Where are all the real estate gems?

Press journalist and first-home hunter Georgina Stylianou shares the highs and lows involved with getting a wobbly foot on the great property ladder.

I can't help but notice the look of terror on people's faces when I tell them I'm currently trying to buy my first home.

''In Christchurch? Are you mad?,'' one person asked in a manner that suggested I had just stolen a puppy from a baby.

But there's a recurring phrase that makes me feel a tingle of hope and it's this . . .

''There are still some gems out there.''

Great! Well, can someone please tell me where they are?

I'm pretty sure I'm familiar with every house publicly listed for sale in this city and I can't recall any that I would class as being a 'gem'. 

Either they're beautiful and so far out of my budget it makes me wince or they're falling apart, uninsurable or in a street I would rather not venture down outside daytime hours. 

This getting-on-the-property-ladder lark is daunting and buying your first home in Christchurch comes with its own set of what-ifs, so I've gone back to basics and called in the experts. 

As a first home buyer, what should I be aware of before I sign on the dotted line? 

The Press' property editor Liz McDonald (LM): Here's hoping you've already checked out finance, insurance, and legal advice. If not, stop and do that first. 

Investor and former director of Harcourts Real Estate Stephen Collins (SC): You need to understand your financial position and ability to purchase. You should preferably be pre-approved, have legal advice and understand land conditions in the area. 

What are some of the things I should be asking agents at open homes? 

LM: While agents have to disclose what they know about a property if you ask, remember they're salespeople working on commission for the owner. As the buyer, you need to do your own research as much as possible.

SC: Is there a building report on the property? Is there a current insurance policy in place? Is there a price expectation for the property? Do you have some comparable sales values in the area?

Would you recommend buying a property on TC3 land?

LM: Buying a home on TC3 land means doing the same checks as when buying anywhere else. TC3 homes were a bit cheaper to start with but this difference has shrunk as buyers snapped them up. 

SC: Yes. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority has erred on the gloomy side and many TC3 are becoming TC2. There may be purchase prices advantages but if you are considering building, get a geotechnical report first. 

In your view, what are the up-and-coming areas of Christchurch?

LM: Your best location is where you want to be and can afford. Resale value might not be important for years, unless you'll be selling again soon or renovating for profit. 

SC: Addington, Sydenham, St Albans and most of the fringe CBD

What adds value to a property?

LM: Improving the flow of rooms and creating open-plan space, updating kitchens and bathrooms, ensuring basic heating and insulation, and making a home more appealing with neutral decor etc. First impressions count - buyers make decisions pretty quickly and often by emotion.

SC: New kitchens and bathrooms, ensuites are a real bonus.

ANZ Bank runs Property Unlocked seminars in Christchurch that include mock auctions - could be quite interesting! - and all-round good advice. Check it out at propertyunlocked.anz.co.nz 

I hope this is of some help to any other first-home hunters out there. Comment below, email georgina.stylianou@press.co.nz or tweet @gstylianoupress

Next Week: Location location location

The Press