What type of information are buyers entitled to access when purchasing strata? This post has been provided by Paula Byrnes, Strata Gophers.
Comments on my recent article How Much Is A Strata Report OR 10 Steps to a DIY Strata Report are a clear reminder of just how laissez-faire the general culture is when it comes to individual owners selling their apartment.
When purchasing strata, buyers are often left in a state of panic when they get their strata report and find there’s missing or incomplete information. This can be due to poor record keeping by the strata office who often don’t seem to understand the importance of ensuring the files are accurate.
At times we discover gaps of several years in the files or there’s virtually no correspondence or insufficient financial history. Sometimes, it’s because the building was managed by another office and the new strata office hasn’t unpacked all of the hard-copy files. This may even be a year after receiving the files from the previous manager. It’s pretty common to come across missing electronic-files too because the files have been handed over on a USB stick or disc, but the new strata office hasn’t bothered to
save all the files to their system.
When strata searchers ask for missing files, a surprisingly common response is “tell me what you are looking for?” It takes great restraint not to answer “sorry, I left my crystal ball at home today”. Obviously, a strata searcher must be given access to all the files in order to ascertain both recent and current matters/issues.
Unable to Ascertain Information Due to Missing Files
Many strata offices don’t realise the finished strata report not only includes decision-making information, but it may also include a note about the missing decision-making information … because why should the strata searcher cop the liability for the missing information?
Sometimes the strata office sends the requested missing files via email after the inspection, but usually not in time to include in the report. This is the reason many strata searchers don’t even ask for obvious missing information. They just make comments in the strata report such as “unable to ascertain due to missing files”.
Even when everything seems to be included, the information in the files is often not up-to-date. At times, the consumer has to approach the strata office to get more information. This still may not result in the correct information because a strata management office has no obligation to provide information to non-owners. See my article Why are strata managers so difficult to get along with?
In defence of the Strata Manager, sometimes they just don’t know where the building is up to on various matters, especially if they have recently taken over management. Even so, the fact is that a buyer who is purchasing strata becomes one of their owners. This new owner can be disgruntled from the get-go, especially if the strata office has given them the big brush off when they attempt to get information during the strata purchase process. How about if the vendor has ordered the strata report ready for the sale of their unit only to finds out files are missing? This can be the straw that broke the camels back!
I strongly believe strata directors have an ethical responsibility to consumers to ensure the strata files in their possession are kept up to date with any major matters in the building.
Strata Purchaser Expectations
Having pointed out a few pitfalls of a strata search, it would be remiss of me not to mention the unrealistic expectations of some consumers as to what information goes in a standard strata report. Some prospective purchasers expect us to be private-eye detectives for Fair Trading and others expect a full audit of each and ever matter mentioned in the minutes.
Consumers must realise that the cost of a standard Strata Report only gets around an hour of a contracting strata searcher inspecting the strata files. Unfortunately, this hour is often less productive when the searcher faces hurdles such as:
- a slow or crashing computer,
- a poorly set up filing system (electronic and hardcopy or both),
- electronic files saved with the wrong name or in the wrong folder,
- multiple copies of the same file,
- files belonging to another building and
- files not saved in a useable file-format.
On top of this human error, some strata staff can be pretty abrupt when a strata searcher needs help locating information.
Not filing important emails is definitely not in the best interest of a consumer. As a registered Strata Manager, I know what gets discussed via email. These correspondences often discuss quite serious matters and a Strata Manager never knows when one of their lots is going to be put on the market for sale.
All of these factors have an impact on the information the consumer ends up with when they are purchasing strata. The other hurdle a consumer often faces is the delay in getting the information they need to make a decision. When a strata management office has a limit on, say, only two strata searches a day or demands several days notice before letting the strata searcher into their office to do the search, both the strata purchaser and the current owner are impacted because the purchase of the property gets held up.
Strata offices can make a big difference to assist consumers by addressing some of the issues mentioned above. They can also concider abolishing their current rule of charging unfair additional fees that are out of scope with what legislation provides. The strata search fee that a strata office charges covers the associated costs of a strata search which is why several very large strata offices in Sydney have already dropped this profit-making scheme.
- 3 Key Things To Research When Considering Buying A Strata Unit: Don’t Shy Away From It
- NSW: Q&A Should a Free Strata Report be available at inspection?
This post appears in Strata News #263.
Are you in the process of purchasing strata? If you have a question, some tips or something to add to the article, please leave a comment below.