What you need to know before buying a strata unit

In decades gone by it was common for first-time buyers, in fact all buyers, to purchase a house in the suburbs. SydneyTerraces

A lot has changed since then, however, and more and more people are choosing to buy, and live in, units and townhouses, usually because of their superior positions closer to the city, their affordability and less time required for maintenance.

But if you’re considering buying into a strata scheme, there are some unique and some not-so-unique elements that you must understand before signing on the dotted line.

What is a strata title?

Strata title is a method of facilitating individual ownership of part of a property – generally an apartment, unit or townhouse.

Uniquely, strata title allows for individual ownership of an actual lot or unit whilst sharing ownership of the common grounds on which it is built. . 

The concept only came into being 50 years ago, however, there are now more than 270,000 strata title properties providing more than two million homes across Australia.

Investing in a strata title property can be a smart move – it’s often an affordable way to enter the property market, and can be beneficial in managing repairs and renovations down the track

But whether you’re buying a unit or a townhouse, you should look into the history of the property and its strata scheme before you sign the contract to ensure you know exactly what you will own and what’s deemed to be common property, that is, shared by all of the owners in the owners corporation or body corporate.

Generally, as a strata owner, you own the air space within the boundaries of your lot, while the owners corporation owns and controls the fabric of the building and the land under and around it.

Common property is all of the areas of the land and building that aren’t included in any lot.

The common property boundaries of each lot are generally formed by:

  • the upper surface of the floor
  • the under surface of the ceiling
  • all external or boundary walls (including doors and windows).

Being an owner in a strata scheme:

  • Your ownership includes your individual unit or apartment as well as sharing ownership and responsibility for the Common Property. Buying-a-new-property-off-the-plan-Feature-RET-300x200
  • You are automatically a member of the Owners Corporation, which has responsibility for the Common Property.
  • You will regularly (generally every 3 months) need to contribute to the cost of running the building through paying Strata Levies in addition to rates and taxes for your property.
  • Compared to owning a freestanding house, there could be lifestyle restrictions in a strata scheme, e.g. there are rules (by-laws) that may affect you doing renovations to your unit; where you can and cannot park your car; noise control; where you can dry washing; whether you can or cannot keep pets.
  • Each owner has principle obligations in relation to their lot and the common property and if they are an investor to ensure compliance with the scheme’s by-laws is a condition of the tenancy agreement

You should study all of the provisions of the contract – including the description of the property – and make sure that the plans attached to the contract match the property.

You should also check the following:


Before exchanging contracts, you must check that the list of inclusions is accurate and complete.Property-Investment-Checklist-300x199

All fixtures are included in the purchase without having to be named.

Under law, a fixture is something that’s so attached to the land that it must have been intended to remain there permanently.

If you’re in doubt whether a particular item is a fixture, it’s best to mark it as an inclusion or mention it by name in the contract.

Fittings such as floor coverings, cupboards and the kitchen stove may belong to you as the new owner, but they’ll need to be itemised as ‘inclusions’ in the contract.

Where possible, include as much detail about the inclusions, including brand names to avoid any doubt. Man Signing Contract

Once you’ve settled on the property and taken ownership, you may replace or modify the fittings without consent.

However, with strata units, if you want to make changes to the fabric of the building, or wish to build new structures – such as installing an air­ conditioning unit – it’s important that you first notify the owners corporation first.

This is because the owners corporation has the power to stop any alteration or structural renovation being made to a lot if they believe it will interfere with the common property or the supporting structure of the rest of the building.


Each lot owner has title to air space, as shown by the lot boundaries in the strata plan, and has the right to use the fabric of the building and the access ways, corridors and the grounds around the building in common with the other owners.

Each owner also has a share in the common property, called a unit entitlement, which decides voting rights, and each owner’s contribution to the maintenance levies including insurance premiums, upkeep of the property and so on.


As an owner of a strata property you, or your tenants, must comply with the relevant by-laws of the strata building.legal law

These can be changed by a decision of the owners corporation or body corporate.

There are similarities with strata by-laws so generally they cover such elements as safety and security, rubbish disposal, use of the common property, noise control, behaviour or residents and the appearance of the building.

It’s important to understand that the ownership of pets is contained within strata by-laws.

Living in a strata scheme can present its own complexities, often because of people sharing close quarters as well as using the same common property.

Disputes aren’t uncommon between owners or between owners and the owners corporation, however, there are well-defined dispute resolution pathways enshrined in law to assist in these matters if they occur.

Insuranceprotect umbrella portfolio saving money coin insurance rainy day

The owners corporation or body corporate is required to insure the building based on its most recent valuation.

