases are common. This is due to a range of factors, including an increase in the price of materials, supply chain issues and shortage of labour. If you sign your Build Contract around the same time as your land Purchase Contract, there is real potential for these costs to increase significantly over a potential 18 month period.
Even if you have a ‘fixed price’ Build Contract in place, it is important to check that there are still not any clauses in the Contract that allow for a price increase in certain circumstances. During these times, builders are relying heavily on these clauses to increase the contract price. Most standard contracts allow for the builder to increase a fixed price if there are material increases that ‘were outside of the builder’s control’.
Secondly, delays with your land Purchase Contract settling may cause issues with your Build Contract, depending on the anticipated start date included in your Build Contract. Should the builder not be at fault for the delay under you Build Contract (for example, if settlement of the land has been pushed back), you may need to pay the builder delay damages for each day that they are unable to commence the build. This is why it is so important to consider the Sunset Date in your land Purchase Contract and how this will affect your anticipated start date under your Build Contract, despite what you may have been verbally told by the seller or agent.
Given the potential severity of the above issues, we highly recommend that any Buyer who plans to build obtains legal advice on both your land Purchase Contract and your Build Contract, to ensure that both contracts work together to protect you from incurring unintended costs. . Unfortunately, at Enterprise Legal, we have seen dozens of times where this has occurred during the last two years, where clients should have had their Contracts reviewed.
If you would like to know more or for assistance with obtaining legal advice when purchasing vacant land ‘off the plan’ to build your dream home, please get in touch with EL's expert Property and Construction team: