Seven common mistakes to avoid when buying a home in Austria
Buying a home is one of the biggest decisions most of us will make. Here are some typical mistakes you need to avoid when buying a home in Austria.
Whether as an investment, for somewhere to live, or a bit of both, buying a house is a massive undertaking.
For most of us, it represents the biggest financial commitment we will make besides having children - and at least when buying a house most of us know how much it’s going to cost.
Typical mistakes to avoid when buying a home in Austria
The following is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it is a good guide on some of the most common mistakes we make when buying a house.
Some of them are specific to Austria and some are not - but all of them are worth watching out for long before you see the estate agent slapping the big yellow ‘SOLD’ sticker on your new place.
For anyone seriously thinking about buying a home in Austria, check out the following guide to see some of the hidden costs you may face.
Mo’ money, mo’ assets
To get a loan in Austria, you’ll need a larger deposit or suite of underlying assets than in many other (read: English-speaking) countries.
Usually, for a bank to even think about talking to you, you need to come bearing at least 30 percent of the cost of your target property in either cash or assets.
When banks in some countries will lend you money for a house from five percent deposit upwards, the ‘one third rule’ can be quite a shock.
This is not a steadfast rule, but keep it in mind.
Of course, it’s also important that you don’t borrow more than you can afford, but this problem is hardly limited to Austria and therefore does not warrant its own section.
Inspection, inspection, inspection
Anyone who says ‘location, location, location’ are the most important factors when buying a home clearly hasn’t ridden the Vienna U-Bahn.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice is one which is often ignored - be sure to inspect early, and inspect often.
Even some of the more obvious problems with an apartment or house can be missed on the first inspection - particularly if you’re excited or enthusiastic about the experience.
According to Austria’s Der Standard newspaper, aspects like heating, insulation, water and electricity can be easily overlooked.
Don’t assume that the standards in place in your home country are in place in Austria.
Der Standard recommends making at least three inspections - with each at different times in the day to see how the light and noise may change.
You might even notice something about an annoying neighbour which you otherwise wouldn’t.
Also, some of the possible defects won’t be apparent to the layman’s eye, so it is absolutely essential that you bring along a professional for at least one of the inspections.
Unlike in some countries, bringing in the pros is not a legal requirement - but you should act like it is and bring in an expert.
Get an extract from the land register
Not unrelated to the above point, it is crucial to get a proper extract from the land register.
Some of the potential defects will be invisible even to experts, which means you should have a look at the history and ownership structure of the property.
Things like rights of way, liens, pre-sale rights, ownership irregularities or locations of hidden treasure should all be easier to determine by accessing the land register extract.
This can be done directly with district courts, but can also be done through a notary or online.
Read all about it
Sales contracts for homes are difficult to understand even for native German speakers.
It’s a common refrain that while you may speak German, you don’t speak legal German - which means you absolutely have to read every word on the contract carefully.
As we wrote in our ‘Hidden costs of buying a house article’, getting a notary on board is not required in Austria but comes highly recommended.
For instance, while in some cases a seller may be liable for a defect even up to three years after the sale, liability for the defect may be excluded under a purchase contract.
While it may add to the overall cost, it could be a lot more costly if you sign something you don’t quite understand.
The Hausmeister rules the rules
Another culture shock upon moving to Austria is understanding how much control the building manager or body corporate (Hausmeister/Hauswart) has over the apartment building.
Even if you own your apartment, many of the decisions will be the responsibility of the building manager or of a committee made up of the residents of the house (Wohnungseigentümergemeinschaft/WEG).
Electricity and heating costs can be split between other apartments. While this is a fairer way to do things - the heat from your warm second floor apartment does rise throughout the building - it can be a bit of a shock.
Other things like maintenance costs are often split between different apartments depending on the ‘maintenance reserve’.
Again, as with everything else in Austria, the only dumb question is the one you don’t answer, so be sure to ask anything that’s on your mind.
If you’re unsure, the minutes of the last WEG meetings should be available. This is a good way to see if you’d fit in or if they might get a little difficult over time.
Given its size, cultural similarities and inter-state integration, it’s easy to forget Austria is made up of nine federal states.
Many of us cross one or even two state borders per day and don’t even know it, given how interconnected the country is - or even what state we might be in.
Even Wiener Neustadt - directly translated as ‘Vienna New City’ - isn’t in the state of Vienna (it’s in Lower Austria, for those looking for trivia questions).
But when buying a house or doing anything else where the law gets involved, federalism may become crucially important.
Nine federal states means nine different sets of rules. If you’re moving out of Vienna to find somewhere with a little more space, be aware that the rules may not be the same.
This can be an issue, for instance, with regard to foreigners buying homes.
In Vorarlberg, Tyrol and Salzburg, for instance, there are restrictions on second homes for foreigners, for example, due primarily to these states’ proximity to Germany.
Location, yeah, location
OK so we might have said inspections were the most important thing to think about when buying a home in Austria, but location is also something you really should think about.
Particularly as a foreigner from a car-dominant society, there are big gaps in prices between homes close to public transport and those which are further away.
While for passionate motorists that might not be a concern, be aware that this is likely to impact the resale value or the amount of rent you will be able to charge.
Also, and we’re not telling you how to live your life now, but think about whether this location is where you might want to live in five to ten years time.
This means taking into account schools, day care centres and medical facilities.
In built-up areas, waiting lists for schools and day care centres can be prohibitive.
Also keep in mind that people move less regularly in Austria than in some other countries - there's a tendency to stay put once you've found a place - so think of all possibilities.