Off-the-plan apartments and house and land packages give buyers the chance to live in a brand new property.
But if you want something different to the standard offering, it’s possible to customise a new residence before it’s built.
There are limitations around what changes are possible, but in certain circumstances, you might even be able to get an upgrade for free.
What you can and can’t change in a new apartment
First, it’s important to understand what developers and project home builders are prepared to modify or upgrade. This is sometimes reliant on the state of the market.
Andrew Leoncelli, CBRE managing director residential Victoria, says there’s never been a better time to request design changes.
“We’re in a buyers’ market and as a result developers are more than ever ready to make modifications to suit the buyer,” he says.
Buyers of both off-the-plan apartments and house and land packages can easily make minor changes, such as swapping out appliances. Photo: iStock
The main limits are to wet areas, which are generally stacked in a development so that bulkheads don’t impact on bedrooms and living spaces.
“Whether it’s the removal of a lightweight wall because a downsizer doesn’t need a third bedroom but would like a larger living area, or replacing an appliance with a buyer’s choice – they’re easy to do,” says Leoncelli.
You can request the amalgamation of apartments to create a larger property, ask for more power points, swap out vertical blinds for roller blinds or replace a built-in bath with a free-standing model.
Diana Sarcasmo, Mirvac’s general manager of design, marketing and sales, says it’s always worth asking for minor changes.
“Different states tend to offer different levels of customisation depending on where the market is at,” she says.
Can you personalise a house and land package?
Kerri-Ann Hooper, director at Carnelian Projects, helps buyers through the building process, working with project home builders G Development and Impact Homes.
She says it’s often possible to add al fresco spaces, build a walk-in pantry, extend living rooms or enlarge bathrooms by taking space from an adjacent room.
“You can’t move bedrooms from the back to the front of the house, because project homes are all quoted on standard plans. But you can ask for higher ceilings, change window sizes, ask for skylights and upgrade the floor coverings, benchtops and kitchen appliances.”
It’s easier to add an outdoor area than it is to make major layout changes. Photo: iStock
When should you request modifications?
The earlier you ask for changes the better, says Sarcasmo.
“Ask early because most developers are flexible so long as it’s prior to construction,” she says.
Leoncelli says agents will take on board modification requests from the very first meeting.
“The name of the game is accommodating changes, so if a buyer says ‘I really like this apartment but it’s just not big enough’, or ‘I really love the level of finish but not the appliances’, the agents are saying ‘we want your business, we can make small changes’,” he says.
Leoncelli says a sketch plan depicting the alterations can be completed within 48 hours and if approved by the client can be translated into CAD format and included in a contract’s special conditions.
For house and land packages, Cooper says any structural changes need to be implemented before plans go to council. Photo: Getty Images
Get everything in writing
Read building forums and you’ll find plenty of stories of developers who don’t deliver on verbal promises. It’s critical to have all changes documented and included in the sales contract, says Sarcasmo.
“Normally once you’ve negotiated and agreed on variations you will write those into the contract and have them documented with a new plan so you know exactly what you are getting,” she says.
Leoncelli says experienced developers know that creating a bespoke apartment will create paperwork and they may charge accordingly, but it’s better to have written documentation than be disappointed at completion.
Can you get upgrades for free?
Again, this will depend on the state of the market. If a development is selling at a fast and furious pace, the developer has no incentive to negotiate.
But when sales are slow, the ball is in the buyer’s court.
“Heaps of buyers have had wins because a developer wants to secure this owner-occupier buyer who can secure debt funding much more easily,” says Leoncelli. “And it’s better [to agree to a free upgrade] than continuing to advertise.”
Upgrades such as timber floors can be easier to negotiate in a buyer’s market. Photo: Getty Images
For house and land packages, Cooper says builders will charge for changes but may agree to the buyer paying them directly, rather than going back to the bank for a bigger loan.
“The client might put extras on a variation form and save up and pay for it themselves,” she says.