It also insures for injury to ‘voluntary workers’ and against public liability and for workers’ compensation.

The building,  for insurance purposes, may include carpets in common areas, hot water systems, light fittings, toilet bowls, sinks, shower screens, cupboards, doors and stoves.

As an investor, it’s always recommended to take out landlord insurance to cover potential losses due to non-paying tenants, damage to the property or for public liability for your lot.

Liability for strata contributions

When buying a strata property, the vendor is usually liable for a contribution levied by the owners corporation before the date of the contract (except future payments under an instalment scheme).

You do run the risk of suffering a liability, such as paying a share of remedying a fault in some part of the common property that occurred in the past before you owned the property, which is why it’s important to inspect and assess the property and the records of the owners corporation thoroughly before committing to buy it.

The bottom line:  woman property deal

Despite the various issues related to strata and the levies you may need to pay, I’d rather own an apartment in a high growth inner suburb than a house in a lower growth outer suburb.

As always, it comes back to weighing up all the factors of the property.

A strata property may still be the best investment for you if all the ducks line up.

You may also want to read:

What is a Strata Title property?


Subscribe & don’t miss a single episode of Michael Yardney’s podcast

Hear Michael & a select panel of guest experts discuss property investment, success & money related topics. Subscribe now, whether you're on an Apple or Android handset.

Need help listening to Michael Yardney’s podcast from your phone or tablet?

We have created easy to follow instructions for you whether you're on iPhone / iPad or an Android device.


Prefer to subscribe via email?

Join Michael Yardney's inner circle of daily subscribers and get into the head of Australia's best property investment advisor and a wide team of leading property researchers and commentators.

Brett Warren


Brett Warren is Director of Metropole Properties Brisbane and uses his 13 plus years property investment experience to advise clients how to grow, protect and pass on their build their wealth through property. Visit: Metropole Brisbane

'What you need to know before buying a strata unit' have 8 comments


    February 10, 2020 Neozsita Argarini

    Hi There

    Im in one of these old strata, we dont have any body corporate at the moment my queries is to wether or not I can utilise my right of way which is located right in front of my own garage for visitor car space.
    At the moment the other half of the property own by dept of housing and the tenant seems to mind that I utilise that space with excuse like the path created is not thick enough and may crack if use for regular parking spot.

    Thank you in advance and looking forward for the response.


      Michael Yardney

      February 10, 2020 Michael Yardney

      Unless there is no common land you should have a body corporate. On who’s property is the right of way you mention – that will make a difference



    May 7, 2019 Jennifer Bowra

    I rented out my strata unit situated in an over 55’s village – the tenant moved in in March 2019. The unit was surrounded by lovely low care gardens and hedges. The unit is managed by a real estate agent. There is an onsite village maintenance manager that also manages rental units and they do the mowing and garden care for which I pay for in Body Corp fees. The tenant in my unit told the village manager (not the real estate manager) she wanted to change the gardens and he helped her rip out ALL the gardens surrounding the unit. I had asked him when I left to leave the gardens as they were but to advise me if the tenant wanted to change anything – he said he would. This manager has since left.. These changes were made in March soon after she moved in and I only found out today, 7 May – the ground around the unit is totally barren now, just dirt, no privacy. Before this it had lovely hedges on the front and side… I am not an investor, I am just having a break from the village and enjoying some time living closer to where my daughter lives. What has been done is just difficult to describe, it looks so awful and I feel has devalued the unit. Its just bare dirt and privacy of the hedges is gone. What can I do about it? I know its common property, but I, as one of the owners, own that common property and feel the village manager at the time had no right to do what he did. What can I do.. I have the RE agent to go there and take pictures and compare to what was there before, and I have also told them I want to be present at the inspection of the unit in two weeks time. How can common property be destroyed like this. Please advise.


      Michael Yardney

      May 7, 2019 Michael Yardney

      I don’t know the rules of the village but the onsite maintenance manager of the village probably has the right to alter the common areas



        May 7, 2019 Jennifer Bowra

        Yes, but to alter things so very badly? It looks ugly now. The garden was one of the reasons I bought the unit and I feel the way it looks now has devalued my property. Are they not liable to fix this problem? Any person who saw before and after pictures would be horrified. Do you think it would do any good to complain to the Body Corporate?



    February 26, 2018 Roslyn brown

    We live in a strata unit we would like to make a caravan park on the common ground is this possible


      Michael Yardney

      February 26, 2018 Michael Yardney

      The common area is owned by ALL the owners of the property and it’s unlikely the others would let one owner benefit


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.


Copyright © Michael Yardney’s Property Investment Update Important Information
Content Marketing by GridConcepts