House Hunter: We want a new life for our kids Down Under

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My sister married an Australian some years ago and now lives out in Melbourne with him.

THE PROBLEM

Harry Cook writes:

My sister married an Australian some years ago and now lives out in Melbourne with him. My wife and I flew out there for the wedding (and stayed on for a month on an extended holiday) and absolutely fell in love with the place. At the time, we were both at crucial points in our careers and so the thought of moving never really occurred to us. Now, five years on, we have two young children and we are both beginning to feel as if we would like to do something completely different with our lives. We would like to spend more time together as a family and we want to bring up our kids somewhere where they will spend most of their time having fun outside, rather than watching television. Ideally we would love to go back to Melbourne on a permanent basis.

As we will be selling our UK home and other investments, we estimate we'll have a budget of £300,000 for the property and buying costs. This leaves us a comfortable reserve for living expenses until we get jobs.

From what I understand, the house-buying process is complex and we may have problems qualifying for residency. Also, I don't know where to begin researching property in the area. Can we buy something before we move or is it best to wait till we are out there? Any guidance you can offer would be much appreciated - it all seems as if it might be complicated.

THE ADVICE

Katy Pownall writes: Emigrating to Australia is a complicated business. Qualification for a permanent residency visa is often assessed on a points system, which takes into account factors such as age, English language ability, specific work experience, your financial situation and whether or not you have any relatives living in Australia. Check this out carefully, though, as there are other "fast-track" options such as sponsorship by an employer or state/territory government.

Application forms and general information about immigration policies, categories and requirements can be found on the main website of the Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) at www.immi.gov.au.

There are many different types of visa; however, your safest bet is a "skilled migration visa", which means you have experience and qualifications in an occupation that is required in Australia. Check the skilled occupations list at www.immi.gov.au/migration/skilled/sol. If you are having problems navigating the various criteria and visa types, you may use the services of an emigration agency. Though these can be costly (put aside several thousand pounds), they can quickly earn back their fee by guiding you through the maze, doing all the legwork and, in many cases, rapidly improving your chances of a successful application.

You can buy a property while still resident in Britain, though you will need the approval of the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB). Any applications to buy real estate will be considered based on the impact they will have on the Australian economy. The FIRB looks more favourably upon applications that channel funds directly into brand-new housing, as it stimulates both the building industry and its suppliers. You are far more likely to receive FIRB approval to buy a property off-plan or a plot of land on which to build than you are to buy existing residential property. Property two is an attractive new-build that already has FIRB approval.

That said, as it is your family home you are buying (rather than an investment or holiday home), await the outcome of your visa application. Once you have a visa, more housing options will be available (including resale). As inspection trips to Australia are time-consuming and expensive, save buying a house until you emigrate. On arrival, renting short term is the best option, so you can take time finding a perfect property.

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Four-bed family home in Malvern East

Price: AUD500,000 (approx £205,000)

Agent's details: This home was built in the 1920s and maintains many original period features, such as decorative ceilings and cornices. Enormous formal sitting and dining rooms offer great entertaining opportunities, and the four large bedrooms provide plenty of room for the family. There is also a large kitchen and adjoining eating area. Though there is currently no pool, the 660 sq m garden provides ample room for one.

Contact: Kay and Burton, 00 61 3 9820 1111; www.kayburton.com.au

Property two: Three-bed townhouse at Pinnacle Gardens.

Price: AUD505,000 (approx £208,000).

Agent's details: Situated in the Mount Cooper Estate, Bundoora, Pinnacle Gardens comprises 21 architect-designed new homes set among mature gum trees. The homes are of modern design and offer open-plan living, en-suite bathrooms and fully landscaped private gardens. Two-bedroom houses are also available for AUD389,000 (approx £160,000).

Contact: Central Equity, 0800 169 5286/020-7235 2710; www.apartmentsmelbourne.com.

Property three: A four-bed family home in the Hidden Valley estate

Price: AUD595,000 (approx £245,000)

Agent's details: A vast, modern four-bedroom, three-bathroom home overlooking the 15th hole of the Hidden Valley Golf Course. The property also features a triple garage, balconies, a study and a heated swimming pool. The estate is about 50 kilometres north of Melbourne; the central business district is just under an hour's travel away on Hume Highway.

Contact: Butler & Co, 00 61 3 9509 9666; www.butlerandco.com.au

* Average Melbourne house price: to buy a good-size family home with a garden, consider a budget of about AUD400,000 to AUD500,000 (£165,000 to £205,000)

* Average apartment price: to buy a modern two-bedroom apartment in the city centre, consider a budget of about AUD450,000 (£180,000)

* Average plot price: AUD130,000 (£50,000) will buy you about 500 sq m

* Desirable suburbs:

Malvern East: a predominantly residential suburb about 10 km south-east of Melbourne centre. It is renowned for spacious family homes and attractive period architecture, ranging from Victorian to Art Deco. Close to good schools.

Bundoora: residential area surrounded by golf courses and parkland. About 15 km north of the city centre and well connected by light rail and road. Near many of the university campuses.

Southbank: a city-centre residential area, a five-minute walk from the central business district. Bordered by botanical gardens and packed with restaurants and cafes.

Toorak: probably the most prestigious neighbourhood. Lovely big houses but you'll need a budget to match.

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to: The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, 020-7005-2000 or e-mail: househunter@independent.co.uk

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